“It was shocking to see the scale of this deforestation and fires, at a time when the government is dismantling environmental protection,” said Rômulo Batista, Amazon campaign manager for Greenpeace, who spent days to fly over a large area. “It is the start of the dry season and we have seen fires and areas in preparation for deforestation.”
Some images showed hot spots in areas close to the towns of Nova Canaã do Norte, Porto dos Gaúchos, Itanhangá and Nova Maringá as well as areas recently converted to pasture – the main cause of deforestation in the Amazon. Other photos showed felled trees piled up to be burned and fires raging near Juara, known as the capital of cattle.
Farmers traditionally burn cleared areas in the Amazon during the dry season. The number of fires last year was the highest since 2010.
“They chopped down the forest and left it to dry in the sun. When it’s dry, they put it all together and set it on fire, ”Batista said. The land is then given over to animal husbandry or agriculture. But Batista also saw signs that the fire was being used to clear the forest once the precious woods were removed. The images show fires in an intact forest near Alta Floresta. “We are seeing more and more use of fire for deforestation,” said Batista.
Bolsonaro’s government, meanwhile, dismantled environmental protection agencies – the dismissal of key officials and the reduction in the amount of fines imposed for environmental crimes by the environmental agency IBAMA last year to the lowest level in 24 years, the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reported. Last year, he sacked the director of the Brazilian Space Research Institute after calling official figures showing increasing deforestation “lies”.
However, he promised to fight the fires. On Thursday, Bolsonaro banned farm and forest fires for 120 days. Its vice-president, Hamilton Mourão, is in charge of the country’s Amazonian council and a military operation called Green Brazil launched on May 11, which for the second year in a row targets illegal deforestation and fires.
“We started fighting these fires early and we are sure that we will reduce this illicit activity by the second half of the year,” Mourão told the Brazilian Senate on Tuesday. The northern state of Mato Grosso is one of four areas of high deforestation, he said, along with the states of Pará and Rondônia and the southern state of Amazonas. Mourão’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the Greenpeace disclosures.
But official data shows that the Brazilian government’s efforts so far this year have not yielded results. Brazil experienced more fires in the Amazon in June than in any year since 2007. The Brazilian space research agency INPE spotted 2,248, compared to 1,880 in June last year. Preliminary data showed that deforestation from January to June, at 3,069 km2, was up 25% compared to the same period last year.
The Brazilian government is under increasing pressure from international investors and Brazilian companies.
On June 23, international investors managing billions of dollars in assets warned Brazil against the escalation of deforestation and the “dismantling” of policies to protect the environment and indigenous communities. On July 7, CEOs of 39 companies, including Microsoft, Ambev, Shell, and big banks like Santander, expressed concerns about “the impact on business of the current negative perception of Brazil abroad in relation to the problems socio-environmental in the Amazon ”.
But Mourão said that to control deforestation, Brazil must regulate chaotic land ownership in the Amazon. The government is planning a decree allowing 97,000 land titles to be regularized remotely, which, according to environmentalists, means rewarding land grabbers with legal titles.
In May, more than 40 UK companies, including leading supermarkets, wrote to Brazilian lawmakers to express concerns about fire and deforestation – and an earlier version of the same decree. Greenpeace said UK consumers had to show that they did not agree with the destruction of Amazon.
“These supermarkets will be judged on how they react to this ongoing crisis. They all sell large volumes of industrial meat, much of which is linked to deforestation in forests like the Amazon, “said Anna Jones, forest manager at Greenpeace UK. “It’s time for supermarkets to abandon forest destroyers and replace industrial meat with plant-based options.”
As Mourão reaches a more moderate tone, Bolsonaro dubbed the same fiery rhetoric as last year when he saw actor accuse actor Leonardo DiCaprio of paying for fires without providing evidence, and ending up publicly with the president French, Emmanuel Macron. In the weekly Facebook Live on Thursday evening, he said the attacks on Brazil’s ruined Amazon protection were motivated by commercial rivalry.
“Brazil is an agro-food power and Europe is an environmental sect. They don’t keep anything, ”he said,“ and they shoot us unfairly all the time. Why? It’s a commercial battle. “