From fires to the oil spill in the Northeast, see the presidential blunders

“The Brazilian Amazon is known to be extraordinarily rich. This explains the support of international institutions to this campaign, anchored on shady interests that join usurping and unpatriotic Brazilian groups, with the goal of harming the government and Brazil itself”.


Bolsonaro is possibly referring in a veiled manner, to the Amazon or Bolsonaro? Which side are you on? campaign, launched by a group of Brazilian organizations with the objective of denouncing the destruction of the forest and the dismantling of environmental governance in the country under the current administration. The campaign materials were shared by organizations, individuals and celebrities all over the world. The campaign is in no way related to the exploitation of Amazon resources, as the president insinuates.                

“We are leaders in rainforest conservation.”


Brazil is a leader in the destruction of rainforests. Brazil is the country responsible for the largest volume of deforestation in the world in absolute terms: in the past year alone it destroyed more than 17,000 km2 in the Amazon and the Cerrado, according to Inpe.

An analysis by Global Forest Watch shows that Brazil accounted for over a third of all losses of primary rainforests in 2019.

Over the last decades, the country has, in fact, advanced in the protection of these ecosystems, creating satellite monitoring systems, demarcating indigenous land and creating conservation units, as well as carrying out plans for prevention and control of deforestation (known as PPCDAm and PPCerrado). In 2019, however, those plans were shelved by the Bolsonaro administration and, since then, the country has not had a sound anti-deforestation policy in place. The creation of conservation units and the demarcation of indigenous lands simply stopped.

Even though it is not a specific ranking of rainforests, UN data compiled by the World Bank show that 29 countries have a larger proportion of forest coverage than that of Brazil – in absolute terms, the country with the largest area of land covered by forests is Russia.

More than half of the world’s forests are located in five countries: Russia (20.1%), Brazil (12.2%), Canada (8.5%), USA (7.6%) and China (5.4% ), according to FAO.

In the UN ranking, Brazil appears as the 34th country in terms of proportional protected areas.

“We have the cleanest and most diverse energy matrix in the world”.


According to the Our World in Data website, based on the BP energy statistics, in 2019 Brazil’s energy matrix included 45% of renewable sources. This is less than Iceland (79%) and Norway (66%).

However, Brazil does not have a plan for the decarbonization of the economy in the long term, in spite of the Paris Agreement request that governments present a long-term goal towards decarbonization.

“Even though we are one of the 10 largest economies of the world, we are responsible for only 3% of carbon emissions”.        


According to SEEG, the Observatório do Clima Emission Estimate System, Brazil emitted, in 2018, 1.9 billion gross tons of CO2 equivalent. This is little less than 4% of global emissions, but it means that the country ranks as the sixth largest emitter in the planet, only behind China (11.5 billion tons), the US (5.8 billion tons), India (3.2 billion tons), Russia (2.4 billion tons) and Indonesia (2.2 billion tons). The data by country can be obtained at the ClimateWatch, the WRI platform.

“Even though we preserve 66% of our native vegetation and use only 27% of our territory for livestock and agriculture, which are numbers that no other country matches”.


Brazil has 66% of its the territory covered with vegetation, but a Mapbiomas analysis shows that at least 9% of this vegetation is secondary – i.e., those are areas that have once been cleared but grew back. Therefore, they are not preserved areas. In addition, over 20 countries have larger native vegetation areas than Brazil as a share of the territory.

Researchers have pointed to what they call the “creative statistics” used by the head of Embrapa Territorial, Evaristo de Miranda, to affirm that Brazil is the country that preserves its forests the most. Miranda ‘s conclusions about the preservation of flora in rural properties were also challenged in the essay “Do data support claims that Brazil leads the world in environmental preservation?” published by the Environmental Conservation magazine, Cambridge University Press.

Data on 27% of the territory used for livestock and agriculture is inaccurate, but not incorrect . A Mapbiomas analysis shows that 30% of the Brazilian territory is occupied by agriculture. Including natural pastures in the Pantanal and Pampa regions, this total rises to 34%. This is close to the global average of 37%, according to FAO.      

“Our forests are damp and do not allow the spread of fire. Fires happen practically at the same spots, in the eastern surroundings of the forest, where the caboclo and the indigenous peoples burn their land for their own survival, in areas that are already deforested”.


NASA and INPE data and a study recently published in Science show that large part of the burning occurs in recently-deforested areas (and not in consolidated agricultural areas), mainly to allow the opening of pastures. In accordance with a study carried out by Inpe and UFMG researchers, over half (52%) of heat foci and 67% of deforestation alerts occurred in large and medium-sized rural properties. According to Nasa data compiled by O Globo, 54% of the fire the outbreaks in August originated from deforestation. An Ipam technical note also showed that, in 2019, 64% of fire outbreaks in the Amazon originated from some kind of forest degradation – either deforestation fires or fires affecting degraded forest areas. Ipam also showed, in the same technical note, that only 7% of the fires in 2019 occurred on indigenous lands and 31% on rural properties – i.e., contrary to what the president said, indigenous populations are not responsible for most of the burning. The Federal Police investigated farmers for their alleged involvement in “Fire Day” in the Amazon in 2019 and points to farmers as suspects of burning forest areas to be converted into pasture in the Pantanal region in 2020.

“Criminal fires are combated with rigor and determination. I keep a policy of zero tolerance for environment crimes.”


In the Pantanal region, fires have ravaged 21% of the biome, according to LASA/UFRJ. This is the worst figure since the beginning of Inpe’s historical series: until September 21, 16,119 outbreaks were registered, the highest figure in the 23 years of satellite monitoring of the biome.

