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Brazil Moves to Privatize Deforestation Monitoring

Brazil Moves to Privatize Deforestation Monitoring

As political corruption scandals vie for media time throughout Brazil, a sudden move to privatize Brazil’s deforestation monitoring system has barely made the headlines.

The current system that monitors the deforestation rate of the Amazon rainforest, the Cerrado, and various indigenous reserves is run by Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment. The ministry uses the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) to track deforestation through satellite imagery. Though deforestation had slowed significantly from 2004 (when the monitoring began) to 2012, recent years have seen a spike in deforestation.

The overall reduction since the beginning of the monitoring program is an impressive 72 percent, but without continued enforcement, that progress could easily be reversed. Many fear that privatization could be the end of deforestation transparency. Some also wonder how this will affect Brazil’s ability to honor its commitment to the Paris Agreement (which includes commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 37 percent by 2025 and 43 percent by 2030).

Brazil’s current monitoring system would unlikely be improved by privatization. In fact, the system works so well now that it is often used as an example of successful tracking. Matthew Hansen of the University of Maryland commented: “Brazil is the leading country in terms of monitoring deforestation. No one touches Brazil.” However, the government wants access to technology, such as radar imagery, that INPE does not currently have.

In addition to questions of legitimacy and transparency of a private company taking over deforestation monitoring, there is a financial burden to contracting with a private company. Raoni Rajão, a social scientist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, says that hiring a private contractor would be a waste of money, consuming as much as 18 percent of the Environmental Ministry’s budget. That budget has already been slashed by 51 percent.

Many speculate that the bancada ruralista, Brazil’s powerful agribusiness lobby, is responsible for the move to privatize deforestation monitoring. The maneuver to open bids to private companies was set for a suspiciously short period of time (8 days) and was done without advising INPE first. In another twist, the head of INPE was removed from her post on April 19, the day before the bidding was to open. Minister José Sarney Filho organized a petition that received support from over 6,500 environmental experts in an attempt to block the move to privatize. For the moment, the idea has been shelved.