Pressroom  >  Press Releases  >  STATEMENT: Investigation of Brazil’s Environment Minister Underscores Critical Importance of Stopping Illegal Deforestation—For the Sake of the Climate

WASHINGTON, DC (19 May 2021)—Brazil’s Minister of Environment Ricardo Salles, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama – the Ministry of Environment’s administrative arm) Director Eduardo Bim, and at least eight other officials are the target of a Brazilian police operation investigating potential corruption, including accusations of facilitation of smuggling, inappropriate administrative advocacy, and other misdeeds to benefit bad actors in the timber industry.

The same day the news broke, Forest Trends released a report on the extent to which the production of agricultural commodities produced in tropical nations are tainted by illegal deforestation.  Brazil was among the worst offenders, with the data showing at least 95% of forest clearing for commercial agriculture between 2013-2019 took place in violation of Brazilian national laws and regulations.

The Amazon region lost 32 million hectares of forests—about the size of Germany–in the last decade due to illegal deforestation. In the Brazilian Amazon, 11 million hectares were destroyed in this period. This drastic forest loss stands in contrast to Brazil’s success up until 2012 in drastically reducing deforestation.

Beto Borges, Director of Forest Trends’ Communities and Territorial Governance initiative, said:

Forest Trends is encouraged to see that the Brazilian Supreme Court, the top legal entity in the country, is taking the issue of illegal deforestation seriously.  We are particularly pleased that the Court moved to suspend an order from Ibama allowing Brazil to export thousands of cargoes of wood–without authorization from the federal environment agency—which reduced increased the risk that the timber exports originated from illegally deforested land.

In too many countries, enforcement of a nation’s laws and regulations targets the lowest actors in the chain:  the one with the chainsaw, local villagers or indigenous communities with little to no economic alternatives, or low-level corrupt officials.

Enforcement needs to be from top to bottom, from forest stump to mills to ports. And we are pleased to see that Brazil’s government agencies are taking this seriously.

It is extraordinarily important that illegality and corruption driving tropical deforestation is taken seriously by governments around the world. Illegal deforestation is not a victimless crime. In Brazil, indigenous communities, who we know are the planet’s best stewards of forests, disproportionately bear the brunt of illegal activity.

Michael Jenkins, Forest Trends CEO, said:

If illegal deforestation for agriculture was a country, it would be the third biggest emitter in the world. We can’t meet Paris goals if we don’t solve this problem. Up until 2012, Brazil was a world leader on cracking down on deforestation—legal and otherwise. In doing so, they contributed more to the reduction of climate pollution that any other country.