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Deforestation In Brazil’s Cerrado Savanna Records a New Low

Ricardo Salles, Brazil's future environment minister under Bolsonaro, told Reuters on Monday that Bolsonaro would not gut resources for environmental protection

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A flock of rheas is seen in a soybean field in the Cerrado plains near Campo Verde, Mato Grosso state, western Brazil. VOA

Deforestation in Brazil’s tropical Cerrado savanna, which makes up a quarter of the country, fell 11 percent to a record low in 2018 compared with a year earlier, the Ministry of Environment said in a statement Tuesday.

Deforestation in the South American country’s savanna biome totaled 6,657 square kilometers (2,570 square miles), an area larger than the U.S. state of Connecticut. That’s just below 6,777 square kilometers in 2016, the previous low since records began to be kept, the ministry said.

A biome is a grouping of plants and animals that have adapted to a specific environment.

This contrasts with the Amazon rainforest, making up 40 percent of Brazil, which has seen a 13.7 percent spike in deforestation this year to a 10-year high.

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Brazil Surpasses 2020 Target to Cut Deforestation Emissions. Flickr

Activists have been concerned that deforestation could spike under policies proposed by President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who assumes office Jan. 1 and has pledged to end the current “industry of fines” for environmental violations like deforestation.

The figure for Cerrado is based on the change in deforestation between August 2017 and July 2018, the period used to measure annual destruction, as recorded by Brazilian space research agency Inpe. The statement did not give a reason for the decline in deforestation.

The Cerrado’s vegetation soaks up major amounts of carbon dioxide, making its preservation key to curbing greenhouse gas emissions and for countering global warming.

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Cerrado Plain. Flickr

While the Cerrado is less densely forested than the Amazon rainforest, its plants have deep roots that lock carbon into the ground and are sometimes referred to as an underground forest.

Also Read: Rainforests May Be Smothered Due To The Newly Elected Brazil President: Scientists

Ricardo Salles, Brazil’s future environment minister under Bolsonaro, told Reuters on Monday that Bolsonaro would not gut resources for environmental protection, contrary to the fears of environmentalists.

Money for environmental protection is spent inefficiently and mismanaged, he said, arguing he could produce better results with the same budget. (VOA)

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Brazil’s President Bolsonaro Faces First Defeat in Congress

The defeat on the floor of the house came one day after Bolsonaro fired a senior minister amid a scandal.

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Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro arrives at the inauguration ceremony of the new president of the Parliamentary Front of Agriculture (FPA), at the Clube Naval, in Brasilia, Jan. 19, 2019. VOA

Brazil’s lower chamber handed right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro his first defeat in Congress on Tuesday, the day before his government presents its most important legislative proposal to rein in a gaping budget deficit and spur growth.

The house voted overwhelmingly to suspend an executive order by the Bolsonaro government that altered Brazil’s freedom of information law to broaden the number of officials allowed to designate data and documents as secret or ultra-secret.

Lawmakers voted 367 to 57 to fast-track a bill overturning the secrecy measure and government whips were unable to muster votes to avoid defeat.

The bill must still be voted on by the Senate, but the reversal showed that Bolsonaro, who took office on Jan. 1, has not yet been able to organize a coalition in Congress to back his legislative agenda.

On Wednesday, Bolsonaro will send to Congress his plan to overhaul Brazil’s generous and costly pension system that eats up more than half of federal spending and is the main factor behind an unsustainable budget deficit.

Brazil, Bolsonaro
FILE – Gustavo Bebianno in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sept. 29, 2018. VOA

Approval of pension reform is vital for the recovery of investor confidence in Latin America’s largest economy.

The defeat on the floor of the house came one day after Bolsonaro fired a senior minister amid a scandal involving campaign financing for some of his party’s congressional candidates in the October elections.

ALSO READ: Trump Chooses Jeffery Rosen as Deputy Attorney General, Says White House

The ousted minister, Gustavo Bebianno, was instrumental in getting Bolsonaro elected but had a run-in with one of the president’s sons, triggering the weeks-old government’s first cabinet crisis.

In a note to clients, analysts at Eurasia Group said the scandal indicated the administration’s political team was in disarray, but they still expected the pension reform to get passed, albeit in a less ambitious version. (VOA)