On Thursday, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro did something weird: He pledged to double his government’s spending to enforce measures to reduce deforestation in the Amazon and stop it altogether by the end of the decade.
But lest you think he was turning over a new leaf (sorry), just two days later, he cut the government’s annual environmental budget by 23% from the previous year.
It’s shocking but certainly not unexpected for Bolsonaro. The guy has made a career of environmental rollbacks. The rate of forest fires in Brazil’s Amazon has soared under the far-right leader as his administration turns a blind eye — and even encourages — farmers and miners to pillage the forest. In 2020, deforestation surged to a 12-year high, as an area 14 times the size of New York City was razed. Despite this abysmal track record, Bolsonaro’s tone shift on Thursday sparked applause from President Joe Biden, who said he found Bolsonaro’s promises to be “encouraging.” But environmental justice organisers weren’t fooled for a second.
“The latest budget cut is not surprising at all,” Claudio Angelo, communication coordinator of Brazilian Climate Observatory, said in a statement while noting that the environmental budget Bolsonaro submitted was the lowest the country has seen since the 1990s.
Leila López-Salazar, executive director of environmental and Indigenous rights organisation Amazon Watch, noted that Bolsonaro has lied about environmental budgets before.
“Bolsonaro boasted about increasing the budget of these regulatory bodies when in fact, Ibama (Brazil’s environmental agency) and FUNAI (the country’s national Indigenous agency) were strangled financially by the Bolsonaro administration and prevented from taking action to stop deforestation and other threats to the Amazon rainforest,” she said.
Since Bolsonaro’s first day in office in 2019, he’s halted and ignored forest protections, allowing ranchers and loggers to clear tracts of the jungle to make space for agriculture, pastures, fossil fuel extraction, and other damaging activities. A report published earlier this month found that under his rule, the average size of deforested patches of land has increased by 61%.
Amid the climate crisis, conditions in the Amazon have been hotter and drier, so more of the fires typically used to clear land are getting out of control, spreading far and wide and claiming more trees. That’s a disaster for people who live within the basin’s forests, and also the planet since the Amazon is one of the most important sources of carbon sequestration in the world. When trees burn, they release all the carbon they’ve stored up over their lifetimes. And yet Bolsonaro has allowed more and more capitalists to get away with the practice, providing them cover by lying that Indigenous people and environmental nonprofits are to blame. Seriously.
Because this man’s audacity knows no bounds, ahead of the Earth Day international climate talks that President Biden convened last week, Bolsonaro didn’t merely make false promises. No, instead he said his administration would reduce deforestation by 40%, but only if the U.S. provided it with $US1 ($1.3) billion. I’m all for the U.S. providing climate aid to Global South, but uh, my dude, you’re asking for a bribe? If Bolsonaro were serious about meeting new deforestation targets, it’s not even clear exactly how that money would help. As Norway’s prime minister recently pointed out, Brazil has already received aid — chiefly from Norway — to conserve its rainforest. But deforestation still surged, leading donor countries to pull their money from the fund.
“In the last two years there was no lack of money for inspections, but operations and fines went down anyway because Minister Ricardo Salles just won’t let the federal environmental agencies work,” said Angelo, referring to Bolsonaro’s minister of the environment.
This anti-environmentalism isn’t just a result of the Bolsonaro administration hating trees or something, though, honestly, it might. (Seriously, look at this picture of Salles). The officials also have backing from landowners and industrialists who benefit from the administration turning a blind eye to this environmental devastation.
“Bolsonaro cannot be trusted,” said López-Salazar. “He operates with impunity because the people who elected him to office did so to profit off of the Amazon.”
To be fair, Bolsonaro did run on a promise of allowing the further exploitation of the rainforest. So far, that’s the only pledge about deforestation he’s kept.