Let’s use the epidemic to dismantle environmental regulations, Brazilian environment minister says

Brazil is not only being challenged by a whopping increase of coronavirus cases, making it the second country after the US with the most cases. The environment is also taking a toll, with growing deforestation and an open call by one of the government ministers to deregulate environmental policies.

Brazilian Environment Minister Ricardo Salles. Credit Flickr

The country’s Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said the government should take advantage of the fact that people are distracted by the coronavirus epidemic to move forward in the deregulation of environmental policies – leading to widespread criticism from environmental leaders.

Salles spoke at a ministers’ meeting, which was recorded and the video was later released. “We need to make an effort while we are in this calm moment in terms of press coverage, because they are only talking about COVID, and push through and change all the rules and simplify norms,” he said at the meeting.

Following the repercussion from the statements, the Environment Ministry issued a comment from Salles: “I have always defended de-bureaucratization and simplifying norms, in all areas, with good sense and all within the law. The tangle of irrational laws hinders investments, the generation of jobs and, therefore, sustainable development.”

Swedish climate activists Greta Thunberg shared the news on her social media networks and said: “Just imagine the things that have been said off camera. Our common future is just a game to them.” Meanwhile, Greenpeace activist Luiza Lima said Salles has an “anti-environmental project” he wants to push ahead.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon soared by 55% in the first four months of the year compared to the same period last year, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. Destruction in April was up by 64% from the same month a year ago. A total of 5,606 square kilometers of forest have been lost since the “deforestation year” began on August 1, 2019.

Last year, over 10,000 square kilometers of forest were lost to fires and illegal deforestation. The vast majority of losses took place between May and October. Experts are concerned about the scale of destruction for 2020 since deforestation is normally hampered during these months due to the high rainfall.

A report by the Brazilian environmental organization Climate Observatory said the country could produce 10-20% more climate-warming gases in 2020 due to deforestation and farming as compared to the most recent data from 2018 – while global emissions are declining this year due to the pandemic.

“In total, the trend is for 2020 GHG emissions in Brazil to rise,” the report said. “This is because the principal source of emissions, land use change (44% of emissions in 2018), is booming due to the rise in Amazon deforestation, which is advancing despite the pandemic.”

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