Germany to suspend Amazon aid to Brazil

Almost 20 percent of the Amazon forest, pictured in 2017, has disappeared in the last half-century, according to the WWF (AFP Photo/CARL DE SOUZA)

Berlin (AFP) - Germany said Saturday it would suspend Brazilian aid aimed at helping protect the Amazon forest in light of data that showed deforestation had surged since President Jair Bolsonaro took office.

"Brazilian government policies in the Amazon raise doubts about continued, sustained declines in the rate of deforestation," Environment Minister Svenja Schulze told the television news show Tagesspiegel.

It said a first step would be to block payment of 35 million euros ($40 million) for forest conservation and biodiversity programmes until the rate of decline attained encouraging levels once again.

From 2008 until this year, Berlin has paid 95 million euros in support of various environmental protection programmes in Brazil.

Germany nonetheless plans to continue supporting the Amazon Fund, a forest preservation initiative created in 2008.

Norway, which has contributed the most to the fund, has threatened to withdraw, and said last year that payments to Brazil would be cut in half and might be eliminated altogether.

Concern about the forest has grown since Bolsonaro took office in January.

Brazil is home to more than 60 percent of the Amazon forest, which is being cleared at an increasing rate to create more cropland.

The National Institute for Space Research (INPE) said this week that roughly 2,254 square kilometres (870 square miles) of the Amazon were cleared in July, a spike of 278 percent from a year earlier.

A week before the numbers were released, INPE chief Ricardo Galvao was fired, and Environment Minister Ricardo Salles charged that INPE data was published in a way that satisfied "sensationalist interpretations" and was aimed at getting "more donations from foreign NGOs".