A wide range of environmental and conservation projects in Brazil are at stake after the government of Germany suspended funds to the country amid the report of alarming rises in monthly Amazon deforestation rates and controversial policies adopted by the administration of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
On August 10, German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze reportedly announced Germany’s plans to withdraw some €35 million (US $39.5 million) to Brazil due to the Latin American country’s lack of commitment to curbing deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.
“The policy of the Brazilian government in the Amazon raises doubts as to whether a consistent reduction of deforestation rates is still being pursued,” Schulze told the Tagesspiegel newspaper.
Germany’s move came a week after the head of the Brazilian National Institute of Space Research (INPE), Ricardo Magnus Osório Galvão, was fired, raising concerns over the future of an institution recognized nationally and internationally for its cutting-edge satellite-imaging and deforestation monitoring program.
The Bolsonaro administration has intensely criticized deforestation data released by INPE showing a 2019 spike in cleared area. In July, INPE issued an alert identifying deforestation and degradation totaling some 2,072 square kilometers (800 square miles) for the month of June in Legal Amazonia — a federal designation that includes all or parts of nine Brazilian states — detected by DETER, its real-time detection system. A 2018-2019 month-to-month comparison showed Brazil’s Amazonian deforestation in June 2019 was 88 percent greater than for the same month in 2018, while deforestation in July 2019 was 278 percent higher than July 2018.
Bolsonaro immediately reacted to Germany’s announcement of funding cuts, saying that Brazil doesn’t need German funding to finance conservation projects in the country. “They can use this money as they see fit. Brazil doesn’t need it,” Bolsonaro told journalists in Brasilia on Sunday.
But experts contacted for this story told Mongabay that Bolsonaro’s statements are not accurate, as Brazil has relied for decades on funding from Germany and other countries to finance environmental projects, given the South American country’s budget shortfalls.
The lost German funding not only helped protect the Amazon region, but also financed conservation projects in the Mata Atlântica (Atlantic Forest) and Cerrado savanna biomes, as well as other environmental initiatives such as promoting carbon markets and curbing carbon emissions, in addition to projects supporting indigenous peoples and traditional communities.
“Germany’s decision shows that they are really concerned about environmental policies… They do not want to contribute to a government that does not have a clear and objective policy and does not show itself to be committed to reducing deforestation and to good environmental management,” Adriana Ramos, coordinator of the policy program for the Brazilian NGO Socio-environmental Institute (ISA), told Mongabay.
“Public budget resources for the implementation of environmental public policies are very scarce. So many programs and initiatives lose out [due to the loss of] these [German] resources, including programs that benefit the Atlantic Forest and Cerrado [biomes] and this will certainly contribute to an environmental vulnerability, illegal actions, and to halting the country’s progress in environmental policies,” explained Ramos, who also represents The Climate Observatory, an NGO.
In addition to the lost $39.5 million, the German government currently contributes annually to the Amazon Fund — a pool of some $87 million provided to Brazil each year by developed nations, especially Norway and Germany — to finance a variety of programs aimed at halting deforestation. The Amazon Fund won’t be affected by the just announced cuts, according to the German Environment Ministry.
However, the future of the Amazon Fund was recently put in play after Brazilian Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles, on 17 May, unilaterally announced an overhaul of the Fund’s administrative rules due to alleged irregularities amounting to $1.2 billion in spending by NGOs in past years; Salles provided no evidence to back up his charges. His statements were denied by European nations; both Germany and Norway complained that their governments were not notified of the rule changes, nor have they approved them.
Brazil’s Ministry of Environment did not respond to requests for comment regarding the future of projects affected by Germany’s cuts and also about the Amazon Fund as of the time of publication.
Paulo Barreto, a senior researcher at Brazilian NGO Imazon, said that Germany’s $39.5 million cut could trigger a knock-on effect, leading not only to a potential reduction in Germany’s contributions to the Amazon Fund, but also possibly influencing the funding flowing from other countries, including Norway.
“The situation worsened a lot with INPE’s head being sacked and [due to] other issues. Germany’s decision itself is an indication that things got worse. In addition to specific projects, it also further degrades the image and reputation of Brazil in this area, and this may have consequences for the Amazon Fund and other things that Brazil is willing to do, including the EU-Mercosur [Latin American economic bloc] trade agreement [ratification],” Barreto said.
“Brazil signed the EU-Mercosur Agreement and Germany was one of the main supporters of that agreement. This type of Brazilian behavior will make it difficult to approve the [trade] agreement… given the increase of representatives in the European Parliament with environmental concerns,” Barreto concluded.
Banner image caption: Satellite image from Google Earth of Brazilian Amazon rainforest in the state of Amazonas.