Brazilian Government Slashes Environment Budget Brazil risks rolling back its achievements of the last two decades in fighting deforestation, the Climate Observatory concludes. Photo: Daniel Beltra / Greenpeace

Brazilian Government Slashes Environment Budget

Drastic cuts to the budget of the Ministry of Environment combined with the approval of anti-environment laws in Congress will put at risk the fulfillment of Brazil’s Paris Agreement targets for reducing GHG emissions.

The  cuts announced to the already limited budget of the ministry will “profoundly prejudice the monitoring of deforestation, and consequently, Brazil’s climate targets,” says Alfredo Sirkis, executive secretary of the FBMC, the National Climate Change Forum, a hybrid body set up in 2000 to bring together government planners and representatives of civil society to inform environmental legislation and raise public awareness.

To reduce a growing deficit, the government of President Michel Temer has imposed cuts on many ministries as part of a drastic austerity programme. Some will lose up to 30% of their budget, but the Ministry of Environment has been targeted for the biggest cut of all, losing a total of 53% from treasury funding and parliamentary allocations. Temer rose to power last year from his position as Vice President when then President Dilma Rousseff was impeached by the National Congress due to alleged fiscal irregularities in a move which many regarded as a right-wing coup.

This has come at a time when the need for environmental monitoring is more urgent than ever as the Amazon region saw a 29% increase in forest clearance last year, according to preliminary data from Brazil’s National Space Research InstituteINPE .

The Ministry of Environment’s enforcement agency, IBAMA (the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural resources), relies on teams of inspectors on the ground to monitor not only the vast Amazon region, but all the other biomes that make up Brazil.  These drastic spending cuts will weaken its capacity to carry out inspections, warns one NGO, The Climate Observatory.

As well as investigating and stopping illegal logging and burning operations over vast areas of forest, the ministry’s budget goes towards protecting 326 federal conservation units that cover 76 million hectares, licensing infrastructure projects, and feeding thousands of animals in rescue centres, which have been saved from hunters, poachers, and dam construction projects.

At the same time as the ministry is being starved of the cash needed to carry out its constitutional duties, powerful landowners are lobbying in Congress to push for a total relaxation of the environmental laws. Claiming the need to speed up the present lengthy licensing process, which will now take even longer as the ministry will be laying off staff due to reduced funds, these lobbyists want to remove the licensing process from the hands of the federal government altogether and devolve it to local authorities or even to the construction companies themselves. Critics warn that this could lead to local authorities competing to attract mining and other environmentally damaging projects by offering licensing–free deals.

If the rural producers’ lobby gets their way, even road building, known to be the port of entry for deforestation, could be carried out without environmental licensing.  This would mean that the paving of controversial roadways that run through some of the most preserved areas of the Amazon rainforest, such as the BR-319 from the Amazon capital of Manaus with the town of Porto Velho and the BR-163 from the Mato Grosso capital of Cuiabá with the Amazon river port of Santarem, could be carried out without any regard for environmental consequences. At the moment, both these roads are virtually impassable during the rainy season. Once paved, thousands of lorries will use them to carry the soy harvest north to river ports for shipping to Europe and the USA.

In a hard-hitting document released this year on 12 April, The Climate Observatory warns that the government and its parliamentary allies are promoting what may be the worst anti-environmental offensive since the 1980s, stating “This puts at risk Brazil’s climate targets, besides the security of our entire society.”

Among the reversals by the government in recent months, the report lists the reduction in the size of several conservation units in the Amazon, the threat to indigenous reserves by the choice of a blatantly anti-indigenous Minister of Justice, Osmar Serraglio, who even questioned the Indians’ need for land, the privatisation of public lands, and the end of environmental licensing.

The Climate Observatory concludes that Brazil risks rolling back its achievements of the last two decades in fighting deforestation, recognising indigenous lands, and creating conservation units and that the country may well be on its way back to the situation in the 1980s when it was seen as “an international pariah” due to the accelerated clearing of the Amazon rainforest.  “The country which likes to sell itself to the world as part of the solution of the climate crisis has become a problem again.”

The article “Brazil slashes environment budget” by Jan Rocha was published on April 20, 2017, in Climate News Network

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