Brazil’s Bolsonaro raises environmental fines to protect the Amazon rainforest

São Paulo (May 24) (Reuters) – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday signed a decree stepping up fines for environmental crimes, according to the government’s Official Gazette, in a move to allow tougher protection for the Amazon rainforest.

Reuters exclusively reported earlier today that Bolsonaro is expected to sign the executive order as soon as Tuesday. Read more

The decree raises the potential value of fines for document forgery to cover up illegal logging, clarifies the most serious consequences of repeated environmental violations and will help reduce the backlog of fines awaiting collection.

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Environmental fines – which also target infractions such as unauthorized hunting, fishing and pollution – are one of Brazil’s main tools to combat illegal deforestation.

The decree, which takes effect immediately, is one of the first concrete steps the Bolsonaro government has taken to bolster protection for the Amazon after committing to end illegal deforestation by 2028 at the UN climate summit COP26 in November.

Preserving the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, is vital to preventing catastrophic climate change due to the massive amounts of global warming carbon it stores.

The decree is also a reflection on Bolsonaro, who is a vocal critic of environmental fines. In his 2018 campaign, the former right-wing army captain criticized the “fining industry” set up by environmental agencies to persecute farmers. He continued to criticize the fines in the run-up to the October presidential election.

Bolsonaro’s office and the environment ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Under the decree, falsifying documents to introduce illegal timber into legal supply chains will incur an additional fine of 300 riyals ($58.62) per cubic meter, with a maximum fine of 50 million riyals. The previous limit for fraud on the wood tracking system was 1 million OMR.

The decree also eliminates some of the routine that Bolsonaro himself has established. Shortly after taking office in 2019, the president signed an order giving individuals and companies accused of environmental crimes the right to “reconciliation sessions” that could commute or cancel sanctions.

These hearings came on top of an existing system of adjudication of fines that already allowed for multiple appeals.

A Reuters investigation last year showed that the added bureaucratic step, without enough government employees to hold sessions, meant that 17,000 fines had accrued and went uncollected while they waited for the masses. Read more

“The fines are very important to stop deforestation, to intimidate illegal deforestation … mainly in the Amazon. This new move has discredited the fines as a tool,” said José Sarne Filho, former environment minister from 2016 to 2018.

With fines not collected, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon continued to accelerate.

Deforestation rose to a 15-year high in 2021, according to government satellite data. Preliminary figures show that the destruction set a new record for the period from January to April this year. Read more

The new decree requires those facing fines to request a “reconciliation” appeal hearing rather than be granted automatically, a move that could reduce the backlog.

policy diversion

The decree adds to Bolsonaro’s efforts since last year to show his government is taking environmental protection more seriously, following pressure from European and US leaders to protect the Amazon rainforest.

Bolsonaro brought up the country’s emissions-neutrality goal during the White House Earth Day Summit in April 2021. He told the United Nations General Assembly in September that Brazil was doubling its budget for environmental enforcement. Read more

At the United Nations climate summit in November in Glasgow, Brazil committed to halting illegal deforestation by 2028.

But so far, few policy changes have reversed a plan to deliver on those promises, as evidence of deforestation continues to mount, according to Ana Karen Pereira, professor of environmental policy at the University of Brasilia.

The 2021 implementation budget has mostly not been spent, bringing staff back to major conservation agencies has been slow and Bolsonaro is still calling for more mining and commercial farming in the Amazon. Read more

Speaking to his political base among farmers, Bolsonaro also continues to criticize environmental fines.

In January this year, Bolsonaro told an agricultural event that cutting environmental fines was a sign of his government’s success.

“We have ended the major environmental problems, especially with regard to fines. Should they exist? Yes. But we have discussed them and we have reduced the fines in the field by more than 80%,” Bolsonaro said.

Environmental Enforcement Agency Ibama did not respond to questions about official data to support Bolsonaro’s estimate.

(1 dollar = 5.1179 riyals)

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Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Brad Haines and Lisa Schumaker

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.