Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s government on Monday revoked regulations protecting mangroves and other fragile coastal ecosystems, despite them being on the front line of climate change.
The decision eliminated so-called “permanent protection zones” created in 2002 to preserve Brazil’s many tropical mangroves and the sand-dune scrublands known as “restinga” along its Atlantic coast.
Environmentalists condemned the measure as a “crime” that would lead to their destruction and warned that rolling back the regulations would open such lands up to development, with possibly catastrophic impact on their ecosystems.
“These areas are already under intense pressure from real-estate development,” said Mario Mantovani, head of environmental group SOS Mata Atlantica.
Mangroves cover 13,989 square kilometers along Brazil’s coast, an area larger than the US state of Maryland, and are a vital protection against climate change, according to biologist Renato de Almeida with the nearby Federal University of Reconcavo da Bahia.
It is the latest in a series of environmental controversies for the far-right president, who has presided over a surge in deforestation and fires in the Amazon rainforest and Pantanal wetlands since taking office in January 2019.
The decision was made at a meeting of the National Environmental Council (Conama), which is presided over by controversial Environment Minister Ricardo Salles.
The council brings together government officials, environmental groups and business associations, but the administration has dramatically changed its composition.
Last year, the government issued a decree reducing the number of council members from 96 to 23, giving its own members more weight.
In other decisions, the council also repealed a measure requiring environmental permits for irrigation projects and authorized cement companies to burn empty pesticide containers to recycle them in concrete, a practice environmentalists say is highly polluting.
“Even as we witness record environmental devastation and Brazil is in flames, Salles dedicates his time to promoting even more destruction,” environmental group Greenpeace said in a statement on the measures.
Salles has a knack for stirring up controversy.
In April, a video recording was made public of a Bolsonaro cabinet meeting at which the environment minister said the coronavirus pandemic was an opportunity to roll back regulations “now that the media’s only talking about Covid.”