Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday accused the state body responsible for tracking deforestation levels of disclosing false data, after preliminary numbers showed a dramatic rise in July.
“I am convinced that the data is a lie, and we will ask the president (of the organization) to come here and talk about it,” Bolsonaro said on Friday morning during a meeting with foreign journalists.
The remarks come a day after Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, Inpe, published preliminary satellite data showing deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest accelerated in the first half of July to more than 1,000 square kilometers, a jump of 68% from the entire month of July 2018.
Inpe said in a statement on Friday that it constantly monitors the quality of its deforestation data, which currently presents an accuracy rate of over 95%.
Last week, a group of seven scientific institutions, including the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, defended Inpe last week in an open letter to Bolsonaro and top officials, saying it was of essential strategic importance that the deforestation numbers not be subject to interference.
But the Brazilian president said the data does not correspond to the truth, repeating that he believes Brazil suffers from an “environmental psychosis.” He angrily replied to one European journalist: “The Amazon is ours, not yours.”
The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest and scientists consider its protection critical to the fight against climate change.
However the debate is very serious despite Bolsonaro's vehemence. In effect last Mercosur, which includes Brazil, reached a free trade deal with the European Union that includes environmental commitments.
That deal already faces a battle to be ratified by EU member states whose farmers fear competition from Brazil’s powerhouse farm sector, which they argue is subject to less stringent environmental requirements than in Europe.
Ireland’s parliament and Italy’s farm minister have called for the deal to be blocked. Green parties and farmers may seize on the rising deforestation in Brazil to bolster their cases against ratification, according to European diplomats in Brazil.
If the deal is ratified, EU member states would have formal dispute procedures to file complaints if they deem Brazil to be violating a provision to “implement measures to combat illegal logging and related trade,” according to the text of the deal published by the EU on Friday.
Environmentalists have warned that President Bolsonaro is emboldening Brazilian loggers, ranchers and land speculators to destroy forest. He has railed against environmental fines for farmers and called for indigenous reserves and other protected areas to be opened up for development.