The Brazilian government has already done enough to preserve the Amazon rainforest to warrant billion-dollar financial aid from western nations, its environment minister has said in comments that are likely to complicate a key climate summit hosted by US president Joe Biden next week.
Brazil has requested $1bn from western nations, which the country’s environment minister Ricardo Salles said would be used to reduce deforestation in the world’s largest rainforest by up to 40 per cent over the next 12 months.
“We already have a lot of results that could justify the receiving of something, if not everything, but something upfront,” Salles told the Financial Times.
The request startled foreign diplomats, who maintain that Brazil must show results in reducing surging levels of deforestation before it receives any financial support. This message was conveyed to the Brazilian government in a meeting last week between several western ambassadors and Carlos França, Brazil’s new foreign minister.
Since the inauguration of Jair Bolsonaro’s administration in 2019, deforestation in the Amazon has risen to its highest level in more than a decade, sparking international concerns about the impact on climate change. Last year more than 11,000 sq km of rainforest was razed, an area seven times the size of London.
US diplomats say the environment is the most pressing aspect of Washington’s bilateral relationship with Brazil. Todd Chapman, the US ambassador to Brasília, this week told local politicians and businesspeople that the summit would be an important moment for relations between the countries.
But Salles maintained that Brazil needed cash now in order to start a “positive cycle”.
“If you don’t have the [resources] to begin operations, then the operations cannot begin. You need to have at least part of [the] necessary funds in order to start a positive cycle of taking care of the region from both [an enforcement] and a socio-economic perspective,” he said.
Of the $1bn which Brazil wants, a third would pay for command and control activities, such as enforcing environmental laws and cracking down on illegal logging and mining, according to Salles. The rest, he said, should be dedicated to economic development and the creation of jobs in the Amazon, which is one of Brazil’s poorest regions and ranks low in global human development indices.
Critics have accused Salles of wanting to tear down the rainforest to make way for commercial activity, but he pointed to Brazil’s historical preservation of the rainforest as grounds to receive cash now.
“There is a lot of things already done. We have preserved 84 per cent of Amazon forest. I don’t see any other relevant country with the same rate of preservation [of their forests],” he said.
The minister is viewed with suspicion by other nations and environmentalists following leaked comments last year in which he said the government should take advantage of the public’s distraction by the coronavirus pandemic to push through laws to deregulate the environment.
Diplomats point out that Brazil received hundred of millions of dollars in environmental support in the past, including through the Amazon Fund, an initiative of the Norwegian and German governments which has been frozen since 2019 due to Brazil’s increasing rates of deforestation.
Envoys from other countries in Brasília said that Brazil’s environmental enforcement agencies had historically been effective at combating deforestation with much smaller budgets. Since the Bolsonaro administration came to power, these agencies’ budgets have been reduced by almost 30 per cent each year.
“So far, little or nothing has been done [on deforestation], and what has been done has been ineffective. The issue is political. It is a political decision,” said André Guimarães, executive director of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute.
“I am sceptical in believing that there will be change through dialogue with the US.”
Additional reporting by Carolina Pulice