Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Saturday that his government had opted to reduce the number of environmental fines handed out to ranchers in order to bring “peace and tranquility” to the countryside.
Environmental specialists have attributed a reduction in environmental fines in Brazil in recent years to the diminished capacity of federal environmental regulator Ibama.
Starting in 2019, Brazil has begun to break illegal deforestation records. From August 2019 to July 2020, the most recent official data available, the Amazon lost 11,088 square kilometers (4,280 square miles) of forest cover, the fastest rate in 12 years.
Bolsonaro’s speech on Saturday reflected his still-cozy relationship with ranchers, a key part of his political base, even as the former army captain has given tentative signs in recent weeks that he will increase efforts to protect the Amazon from deforestation.
“The number of fines fell significantly because we prefer a different method, of giving advice, of observing. As a last resort, there’s the option of fines,” Bolsonaro said at a virtual version of Expozebu, a cattle farmers’ convention.
Speaking in late April at a climate summit organized by U.S. President Joe Biden, Bolsonaro pledged to double the budget for environmental enforcement and end illegal deforestation by 2030.
The U.S. government applauded those targets, part of a shift in tone by the far-right leader, although many environmentalists said they would not take the rhetoric seriously before seeing real progress.
Less than 24 hours later, Bolsonaro signed off on the 2021 federal budget that included 2 billion reais ($368 million) for the Environment Ministry and the agencies it oversees, down 24% from the previous year, according to the official government gazette.