Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro and Environment Minister Joaquim Leite withheld data showing that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon had reached a 15-year high until United Nations climate negotiations during COP 26 had ended in Glasgow, three separate cabinet ministers have admitted to The Associated Press.
The rainforest area lost in Brazil’s Amazon jumped 22%, to 13,235 square kilometres, for the 12 months between August 2020 and July 2021, according to according to official data published last Thursday by the National Institute for Space Research’s Prodes monitoring system.
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“The three ministers as well as a coordinator at the space institute that compiles the data, all of whom spoke with the AP on condition of anonymity due to concern about reprisals, said the annual deforestation report was available on the government’s information system before talks in Glasgow began on October 31,” AP writes.
“Six days before that, at a meeting in the presidential palace, Bolsonaro and several ministers discussed the 2020-2021 deforestation results and determined they wouldn’t be released until after the climate conference, said the three ministers, two of whom were present.”
The 15-year high flies in the face of Bolsonaro government’s recent attempts to shore up its environmental credibility, having made overtures to the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden and moved forward its commitment to end illegal deforestation during COP 26, AP adds. The space agency’s report is dated October 27, four days before COP 26 got under way.
The Brazilian Amazon hadn’t recorded a single year with more than 10,000 square kilometres of deforestation in over a decade before Bolsonaro’s term started. in January 2019. Between 2009 and 2018, the average was 6,500 square kilometres. Since then, the annual average leapt to 11,405 square kilometers, and the three-year total is an area bigger than the U.S. state of Maryland.
“It is a shame. It is a crime,” Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the non-profit Climate Observatory network, told AP. “We are seeing the Amazon rainforest being destroyed by a government which made environmental destruction its public policy.”
Bolsonaro took office with promises to develop the Amazon, and dismissing global outcry about its destruction. His administration has defanged environmental authorities and backed legislative measures to loosen land protections, emboldening land grabbers. This week at an investors’ conference in the United Arab Emirates, he told the crowd that attacks on Brazil for deforestation are unfair and that most of the Amazon remains pristine.
Brazil’s environment ministry didn’t immediately respond to an AP email requesting comment on the Prodes data showing higher deforestation.
The state of Para accounted for 40% of deforestation over the latest reference year, according to the data, the most of any of nine states in the Amazon region. But its year-on-year increase was slight compared to Mato Grosso and Amazonas states, which together accounted for 34% of the region’s destruction. The two states suffered 27% and 55% more deforestation, respectively.
Early data for the 2021-2022 reference period signals further deterioration. The space agency’s monthly monitoring system, Deter, detected higher deforestation year-on-year during both September and October. Deter is less reliable than Prodes, but widely seen as a leading indicator.
“This is the real Brazil that the Bolsonaro government tries to hide with fantastical speeches and actions of greenwashing abroad,” Mauricio Voivodic, executive director of WWF-Brazil, said in a statement after release of the Prodes data. “The reality shows that the Bolsonaro government accelerated the path of Amazon destruction.”