Brazil reportedly withheld Amazon’s disastrous data after COP26

By Debora Alvares | Associated press

BRASILIA, Brazil – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Environment Minister Joaquim Leite both knew the Amazon region’s annual rate of deforestation had increased ahead of the UN climate talks in Glasgow, but kept the results in silence to avoid hampering negotiations, according to three cabinet ministers who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Data from the National Institute for Space Research’s Prodes monitoring system released Thursday showed that the Amazon lost 13,235 square kilometers (5,110 square miles) of rainforest during the 12-month baseline period of August 2020 to July 2021. This is an increase of 22% compared to the previous 12. months and the worst in 15 years.

The three ministers as well as a coordinator from the space institute that compiles the data, all of whom spoke to the PA on condition of anonymity over fears of retaliation, said the annual deforestation report was available at the government information system before the talks in Glasgow. started on October 31.

Six days earlier, in a meeting at the presidential palace, Bolsonaro and several ministers discussed the 2020-2021 deforestation results and determined that they would not be released until after the climate conference, the three ministers said, two of which were present.

Later the same day, the government launched a program to promote green development. The official speeches looked like a dress rehearsal of efforts to project responsible environmental stewardship in Glasgow after two years of historically high deforestation.

One of the two ministers who attended the previous meeting said the decision to withhold the data was part of a strategy to regain environmental credibility abroad. This was not an intention to lie, the person said, but rather a way to highlight positive developments, especially year-over-year declines seen in preliminary data from deforestation for July and August monitoring system says Deter.

Bolsonaro highlighted the same data during a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September. The Deter system over the next two months, however, showed significant year-over-year increases.
Deter data is published monthly and considered as a leading indicator for full calculations from the more accurate Prodes system, which is based on clearer images and published once a year. Prodes generally follows Deter data.

After the Prodes data was released on Thursday, Leite told reporters that the data does not reflect the government’s increased commitment in recent months. He also denied seeing the data in the report before going to the UN climate summit, where he led the Brazilian delegation.

Bolsonaro, who has long championed the development of the Amazon, including the mining of indigenous territories, completely ignored Glasgow after attending the Group of 20 meeting in Rome.

The press offices of the Ministry of the Environment and the Presidency did not respond to emails from the PA asking when Leite and Bolsonaro were informed of the 2020-2021 deforestation data, or why their release was delayed. .

In Glasgow, Leite announced Brazil’s commitment to zero illegal deforestation by 2028, up two years from the previous target, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. US climate envoy John Kerry welcomed the announcements.

“This adds crucial momentum to the global #ClimateCrisis movement,” Kerry wrote on Twitter. “Looking forward to working together!

The latter goal has drawn criticism that a recent change to the nation’s baseline in 2005 means that the assumed increased commitment is roughly equal to a previous commitment.

Leite also met dozens of negotiators from other countries during the summit, seeking funding to expand Brazil’s environmental protection capacities. He has repeatedly stated that developed countries need to provide much more funds to poorer countries to facilitate their effective transition to greener economies. The summit lasted until November 12.

After the release of Prodes data on Thursday, the Oct. 27 date of the report instantly caught the attention of environmental watchers who accused the government of greenwashing at COP26.
“There should be sanctions. Brazil has adopted a false posture during the COP, trying to sell itself as a sustainable country, but deforestation is out of control, ”Cristiane Mazzetti, forestry activist for Greenpeace Brazil, said by phone. “We had sounded the alarm before that leaders should not buy empty promises from a government that has acted proactively to weaken environmental protection.”

The episode also highlights a lack of transparency and the dismantling of environmental governance, according to Izabella Teixeira, former environment minister of the Workers’ Party which opposes Bolsonaro.

“The Minister of the Environment went to a climate meeting to present Brazil’s new commitment which was immediately contradicted by the results of government policy,” Teixeira said.

Bolsonaro spoke about the deforestation on a live Facebook broadcast on Friday night, conceding that illegal deforestation is happening, but on a much smaller scale than reported by the media.

“We are fighting this. Some say “Ah, but you have to fight harder”. Do you know the size of the Amazon? How can you take care of all this? “Said the president. He also said that the solution is” simple “: other countries do not buy illegally felled timber from Brazil.

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