SAO PAULO -- Eight former Brazilian environment ministers lashed out at far-right President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday, saying his administration is "wrecking" environmental protections.
Gathered at the University of Sao Paulo, the former officials issued a blistering statement on what they called the government's attacks on public policies that protect the ecosystem.
"We are witnessing a series of unprecedented actions that are draining the Ministry of the Environment's capacity to formulate and implement public policies. Key government figures deny climate change and signal setbacks in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said the statement signed by the eight former officials, who served in different administrations over the past quarter century and hold differing political views.
They said the Bolsonaro government, which took office Jan. 1, has installed a sense of "impunity" that may favor deforestation in the Amazon, the vast expanse of rain forest whose existence many scientists consider vital to curbing climate change.
"We risk an out-of-control increase in deforestation," the statement said.
Marina Silva, who was environment minister in 2003-2008, said it was the first time that "a government had as policy to destroy everything done before."
As a congressman and presidential candidate, Bolsonaro repeatedly questioned the reality of climate change and claimed that environmental groups operate under foreign influence, hampering Brazil's economic growth.
His foreign minister, Ernesto Araújo, has called the campaign to curb climate change a "Marxist" plan designed to benefit China.
Bolsonaro's administration has transferred the Brazilian Forest Service, responsible for forest conservation, to the Agriculture Ministry. In addition, the ministry was empowered to determine the demarcation of indigenous lands, also seen by critics as a major win for Brazil's agribusiness.
"The president is showing that the environment ministry is an extension of agriculture. Everything the agribusiness wants, the government does. That is the current policy," said one of the signers, José Sarney Filho, who was environment minister in 2016-2018.