Exclusive: Brazil’s Bolsonaro may step down, raise environmental fines to protect Amazon

SAO PAULO, May 24 (Reuters) – Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro could sign a decree soon Tuesday to increase fines for environmental crimes, two officials familiar with the matter told Reuters, a move that would allow for more aggressive protection of the Amazon rainforest. .

Government officials, who were not authorized to speak to the media, said the decree was ready and would be sent to Bolsonaro’s desk on Tuesday for signature.

Bolsonaro’s office and the Environment Ministry did not respond to questions on the matter, including whether and when he would sign the decree.

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The draft ruling, seen by Reuters, would increase the value of potential fines for falsifying documents to cover illegal logging, clarifying the harsher consequences for repeat environmental violators and helping reduce the pile of fines pending collection.

Environmental fines – which also target offenses such as illegal hunting, fishing and pollution – are one of Brazil’s main tools for fighting illegal deforestation.

Signing the decree would be one of the first tangible steps the Bolsonaro government has taken to improve Amazon protection following its commitment to end illegal deforestation by 2028 at the UN climate summit COP26 in November.

Conserving the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, is critical to preventing catastrophic climate change because of the large amounts of climate-warming carbon it stores.

The decree would also mark a reversal for Bolsonaro, a fierce critic of environmental fines. In the 2018 campaign, the former far-right army captain railed against the “fines industry” created by environmental agencies to persecute farmers. He continues to criticize the fine ahead of the presidential election this October.

According to the draft decree, falsifying documents to enter illegal timber into legal supply chains carries an additional penalty of 300 reais ($58.62) per cubic meter, with a maximum fine of 50 million reais. The previous limit for fraudulent timber tracking systems was 1 million reais.

The decree would also undo some of Bolsonaro’s own bureaucracy. Shortly after taking office in 2019, the president signed an order granting individuals and companies accused of environmental crimes the right to “reconciliatory hearings” that can reduce or cancel sentences.

The hearings come in addition to the existing system for deciding fines that has allowed for multiple appeals.

A Reuters investigation last year showed that additional bureaucratic measures, without adequate government staff to hold hearings, meant 17,000 fines piled up and went uncollected while they awaited hearings. Read more

“Fines are very important to stop deforestation, to scare off illegal deforestation … especially in the Amazon,” said Jose Sarney Filho, a former environment minister from 2016 to 2018. “This new measure discredits fines as a tool.”

As fines are not levied, deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest continues to increase.

Deforestation jumps to a 15-year high by 2021, according to government satellite data. Preliminary figures show the crash set a new record for the January to April period this year. Read more

The new ruling would require those facing fines to request a “reconciliation” appeal hearing rather than being automatically granted, a move that could reduce savings.


Signing the decree would add to Bolsonaro’s efforts since last year to demonstrate that his government is taking environmental protection more seriously, following pressure from European and American leaders to protect the Amazon rainforest.

Bolsonaro brought up the country’s emission neutrality targets during the White House Earth Day summit in April 2021. He told the UN General Assembly in September that Brazil was doubling its environmental enforcement budget. Read more

At November’s UN climate summit in Glasgow, Brazil committed to ending illegal deforestation by 2028.

But so far, few policy changes reflect plans to keep those promises, as evidence of deforestation continues to increase, according to Ana Karine Pereira, professor of environmental policy at the University of Brasilia.

The 2021 law enforcement budget has been largely unused, the redeployment of key conservation agencies has been slow and Bolsonaro is still calling for more mining and commercial agriculture in the Amazon. Read more

When talking about his political base among farmers, Bolsonaro also continues to criticize environmental fines.

In January this year, Bolsonaro told an agricultural event that the reduction of environmental fines was a sign of his administration’s success.

“We put an end to the main environmental issues, especially with regard to fines. Should there be? Yes. But we discussed it and reduced the fines on the pitch by more than 80%,” Bolsonaro said.

Environmental enforcement agency Ibama did not answer questions about official data to support Bolsonaro’s estimates.

($1 = 5,1179 reais)

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Reporting by Jake Spring Editing by Brad Haynes and Lisa Shumaker

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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