By Jake Spring and Lisandra Paraguassu
BRASILIA (Reuters) – Diplomats on Friday expressed shock and disappointment over new data showing unexpectedly high levels of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon this year, saying it puts pressure on President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration to do more, to stop the destruction.
Evidence that Brazil sat on the data for three weeks before announcing it also sparked outrage from non-governmental organizations.
The government released the report on October 27 after the high profile UN climate summit COP26 in Glasgow, where Brazil signed a global commitment to end deforestation by 2030 and made more climate commitments.
Brazil’s Environment Minister Joaquim Pereira Leite told reporters that he did not get access to the data until Thursday after the announcement. He called the data “unacceptable” and promised more vigorous action to combat deforestation.
The data showed that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has risen to its highest level since 2006, with an area larger than the state of Connecticut being cleared, according to Brazil’s national space research agency Inpe.
Preliminary data from Inpe, released earlier this year, suggested deforestation could decrease slightly, but more accurate final data showed a 22% increase.
The trees of the Amazon absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide that would otherwise warm the planet.
A European diplomat told Reuters, on condition of anonymity, that he was “very disappointed with the latest numbers”.
A second European diplomat from another country said the numbers were “far worse” than expected.
The increase was surprising, but Brazil has not shown that environmental policy is moving in the right direction, the person said.
“All political signals coming from the government through Congress or otherwise clearly show no political will to reduce deforestation,” said the diplomat.
Pressure from the private sector and foreign governments “is only increasing” on Brazil to come up with a concrete plan on how to get deforestation under control, they added.
The Brazilian presidency and its environment and foreign ministries did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the criticism.
A Brazilian diplomat who attended the COP26 summit in Glasgow told Reuters that negotiators were unaware of the data during the UN talks and admitted that it would put pressure on Brazil.
But the diplomat said, on condition of anonymity, that during the negotiations Brazil had already admitted that deforestation was a problem and that the new deforestation targets had been welcomed.
“We have to admit it and solve it in order to be able to negotiate and influence,” said the person.
Valentina Sader, deputy director of the Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council, a think tank, said the data, combined with Brazil’s goals at the COP, could increase international scrutiny.
“Commitments made publicly in Glasgow will be crucial in holding Brazil accountable,” said Sader.
(Reporting by Jake Spring and Lisandra Paraguassu; Additional reporting by Gabriel Stargardter and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Stephen Eisenhammer and Leslie Adler)