Brazil on The Climate Agenda

There are no shortcuts to reducing illegal deforestation

Ilona Szabó de Carvalho

The year 2021 is crucial for Brazil to reposition itself on the global climate agenda. On April 22-23, the country will participate in the US Leaders' Summit, which precedes the 26th Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow at the end of the year. The central question is whether the current government will be able to rewrite the history of the past two years or whether this new talk of good intentions is only for unlocking resources from international cooperation and keeping everything as it is.

First, to assess the country's effort, it is necessary to look at the facts. In March 2021, the Space Research Institute (INPE) detected the highest level of deforestation in the Amazon in the last six years for the same period. The recently launched Plano Amazônia 2021-2022, of the National Council for the Legal Amazon, proposed a deforestation target 16% higher than the deforestation recorded in the year before Bolsonaro's inauguration.

In the past few days, Ibama and ICMBio have published a normative instruction that makes it even more difficult to sanction environmental crimes. And on April 14, the head of the Federal Police in the state of Amazonas formally accused the Minister of the Environment and the President of Ibama of interfering in the investigation of the largest seizure of illegal timber in the history of Brazil, supposedly to protect the private interests of companies involved.

Then, it is important to analyze the main measures proposed by the government to international partners with the promise of reducing deforestation. They are the following: the performance of the National Public Security Force - which includes military police from the states of the Federation - in actions to combat environmental crime, and a new program of payments for environmental services. In the short term, these measures may even have a deterrent effect. But they do not change the course of the destruction and they can make the situation worse.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro and Environment Minister Ricardo Salles attend a virtual global climate summit via a video link in Brasilia, Brazil April 22, 2021. Marcos Correa/Brazilian Presidency via REUTERS - via REUTERS

The first proposal reinforces the movement of the federal government to overestimate the role of military police officers to the detriment of environmental inspection bodies, which have the technical capacity and legal competence to act in the fight against environmental crimes. The bill 6,289/2019 that proposes to include the Military Police in the SISNAMA (National Environment System) confirms the intentions. But that is not enough. It must also be seen from the angle of the growing politicization of the police, the base of electoral support of the federal government. This aspect brings a critical dimension to be taken into account in any support of international cooperation: protecting and strengthening the democratic rule of law in Brazil.

The second proposal, however necessary, may serve to compensate economic actors who commit crimes on a recurring basis. Any financial support in this regard must be conditioned to a careful analysis of the beneficiaries and a measurable plan for the transition to a green economy with the same level of ambition and demands that currently guide government action and political debate by Brazil's international partners.

In any effective plan, Brazil needs to prioritize the strengthening of the inspection bodies at the federal level - Ibama and ICMBio - and at the state level - including the secretariats for the environment and bodies responsible for the Rural Environmental Registry -, in addition to immediately resuming the accountability of environmental crimes, as the law dictates.

We all want to see Brazil back to the leading role in the global climate agenda. It is up to Brazilians and our international partners to remind the government that there are no shortcuts to reducing illegal deforestation.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon

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