In the Amazon, in the months of May, June, July and August 2020 (when the Armed Forces coordinated actions in the region), 39,187 fire outbreaks were recorded, which is more than the 38,952 outbreaks recorded over the same period of 2019. From January to August, a 6% increase was recorded. In the first 21 days of September, 27,660 outbreaks were recorded, more than the 19,925 recorded in the entire month last year.

Preliminary data from Inpe deforestation alerts show a 34% increase in deforestation this year compared to the same period of 2019, which already had recorded the highest official deforestation rate in eleven years.

The infraction notices drawn up by Ibama from January to September (4,381) fell 52% in comparison with the same period in 2019 and 60% in comparison with 2018, according to data available for public consultation at the Institute’s website (updated on September 21).

Until yesterday (21/09), Ibama had used only 30% of its inspection budget for 2020.

In August, the Ministry of Defense halted an Ibama operation against illegal mining on indigenous land in Pará and miners embarked on a FAB (Brazilian Air Force) aircraft and were taken to Brasília to discuss the matter.

“Along with the National Congress, we seek to achieve land regularization, aiming to identify those responsible for these crimes”.  


Brazil had reduced deforestation in the Amazon by 73% between 2004 and 2009, without changing land tenure legislation. According to experts and members of the Public Prosecutors’ Office, if Provisional Measure No. 910/2019 (converted into Bill No. 2633/2020, with amendments) gets approved with the wording proposed by the government, it would result in amnesty to public-land invasions and deforestation occurred up to the 2018 presidential campaign, which led to Bolsonaro’s election.

In the entire year of 2019, the Bolsonaro administration issued property titles to only six rural properties, while the annual average from 2009-2018 was 3,190.

In the Amazon, most of the deforestation occurs in private areas. Analyses carried out by Mapbiomas showed that two thirds of deforestation alerts in 2019 occurred in areas covered by at least one Rural Environmental Record (CAR) – i.e., it is possible to punish those listed as the owners of such areas. Based on that, in 2016, Ibama created Operation Remote Control to monitor deforestation without the need to go into the field in each and every cases. However, since the beginning of the Bolsonaro administration, the results of this operation have not been disclosed .

“It is necessary to keep in mind that the Amazon Region is bigger than the entire territory of Western Europe. Hence the difficulty in combating not only fire outbreaks, but also illegal logging and bio-piracy”.


The size of the Amazon has not prevented the country from reducing deforestation by 83% between 2004 and 2012, using a series of mechanisms, such as satellite monitoring in real time, IBAMA supervision actions, deterrent destruction of equipment belonging to offenders and the suspension of agricultural credit lines to illegal farmers, without any reduction in the agricultural production of the country.        

“Thus, we are expanding and improving the use of technology and increasing interagency operations, even with the participation of the Armed Forces”.  


Although interagency work may be important to improve the results of public management , the main operation carried out in this model, Verde Brasil 2, coordinated by the Armed Forces since May 11, has proved ineffective and expensive. In that period, there was greater impunity (with reduction of infraction notices drawn up by IBAMA) and increased deforestation, fires and costs.            

“Our Pantanal, with an area larger than many European countries, suffers from the same problems as California. Large fires are an unavoidable consequence of high temperatures, combined with the accumulation of organic mass in decomposition”.


Unlike Brazil, California fires are mainly caused by global warming. In an article published in August, Scientific American noted that the increase in fires in California is seen by scientists as a sign of the changing climate. Increased temperatures, lower precipitation rates and earlier snow melts result in dryer soil and withered vegetation, they explain . There is no agricultural frontier in California, or production of commodities in forest areas. The total extent of the California fires in 2020, the worst year in history, was 1.2 million hectares – less than half of the area that burned in the Pantanal region. In Pantanal, climate changes also exert influence on the biome, but there is strong evidence that the current fires were caused by human actions. Instituto Centro de Vida (ICV), which monitors heat foci, showed that 9 fire sites gave rise to the tragedy and 5 of them originated at Pantanal farms. The Federal Police initiated an inquiry to investigate the origin of fires in the region and pointed to farmers as suspects of criminal action.

“Along these lines, Brazil made an effort, at COP25, in Madrid , to regulate the articles of the Paris Agreement that would allow the actual establishment of an international carbon market. Unfortunately, we were defeated by protectionist interests”.          


Brazil, along with Australia, Saudi Arabia and the US, was one of the main countries responsible for the failure of COP25. The country systematically blocked all the discussions on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which regulates the carbon market. Brazil wanted, for example, to carry over reductions allegedly made under the Kyoto Protocol, the preceding climate agreement, into the new legal regime – in a maneuver that other countries see as protectionist to sectors such as hydropower, which have these alleged reductions in stock – or to allow a double count of deducted emissions.

“In 2019, Brazil was the victim of a criminal spill of Venezuelan oil, sold without control, which caused severe damage to the environment and serious damages to fishing and tourism activities”.


A year after the largest oil spill disaster in the country, the origin of the oil that reached the coast of Alagoas and other eight states in the Northeast and two in the Southeast, totaling 130 municipalities, is still unknown. In August this year, the Brazilian Navy concluded the first stage of the investigations without reaching a conclusion about the cause or those responsible for the leak (it is not known, for example, whether the leak originated from a vessel that was passing by or from a ship that had sunk years ago). The narrative about the Venezuelan responsibility came early in the investigation, when a Petrobras report indicated that the oil originated from that country. However, in accordance with the documents that are part of the investigations carried out by the Parliamentary Investigation Commission on such spill, other International reports that investigated the substance were unable to determine its origin.