Author: Jan Rocha

About Jan Rocha

Jan Rocha is a freelance journalist living in Brazil and is a former correspondent there for the BBC World Service and The Guardian.

Brazil’s Grain Railway alarms indigenous groups

Brazil’s Grain Railway will cut right through the Amazon forest. Indigenous people and ecologists are aghast at the plan.

SÃO PAULO, 26 August, 2021 − A controversial 933 km-long line planned to run through the Amazon rainforest, Brazil’s Grain Railway, is one of a package of railway infrastructure projects which the UK-based Climate Bonds Initiative is considering for green certification.

The Ferrogrão, as it is known locally, will run north from Sinop in the heart of the soy- and maize-growing state of Mato Grosso to the port of Miritituba on the Tapajos river, an Amazon tributary.

The chosen route runs close to indigenous areas of the Munduruku, Kayapo and Kayabi peoples, and cuts through the Jamanxim national park, a protected area. To permit this route the Brazilian government introduced a law to reduce the park limits, but this has been suspended by the Supreme Court.

The government plans to auction the proposed railway, which will cost an estimated R$12.7 billion, or almost £2bn, in January 2022. To convince foreign investors that it is environmentally sustainable, in September 2019 it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Climate Bonds Initiative, a non-profit organisation which awards green certification to sustainable projects.

“They are squeezing us more all the time. Where I live, we now have to go a long way to be able to fish”

If the CBI awards the project its green seal of approval, this will enable the railway’s eventual concessionaire to access funding via green bonds on the international market, now worth an estimated US$1tn. A CBI spokesperson said it had not yet evaluated the certification request of the financial operations for the Ferrograõ’s construction.

Brazil’s infrastructure minister, Tarcisio Gomes de Freitas, explained: “If I’m going to build a railway in the Amazon, I need to transmit security to investors, principally in terms of image. We want to be state-of-the-art in green structuring, environmental governance, monitoring of processes, recovery of degraded areas and crossings for wildlife.”

Freitas says the railway will remove one million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere by providing a cheaper alternative to diesel-fuelled lorry traffic, reducing it by 90% on the existing road connection between Mato Grosso and Miritituba, known as the BR163 highway. Without the railway, the heavily used road, which runs through once dense forest, now extensively cleared, would have to be duplicated.

His Ministry’s site informs users that a “green barrier” will be created by tree planting along the railway route, to hold back the encroachment of farming land.

Exporters will benefit

But the idea that this “ecological barrier” will prevent invasions, especially since the Bolsonaro government has been steadily weakening environmental law enforcement in the Amazon, is strongly disputed by the indigenous peoples affected, who argue they have not been properly consulted about the route, as they have a right to be under Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation, of which Brazil is a signatory.

Munduruku leader Alessandra says the railway will accelerate the growth of more soy farms and urbanisation: “They are squeezing us more all the time. Where I live, we now have to go a long way to be able to fish.”

Indigenous leaders say they are not against the project per se, but against the way it is being executed, without consultation, violating their right to be heard. They and environmental NGOs dispute the idea that the railway will be ecologically sustainable, claiming that instead it will cause more deforestation, more clearings, deposits of waste, the suppression of vegetation, and the damming of streams.

Those who stand to benefit from the Grain Railway are the large international agribusiness companies who export to China and Europe, who will gain a cheaper route to the international ports on the Amazon river. At the moment 70% of Mato Grosso’s grain harvest is trucked 2000 kms south to ports like Santos.

More destruction ahead

The newly formed Forests and Finance Coalition, an international alliance of almost 50 groups, has just sent a letter to 80 Brazilian and overseas financial institutions, warning them of the risks of investing in Brazil when the national congress is debating laws which could bring irreversible consequences to critical ecosystems like the Amazon, the Pantanal and the Cerrado, and to the rights of indigenous peoples.

Record levels of deforestation and fires are destroying huge swathes of these biomes, aided by a major drought, said to be the worst in 90 years. Rivers are drying up, reservoirs are emptying and fires are raging all over Brazil. If the Grain Railway goes ahead it will inevitably lead to further rainforest destruction.

For the government of Jair Bolsonaro, which has cut funding for environmental protection, dismantled environmental agencies and encouraged the invasion of indigenous and protected areas, to gain the backing of a reputable organisation like Climate Bonds Initiative is a major asset.

For Climate Bonds Initiative, which says it wants to “place Brazil at the centre of the international market to access global capital flows from international investors who are actively looking for good financial products with climate and environmental credentials”, the advantage of linking itself to Brazil’s Grain Railway and to a government with such an openly anti-environment agenda is not clear. − Climate News Network

Brazil’s Grain Railway will cut right through the Amazon forest. Indigenous people and ecologists are aghast at the plan.

SÃO PAULO, 26 August, 2021 − A controversial 933 km-long line planned to run through the Amazon rainforest, Brazil’s Grain Railway, is one of a package of railway infrastructure projects which the UK-based Climate Bonds Initiative is considering for green certification.

The Ferrogrão, as it is known locally, will run north from Sinop in the heart of the soy- and maize-growing state of Mato Grosso to the port of Miritituba on the Tapajos river, an Amazon tributary.

