According to an environmentalist, outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro hands over to his successor, Lula da Silva, “an Amazon in flames”.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has declined in the 12 months to July, according to new government data, as new President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva seeks to restore protection for the vital rainforest.
National space agency (INPE) data released on Wednesday showed that 11,568 km2 (4,466 sq mi) of forest cover was destroyed in the Brazilian Amazon from August 2021 to July 2022 – an area larger than Qatar.
That was an 11% drop from the same period a year earlier, when deforestation hit a 15-year high under far-right Brazilian 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, director of the Climate Observatory, an advocacy group of the environment.
Wednesday’s data ended four years of what environmentalists call disastrous management of the Amazon under Bolsonaro, who has been accused of weakening environmental and indigenous protection agencies in favor of the interests of the agro-industry and mining.
Under the former army captain, average annual deforestation rose 59.5% from the previous four years and 75.5% from the previous decade, according to INPE figures.
“The Bolsonaro government was a machine for destroying forests… The only good news is that it is about to end,” Astrini said in a statement. “The devastation remains uncontrollable. Jair Bolsonaro will hand his successor a dirty legacy of increasing deforestation and a burning Amazon.
Lula, a leftist leader who won a closely contested election last month, promised to work towards zero deforestation when he took 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 run-off.
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 that ‘Brazil is back in the world’ .
Brazilian Senator-elect Flavio Dino, who serves as public security chief in Lula’s transition team, told Reuters news agency on Wednesday that the new administration would create a new federal police unit focused on environmental crimes.
Dino said the proposed unit would take a broad view of crimes in the Amazon, where deforestation, illegal mining, drug trafficking, money laundering and gang violence are often linked.
“There is now a specific complexity of environmental crimes, in which there is a kind of combo 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 it involves other countries in the Amazon. The idea is therefore a specialized unit for greater efficiency and greater coordination with neighboring countries.
Under Bolsonaro, indigenous leaders had sounded 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.
Last year, the Indigenous Missionary Council recorded 305 cases of “invasions, illegal exploitation of resources and damage to property” in indigenous territories that affected 226 indigenous lands in 22 Brazilian states.
That was an increase from 109 such incidents in 2018, the year before Bolsonaro took office, an increase of 180%.
Carbon Brief, a UK-based climate website, said in a report in September that an election victory for Lula could see deforestation drop by 89% in the Brazilian Amazon over the next decade and prevent destruction. 75,960 km2 (29,328 sq mi) of rainforest by 2030.
Yet Lula could face strong political opposition in areas where Amazon deforestation is occurring, and he also faces the difficulty of policing such large and often remote areas.
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