Brazil’s new environment minister faces a huge challenge from Amazon

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Activists hope that the appointment of a new minister of the environment in Brazil will mark a change in the direction of the government, which has played down climate change and led the massive increase in deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

Joaquim Pereira Leite, almost unknown a few months ago, now holds one of the most important positions in climate politics. The 46-year-old man’s mission is to save the Amazon when climate change escalates and human-led deforestation endangers important ecosystems.

The destruction of the biome is no longer a distant prospect.As Brazil suffers Severe droughtScientists warn that further deforestation will have a more devastating impact on Latin America and the world.

Leite’s predecessor, Ricardo Salles, was ridiculed by critics as an “anti-environment minister”. He advocated opening up to tropical rain forests for commercial activities and withdrew in June because he denied allegations of collusion with illegal loggers.

Now, activists hope that Wright’s appointment will herald the Brazilian government’s new approach to climate change.

Joaquim Alvaro Pereira Leite’s first priority is to deal with deforestation © MMA/flickr

“I believe Wright is much less ideological than Salus. He may be more technical and less likely to cause controversy,” said Raoni Rajão, a well-known environmental scholar at the Federal University of Minas Gerais.

However, environmentalists have warned that Wright’s ability to readjust Brazil’s environmental stance will be restricted by President Jair Bolsonaro, who is not very interested in conservation and treats illegal gold diggers, loggers and loggers in the rainforest. Ranchers are regarded as their core group of voters.

“One thing we have to be clear is that Ricardo Salles is the operator of the president Jar Bolsonaro. So the current minister, if he wants to do anything, he will have to stop listening to the president,” said Marina Silva, the former Minister of Environment in the left-wing Workers’ Party government.

Bolsonaro did not speak publicly about Wright, who had been a coffee producer and agricultural consultant for many years before joining the ministry in a senior position in 2019. To further improve the environmental problems of Brazil, the largest agricultural country on the planet. “

Suely Araújo, the former chairman of Ibama, Brazil’s main environmental law enforcement agency, admitted that Leite was “less noisy” than Salles, but warned about his historical connection with what she called the “oldest part of agriculture”.

“if [Leite] To promote structural change, we have heard of these proposals. My impression is that he will continue to implement the current government agenda.

“To stay in the government, the minister must be loyal to what is being done. The environmental demolition project comes from President Bolsonaro,” she added.

Since the right-wing leader came to power in 2019, deforestation has surged. Last year, more than 11,000 square kilometers of the Amazon rainforest was razed to the ground, an area seven times the size of London, the highest level in 12 years.

The number of fires-an important source of carbon emissions-has also increased, and the number of fires reported by this Latin American country in June was the highest month in 14 years. At the same time, the Brazilian government has cut the budgets of its environmental agencies, such as Ibama, which is dedicated to protecting forests and national parks.

The director of the Brazilian Rural Association, Teresa Vendramini, is an agricultural association. Before joining the ministry, Wright served as an advisor to the association for 20 years. She said that the biggest challenge facing the new minister is to tackle illegal logging. The problem of forests, loggers and land grabbers. “But we learned that it depends not only on the ministry, but also on Ibama, the federal police, and everyone.”

Deforestation is usually driven by countless networks of illegal interests, including loggers, wildcat gold miners, ranchers and even criminal syndicates. The fire is usually to clear the land after a forest has been cut down.

Fires can also be caused by drought. A study by the University of Oxford and Lancaster University last month found that drought and wildfires following the El Niño weather event in 2015-16 destroyed more than 2.5 billion trees and woody vines in the most severely affected areas of the rainforest.

Scientists are now worried that increasing climate change will be combined with human-led deforestation, pushing the rainforest beyond its “critical point” where it can no longer maintain its water cycle ecosystem. This will lead to the rapid death of forests and cause severe climate fluctuations in Latin America and around the world.

“The first big challenge Wright faced was the fight against deforestation-this was his biggest responsibility. Our previous minister barely noticed it,” said André Guimarães, director of the Amazon Environmental Institute.

Wright, who joined the Forestry Department of the Ministry of Environment before leading the Amazon Secretariat, declined an interview request and remained silent on the challenges Brazil faces in the tropical rainforest.

However, in his public comments last month, he emphasized the importance of “working together.” .. Integration [armed] The forces of the Ministry of National Defense, the Ministry of Justice and Public Security to combat illegal deforestation and illegal mining”.

In July, the Brazilian government redeployed its troops to combat deforestation. Previously, the armed forces deployed in the Amazon for two years. The mission was widely regarded as a failure because it did not stop the increase in deforestation.

Observers for the mission-codenamed Green Brazil-stated that the military is not flexible enough to capture loggers and miners who are highly adapted to the forest climate and terrain.

Additional reporting by Carolina Pulis

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