The chosen route runs close to indigenous areas of the Munduruku, Kayapo and Kayabi peoples, and cuts through the Jamanxim national park, a protected area. To permit this route the Brazilian government introduced a law to reduce the park limits, but this has been suspended by the Supreme Court.

The government plans to auction the proposed railway, which will cost an estimated R$12.7 billion, or almost £2bn, in January 2022. To convince foreign investors that it is environmentally sustainable, in September 2019 it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Climate Bonds Initiative, a non-profit organisation which awards green certification to sustainable projects.

“They are squeezing us more all the time. Where I live, we now have to go a long way to be able to fish”

If the CBI awards the project its green seal of approval, this will enable the railway’s eventual concessionaire to access funding via green bonds on the international market, now worth an estimated US$1tn. A CBI spokesperson said it had not yet evaluated the certification request of the financial operations for the Ferrograõ’s construction.

Brazil’s infrastructure minister, Tarcisio Gomes de Freitas, explained: “If I’m going to build a railway in the Amazon, I need to transmit security to investors, principally in terms of image. We want to be state-of-the-art in green structuring, environmental governance, monitoring of processes, recovery of degraded areas and crossings for wildlife.”

Freitas says the railway will remove one million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere by providing a cheaper alternative to diesel-fuelled lorry traffic, reducing it by 90% on the existing road connection between Mato Grosso and Miritituba, known as the BR163 highway. Without the railway, the heavily used road, which runs through once dense forest, now extensively cleared, would have to be duplicated.

His Ministry’s site informs users that a “green barrier” will be created by tree planting along the railway route, to hold back the encroachment of farming land.

Exporters will benefit

But the idea that this “ecological barrier” will prevent invasions, especially since the Bolsonaro government has been steadily weakening environmental law enforcement in the Amazon, is strongly disputed by the indigenous peoples affected, who argue they have not been properly consulted about the route, as they have a right to be under Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation, of which Brazil is a signatory.

Munduruku leader Alessandra says the railway will accelerate the growth of more soy farms and urbanisation: “They are squeezing us more all the time. Where I live, we now have to go a long way to be able to fish.”

Indigenous leaders say they are not against the project per se, but against the way it is being executed, without consultation, violating their right to be heard. They and environmental NGOs dispute the idea that the railway will be ecologically sustainable, claiming that instead it will cause more deforestation, more clearings, deposits of waste, the suppression of vegetation, and the damming of streams.

Those who stand to benefit from the Grain Railway are the large international agribusiness companies who export to China and Europe, who will gain a cheaper route to the international ports on the Amazon river. At the moment 70% of Mato Grosso’s grain harvest is trucked 2000 kms south to ports like Santos.

More destruction ahead

The newly formed Forests and Finance Coalition, an international alliance of almost 50 groups, has just sent a letter to 80 Brazilian and overseas financial institutions, warning them of the risks of investing in Brazil when the national congress is debating laws which could bring irreversible consequences to critical ecosystems like the Amazon, the Pantanal and the Cerrado, and to the rights of indigenous peoples.

Record levels of deforestation and fires are destroying huge swathes of these biomes, aided by a major drought, said to be the worst in 90 years. Rivers are drying up, reservoirs are emptying and fires are raging all over Brazil. If the Grain Railway goes ahead it will inevitably lead to further rainforest destruction.

For the government of Jair Bolsonaro, which has cut funding for environmental protection, dismantled environmental agencies and encouraged the invasion of indigenous and protected areas, to gain the backing of a reputable organisation like Climate Bonds Initiative is a major asset.

For Climate Bonds Initiative, which says it wants to “place Brazil at the centre of the international market to access global capital flows from international investors who are actively looking for good financial products with climate and environmental credentials”, the advantage of linking itself to Brazil’s Grain Railway and to a government with such an openly anti-environment agenda is not clear. − Climate News Network

Brazil’s environmental licences face near-abolition

President Bolsonaro wants to slash Brazil’s environmental licences, a move critics say will open a free-for-all in the Amazon.

SÃO PAULO, 19 May, 2021 − The pro-government majority in the lower house of the congress has rushed through a bill (PL3792) which will virtually eliminate the need for Brazil’s environmental licences for a wide range of economic activities, opening the way for widespread exploitation.

The activities which will be freed from licensing include agriculture, cattle raising, logging, dam and road building, sewage plants and water management. Their abolition will impact the Amazon and other biomes, including hundreds of indigenous and quilombo territories, areas occupied by descendants of runaway slaves, which have not yet been officially recognised.

Environmental organisations say the bill’s effects will be disastrous, leading not only to more deforestation, but also to possible repeats of the two mine tailings dam disasters in the state of Minas Gerais, which have killed almost 300 people in recent years.

Under the existing law, any enterprise or activity potentially harmful to the environment must obtain a licence before it can go ahead. IBAMA, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources,  is responsible for licensing large infrastructure projects. It also consults anthropologists and archaeologists and conducts public hearings in communities that will be affected.

“Environmental licensing is an essential instrument for evaluating, mitigating and compensating environmental impacts. It doesn’t block anything”

Environmental impact studies must be supplied by the project company, including compensation measures where necessary. The new law will replace this complex, often long drawn-out but thorough process with a “self declaration” filed online by the interested party, without any consultation, research or expert opinion. The bill will now go to the Senate, where it is hoped the pressure of public opinion, if sufficiently strong, could lead to it being watered down.

