BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s Environment Ministry has fired two senior climate officials, leaving the posts vacant at a time when the country is under growing scrutiny for the greenhouse gases released by clearing the Amazon rainforest.
The dismissal of the ministry’s director in charge of climate change and his deputy were announced in the official government gazette on Wednesday.
The Environment Ministry told Reuters in a statement that the personnel move was designed to give “a new dynamic to the agenda of adaptation to climate change,” without elaborating. The ministry said replacements would be announced in due course.
The right-wing government of President Jair Bolsonaro had already reduced the emphasis on climate change within the ministry, turning a vice-minister-level role on climate change into a directorship.
Bolsonaro has also appointed key officials who question the science behind climate change. Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo has called it a Marxist conspiracy. Environment Minister Ricardo Salles has said he is not sure if global warming is man-made.
“It’s appalling, but hardly surprising,” said Claudio Angelo, spokesman for Brazilian advocacy group Climate Observatory. “There is no federal climate policy being formulated or implemented in Bolsonaro’s Brazil, which tells us a lot about how seriously this government takes the Paris Agreement.”
A person close to the ministry said there was no longer staff assigned to the directorate that oversees climate change as the positions remain vacant for now, requesting anonymity to speak freely.
The firings follow a tense United Nations climate change summit for the Brazil delegation in December.
Sources told Reuters that Salles had left senior climate negotiators in the dark about the government’s aims in the talks and described infighting between officials from the Environment Ministry and Foreign Ministry.
Foreign leaders and environmentalists condemned the policies of the Bolsonaro government last year when deforestation and fires in the Amazon rainforest surged, blaming the president’s rhetoric for emboldening loggers, ranchers and land grabbers.
The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest and soaks up an enormous amount of greenhouse gases, with scientists calling its protection vital for curbing more extreme global warming.
Bolsonaro has said he is unfairly demonized on the matter and that Brazil is a model for environmental preservation.
Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Brad Haynes and Nick Zieminski