According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE, in Portuguese), deforestation of the Amazon rainforest fell by 42.5% in the first semester of this year compared to the same period of 2022. The numbers continued to drop in the second semester when the dry period boosts fires. In July, deforestation fell by 66%. Still to be officially released, INPE’s deforestation data to August this year will probably be between 55% and 60% reduction.
Unlike the previous government, which dismantled the structure of environmental monitoring and welcomed deforesters, numbers show that the Amazon deforestation resumed to pre-Bolsonaro levels. However, scientists warn of the possibility of agribusiness causing the biome to reach the so-called point of no return when the environmental degradation will be so stark that it will become impossible to revert it.
“Agribusiness has the power in Brazil's Congress. We must convince parliamentarians of the need to draw a plan for the future. Otherwise, we will all walk towards [an environmental] collapse”, says Luciana Gatti, a climate change scientist and coordinator of INPE’s Greenhouse Gases Laboratory.
She explains that it is difficult to predict a date when the frightening point of no return will be reached, but she confirms that “we are very close to it”. Luciana says the desertification of the Amazon rainforest will not happen all at once in the whole of the biome, but will probably start in areas where deforestation is more intense and where it is already causing climate and rainfall changes.
“Our uttermost priority has to be the southeast portion of the Amazon. It should be proclaimed a state of emergency in that region: to prohibit any kind of deforestation and fire and start broad projects to restore the forest, by producing seedlings and planting”, Gatti added.
The mayors of the “point of no return”
The southeastern region of the Amazon includes the north portion of Mato Grosso state and the south portion of Pará state. In these areas, agribusiness and the cultivation of grains are the main causes of deforestation. These activities frequently place the towns of the region at the top of the deforestation ranking in Brazil. Recently, the president of the Chamber of Deputies Environment Committee, federal deputy José Priante (Brazilian Democratic Movement – Pará state), mediated a conversation between local mayors and representatives of the Ministry of the Environment.
“They [mayors] want to be better informed about the areas where there are deforestation activities and those that do not have it and want environmental and land regularization”, said the extraordinary secretary of Deforestation Control and Territorial Environmental Planning of the Ministry of the Environment, André Lima, to Brasil de Fato.
“We are building a broad political articulation involving fund transfers from the Amazon Fund to the towns that join the pact. We are trying to change the conversation: instead of parliament being reactive to control measures, we are calling them to lead a positive agenda linked to reduction of deforestation”, he explained.
André Lima acknowledges that the rural caucus opposition at Congress is an obstacle to the “zero deforestation” goal the federal government is seeking, but reveals governmental strategies to ease, with a republican approach, the reaction of parliamentarians. The Amazon Fund, which until recently only financed projects presented by states or the federal administration, will start to support municipal initiatives. He said the priority will be forest restoration and economic activities with traditional peoples and communities.
“Obviously, there are specific reactions of parliamentarians regarding some tougher measures, such as cattle seizure, destruction of goods and seizure and equipment seizure during inspections. It always causes some kind of reaction because parliamentarians are called to try to ease inspections – and we have been doing this. Ibama’s (Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) president is a former federal deputy. He has been firm, but as far as possible, it has responded to requests,” said Lima.
The government promises a continued drop in deforestation
In 2023, the total of embargoed areas in the Amazon was 280,000 hectares: 213,000 hectares of private estates and 67,000 hectares of public lands. The total amount of environmental fines applied in the biome is already close to 1 billion reais.
André Lima, the national secretary for combating deforestation, sees the numbers as satisfactory, but says they will probably drop even more. Up until now, the government has been working to make inspection operations more efficient. However, plans to boost sustainable economic development, which depends on time to be implemented, stay on the drawing board.
“Something new that we implemented was the remote embargoes, that is, we are boosting the use of technology not only to detect deforestation and mobilize on-the-ground staff, but also to enforce sanctions remotely. It is generating results, because we multiply the inspection capacity by ten”, explained André Lima to Brasil de Fato.
According to Lima, new measures have still to take effect in deforestation estimates. The Central Bank published a resolution blocking rural credit to owners of embargoed properties or those whose Rural Environmental Registry (CAR, in Portuguese) was cancelled or suspended. The change affects farm owners embargoed by federal and state agencies or have properties that overlap with Indigenous lands and conservation units. The new standards come into effect between August of this year and January 2024.
An analysis by the MapBiomas project released at the end of August this year showed that, between 1985 and 2022, the area occupied by agribusiness in the Amazon jumped from 3% to 16%. In the same period, the forest lost 52 million hectares, equivalent to the area of France. “If we don't stop it, we could soon reach the point of no return. We must inspect, monitor and combat illegal deforestation”, highlights Luiz Oliveira, a researcher at MapBiomas.
Publishing in the scientific journal Nature researches about the Amazon, Luciana Gatti discovered in 2021 that the Amazon had become a source of carbon for the atmosphere. In 2023, another paper she published with colleagues concluded that emissions had doubled in the first two years of the Bolsonaro administration. She acknowledges that the Lula government represented an environmental shift for the country, but says this is not enough.
“We need to change this agricultural production model – and fast –, because this will lead Brazil to a climate collapse. Soon, it will cause consequences, a major socio-environmental and ecological problem. We are heading towards a catastrophic future. We must change, so let's sit down together and draw up a plan for this change”, summoned the scientist.
Edited by: Nadini Lopes e Vivian Virissimo