Brazil to hire more environmental agents in bid to fight forest fires

31 August 2021

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BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil Environment Minister Joaquim Pereira Leite said on Tuesday that the government would contract an additional 700 enforcement agents to combat destruction of the Amazon rainforest, including wildfires.

Pereira Leite said the government had also made good on right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s pledge to double the environmental enforcement and firefighting budgets. Bolsonaro made that promise at an Earth Day summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden in April.

Those moves are the first signs of a concrete policy shift under Bolsonaro to step up environmental protection, as Brazil faces international criticism for soaring destruction of the Amazon rainforest under his administration.

Bolsonaro has called for development of the region and took steps to weaken environmental agencies since assuming office in 2019. The agencies have not had any substantial hiring since Bolsonaro took office in 2019, while budgets had dwindled.

Pereira Leite said in a news briefing that funding for enforcement had more than doubled to 498 million reais ($96.30 million), compared with 228 million reais previously.

But the shift may be too late to make a difference in this year’s destruction, with deforestation usually peaking in July and the height of the fire season coming in August and September.

The Economy Ministry had already approved the hirings for the environmental enforcement agency Ibama and parks service ICMBio, Pereira Leite said.

The minister said deforestation in August had likely fallen by 30% compared with the prior year. Space research agency Inpe has yet to release official preliminary figures for the month.

($1 = 5.1716 reais)

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Jake Spring in Brasilia Editing by Stephen Eisenhammer and Matthew Lewis)

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