(CNN)The Brazilian government has presented a new official goal for fighting deforestation in the Amazon -- a first for the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro. But critics say it's hardly enough.
Brazil has unveiled its plan to protect the Amazon. Critics say it's not enough
Retired army general and vice-president Hamilton Mourao published the Amazon Plan 2021/2022 on the Brazilian official gazette on Wednesday. It prioritizes for deforestation mitigation five of the nine states within the "Legal Amazon," itself equivalent to some 60% of Brazil's territory, and previews several changes in the way the federal government and the states comprising the basin handle the vast area.
Among the policy changes, the plan describes strengthening and merging agencies that surveil and fight illegal activities related to environment and land usage. It also calls to regularize land ownership and bring new economic alternatives to the people living in the region, including promoting business development and expanding healthcare and educational infrastructure.
By 2022, the Amazon Plan also aims to lower annual deforestation loss to the average recorded between 2016 and 2020 -- an area of approximately 8,700 square kilometers. It's a significant drop from the current level of destruction -- Brazil's Institute of Space Research (INPE), which tracks forest loss by satellite, estimates that 11,088 square kilometers were lost to deforestation in 2020.
However, the 2022 target still allows for about 16% more deforestation than in the year before Bolsonaro took office -- hardly a reversal of losses in the world's biggest rainforest, an essential bulwark in the effort against climate change. According to INPE, 7,500 square kilometers of the Amazon were deforested in 2018.
Carlos Nobre, one of Brazil's leading climate scientists, describes the 2022 deforestation goal as "very modest." He says that "to generate any optimism, the goals for 2021-2022 should be at least 2,000 square kilometers smaller than the (2016-2020 average). And with a medium-term goal of reducing annual deforestation to less than 4000 square kilometers in three years."
"The official document by the Federal Government in very general and is not specific on actual measures that have shown pronounced positive effect in the past," Nobre adds.
Marcio Astrini, head of the Brazilian environmental advocacy network Climate Observatory, says the government's plan essentially admits to allowing increased forest clearing. "It means that Bolsonaro's government is pledging to deliver, after four years, a deforestation rate ... higher than when his government began. It's is not a target, it is an environmental crime confession," Astrini said.