Brazil proposes cuts to 2021 budget for environmental protection as deforestation spikes

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s government under President Jair Bolsonaro is proposing the smallest budget for environmental protection in at least 13 years despite soaring destruction of the country’s Amazon rainforest, according to data from non-profit Contas Abertas.

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Deforestation in Brazil’s portion of the world’s largest rainforest hit a 12-year high in 2020, according to government data. Since assuming office in 2019, Bolsonaro has drained environmental agencies of funding and appointed officials who promote softer tactics against illegal logging and other crimes.

The election of U.S. President Joe Biden could turn up pressure on Brazil over its environmental record. Biden said during his campaign that the world should offer Brazil money to preserve the Amazon and threatened unspecified economic consequences if it fails to do so.

“There is a lot of pressure on Brazil because of its treatment of the environment,” said Gil Castello Branco, executive director of Contas Abertas, a Brazilian non-profit which monitors government expenditures.

“It doesn’t make any sense to make a budget proposal that reduces the amount for environment.”

Bolsonaro’s press office directed questions on the budget to the economy and environment ministries. The Environment Ministry declined to comment, while the Economy Ministry did not respond to questions about the Contas Abertas figures.

Bolsonaro says that Brazil is a model of conservation, having preserved the majority of its original forest cover unlike Europe and the United States, and he has criticized government agencies for overzealously applying environmental laws.

The government’s budget proposal for the Environment Ministry, the agencies under its administration and other environment-linked expenditures programs is 2.9 billion reais ($530.50 million), according to an analysis of public records by Contas Abertas.

That represents a 5.4% drop from the government’s budget proposal for environment last year, down to the lowest level in the Contas Abertas analysis going back to 2008.

The cuts are part of the budget plan sent by the Bolsonaro administration to Congress for consideration and are still subject to revision by lawmakers.

($1 = 5.4665 reais)

Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Brad Haynes and Lisa Shumaker