28 Aug As Amazon Fires Rage, Brazilâs Government Employees Warn …
RIO DE JANEIRO â Hundreds of government employees tasked with enforcing environmental laws in Brazil warned in a letter this week that the countryâs environmental protection system could âcollapseâ as policies and political rhetoric encourage illegal land grabbing in the Amazon and other biomes.
The letter, which had been signed by more than 500 career public servants as of Tuesday night, was issued amid a heated global debate over the fate of the Amazon sparked by thousands of fires raging across the worldâs largest rainforest, and warns that those on the front line of environmental enforcement are finding it increasingly difficult to do their job.
Employees of the countryâs main environmental agency, Ibama, said their mission had been hobbled in recent years as a result of budget cuts, a thinner presence in remote areas, attacks on enforcement personnel, as well as political interference and a weakening of environmental regulations.
âThere is no way to separate those factors and the significant rise in deforestation and fires,â they wrote in the letter.
So far this month, there have been more than 27,400 fires detected in the Amazon. Such fires occur yearly as farmers clear land to grow crops or graze cattle. But this yearâs fire season, the most intense in a decade, drew global consternation as world leaders and celebrities issued stark warnings last week about the fate of the Amazon.
The letter comes as President Jair Bolsonaro has rebuffed offers of international aid and called pressure from foreign leaders on environmental matters an unacceptable affront to Brazilâs sovereignty.
Since Mr. Bolsonaro took office in January deforestation has increased at a significant rate. Ibama, meanwhile, has carried out fewer enforcement actions, which include issuing fines, warnings and conducting worksite raids.
While Brazil has strict environmental laws, it has limited, and diminishing, ability to enforce them. In recent years, a vast majority fines issued by Ibama for violating environmental laws have gone unpaid.
On Friday, under international pressure to act, Mr. Bolsonaro ordered a military operation to help quell the fires and vowed that his government would take a âzero toleranceâ approach to enforcing environmental laws.
Ibama workers said they welcomed that move but worry that it would amount to an empty promise if it is not backed by a âpermanent, continuous, strategic and effective enforcement mechanism.â Absent that, they added, âthe rates of destruction of the Amazon rainforest will not diminish.â
Mr. Bolsonaroâs administration has bristled at international criticism over the fires, arguing that Brazil has done more than many other countries to preserve its forests.
The president has said that Brazil the vast patchwork of protected areas, including Indigenous reserves and wildlife reserves, handicaps economic development.
The Ibama employees warned that failing to double down on conservation efforts would pose a bigger threat to economic growth.
âRespecting environmental protection laws matters especially to the Brazilian economy, which relies heavily on the export of commodities,â they wrote. âThe global clamor for the protection of the Brazilian Amazon, and the risk that the country could face economic sanctions targeting its exports, make that all the more relevant.â