Lula government struggles to rein in deforestation in Brazil

Preliminary data finds deforestation in the month of March increased 14 percent over the same month last year.

Deforestation in Brazil has continued to rise, underscoring the difficulties faced by left-wing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as he tries to halt deforestation that surged under his predecessor.

Preliminary data released on Friday shows that the government has yet to deliver on that promise, with deforestation for the month of March up 14 percent compared with the same month last year.

“This rise in numbers reveals that the Amazon still suffers from a huge lack of governance and that the new government needs to act urgently to rebuild its capacity for repression to environmental crime, which had been totally destroyed by the last government,” Marcio Astrini, head of local environmental group Climate Observatory, told the news agency Reuters.

During the tenure of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, experts warned that surging deforestation was endangering efforts to address the climate crisis and Indigenous communities who found themselves targeted by powerful business interests pushing into the rainforest, often with the implicit support of Bolsonaro’s right-wing government.

Lula, who was inaugurated on January 1, had promised to crack down on deforestation and protect Indigenous people from the illegal enterprises driving its rise.

“I am here to say to all of you that Brazil is back in the world,” Lula told a crowd at the COP27 climate conference in November 2022. “You all know that we are going to undertake a big fight against deforestation.”

Satellite images from the INPE national space investigations, however, show that 356sq kilometres (137sq miles) were cleared in the month of March. From January through March, the deforestation dropped by about 11 percent compared with the prior year.

The mixed results underscored the challenges that remain after several years of lax enforcement and unofficial support for many of the illegal business activities that contribute to deforestation, seen by Bolsonaro as a form of economic development.

“The figures show there is a complex scenario in the face of a weakening of control in the region and the discourse of the last few years that favoured illegality,” Mariana Napolitano, the conservation manager for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Brazil, told the news agency AFP.

“Even though the current government has shown its intention to seriously fight deforestation, it will take time to change the scenario.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies