When Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro came to power last year, he vowed to open up the Amazon rainforest to cattle, mineral, logging, and other industries — and, so far, his policies have exceeded even corporate expectations, according to the environmental news site Mongabay.
As deforestation surges in Brazil, the country’s top regulatory bodies are being stripped of their ability to hold criminal accountable. In fact, since the beginning of the year, the country has seen the sharpest decline in fines for illegal logging in its history, despite record numbers of trees being cut down.
In May, deforestation throughout the Amazon rose 34% compared to the year before, the highest level ever recorded, Mongabay reports.
Brazilian environmental agencies know that deforestation is increasing, reversing years of progress, but they’ve been prevented from taking action by Bolsonaro’s government, according to Mongabay.
Multiple agencies tasked with protecting the rainforest have had their leadership removed, preventing critical administrative duties from being carried out. As a result, more than 350 fines are awaiting approval, creating a backlog that has delayed other enforcement measures.
Bolsonaro’s government has also created rules that further impede these agencies’ ability to defend the rainforest.
Agencies now have to announce raids on illegal logging operations a day in advance, which gives criminal groups time to clear out and avoid punishment, and makes enforcement teams vulnerable to violent retaliation.
“If, before the video, staff were already being attacked by loggers, imagine what it is like with the president’s endorsement of the criminals,” an employee of the country’s environmental agency, known as IBAMA, told Mongabay, referring to a video in which Bolsonaro appears alongside a senator who actively supports deforestation.
Under the new policies, enforcement teams are no longer allowed to destroy illegal logging equipment that they discovered, a tactic that agents said had previously been effective in deterring criminals.
The unraveling of rainforest protections has spurred environmental nonprofits to bring a case before the attorney general’s office, which is expected to carry out an investigation of actions by the Bolsonaro administration.
Countries like Norway that pay Brazil to protect the Amazon rainforest may also stop sending funds until enforcement of environmental protection policies are restored.
This international arrangement was created in the first place because the Amazon rainforest is vital to the health of the planet.
Tens of millions of people directly depend on the Amazon for their livelihoods. The rainforest is a critical carbon sink, meaning it absorbs excess greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. It generates 20% of the world’s oxygen, regulates precipitation patterns, supports 10% of the world’s known species, and has yielded essential medical discoveries, among many other benefits.
An area twice the size of the UK destroyed since big brands promised to end deforestation!— Greenpeace UK (@GreenpeaceUK) June 11, 2019
No wonder there's a climate crisis.
Our message to companies is simple: evolve your business to prevent climate and ecological breakdown. Or start winding down.https://t.co/Il2Wgq9IKn
Bolsonaro took office at the start of the year and is set to serve a four-year term. If the past few months are any indication, activists wonder whether the Amazon rainforest could be a shadow of its former self by the time his term comes to an end in 2023.