Brazilian government faces scorching plan that could underestimate wildfires


  • The Brazilian government faces new controversy over how it ultimately monitors and responds to wildfires, after deploying a new centralized information system.
  • The National Meteorological System (SNM) will bring together data from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the National Meteorological Institute (INMET) and the Center for the Management and Operation of the Protection System of the Amazonia (Censipam).
  • But the government has sent mixed messages about how the system works, raising concerns among scientists and environmentalists that INPE’s comprehensive and reliable data sets will be overturned in favor of underreported information on deforestation and forest fires. INMET.
  • The government has sought to allay those fears, saying the INPE data flow will be maintained, but critics say this is not the first time the Bolsonaro administration has attempted to undermine the INPE for denouncing the increasing trend of deforestation and fires under administration.

Amid increasing deforestation and growing criticism of the lack of transparency and persistent attempts to weaken environmental policies, the Brazilian government now faces new controversy over wildfires, as experts question the issue. the reliability of a new database on fire risks.

Last week, the Brazilian government launched a service supposed to centralize all information on the country’s weather and forest fire risk assessments, called the National Meteorological System (SNM). It will bring together information provided by the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the National Meteorological Institute (INMET) and the Center for Management and Operation of the Amazon Protection System (Censipam).

But environmentalists point to mixed messages from government officials as showing an unsuccessful attempt to shut down one of the most traditional and trusted forest fire risk data services in the country, provided by INPE. for decades.

The controversy began when INMET director Miguel Ivan Lacerda de Oliveira said during the broadcast event launching the new service on July 12 that INPE would stop publishing its data on the fires.

“We have already decided this morning that INPE and Censipam will no longer publish data on fires; it will come from the national weather system. All of the federal government [fire] the reports will go through this system which is being organized, ”said Oliveira. He added that the system aims to solve a lingering 40-year-old problem of “spraying or dissonance in the dissemination of fire and weather data.” Oliveira called the new app “an effective feature that will help us reduce [not only]the risk of fire, but also reduce the risk of any weather impact in the country.

His remarks sparked an immediate reaction from scientists and environmentalists, who said the move would limit the ability to predict and act on fire prevention, given that INMET’s data is much more limited than that of INPE.

Reproduction of a forest fire risk map from the Brazilian National Meteorological Institute (INMET) shows that the data is point-in-time but limited to the measurement locations. Image from the INMET website.

Carlos Souza, a researcher from Imazon, an independent Brazilian NGO, said INPE data can generate a fire map for the entire country, while INMET data only takes into account the location of its weather stations. “In practice, [INMET’s data] is not very useful. We need to understand the risk of fire in the whole landscape, and not just in the location of the station. Ultimately what makes the difference is the usefulness of each dataset, ”he told Mongabay in a telephone interview.

In response to the public outcry, the three federal agencies released two joint memos explaining the changes. The first, July 13, stated that the SNM’s mission was “to eliminate any kind of duplication of activities, thereby generating a chain of interconnected and complementary processes, products and data, so that the purpose of the SNM is to disseminate products and information to companies jointly and no longer separately as such or such an institution.

That memo still said that individual data disclosures by respective institutions would be eliminated, which could mean INPE would stop making its data available – the same data used by scientists across the country.

Public outcry and growing criticism from national and international scientific and environmental communities led to a second joint memorandum, published on July 14, this time signed by the director of INPE, Marcos de Nardin, and Oliveira of INMET.

This memo made it clear that speculations about the INPE stopping publication of its figures are erroneous. “INPE will continue to lead the fire program with the national weather system and all fire data produced by the institute will continue to be freely available to the general population” through its website.

He added that the SNM is the result of coordination between federal institutions with the aim of strengthening individual deliveries, improving monitoring and forecasting of extreme weather events, and stimulating research, development and innovation. .

Experts say the government’s shifting stance clearly shows a failed attempt to reduce transparency for environmental issues, such as increased deforestation and forest fires.

The reproduction of the forest fire risk map of the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) shows that its data are more complete. Image from the INPE website.

Gilberto Câmara, former director of INPE, took social media say that moving fire data from INPE to INMET would be a failure; he called it a government-orchestrated move to decrease transparency about the true extent of environmental problems.

“To understand the wickedness [by the government]: INPE fire risk data already combine INMET data with weather forecast models. What INMET will generate is much worse than what INPE is doing today. [It is] yet another deliberate setback in the generation of environmental information, ”Câmara said.

He added that he believed the move was aimed directly at weakening the INPE. “Why does INMET now want to generate risk data? Simple. Using only data from their stations that do not cover Brazil as a whole, the wildfire risk maps will be underestimated. “

Marina Silva, former environment minister, also said she believed the attempt to shut down the INPE data stream was aimed at achieving “zero transparency, by emptying oversight bodies and signaling that she supported those who carry out criminal actions against forests, “she said. social media accounts.

the Climate observatory, an independent research network, tweeted that “as certain as death and taxes are the [Jair] The Bolsonaro regime’s attempt to intervene in the INPE every mid-year, when fires and deforestation begin to explode.

Rise in deforestation

The latest figures from the INPE show that deforestation continued to increase in June, up 2% from the previous year, and marking a third consecutive month of increase. Imazon data released today shows a forest loss of 4,014 square kilometers (2,494 square miles) from January through June this year, the largest accumulated deforestation rate for the period in a decade, and an increase of 51% during the 11-month period between August 2020 and June 2021. In June alone, the Amazon rainforest lost an area equivalent to 926 square kilometers (575.4 square miles) of forest.

Brazil has faced growing criticism for the lack of enforcement of environmental policies and protections, and an uncontrolled rate of deforestation and forest fires. An unprecedented study published on July 14 in Nature shows that the Brazilian Amazon now emits more carbon than it captures, causing international outcry; the Financial Time The editorial board called on Brazil to pay not to stop deforestation, prompting investors to boycott the country.

Reproduction of INPE satellite images of the fires on July 15 in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. Image from the INPE website.

In this context, the role of INPE has become increasingly important. Souza d’Imazon said the new cycle of deforestation is expected to begin in August and the drier winter weather in the southern hemisphere will usher in the new fire season. Souza praised INPE’s steadfast commitment to documenting these trends, but expressed skepticism about how the government is acting on data.

“In the coming months, it will be possible to see how the government uses the data. Its main use is to build a forest fire prevention strategy. Due to the limited nature of INMET’s data, if used as a basis for government analysis, it is possible that the risk of fire is underestimated, leading to a denial of the actual situation. Ideally, the government will use both systems instead of excluding the INPE system. We will have to remain vigilant, “he said.

This is not the first time that the Bolsonaro administration has tried to undermine the INPE. After the institution reported a significant increase in the rate of deforestation in 2019, the same year Jair Bolsonaro took office as president, the administration reacted angrily by accusing the INPE of manipulating data, lying and to conspire with international NGOs. A few weeks later, Bolsonaro sacked INPE director Ricardo Magnus Osório Galvão.

The Amazonian Institute for Environmental Research (IPAM) has qualified the INPE as a national and international reference for its monitoring of deforestation and forest fires since 1985. “We hope that the INPE will be strengthened by this new institutional mechanism. [with the SNM]. Brazil must focus on solutions to the problem, ”he said. “Returning to being a protagonist on the theme of the protection of tropical forests will place Brazil in a position of equivalence with the great economic powers in the construction of solutions to the global climate crisis.

Banner image: Aerial image of the forest fires in Rondônia state in 2020. Image courtesy of Bruno Kelly / Amazônia Real (CC BY 2.0).

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