Legislators who supported the bill, many themselves ranchers and landowners, claimed the existing licensing law blocked development, because the process was too slow. But public prosecutor Ana Carolina Haliuc Bragança pointed out that what caused the delays were badly prepared studies of environmental impact, and the environmental agencies that have been hollowed out and left without adequate staff.

“Environmental licensing is an essential instrument for evaluating, mitigating and compensating environmental impacts. It doesn’t block anything”, she said.

For Carlos Bocuhy, president of Proam, the Brazilian Institute for Environmental Protection, the bill “favours private interests in detriment to the public interest, and ignores constitutional guarantees for a balanced environment and the accumulated technical and scientific knowledge on licensing.”

International damage

He said its negative results reached far beyond Brazil’s frontiers, because Brazilian commodities would be associated with environmental deregulation.

Nine former environment ministers from right, left and centrist governments have published an open letter of protest at the bill. They claim it will negatively affect the trade agreement due to be signed between the EU and Mercosur, the bloc of four South American countries (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), and will harm Brazil’s hope of joining the OECD as well.

The bill also makes a mockery of US climate envoy John Kerry’s optimistic declaration that Brazil can become a climate leader. Appearing before the foreign relations committee of the House of Representatives, Kerry defended the need to negotiate climate agreements with the government of Jair Bolsonaro, in spite of it having cut 24% from the environment ministry’s budget the day after the climate summit organised by President Joe Biden, saying: “If we don’t talk to them, you can be sure the Amazon forest will disappear.”

Among those already affected by the continuing destruction of the rainforest are Brazilian farmers. A study published in the journal Nature Communications on 10 May found that “the lack of rain and the loss of biodiversity caused by deforestation in the south of the Amazon region is already causing a fall in productivity and income.”

Bolsonaro’s empty promises

The study, by scientists of the Centre for Remote Sensing at the Brazilian universities of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and Viçosa (UFV) and the University of Bonn in Germany, calculated that fewer trees lead to lower humidity in the air and less rainfall. Forest scientist Argemiro Teixeira Leite-Filho, the study coordinator, warned that deforestation is putting Brazil’s agricultural systems on the road to what he called agro-suicide.

And official figures indicate that Amazon deforestation will be higher than ever this year. Satellite images used by INPE, the National Institute for Space Research, have revealed that the equivalent of 58,000 football pitches was illegally cleared in April, a 42% increase on last year, and the highest figure since 2015.

If the licensing bill is ratified unchanged by the Senate, then another hurdle in the path of President Jair Bolsonaro’s plan to turn the Amazon and other Brazilian biomes into free-for-all territories without oversight, enforcement or the rule of law will have been achieved, in flagrant contrast with his promises just a month ago at Joe Biden’s climate summit.

The door will be flung wide open for mining, farming and logging in areas now occupied by conservation units, indigenous and traditional populations. Brazil’s climate promises will have been reduced to a pile of ashes. − Climate News Network

President Bolsonaro wants to slash Brazil’s environmental licences, a move critics say will open a free-for-all in the Amazon.

SÃO PAULO, 19 May, 2021 − The pro-government majority in the lower house of the congress has rushed through a bill (PL3792) which will virtually eliminate the need for Brazil’s environmental licences for a wide range of economic activities, opening the way for widespread exploitation.

The activities which will be freed from licensing include agriculture, cattle raising, logging, dam and road building, sewage plants and water management. Their abolition will impact the Amazon and other biomes, including hundreds of indigenous and quilombo territories, areas occupied by descendants of runaway slaves, which have not yet been officially recognised.

Environmental organisations say the bill’s effects will be disastrous, leading not only to more deforestation, but also to possible repeats of the two mine tailings dam disasters in the state of Minas Gerais, which have killed almost 300 people in recent years.

Under the existing law, any enterprise or activity potentially harmful to the environment must obtain a licence before it can go ahead. IBAMA, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources,  is responsible for licensing large infrastructure projects. It also consults anthropologists and archaeologists and conducts public hearings in communities that will be affected.

“Environmental licensing is an essential instrument for evaluating, mitigating and compensating environmental impacts. It doesn’t block anything”

Environmental impact studies must be supplied by the project company, including compensation measures where necessary. The new law will replace this complex, often long drawn-out but thorough process with a “self declaration” filed online by the interested party, without any consultation, research or expert opinion. The bill will now go to the Senate, where it is hoped the pressure of public opinion, if sufficiently strong, could lead to it being watered down.

Legislators who supported the bill, many themselves ranchers and landowners, claimed the existing licensing law blocked development, because the process was too slow. But public prosecutor Ana Carolina Haliuc Bragança pointed out that what caused the delays were badly prepared studies of environmental impact, and the environmental agencies that have been hollowed out and left without adequate staff.

“Environmental licensing is an essential instrument for evaluating, mitigating and compensating environmental impacts. It doesn’t block anything”, she said.

