July 10, 2020 / 6:11 PM / a month ago

Brazil acted too late to halt deforestation this year, vice president says

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s Vice President Hamilton Mourao said on Friday that the government started efforts to fight environmental destruction too late and that as a result soaring deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is unlikely to improve in 2020.

Brazil's Vice President Hamilton Mourao attends a news conference on deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest, in Brasilia, Brazil July 10, 2020. Romerio Cunha/Brazilian Vice Presidency/Handout via REUTERS.

Deforestation in Brazil’s portion of the Amazon soared in 2019, the first year of right-wing Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency, with researchers saying his calls for economic development in the Amazon have emboldened illegal loggers and land speculators.

Mourao’s remarks were in reaction to preliminary data released by government space research agency INPE on Friday that showed a further 25% increase in the destruction for the first six months of 2020, compared to the same period a year ago.

Bolsonaro deployed the military to fight Amazon deforestation and fires in May, an operation that’s been extended through November, but Mourao said that this was not early enough.

“It started late, obviously. It started in May, which will give us a better situation in relation to fires, but not for deforestation,” Mourao told reporters while leaving his office.

“The operations against deforestation should have started in December last year,” he added.

The process of environmental destruction generally starts with loggers harvesting any valuable wood before torching what remains, clearing space for cattle grazing with an aim to eventually sell the land for a profit.

The forest becomes more susceptible to fire further into the dry season, which is just beginning in many parts of the Amazon, and therefore fires peak later in the year than deforestation.

Mourao said that the country has too few environmental enforcement agents and more personnel should be shifted into those roles.

The government must find permanent solutions for policing environmental crimes in the Amazon and will continue efforts to fight deforestation through the end of Bolsonaro’s first term in 2022, he said.

Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu, writing by Jake Spring; Editing by Nick Zieminski

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