RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is slashing the size of a council that oversees environmental policy, effectively reducing the role of nongovernmental organizations and increasing that of political appointees.
Activists and scientists said they feared Bolsonaro’s action could lead to more deforestation and less environmental oversight in the nation that holds about 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest.
The decree issued Wednesday cuts the size of the National Council of the Environment from 100 to 21 members. It also eliminates 105 “alternate” members who traditionally have taken part in debates. Many of those are environmental activists or independent experts, and critics say the change will stifle their voices.
The highly influential council debates and recommends policies to the federal officials, and the Environment Ministry said the change was meant to make it more agile. Critics disputed that.
“The idea that this is to create more efficiency doesn’t hold,” said Carlos Rittl, executive secretary of the Brazilian Climate Observatory, which includes several nonprofit groups. Rittl said Bolsonaro’s administration wants “more power concentrated in the hands of the government and the privileged in private initiative, and to weaken civil society.”
The new council will be composed of five representatives of state governments, two members of city councils, four environmentalists, two business leaders and eight members of the federal government. Environment Minister Ricardo Salles will remain as the chairman of the body.
Bolsonaro has vowed to loosen environmental restrictions on development, but the Environment Ministry says the change is meant to make the council more agile.
He said in a statement that with the change, the council’s actions “will be more objective and focused on the efficiency and quality of environmental public policies decisions.”
In April, The Associated Press reported a transition plan for the incoming administration complained that the council was “confusing” and “acts emotionally, without due technique, being subjected to ideological interference.”
Activists say the council has helped the South American country slow global warming and support world climate systems.
“We were hoping that Bolsonaro’s campaign promises … were just rhetoric,” Rittl said. “But this change within the council corresponds to an agenda that is moving forward, which seeks the weakening of the environmental legislation.”