RIO DE JANEIRO -- Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday banned setting agricultural and forest fires as the country enters the dry season at a moment when the government faces pressure from local and foreign companies to show greater commitment to environmental protection.
Bolsonaro’s 120-day decree, published in the official gazette, comes just ahead of the period when fires are most common in the Amazon region, with rainfall is at its lowest.
The law already requires permits for fires to clear brush and open land for farming, ranching or logging, but the requirement is widely ignored. The new decree allows fires in some cases, including those deemed healthy for plant life outside the Amazon and the Pantanal wetlands, or those set by indigenous people who engage in subsistence farming.
Bolsonaro took office in 2019 with plans to develop the Amazon region, and he has frequently denounced environmental restrictions hampering activity. Lately his government has sought to demonstrate its commitment to the environment, following international criticism last year, when deforestation reached its worst level in 11 years.
Last week, Brazil’s government proposed that global asset managers adopt protected areas in the Amazon rainforest in order to curb illegal deforestation ahead of the so-called “burning season.” That could entail providing financial support for environmental projects or paying for security to prevent people from entering the areas.
On July 7, dozens of Brazilian companies called for a crackdown on illegal logging in the Amazon rainforest, expressing their concerns in a letter. Before that, on June 23, a group of mostly European investment firms sent a joint letter to Brazilian ambassadors in their countries to express concern over rising Amazon deforestation.
Total deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon from January to June was 1,890 square miles (3,069 square kilometers), up 25% from the same six-month period last year, according to preliminary data from the national space agency.