In the wake of last year’s impeachment saga and continued political turmoil, many of Brazil's political leaders view the country's ongoing social and economic chaos as the perfect opportunity to reverse policies implemented over the past decade.
NGOs say that anti-deforestation measures recently enacted by Brazil’s federal government are not only increasingly ignored, but the nation’s National Congress is also moving forward on more legislation that would eliminated protections on as many as 1.1 million hectares of Amazonian rain forests.
According to Greenpeace’s chapter in Brazil, the nation's capital Brasília introduced two more bills seeking to reduce or cancel conservation units established in the far northern state of Pará.
These moves come a month after Brazil said it would eliminate other conservation units, which total about 1 million hectares of forests, in the state of Amazonas. At the time, Greenpeace released aerial photographs it said indicated that those lands were being primed for development despite their status as protected areas.
Danicley de Aguiar, a campaigner with Greenpeace Brazil, was searing in his assessment of the Brazilian government's about-face on environmental conservation:
"By reducing Conservation Units, Brazil practically tears the Paris Agreement. There is no point in making an international commitment to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and at the same time to end up with protected areas in Amazon.
"What we are seeing in Brazil, with measures to reduce Conservation Units and indigenous territories are not isolated issues, but rather a package of initiatives for the dismantling of environmental legislation in Brazil."
Greenpeace says the danger is that the legislation related to the lands in Pará was introduced as provisional measures: a tactic Brazil’s National Congress can use to move them ahead at a more rapid pace than a conventional legislative bill. A House committee has already approved the measures, which then means they will move to the entire House for a vote and then the country’s Senate. “The president is one of the authors of the proposals, so he will probably approve them,” a Greenpeace representative told TriplePundit in an email.
Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, has made it clear that the country’s powerful agribusiness interests will have more say in how the country conducts its environmental policy than under his predecessors: the impeached Dilma Rousseff and, before her, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
This legislation has emerged as Greenpeace and other environmental groups insist deforestation is on the upswing across Brazil after years of decline, with the loss of forests accelerating at a rate of 75 percent between 2012 and 2015. Earlier this month, the New York Times cited similar statistics, saying the loss of 2 million forest acres between August 2015 and July 2016 resulted in a 29 percent increase in deforestation.
Only a few years ago, publications including The Economist described the nation of 200 million as a global leader in the fight against climate change. But much of that country’s effort on climate change mitigation and forest preservation was also financed by foreign aid; and now some countries, including Norway, have reportedly said they will stop sending funds to Brazil if the country does not prove it can stop or slow this increased rate of deforestation. Investors have also insisted that companies in industries -- such as the soy and beef sectors, which have had longstanding links to deforestation -- do more to curb the lost of forests across Brazil.
But so far this year, both Brazil’s government and business community have been tone deaf to the international community’s concerns. Brazil’s meatpacking giant JBS, one of many large firms embroiled in the country’s political scandals, has been accused of knowingly purchasing cattle raised on illegally deforested lands for years. And in the name of budget deficit reduction and coping with the country’s worst economic crisis in 100 years, Brazil’s federal government announced earlier this month that it would reduce the size of its environment ministry’s budget by over half for the upcoming fiscal year.
Greenpeace says it is pushing back hard and insists that Brazil’s government reconsider turning its back on forest conservation. “It is disgusting how politicians in the pocket of industry and agribusiness are taking advantage of the spotlight on this scandal to slash protected areas of the Amazon rainforest," said Aguiar of Greenpeace Brazil. “These bills move Brazil in the opposite direction of the promises that were made for the Paris Agreement, of which Brazil is a signatory.”
Image credit: CIFOR/Flickr