President Jair Bolsonaro

Reuters- The head of Brazil’s National Space Research Institute has left his post after a public row with President Jair Bolsonaro over the scale of deforestation in the Amazon.

Ricardo Galvão had accused the far-right president of “cowardice” for questioning the institute’s data. It showed an 88% increase in deforestation in June compared with the same month a year ago.

Mr Bolsonaro said the institute was smearing Brazil’s reputation.

Brazil’s ministry of science and technology has confirmed Mr Galvão’s departure, although it is not clear whether he had quit or been fired.

Mr Bolsonaro, who took office in January, has accused Mr Galvão’s organisation of trying to undermine the government.

However, the National Space Research Institute (Inpe) says its data is 95% accurate.

Scientists say the Amazon has suffered losses at an accelerated rate under Mr Bolsonaro’s government, with policies that favour development over conservation.

As the largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming.

Official figures suggest that the biggest reason to fell trees there is to create new pastures for cattle.

Over the past decade, previous governments had managed to reduce deforestation with concerted action by federal agencies and a system of fines.

But Mr Bolsonaro and his ministers have criticised the penalties and overseen a dramatic fall in confiscations of timber and convictions for environmental crimes.

Several scientific institutions, including the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, have defended Inpe and the accuracy of its data.