Brazil's environment ministry said Wednesday that far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro's plan to merge it with the agriculture ministry is "reckless" and will undermine not only environmental protection but economic growth.
Bolsonaro's team confirmed Tuesday he would combine the two ministries, drawing condemnation from activists who warned the move would subordinate environmental regulation to agrobusiness in a country that is home to some of Earth's most vital natural resources, including the Amazon rainforest.
"Weakening the environment ministry's authority at a time when concern over the climate crisis is intensifying would be reckless. More than ever, the world is counting on Brazil to maintain its environmental leadership," the ministry said in a statement.
It underlined its role in preventing "criminal and predatory exploitation" of Brazil's resources, and said "the national economy would suffer, especially agrobusiness, from possible reprisals by importing countries."
Bolsonaro, a former army captain whose vitriolic, hardline rhetoric has deeply divided Brazil, had promised in the past that the combined ministry would "come from the productive sector," saying: "We won't have any more fights over this."
But environmentalists have strongly condemned the move -- a "grave mistake" and "shot in the foot," according to Greenpeace.
The Amazon is vital to the exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere -- a check on global warming.
Most of the rainforest is located in Brazil, which has taken major steps in recent years to protect it in the face of massive deforestation that has reduced its size by about 20 percent in the past 50 years.
Environmentalists warn that progress will now be jeopardized.
"We are entering a tragic time in which environmental protection will amount to nothing. The Bolsonaro government hasn't even started and the backsliding is already incalculable," respected former environment minister Marina Silva tweeted Tuesday.
Youngsters on the Jaraua river in Brazil's Amazon, the state of Amazonas, a vital natural resource that environmentalist worry could be put at risk by President-elect Jair Bolsonaro's policies