According to the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), deforestation in the Amazon fell 42.5% in the first half of this year, compared to the same period last year. The numbers continued to fall, even in the second half of the year, when the dry season led to an increase in fires. In July, the drop was 66%. Not yet officially released, Inpe’s balance for August should be between a 55 and 60% reduction.
In contrast to the previous government, which dismantled the environmental inspection structure and gave the green light to deforesters, statistics allow us to say that the Amazon has returned to pre-Bolsonaro levels of devastation. Even so, scientists warn of the concrete possibility that agribusiness will take the biome to the so-called point of return, when environmental degradation will be so profound that it will be impossible to reverse it.
“We have a Congress where agribusiness is the greatest power. Either we convince parliamentarians that we need to have a plan for the future or we are all going to collapse”, says Luciana Gatti, climate change scientist and coordinator of the Greenhouse Gas Laboratory at the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe ).
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According to her, it is difficult to predict when the feared point of no return will come, but she says “we are close”. Luciana states that the desertification of the forest will not occur throughout the biome at once, but will first occur in the points where deforestation is most critical and is currently causing changes in temperature and rainfall.
“Our number one priority has to be the southeastern portion of the Amazon. A state of emergency had already been declared in this region: prohibiting any type of deforestation and burning. And carry out large forest restoration projects, with the production of seedlings and plantings”, warned Gatti.
The mayors of the point of no return
The southeastern region of the Amazon corresponds to the north of Mato Grosso and the south of Pará. In these areas, grain cultivation and livestock farming are the main drivers of deforestation. The activities frequently place municipalities in the region at the top of the national deforestation rankings. Recently, the president of the Chamber’s Environment Committee, deputy José Priante (MDB-PA), took local mayors to a conversation with representatives from the Ministry of the Environment.
“They (mayors) want to be better informed about where there is or isn’t deforestation and they want environmental and land regularization,” the extraordinary secretary for Deforestation Control and Territorial Environmental Planning of the Ministry of the Environment (MMA) told Brasil de Fato, André Lima.
“We are carrying out a major political consultation, which also involves the transfer of resources to the municipalities that adhere to this pact, from the Amazon Fund. We are trying to reverse the conversation: instead of parliament being reactive to control measures, we are calling on parliament to be the protagonist of a positive agenda conditioned on reducing deforestation”, he explained.
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André Lima recognizes that the ruralist opposition in Congress is an obstacle to the federal government’s “zero deforestation” goal, but reveals government strategies to mitigate, in a republican way, the parliamentarians’ reaction. The Amazon Fund, which until then only financed projects presented by states or the Union, will now fund municipal initiatives. The priority, according to him, will be forest restoration and economic activities with traditional peoples and communities.
“There are, obviously, specific reactions from parliamentarians in relation to some tougher measures, such as, for example, the seizure of livestock, the destruction of goods and machinery seized during inspection. This always generates some type of reaction because there is a call to parliamentarians to try some type of flexibility. And we have responded. The president of Ibama is a former federal deputy. He has been quite firm, but as far as possible he has responded to requests,” stated Lima.
Government promises continued drop in deforestation
In 2023, the total embargoed areas in the Amazon were 280 thousand hectares, 213 thousand on private properties and 67 thousand on public lands. The value of environmental fines applied in the biome is already close to R$1 billion.
André Lima, national secretary to combat deforestation, classifies the numbers as satisfactory, but says they tend to fall even further. So far, the government has acted to increase the effectiveness of inspection operations, but plans to boost sustainable economic development, which depend on more time for implementation, have not yet come to fruition.
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“A big new thing that we implemented in this line of inspection are remote embargoes, that is, we are enhancing the use of remote technology, not only to detect deforestation and mobilize field inspection, but also to apply sanctions remotely . And this starts to generate results, because we multiply our inspection capacity by 10”, explained André Lima to Brasil de Fato.
According to Lima, new measures should have an effect on deforestation statistics. The Central Bank published a resolution that prevents access to rural credit for owners of embargoed properties or with the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR) canceled or suspended. The change affects owners of farms that have been subject to embargoes by federal and state agencies or that overlap with indigenous lands and conservation units. The new standards come into effect between August 2024 and January 2024.
An analysis by the Mapbiomas project released at the end of August showed that, between 1985 and 2022, the area occupied by agribusiness in the Amazon jumped from 3% to 16%. In the same period, the forest lost 52 million hectares, equivalent to the area of France. “If we don’t slow down this pace, we could soon reach the point of no return. So it is urgent that we inspect, monitor and combat illegal deforestation”, reinforces Luiz Oliveira, researcher at Mapbiomas.
Publishing scientific research on the Amazon in Nature magazine, Luciana Gatti discovered in 2021 that the Amazon had become a source of carbon for the atmosphere. In 2023, another article by her and her colleagues concluded that emissions had doubled in the first two years of the Bolsonaro government. She recognizes that the Lula government represented an environmental shift for the country, but says that this is not enough.
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“We need to change this agricultural production model, and quickly, because this will lead Brazil to climate collapse. Soon, it will cause consequences, a major socio-environmental and ecological problem. We are heading towards a catastrophic future. We are going to have to change, so let’s sit down together and draw up a plan for this change”, called on the scientist.
Editing: Vivian Virissimo