Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro called the agency's spending into question, the latest in a series of attacks on the nation's environmental protection.
Suely Araujo, the head of Brazil’s environmental protection agency the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama) resigned Monday after far-right President Jair Bolsonaro criticized the amount of money it spends to rent vehicles, his latest attack on the agency.
An Ibama spokeswoman said that Araujo, who led the agency since 2016, resigned after Bolsonaro suggested on Twitter that there were irregularities in the agency’s budget, which included 28.7 million reais (US$7.73 million) for rental of pickup trucks used to patrol rough terrains.
The Environment Ministry, which oversees Ibama, said that it had been planning to replace Araujo and that a new head would be named in the coming days.
Bolsonaro, who has strong backing from the country’s powerful agriculture party, the Argricultural Parliamentary Front (FPA) , has routinely attacked Ibama, which is tasked with policing the Amazon rainforest to stop the deforestation often caused by loggers, ranchers and farms, along with illegal mining.
On Sunday, Brazil’s new Environment Minister Ricardo Salles pointed out that Ibama was spending “nearly 30 million reais just for the renting of vehicles,” which Bolsonaro retweeted that same day.
Araujo released a written statement Sunday saying Bolsonaro and Salles had made “baseless accusations.” She said the cost was for the rental of 393 four-wheel drive trucks used by Ibama’s armed agents across Brazil, and that the contract’s costs also included all fuel costs and maintenance.
A high-ranking Ibama official told Reuters Monday that the pressure from Bolsonaro and Salles was simply an attempt “to get rid of our ability to halt policing for those committing environmental crimes.”
“It’s an absurd factoid created to weaken Ibama,” they said under condition of anonymity. “This contract was approved by government regulators, and it is 10 percent less than the previous contract and for more vehicles.”
The official said the contract remained valid, but that Ibama is concerned that there will be attempts to cancel it, potentially weakening the agency’s ability to patrol the Amazon and other regions.
Serious concerns about the Amazon have increased since Bolsonaro’s election victory in October. The rainforest is considered by many scientists to be the best natural protection against global warming, as it soaks up climate changing gases.
The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical forest. It is widely considered “the lungs of the world” because 20 percent of the globe’s oxygen comes from the rainforest. This also provides a cooling effect that is critical to the rest of the world.
A U.N. panel on climate change warned in grave language that the international community stands to fail unless “rapid and far-reaching” measures to curb emissions are enacted immediately. Experts on climate change say the world at large has just over ten years to alter course.
Bolsonaro has toyed with pulling Brazil out of the Paris climate accord, which would follow United States President Donald Trump’s withdrawal June 1, 2017. Bolsonaro’s strong backing of the agro-industrial lobby has raised fears that further destruction to the Amazon will increase under his administration.
The country has scaled back deforestation in the Amazon over the last 13 years. Deforestation had dropped 80 percent with the help of law enforcement and incentives for sustainable practices. Deforestation has recently increased however, as demand for two of the country’s' main exports, soy and beef, has increased expansion of farmland into forested areas.
In his presidential campaign, Bolsonaro vowed to slash Ibama’s ability to hand out fines for environmental infractions, which the agency says is one of its best deterrents against the illegal destruction of the Amazon and other sensitive biomes, or the collection of plants and animals in a given habitat.