For Carlos Bocuhy, president of Proam, the Brazilian Institute for Environmental Protection, the bill “favours private interests in detriment to the public interest, and ignores constitutional guarantees for a balanced environment and the accumulated technical and scientific knowledge on licensing.”

International damage

He said its negative results reached far beyond Brazil’s frontiers, because Brazilian commodities would be associated with environmental deregulation.

Nine former environment ministers from right, left and centrist governments have published an open letter of protest at the bill. They claim it will negatively affect the trade agreement due to be signed between the EU and Mercosur, the bloc of four South American countries (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), and will harm Brazil’s hope of joining the OECD as well.

The bill also makes a mockery of US climate envoy John Kerry’s optimistic declaration that Brazil can become a climate leader. Appearing before the foreign relations committee of the House of Representatives, Kerry defended the need to negotiate climate agreements with the government of Jair Bolsonaro, in spite of it having cut 24% from the environment ministry’s budget the day after the climate summit organised by President Joe Biden, saying: “If we don’t talk to them, you can be sure the Amazon forest will disappear.”

Among those already affected by the continuing destruction of the rainforest are Brazilian farmers. A study published in the journal Nature Communications on 10 May found that “the lack of rain and the loss of biodiversity caused by deforestation in the south of the Amazon region is already causing a fall in productivity and income.”

Bolsonaro’s empty promises

The study, by scientists of the Centre for Remote Sensing at the Brazilian universities of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and Viçosa (UFV) and the University of Bonn in Germany, calculated that fewer trees lead to lower humidity in the air and less rainfall. Forest scientist Argemiro Teixeira Leite-Filho, the study coordinator, warned that deforestation is putting Brazil’s agricultural systems on the road to what he called agro-suicide.

And official figures indicate that Amazon deforestation will be higher than ever this year. Satellite images used by INPE, the National Institute for Space Research, have revealed that the equivalent of 58,000 football pitches was illegally cleared in April, a 42% increase on last year, and the highest figure since 2015.

If the licensing bill is ratified unchanged by the Senate, then another hurdle in the path of President Jair Bolsonaro’s plan to turn the Amazon and other Brazilian biomes into free-for-all territories without oversight, enforcement or the rule of law will have been achieved, in flagrant contrast with his promises just a month ago at Joe Biden’s climate summit.

The door will be flung wide open for mining, farming and logging in areas now occupied by conservation units, indigenous and traditional populations. Brazil’s climate promises will have been reduced to a pile of ashes. − Climate News Network

Biden’s climate summit faces challenge by Brazil

President Biden’s climate summit, starting tomorrow, will see him aiming to bring Brazil’s leader Jair Bolsonaro into line.

SÃO PAULO, 21 April, 2021 − Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, is a climate change denier. What the US is demanding from him at Joe Biden’s climate summit, being held on April 22 and 23 with 40 world leaders invited, is a clear strategy to reduce Amazon deforestation this year.

Bolsonaro has paid lip service to the US demands, sending Biden a seven-page letter which includes figures and claims that Brazilian environmentalists say are distorted and even false.

But 15 US Democratic senators, apparently worried that Biden might be taken in by Bolsonaro’s message, have sent him a letter of their own,  asking him to link any support for Brazil to progressive reductions in deforestation.

This contrasts with the blatant demand by Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, for money now. A fresh scandal involving this controversial minister has not helped Bolsonaro’s case.

Salles is demanding one billion dollars from the US in exchange for a commitment to reduce deforestation. Of this billion, a third would go to law enforcement and the rest would go to “sustainable development” projects.

Accused of obstruction

Salles is the man who caused the suspension of the US$1bn Amazon Fund set up by Norway and Germany, because he disbanded its oversight committee and refused to work with NGOs.

John Kerry, the US climate envoy, Todd Chapman, the American ambassador in Brasilia, and other officials have been holding talks with Salles. In any serious government he would have been suspended, if not fired, after being accused last week by the federal police of obstructing their investigation into a group of Amazon loggers for illegally cutting down thousands of trees inside protected areas. Instead it was the police agent who accused him that was sacked.

During his presentation of the position Brazil will be adopting at this week’s summit Salles displayed a picture showing a dog sitting in front of spit-roasting chickens, entitled Payment Expectation − comparing Brazil, in other words, to a salivating cur.

Bolsonaro’s letter to Biden boasts of Brazil’s record in preserving the Amazon, its great biodiversity, and its largely renewable energy mix, four times cleaner than OECD countries.

“The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies”

He blames deforestation on poverty, although studies show that it is the big farmers, loggers and land grabbers – often seen frequenting the presidential palace – who are responsible for most of it, using machinery and labour that demand large-scale resources.

Ibama, the national environment agency, recently imposed a hefty fine on a man they identified as Brazil’s biggest land grabber, who has cleared an area equivalent to 21,000 football pitches. A newspaper named him as Bolsonaro supporter Jassonio Costa Leite.

Commenting on Bolsonaro’s letter, ISA, Brazil’s socio-environmental institute, one of Brazil’s most respected NGOs, said: “The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies on themes ranging from the protection of forests to supposed carbon credits.

“He claims the credit for the results obtained by previous administrations, omitting the dismantling of environmental protection mechanisms carried out by his minister Ricardo Salles and committing to a deforestation reduction target which his own government deleted from the promise made in the Paris treaty.”

