By Carlos A. Moreno
Rio de Janeiro, Dec 29 (efe-epa).- President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office on Jan. 1, saw his first year in office marked by environmental disasters across Brazil, with deforestation rising and wildfires in the Amazon drawing the attention of the world.
The 64-year-old Bolsonaro made dismantling environmental regulations one of the focuses of his administration, which was highly critical of environmentalists during its first year in office.
Environmentalists told EFE that the environment had nothing to celebrate during the first year that the ultra-right president was in office, saying that it was a year of “destruction” both for natural resources and the policies that had turned Brazil into an important international intermediary in the conservation area.
The year 2019 began with the recently inaugurated Bolsonaro threatening to pull Brazil out of the Paris Agreement on climate change and ended with criticism of the Brazilian delegation’s efforts to prevent stronger agreements from being reached at the COP25 climate summit in Madrid.
In January, a tailings dam belonging to mining giant Vale collapsed in the southern city of Brumadinho, spilling 9.7 million cubic meters of mud and killing 270 people in a 290-hectare (716-acre) area.
Brazil also experienced growing deforestation in the Amazon, with the amount of forest lost rising to 9,762 sq. kilometers (3,769 sq. miles) in 2019, up 29.5 percent, compared to last year.
The South American nation also had to deal with wildfires in the Amazon, Pantanal and Sabana that scorched 113,000 sq. kilometers (43,629 sq. miles) of land between January and August, an area that was 87 percent larger than last year.
Brazil finished the year with an offshore oil spill whose cause has still not been determined.
Petroleum washed up on some 900 beaches in northeastern Brazil, marking the largest environmental disaster of its kind in the country’s history.
“In his first year as president, Bolsonaro made it clear that protecting the environment is not a priority of his administration. On the contrary, the government has not just promoted an agenda of environmental destruction, it has become a constant threat to those who try to defend the environment,” a Greenpeace spokesman told EFE.
Climate Observatory communications coordinator Claudio Angelo, for his part, said Brazil reached the end of Bolsonaro’s first year in office mired in an environmental crisis.
“Several indicators allow me to say that – deforestation in the Amazon is at the highest level in a decade and had its third-highest percentage growth in 2019. The number of invasions of indigenous reserves grew 44 percent in a year and forest fires reached a record level in August, and they were reduced only because the government was forced to act due to threats from the international markets,” Angelo told EFE.
The Bolsonaro administration also authorized sugar growing in the Amazon and Pantanal, and it approved the use of a record 410 toxic agricultural compounds, of which about one-third are banned in Europe.
Bolsonaro blamed some environmental problems, such as the wildfires, on environmentalists and got into international disputes defending his policies.