Brazilian government cuts anti-deforestation funds

Study reveals Rousseff administration is spending less than predecessor on fighting forest loss

A report published last week by InfoAmazonia, a journalism portal focused on Amazonian issues, revealed that the administration of President Dilma Rousseff spent 72% less money on anti-deforestation measures than her predecessor, Lula da Silva (2003-2011). The report, which was widely circulated in the mainstream Brazilian media, underscores Rousseff’s indifferent record on environmental issues.

Between 2011 and 2014, the federal government spent R$1.77bn (US$500m) on the Plano de Ação para a Prevenção e Controle do Desmatamento na Amazônia (PPCDAM), a strategy developed by President Lula in 2004, which consisted of land management, environmental monitoring and control, as well as the promotion of sustainable productive activities in the region. Between 2007 and 2010, the period of Lula’s second mandate, the government spent R$6.36bn (US$2bn) on the same plan.

Nevertheless, the study also shows that the Amazon has registered its lowest level of deforestation since 1988 during the period Rousseff has been in office. That fact is attributed to the “less dramatic” situation the current president inherited on her election.

Between 2003 and 2004, the first two years of Lula’s mandate, just over 25,000 km² of the rainforest was chopped down; by comparison, between 2011 and 2012, the first two years of Rousseff’s term in office, that figure was just 6,500 km².

Environment ministry

The latest figures put out by the ministry of the environment, relating to August 2013 to July 2014, claim there has been an 18% year-on-year decline in legally approved deforestation. However, this decline is contested by other monitoring organisations.

On 11 March, Brazil’s national space research institute (Inpe) published satellite data showing a record number of forest fires in Brazil in the first two months of this year. The Inpe claims that deforestation, therefore, between November 2014 and January 2015 is up 40% when compared to the same period of the year before.

In response to InfoAmazonia’s report, the environment ministry said that it was still analysing the document. However, it restated that the fight against deforestation remained a priority for the government and pointed out that during Rousseff’s term in office, Brazil had registered four of the lowest years on record for total area of forest cut down. “We are convinced that we will reduce deforestation to our goal of 3,935 km² by 2020,” it said in a statement.

In early March the environment ministry, in conjunction with the justice ministry and the national development bank (Bndes), announced the creation of the Companhia de Operações Ambientais, a 200-strong unit from the national guard to combat illegal deforestation in the Amazon. The financing of the project, budgeted at R$30.6m (US$9.8m) will come from the Amazon Fund, set up by Bndes. This will be the first Amazon Fund project to tackle deforestation.

Government sceptics

Other moves the government have made, however, indicate that it is not particularly interested in attracting support from the environmental movement. The new agriculture minister, Kátia Abreu, relishes her nickname as the “chainsaw queen” and has repeatedly stated her role is to ensure Brazil’s successful agricultural production sector trumps environmental concerns or indigenous peoples’ land rights.

Similarly, Aldo Rebelo, the former sports minister, became Brazil’s science and technology minister at the start of Rousseff’s second term. Rebelo once described climate change as “nothing less, in its geopolitical sense, than the bridgehead of imperialism”. Although he has not distanced himself from his sceptical view, at his swearing-in ceremony in January, Rebelo said that his ministry would be guided by the government’s established positions on climate change

Opinion poll

A new opinion poll, released on 23 March, showed President Dilma Rousseff’s approval rating at just 10.8% (with a 2.2% margin of error). This survey was conducted by MDA, and commissioned by the Confederação Nacional do Transporte (CNT), between 16 and 19 March among 2,002 voters in 137 municipalities in 25 states. This MDA sample also found that 68.9% found Rousseff was to blame for the Petrobras corruption scandal. Although 90.1% believe that those accused in the Lava Jato investigation are guilty and should be punished, 65.7% believe that they will never go to jail.

This article was originally published by LatinNews.