In his letter Bolsonaro promises to achieve zero illegal deforestation by 2030. But the government’s official Amazon Plan for 2021/22 proposes that the rate of deforestation should be maintained at the average recorded between 2016 and 2020, when it was almost 9,000 square kilometres a year, or 61% higher than the average of the ten years before he took office in 2019.

Deforestation climbs

For 2020, the official deforestation estimate is that 11,080 square km were destroyed, almost 50% higher than in 2018, the year before Bolsonaro became president. In the two years of his government, over 21,000 sq km, an area almost the size of Israel, has been destroyed.

Global Forest Watch data show that in 2020 Brazil led the world’s destruction of primary forests, clearing 3.5 times more than the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second country on the list.

This year, unless serious measures are taken to reduce it, it could be even worse, because data just released show that last month Amazon deforestation reached a 10-year high for March.

The Amazon Plan, which seems to have been drawn up in a hurry to satisfy the Americans, without any sort of consultation or expert input, also makes no mention of indigenous lands and conservation units, which make up the largest contribution to Brazil’s carbon stock, but which have suffered a big increase in invasions and illegal logging since 2019. − Climate News Network

President Biden’s climate summit, starting tomorrow, will see him aiming to bring Brazil’s leader Jair Bolsonaro into line.

SÃO PAULO, 21 April, 2021 − Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, is a climate change denier. What the US is demanding from him at Joe Biden’s climate summit, being held on April 22 and 23 with 40 world leaders invited, is a clear strategy to reduce Amazon deforestation this year.

Bolsonaro has paid lip service to the US demands, sending Biden a seven-page letter which includes figures and claims that Brazilian environmentalists say are distorted and even false.

But 15 US Democratic senators, apparently worried that Biden might be taken in by Bolsonaro’s message, have sent him a letter of their own,  asking him to link any support for Brazil to progressive reductions in deforestation.

This contrasts with the blatant demand by Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, for money now. A fresh scandal involving this controversial minister has not helped Bolsonaro’s case.

Salles is demanding one billion dollars from the US in exchange for a commitment to reduce deforestation. Of this billion, a third would go to law enforcement and the rest would go to “sustainable development” projects.

Accused of obstruction

Salles is the man who caused the suspension of the US$1bn Amazon Fund set up by Norway and Germany, because he disbanded its oversight committee and refused to work with NGOs.

John Kerry, the US climate envoy, Todd Chapman, the American ambassador in Brasilia, and other officials have been holding talks with Salles. In any serious government he would have been suspended, if not fired, after being accused last week by the federal police of obstructing their investigation into a group of Amazon loggers for illegally cutting down thousands of trees inside protected areas. Instead it was the police agent who accused him that was sacked.

During his presentation of the position Brazil will be adopting at this week’s summit Salles displayed a picture showing a dog sitting in front of spit-roasting chickens, entitled Payment Expectation − comparing Brazil, in other words, to a salivating cur.

Bolsonaro’s letter to Biden boasts of Brazil’s record in preserving the Amazon, its great biodiversity, and its largely renewable energy mix, four times cleaner than OECD countries.

“The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies”

He blames deforestation on poverty, although studies show that it is the big farmers, loggers and land grabbers – often seen frequenting the presidential palace – who are responsible for most of it, using machinery and labour that demand large-scale resources.

Ibama, the national environment agency, recently imposed a hefty fine on a man they identified as Brazil’s biggest land grabber, who has cleared an area equivalent to 21,000 football pitches. A newspaper named him as Bolsonaro supporter Jassonio Costa Leite.

Commenting on Bolsonaro’s letter, ISA, Brazil’s socio-environmental institute, one of Brazil’s most respected NGOs, said: “The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies on themes ranging from the protection of forests to supposed carbon credits.

“He claims the credit for the results obtained by previous administrations, omitting the dismantling of environmental protection mechanisms carried out by his minister Ricardo Salles and committing to a deforestation reduction target which his own government deleted from the promise made in the Paris treaty.”

In his letter Bolsonaro promises to achieve zero illegal deforestation by 2030. But the government’s official Amazon Plan for 2021/22 proposes that the rate of deforestation should be maintained at the average recorded between 2016 and 2020, when it was almost 9,000 square kilometres a year, or 61% higher than the average of the ten years before he took office in 2019.

Deforestation climbs

For 2020, the official deforestation estimate is that 11,080 square km were destroyed, almost 50% higher than in 2018, the year before Bolsonaro became president. In the two years of his government, over 21,000 sq km, an area almost the size of Israel, has been destroyed.

Global Forest Watch data show that in 2020 Brazil led the world’s destruction of primary forests, clearing 3.5 times more than the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second country on the list.

This year, unless serious measures are taken to reduce it, it could be even worse, because data just released show that last month Amazon deforestation reached a 10-year high for March.

The Amazon Plan, which seems to have been drawn up in a hurry to satisfy the Americans, without any sort of consultation or expert input, also makes no mention of indigenous lands and conservation units, which make up the largest contribution to Brazil’s carbon stock, but which have suffered a big increase in invasions and illegal logging since 2019. − Climate News Network

Bolsonaro’s Brazil is becoming a climate pariah

Bolsonaro’s Brazil cuts environment funding despite rising forest losses and fires in the Amazon and elsewhere.

