Brazil to create 'Amazon Council' to protect and develop forest

The move follows intense criticism of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's environmental policies.

    A tract of Amazon jungle burning as it is cleared by farmers in Itaituba, Para, Brazil [File: Ricardo Moraes/Reuters]
    A tract of Amazon jungle burning as it is cleared by farmers in Itaituba, Para, Brazil [File: Ricardo Moraes/Reuters]

    Brazil's right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro said on Tuesday he will create an "Amazon Council" to protect and ensure the "sustainable development" of the world's largest rainforest, following intense criticism of his environmental policies.

    The council will be led by Brazil's vice president, General Hamilton Mourao, Bolsonaro said on Twitter, and will coordinate "diverse actions within each ministry focused on the protection, defence and sustainable development of the Amazon."

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    Bolsonaro has said previously that his government is protecting the rainforest, but he wants economic development in the Amazon to improve the lives of its 30 million inhabitants, including its Indigenous tribes. Environmentalists fear that will hasten deforestation.

    Under Bolsonaro, the number of fires in the Amazon reached a 10-year high last year, prompting world leaders to denounce his environmental record.

    Translation: I have ordered the creation of the Amazon Council, to be coordinated with Vice President General Mourao, using its own structure it will coordinate diverse actions within each ministry focused on the protection, defence, and sustainable development of the Amazon.

    On January 15 MapBiomas, an environmental group that monitors the rate of forest destruction said deforestation of Brazil's Amazon rainforest threatens to accelerate and draw increased global concern since no new fire prevention measures have been taken in the crucial run-up to this year's dry season, according to Tasso Azevedo, coordinator of a group called MapBiomas that monitors the rate of forest destruction.

    "It would be expected that it will be worse than last year unless something really big happens in the next two or three months to avoid the high season of deforestation that starts in May," Tasso Azevedo told Reuters news agency.

    The number of fires in the Amazon rainforest increased 30.5 percent in 2019 from the previous year, while deforestation rose 85 percent, according to recent data released by Brazil's space research agency INPE.

    The Amazon, the world's largest rainforest, is a bulwark against global warming because of the vast amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide it soaks up from the atmosphere. It also provides Brazil with hydropower, and its abundant rain provides irrigation-free agriculture.

    Risks to the forest sparked a public outcry in August when fires raged through the Amazon, drawing sharp international criticism.

    Last week, Brazilian Indigenous leaders issued a rallying call to protect the Amazon rainforest and its native tribes from what they called the "genocide, ethnocide and ecocide" planned by Bolsonaro.

    A manifesto signed on Friday at the end of a four-day meeting in the Xingu reservation said Bolsonaro was threatening the survival of Indigenous people with plans to allow commercial mining and ranching on their protected lands.

    Invasions of reservations by illegal loggers and miners have increased since Bolsonaro took office last year, leading to violent clashes. At least eight indigenous leaders were killed last year in circumstances that have not yet been clarified.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency