Environmentalist says outgoing president Jair Bolsonaro is handing his successor, Lula da Silva, “an Amazon in flames.”
Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon has fallen in the 12 months through July, new government data shows, as incoming president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva tries to restore protection to the vital rainforest.
Data from the National Space Agency (INPE), released Wednesday, showed that from August 2021 to July 2022, 11,568 square kilometers (4,466 square miles) of forest cover was destroyed in the Brazilian Amazon – an area larger than Qatar.
That was an 11 percent drop from the same period a year earlier, when deforestation hit a 15-year high under Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro.
“It’s better to have a lower number than a higher number, but it’s still a very high number — the second highest in 13 years,” said Marcio Astrini, head of the Climate Observatory, an environmental law group.
Wednesday’s data concluded four years of what environmentalists call disastrous management of the Amazon under Bolsonaro, who was accused of weakening environmental and indigenous protection agencies in favor of agribusiness and mining interests.
Under the former army captain, average annual deforestation increased 59.5 percent over the previous four years and 75.5 percent over the previous decade, according to INPE figures.
“The Bolsonaro government has been a forest-destroying machine… The only good news is that it is about to come to an end,” Astrini said in a statement. “The devastation remains uncontrollable. Jair Bolsonaro will leave his successor a sordid legacy of increasing deforestation and an Amazon in flames.”
Lula, a leftist leader who won a hotly contested election last month, has pledged to aim for zero deforestation when he takes office on January 1.
“Brazil is ready to resume its leadership role in the fight against the climate crisis,” he said shortly after being declared the winner of the October 30 presidential election.
Lula, who previously served as Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2010, also attended the COP27 climate summit in Egypt earlier this month, where he told hundreds of attendees that “Brazil is back in the world.”
Brazilian Senator Flavio Dino, who serves as chief of public security in Lula’s transition team, told Reuters news agency on Wednesday that the new government will create a new federal police unit that will focus on environmental crimes.
Dino said the proposed unit would take a broad view of crimes in the Amazon region, where deforestation, illegal mining, drug trafficking, money laundering and gang violence are often linked.
“There is now a specific complexity of environmental crimes, where there is a kind of combination of crimes in the Amazon. We no longer have isolated environmental crimes,” he told the news agency.
“You have this sophistication and there is a transnationality, because there are other countries in the Amazon involved. The idea is therefore a specialized unit for more efficiency and better coordination with neighboring countries.”
Under Bolsonaro, indigenous leaders had raised the alarm about the threats their communities face in the Brazilian Amazon, especially in areas with little government oversight that farmers, miners and poachers seek to control and exploit.
The Indigenous Missionary Council last year recorded 305 cases of “invasions, illegal exploitation of resources and damage to property” in indigenous territories affecting 226 indigenous lands in 22 Brazilian states.
That was up from 109 such incidents in 2018, the year before Bolsonaro took office — an increase of 180 percent.
Carbon Brief, a UK-based climate website, said in a report in September that an election victory for Lula could reduce deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by 89 percent over the next decade and prevent the destruction of 75,960 square kilometers (29,328 sq mi). to prevent. rainforest in 2030.
Still, Lula may face harsh political opposition in areas where deforestation is occurring in the Amazon, and he must also deal with the difficulty of overseeing such vast, often remote areas.