SÃO PAULO, 1 February, 2021 − At home and abroad, the environmental policies being adopted in President Bolsonaro’s Brazil are leaving the country increasingly isolated, especially now his climate-denying idol Donald Trump has been replaced by the climate-friendly President Biden.

After two years of record deforestation and forest fires, the government’s proposed budget for environment agencies in 2021 is the smallest for 21 years, according to a report by the Climate Observatory, a network of 56 NGOs and other organisations.

The Observatory’s executive secretary, Marcio Astrini, believes this is deliberate: “Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy and sabotaged the instruments for protecting our biomass, being directly responsible for the increase in fires, deforestation and national emissions.

“The situation is dramatic, because the federal government, which should be providing solutions to the problem, is today the centre of the problem.”

Greenpeace spokeswoman Luiza Lima says the problem is not, as the government claims, a lack of funds: “Just a small fraction of the amount which has gone to the army to defend the Amazon would provide the minimum needed by environment agencies to fulfil their functions.”

Ecocide alleged

And she recalls the existence of two funds, the Climate Fund and the Amazon Fund, which have been paralysed by the government because of its anti-NGO stance, expressed in Bolsonaro’s phrase: “NGOS are cancers”.

Not only has Bolsonaro attacked NGOs, but he is also accused of deliberately neglecting Brazil’s indigenous peoples, who number almost a million. He has refused to demarcate indigenous areas, even when the lengthy and meticulous process to identify them, involving anthropologists and archeologists, has been concluded.

Invasions of indigenous areas in Bolsonaro’s Brazil increased by 135% in 2019, with 236 known incidents, and it is these invaders, usually wildcat miners, illegal loggers or land grabbers, who have helped to spread the coronavirus. Rates of Covid-19 among indigenous peoples are double those of the population in general, and 48% of those hospitalised for Covid-19 die, according to one of Brazil’s top medical research centres, Fiocruz.

The green light given by the government, aided by the prospect of impunity thanks to a drastic reduction in enforcement, which will be made worse by the budget cuts, caused massive deforestation in some indigenous areas − exactly when the virus was spreading. Indigenous areas are often islands of preservation, surrounded by soy farms and cattle ranches.

This situation led indigenous leaders Raoni Metuktire and Almir Suruí to file a complaint at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, calling for an investigation of Bolsonaro and members of his government for crimes against humanity, because of the persecution of indigenous peoples.

They also denounced his environmental policies and asked the court to recognise ecocide – the destruction of the environment causing danger to human life − as a crime against humanity.

“Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy”

William Bourdon, a French lawyer who presented the accusation, said: “We have exhaustive documentation to prove that Bolsonaro announced and premeditated this policy of the total destruction of the Amazon, and of the community protected by the Amazon.”

At the same time, nine former environment ministers sent a letter to the prime ministers of France, Germany and Norway, with an “urgent cry for help”, saying the Brazilian Amazon is being devastated by a double public calamity, environmental and health.

They wrote: “In 2020 the region suffered an unprecedented increase in deforestation and fires, the worst in a decade. Large-scale criminal fires during the dry periods enormously worsened the respiratory problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, contributing to the high death rate in the Amazon.”

Many of those who died were holders of traditional knowledge about its natural resources, they said. The ex-ministers asked for donations of hospital equipment and oxygen cylinders for Amazon hospitals.

On another front, the Climate Action Network − CAN, representing over 1300 organisations, has sent a letter to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), expressing its “deepest concerns” with regards to the updated NDC submitted by Brazil on the 9th of December 2020.

Under the Paris Agreement of 2015 NDCs are intended to show how individual governments will cut their carbon dioxide emissions to help to achieve the internationally agreed target of preventing climate heating from exceeding 1.5°C above its historic level. Brazil’s NDC clearly falls short of that target.

Biden’s new direction

CAN says: “As the sixth-largest global greenhouse gas emitter, Brazil has an important role to play in tackling climate change. Being a regional leader and an important economy in Latin America, it has the necessary resources to step up climate action”.

Instead, it says, the NDC now submitted is a regression from the previous one and was decided without consultation, transparency or the participation of civil society, scientists and other stakeholders.

CAN asks the UN body not to accept Brazil’s NDC, which would send the wrong signal to other countries, but to ask Brazil to improve its targets.

Finally, and probably the most important contribution to the isolation of Bolsonaro’s Brazil as a climate pariah, is the change in direction of the US government under President Joe Biden.

During the election campaign, he said that there would be economic consequences for Brazil if it did not protect the Amazon rainforest. At the summit of climate leaders Biden is planning to host on Earth Day, 22 April, Bolsonaro could find himself in the dock for his policies. − Climate News Network

Bolsonaro’s Brazil cuts environment funding despite rising forest losses and fires in the Amazon and elsewhere.

SÃO PAULO, 1 February, 2021 − At home and abroad, the environmental policies being adopted in President Bolsonaro’s Brazil are leaving the country increasingly isolated, especially now his climate-denying idol Donald Trump has been replaced by the climate-friendly President Biden.

