Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon worsened in recent months, vice-president says

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon has surged since right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019. PHOTO: NYTIMES

BRASILIA (REUTERS) - Brazil's Vice-President Hamilton Mourao on Wednesday (May 26) acknowledged that destruction of the Amazon rainforest had worsened since March, saying the government would send in the military if necessary to meet its target to lower deforestation by July.

Mr Mourao, who is leading the government's Amazon policy, told reporters in a briefing that deforestation this month is "not good" but reaffirmed a commitment to lower deforestation by 15 per cent in the 12-months through July.

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon has surged since right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019. He has called for the industrial development of protected nature reserves and criticising environmental enforcement.

Mr Bolsonaro had previously deployed the military in response to rising Amazon deforestation and fires, but pulled them out at the end of April.

The expensive deployments over the course of 20 months failed to lower destruction to levels seen prior to Mr Bolsonaro's presidency.

Brazil's official annual measurement of deforestation runs from August to July each year.

Preliminary monthly data from the government's Inpe research institute shows Brazil has been on pace to potentially meet Mr Mourao's 15 per cent reduction during that period with deforestation falling in late 2020 and early 2021.

But the data shows double-digit increases in March and April, while the most critical months for annual deforestation lie ahead.

Deforestation peaks during the dry season from May to October, when it is easier for illegal loggers to access the forest to harvest valuable wood.

Mr Mourao also said he "deeply regretted" that Environment Minister Ricardo Salles was not present at a meeting of the country's Amazon Council on Wednesday at a time when "we need cooperation".

Earlier in May, Mr Salles and other key figures in the ministry were probed over alleged illegal timbre exports to the US and Europe.

Brazil is under international pressure, led by the United States, to show that it is serious about protecting the Amazon, with US officials saying they expect a reduction in deforestation this year.

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