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Lula’s first month sees a decrease in Amazon deforestation

Though they stress that it is too soon to judge whether the decline in January signals a long-term reversal, experts describe it as “good”.

During his first month in office, left-leaning President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has pledged to revive environmental preservation efforts, saw a 61 percent decrease in deforestation in Brazil’s portion of the Amazon rainforest.

167 sq km (64 sq miles) were cleared in the region this month, according to preliminary satellite data gathered by the government’s space research organization Inpe and released on Friday, down from the 430 sq km (166 sq miles) lost in January 2022.

Experts have issued a warning, however, saying that while the decline is encouraging, it is still too soon to declare that the deforestation, which soared under Jair Bolsonaro, Lula’s predecessor and a member of Brazil’s far-right party, has been stopped.

Daniel Silva, a conservation specialist at the World Wild Fund for Nature’s Brazilian office, stated, “It is encouraging to observe such a substantial decline in January” (WWF-Brasil). But given that some of this decline may be attributed to more cloud cover, it is still too early to talk about a trend reversal.

Deforestation typically reaches its height in the dry season, which starts in June, as noted by WWF-Brazil. In order for Brazil to regain its position as a global environmental leader, the action plans for the prevention and control of deforestation and forest fires need to be urgently rebuilt, according to Frederico Machado, another expert with the organisation.

Bolsonaro, who was narrowly beaten by Lula in the October elections and who encouraged more mining and commercial growth in Brazil’s expansive Amazon region, saw a sharp spike in deforestation.

Environmental and indigenous rights organizations had criticized the Bolsonaro administration’s policies for the rise in deforestation and illegal activities, including as illegal gold mining, in the Amazon as well as an upswing in violence against Indigenous people in the region.

Before meeting with his American counterpart, President Joe Biden, in Washington, DC later on Friday, Lula, who presided over Brazil from 2003 to 2010, released fresh data on deforestation.

The two presidents were anticipated to talk about promoting democracy as well as initiatives to combat climate change, among other things. Two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest is located in Brazil, and Lula has pledged to stop all deforestation there.

Prior to the meeting, Biden spoke with the president of Brazil in the Oval Office and said, “Our common values and our great relationships between our people… put us on the same page, but particularly – especially – [on] the climate catastrophe.”

“Thank you, Mr. President, for your dedication to strengthening our collaboration. In my opinion—and, to be completely honest—for the entire globe, this is a critical time.

The US was reportedly considering making its first donation to a multilateral fund to combat Amazon deforestation, with a potential announcement coming during the Biden-Lula meeting, according to Reuters news agency on the day of the meetings.

The day Marina Silva entered office last month, the Brazilian-managed Amazon Fund—which is primarily funded by Norway and Germany—was revived; it had been dormant since 2019 under Bolsonaro.

Lula’s administration gave “a fantastic potential to conserve the forest and to offer a new viewpoint to the people who live there,” according to German Development Minister Svenja Schulze, who made the announcement that Berlin will provide $38 million for the Amazon Fund.

Additionally, Germany promised to give farmers in degraded areas low-interest loans totaling $87 million and to give Brazilian states near the Amazon $34 million to safeguard the rain forest.

Despite this, experts and employees at Brazil’s environmental agency Ibama have cautioned that it may still take years for Lula to achieve his conservation goals because Bolsonaro has reduced money and staff at crucial organizations.

To counteract environmental deterioration in the Amazon, the new Brazilian government has nevertheless already made significant progress.

The authorities started conducting raids earlier this week to remove illicit gold miners from Indigenous territory in the area where they were allegedly responsible for violent attacks and a health problem impacting the Yanomami people.

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