Capobianco noted that full-year results will depend on a few difficult months ahead. Still, the data is an encouraging sign for Lula, who campaigned last year on promises to curb illegal logging and undo the environmental devastation during Bolsonaro’s tenure. The former far-right leader weakened environmental authorities, while his insistence on developing the Amazon region resonated with land grabbers and farmers who had long felt maligned by environmental laws. They were emboldened, and the deforestation of the Amazon rose to a 15 year high.
The deforestation data for Thursday comes from a system called Deter, run by the National Institute for Space Research, a federal agency. It is an initiative focused mainly on detecting deforestation in real time. The most accurate deforestation estimates come from another system called Prodes, with data published only annually.
“In short, we are prioritizing environmental law enforcement,” Jair Schmitt, director of environmental protection at Ibama, Brazil’s federal environmental agency, told The Associated Press.
However, continued staff shortages mean the task has not been easy, he said. Many Ibama agents retired and were not replaced during the Bolsonaro administration, reflecting his effort to strip environmental authorities. Lula has promised to restore the workforce, but the number of Ibama agents remains the lowest in 24 years. For the entire country that is larger than the contiguous United States, there are only 700 agents, with 150 available for deployment.
Ibama has also strengthened remote monitoring, where deforestation is detected through satellite images, according to Schmitt. By cross referencing land registries, it is possible to identify the owner of the area in many cases, leading to an embargo that restricts access to financial loans and imposes other penalties.
Another strategy has been to seize thousands of illegally bred cattle within the embargoed areas. It is effective because it inflicts immediate punishment, while fines are rarely paid in Brazil due to the slow appeal process, Schmitt said.
Rodrigo Agostinho, head of Ibama, noted in Thursday’s presentation that the value of fines imposed in the first half of the year increased 167% compared to the 2019-22 average, and the agency seized 2,086 areas, 111% more. .
“We started the year with great difficulty because of everything we inherited, reorganizing all the inspection and environmental protection teams, reactivating the technological systems,” said Agostinho.
The improved deforestation data also reflects the change in rhetoric coming from above, Schmitt said. While Bolsonaro openly criticized Ibama and advocated the legalization of deforested areas, Lula said she will rebuild law enforcement and vowed to expel invaders from protected areas. Experts say the mere expectation that a hoarded area will eventually become regular has historically been one of the main drivers of deforestation.
However, it may be premature to celebrate the turnaround in deforestation. According to satellite monitoring, there were 3,075 fires in the Amazon in June alone, marking the start of the dry season, the most since 2007. The jump is due to clearing of deforested areas in the second half of 2022, Schmitt said. . In the Amazon, fires are mostly man-made and occur after the forest is cleared.
With the threat of El Niño, which typically brings less rain and higher temperatures in the Amazon, Ibama doubled its budget to fight forest fires and increased the reach of its fire squads by 17% for the most critical period, usually July. to october. Approximately half of the 2,117 temporary firefighters are indigenous.
The Amazon rainforest covers an area twice the size of India and contains huge stores of carbon, serving as a crucial buffer against climate change. Two thirds of it is in Brazil.
Next month, Lula will chair a meeting in Belem, bringing together the heads of state of all the Amazon nations to discuss the means to cooperate effectively in the challenging region. Lula has promised to end net deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by 2030. His four-year term, his third term, ends two years early.
To achieve this, law enforcement alone will not be enough, says Adevaldo Dias, a rubber tapper leader who chairs the Chico Mendes Memorial, a nonprofit organization that helps non-indigenous traditional communities in the Amazon.
«It is necessary to invest in sustainable production chains under community management, such as the managed fishing of pirarucu (arapaima), Brazil nuts, vegetable oils and açai,» he told the AP. “This will help revitalize and expand these chains, generating a decent income for those who are dedicated to conservation efforts within their territories.”
Ibama’s Agostinho also highlighted his agency’s efforts inside indigenous territories, particularly the land of the Yanomami people where thousands of illegal gold miners, seeking to make a living, invaded during Bolsonaro’s rule.
Their activities polluted waterways and sickened the local population, and the Lula government has spent months expelling most of them. However, some continue to work at night to avoid being caught, Agostinho said.
“We are very happy with the result so far,” he said. “We know the fight is not over, we will continue to do this work.”