A new analysis has found that since taking office in January 2019, Brazil president Jair Bolsonaro has approved 57 pieces of legislation that weaken environmental laws, ranging from relaxing forest protections to declassifying the toxicity of dozens of pesticides. Almost half, 27 bills, were passed during the height of Brazil’s COVID-19 pandemic, from March to September 2020.
What is Happening?
- Led by scientists in Britain, Brazil and the US, the study, published in the journal Biological Conservation, also found that the issuing of fines for illegal deforestation dropped by more than 70% during the pandemic, despite a 9.5% increase in deforestation in the Amazon over the past year.
- The authors used data from the Official Gazette of the Union, the legal newspaper in Brazil that publishes records of all decrees and changes in legislation. They also examined monthly deforestation data from Brazil’s National Institute for Special Research (INPE) and records of fines from the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA).
- Among the changes include the July toxicological review of 47 pesticides, which were classified as less dangerous or left without a specific category. Another piece of June legislation makes it no longer necessary to restore all permanent environmental conservation areas, even if they are illegally deforested. The amount of biodiesel added to Brazil’s diesel was decreased, from 12% to 10%, laws began allowing mining permits in designated areas even before final authorisation and environmental reviews were complete and several military leaders were appointed to environmental agencies.
- In April 2020, Brazil environment minister Ricardo Salles said at a ministerial meeting that environmental laws had to be loosed as much as possible “while the media were only concerned about COVID-19.”
Further, a report published in January maps out how the Bolsonaro government has slashed the budget for environmental monitoring and firefighting- reduced by 9.8% in 2020, then by another 27.4% in 2021. These cuts make it impossible for the nation’s environmental agencies to carry out their work effectively, according to the report.
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The study authors wrote, “The current administration is taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to intensify a pattern of weakening environmental protection in Brazil. This has the potential to intensify ongoing loss of biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, and the likelihood of other zoonotic disease outbreaks, and inflict substantial harm to traditional and indigenous peoples. The effects of such changes will likely last for decades.”
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