After two years of record deforestation and forest fires, the government’s proposed budget for environment agencies in 2021 is the smallest for 21 years, according to a report by the Climate Observatory, a network of 56 NGOs and other organisations.

The Observatory’s executive secretary, Marcio Astrini, believes this is deliberate: “Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy and sabotaged the instruments for protecting our biomass, being directly responsible for the increase in fires, deforestation and national emissions.

“The situation is dramatic, because the federal government, which should be providing solutions to the problem, is today the centre of the problem.”

Greenpeace spokeswoman Luiza Lima says the problem is not, as the government claims, a lack of funds: “Just a small fraction of the amount which has gone to the army to defend the Amazon would provide the minimum needed by environment agencies to fulfil their functions.”

Ecocide alleged

And she recalls the existence of two funds, the Climate Fund and the Amazon Fund, which have been paralysed by the government because of its anti-NGO stance, expressed in Bolsonaro’s phrase: “NGOS are cancers”.

Not only has Bolsonaro attacked NGOs, but he is also accused of deliberately neglecting Brazil’s indigenous peoples, who number almost a million. He has refused to demarcate indigenous areas, even when the lengthy and meticulous process to identify them, involving anthropologists and archeologists, has been concluded.

Invasions of indigenous areas in Bolsonaro’s Brazil increased by 135% in 2019, with 236 known incidents, and it is these invaders, usually wildcat miners, illegal loggers or land grabbers, who have helped to spread the coronavirus. Rates of Covid-19 among indigenous peoples are double those of the population in general, and 48% of those hospitalised for Covid-19 die, according to one of Brazil’s top medical research centres, Fiocruz.

The green light given by the government, aided by the prospect of impunity thanks to a drastic reduction in enforcement, which will be made worse by the budget cuts, caused massive deforestation in some indigenous areas − exactly when the virus was spreading. Indigenous areas are often islands of preservation, surrounded by soy farms and cattle ranches.

This situation led indigenous leaders Raoni Metuktire and Almir Suruí to file a complaint at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, calling for an investigation of Bolsonaro and members of his government for crimes against humanity, because of the persecution of indigenous peoples.

They also denounced his environmental policies and asked the court to recognise ecocide – the destruction of the environment causing danger to human life − as a crime against humanity.

“Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy”

William Bourdon, a French lawyer who presented the accusation, said: “We have exhaustive documentation to prove that Bolsonaro announced and premeditated this policy of the total destruction of the Amazon, and of the community protected by the Amazon.”

At the same time, nine former environment ministers sent a letter to the prime ministers of France, Germany and Norway, with an “urgent cry for help”, saying the Brazilian Amazon is being devastated by a double public calamity, environmental and health.

They wrote: “In 2020 the region suffered an unprecedented increase in deforestation and fires, the worst in a decade. Large-scale criminal fires during the dry periods enormously worsened the respiratory problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, contributing to the high death rate in the Amazon.”

Many of those who died were holders of traditional knowledge about its natural resources, they said. The ex-ministers asked for donations of hospital equipment and oxygen cylinders for Amazon hospitals.

On another front, the Climate Action Network − CAN, representing over 1300 organisations, has sent a letter to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), expressing its “deepest concerns” with regards to the updated NDC submitted by Brazil on the 9th of December 2020.

Under the Paris Agreement of 2015 NDCs are intended to show how individual governments will cut their carbon dioxide emissions to help to achieve the internationally agreed target of preventing climate heating from exceeding 1.5°C above its historic level. Brazil’s NDC clearly falls short of that target.

Biden’s new direction

CAN says: “As the sixth-largest global greenhouse gas emitter, Brazil has an important role to play in tackling climate change. Being a regional leader and an important economy in Latin America, it has the necessary resources to step up climate action”.

Instead, it says, the NDC now submitted is a regression from the previous one and was decided without consultation, transparency or the participation of civil society, scientists and other stakeholders.

CAN asks the UN body not to accept Brazil’s NDC, which would send the wrong signal to other countries, but to ask Brazil to improve its targets.

Finally, and probably the most important contribution to the isolation of Bolsonaro’s Brazil as a climate pariah, is the change in direction of the US government under President Joe Biden.

During the election campaign, he said that there would be economic consequences for Brazil if it did not protect the Amazon rainforest. At the summit of climate leaders Biden is planning to host on Earth Day, 22 April, Bolsonaro could find himself in the dock for his policies. − Climate News Network


Europe warns of Brazilian trade boycott over fires

Appalled by more forest loss and worse wildfires, eight European countries warn of a possible Brazilian trade boycott.

SÃO PAULO, 21 September, 2020 − There was international concern over the forest fires which swept the Amazon last year. This year’s devastation looks set to be still more severe. And it won’t go without vigorous protest, and possible action: a Brazilian trade boycott.

Six EU countries and the UK have sent an open letter to the Brazilian government protesting at Brazil’s environmental policy and threatening a boycott.

Fires in two of Brazil’s most important biomes (areas of the Earth  that can be classified according to the plants and animals that live in them), the Amazon rainforest and the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetlands area, have reached record numbers of fires.

The seven countries (Germany, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Italy, and the United Kingdom), are signatories to the Amsterdam Declarations Partnership, set up in 2015 to ensure sustainable commodity supply chains. Their focus is on deforestation and sustainable palm oil.

