For a government close to the most obscure and often at odds with science (see the astonishing dose of denial used by Palácio do Planalto in the fight against the pandemic, with known disastrous results), it is not surprising that they are the most scientific. The institution’s respect for the country has become a goal of the current administration. Unfortunately, the politics paid off. In many ways, the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) has reached the worst point of poverty in its history in the Bolsonaro era. Successive funding cuts in recent years have cut off much of the workforce, hurting cutting-edge research and the country’s core programs, including satellite monitoring services for large biomes, such as the Amazon. “The situation is very critical and there are no other resources to implement these projects,” says former director Ricardo Galvão, who was sacked in August 2019 after confronting the president, who described the institute’s data as 88 liars.
To have an idea of the scrap level, the 2021 budget, at 85.4 million riyals, is the lowest in recent history – the figure is half of what was allocated to the institute in 2013 (see the picture less). The amount reserved for Amazon monitoring for 2022 is not enough for the entire year. Until June of next year, Inpe will spend its last year of Amazon fund on this kind of work. The resource began to dry up in 2019 after a dispute between Minister Ricardo Salles (Environment) and the governments of Norway and Germany, which funded the measures. For monitoring the country’s four other biomes – the Pampa, the Pantanal, the Atlantic Forest and Katenga – the funds are guaranteed only for another six months.
Budget cuts have reached almost every region. In July, due to energy savings (5 million reais annually), the institute announced the closure of Tupã, the supercomputer that maps climate scenarios for up to fifty years. Instead, it was arranged to purchase another one with a much smaller capacity. Even the program celebrated by the government is starving. After the famous launch in India of the first Earth observation satellite completely designed, tested and operated by the Brazilians, in February, the program literally went into space. He finds himself frozen off the budget.
In addition to a little money, there is a shortage of people. The institute lost a quarter of its employees in 2013 and is working at the maximum. About a third of them already receive permanent allowance, that is, they can retire, but they need to continue working. Coordinator Claudio Almeida, who is responsible for monitoring the Amazon, warns that “if there is no serious alternative for staff, the institute will lose its ability to carry out what it is doing.”
Semi-distorted, Inpe tries to turn around to attract resources. One option is to get funding from the National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development (FNDCT), which cut 600 million riyals in October – the hope is that the government will return part of that. The institute is also competing for funding from the International Green Climate Fund, to replace the special support it would lose. The Institute’s funds consist of several sources, including transfers from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, its affiliate, international funds, and agreements and partnerships with other bodies, such as the Brazilian Space Agency.
Budgetary scarcity sparked protests from the scientific community. The Inpe Association of Scholarship Holders and Graduate Students issued a letter stating that the cut “prevents the Institute from fulfilling its obligations and creates an unsustainable situation.” In October, eight entities, coordinated by the Brazilian Association for the Advancement of Science (SBPC), criticized cutbacks in science. The government did not respond.
The quality of climate forecasts is already compromised, but the collapse in other major programs could exacerbate the environmental pariah image that Bolsonaro has been cultivating. The worst hypothesis is that Inpe loses international credibility, which could even affect Brazilian business, as the government won’t even have reliable data to show the world. The cloudy atmosphere hovering over Inpe today is a serious warning sign for the country.
Published in VEJA December 15, 2021, Issue No. 2768
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