Brazil environment ministry says to stop fighting deforestation, VP denies it

Brazil’s Environment Ministry said on Friday it would cease fighting deforestation due to a lack of funds, but Vice President Hamilton Mourão quickly denied the statement saying “that’s not going to happen.” FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows a deforested plot of the Amazon near Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil, September 17, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno KellyThe competing statements come amid rising deforestation and growing criticism of Brazil’s environmental policy from environmental groups as well as international investors. Many investors have threatened to pull out of the country if the government does not better protect the Amazon region, where preliminary government data shows deforestation has risen nearly 35% over the 12 months through July. In 2019, an area about the size of Lebanon was cleared from the world’s largest rainforest, a vital bulwark against climate change. On Friday afternoon, the Environment Ministry released a surprise statement explaining it did not have enough money to continue combating deforestation and fires. The ministry cited a decision by Brazil’s Federal Budget Secretariat (SOF), to block certain funds that had been allocated to the Environment Ministry’s enforcement arm Ibama and parks service ICMBio. The ministry said the SOF’s move ultimately came from the office of the Chief of Staff for right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro. Mourão, who Bolsonaro has put in charge of Brazil’s Amazon response, quickly denied that the funds had been pulled. He accused Environment Minister Ricardo Salles of “jumping the gun.” “The minister jumped the gun, and that’s not going to happen,” he told journalists in Brasilia. “There will not be a blockage of 60 million reais ($11.1 million) dedicated to Ibama and ICMBio.” Mourão said the government was looking to take money out of almost every ministry to fund emergency aid payments Brazilians are receiving during the economic downturn brought about by the novel coronavirus pandemic. He said the Environment Ministry’s announcement was based on an unfinalized planning document. Related CoverageBrazil's environment ministry, in reversal, says will continue fighting deforestationThe Economy Ministry, Government Secretary’s Office and the Chief of Staff’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Three Ibama sources said the move came as a surprise, particularly distressing as September tends to be the worst month for forest fires, which are often started artificially by ranchers looking to clear land. “I’m waiting and distressed: the worst month (for fires) starts on Tuesday,” said one of the sources, who requested anonymity as he was not permitted to speak to media.

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