Worse than 2019

Their letter (which is supported by a non-member of the Partnership, Belgium) was prompted by evidence that this year’s fires in the Amazon are going to be even worse than those last year, which led to worldwide protests against the Brazilian government. In the first two weeks of September 2020 more fires have been recorded than during the entire month of September last year.

In addition, not only is the Amazon burning: the Pantanal is also seeing a record number of fires. An area the size of Belgium (almost 3 million hectares) has already been burnt. The Pantanal is a wildlife sanctuary, and untold millions of animals, birds and reptiles have been burned to death or have died from smoke inhalation, in what is probably one of the worst-ever extinctions of wildlife.

The fires in the Pantanal have been facilitated by an unprecedented drought, leaving rivers and streams dry, but police are investigating evidence that they were started deliberately by farmers seeking more grassland for their cattle. The Pantanal is also home to millions of cattle.

The letter’s signatories express alarm at the growth in deforestation which has led to the fires, pointing out that in the past Brazil successfully expanded agricultural production while reducing forest clearing.

Supermarkets intervene

“There is growing concern among consumers, companies, investors and European civil society about the present rates of deforestation”, they say.

Recently two of Germany’s biggest supermarket chains, Edeka and Lidl, asked the German government to put pressure on Brazil to reduce deforestation.

For Marcio Astrini, of the Brazilian NGO Climate Observatory, the letter will influence the EU-Mercosur trade deal, which still has to be ratified by most European parliaments.

“Jair Bolsonaro and his government are destroying our biomes, the Earth’s climate and the economic future of the country in the name of a toxic and stupid ideology, which favours environmental crime in detriment to productive forces and the comparative advantages which Brazil enjoyed”, he said.

Global protest

President Bolsonaro and his ministers, who against all the evidence continue to deny the severity of the fires in the Amazon, downplayed the importance of the letter, dismissing it as a “trade strategy” of the Europeans.

But it is not only the Europeans who are worried about what’s happening in the Amazon. A few days ago 230 agribusiness companies and NGOs joined forces to present the government with a list of proposals for ending deforestation (in Brazilian Portuguese)

The group, which includes WWF Brazil, the World Resources Institute, Imazon and Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (IPAM), as well as some of the world’s biggest agribusiness companies, like Bayer, Danone, Unilever, Natura, JBS, Marfrig and Amaggi, says that a rapid decrease in deforestation is fundamental, not only for environmental but for economic reasons too.

It wants a return to regular monitoring and application of fines for illegal clearing, which the Bolsonaro government has effectively sabotaged by cutting funds for environmental agencies.

“Jair Bolsonaro and his government are destroying our biomes, the Earth’s climate and the economic future of the country in the name of a toxic and stupid ideology”

It says access to official funds should be conditional upon socio-environmental criteria, and attempts by private landowners to declare themselves owners of areas located within protected public lands should be stopped.

In other words, what it is demanding is not rocket science, but the enforcement of existing laws, instead of the illegality which the Bolsonaro government has indirectly encouraged.

Neither the Amazon nor the Pantanal, both humid areas, catches fire spontaneously. Huge areas illegally cleared last year are being set on fire to prepare the land for farming. Trees were felled en masse by big chains stretched between tractors that topple everything in their path.

This year the felled vegetation is being burned to clear the land for cattle or soy. Between January 2019 and April 2020 an area of over 4,500 sq kms of Amazon forest was cleared.

Catastrophe foretold

The fires spread easily because of tinder-dry conditions, and because the environment ministry failed to release funds for firefighting until the dry season was well under way.

There were warnings. In June IPAM declared that the deforestation of the last year and a half in the Amazon could herald a catastrophe in the region. “If 100% is burnt, an unprecedented health calamity will add to the effects of Covid-19”, it said.

The fires have covered towns and cities in the Amazon with huge clouds of sooty smoke, leading to thousands of people, including babies and small children, being hospitalised for breathing problems, as reported in a study published by Human Rights Watch, IPAM and IPES (the Health Policies Study Institute), on 26 August.

The fires’ impact is not confined to the Amazon region: black clouds of sooty particles are spreading south and are expected to reach São Paulo, Brazil’s major metropolis, within a few days. Pressure for a Brazilian trade boycott is liable to intensify. − Climate News Network

Appalled by more forest loss and worse wildfires, eight European countries warn of a possible Brazilian trade boycott.

SÃO PAULO, 21 September, 2020 − There was international concern over the forest fires which swept the Amazon last year. This year’s devastation looks set to be still more severe. And it won’t go without vigorous protest, and possible action: a Brazilian trade boycott.

Six EU countries and the UK have sent an open letter to the Brazilian government protesting at Brazil’s environmental policy and threatening a boycott.

Fires in two of Brazil’s most important biomes (areas of the Earth  that can be classified according to the plants and animals that live in them), the Amazon rainforest and the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetlands area, have reached record numbers of fires.

The seven countries (Germany, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Italy, and the United Kingdom), are signatories to the Amsterdam Declarations Partnership, set up in 2015 to ensure sustainable commodity supply chains. Their focus is on deforestation and sustainable palm oil.

Worse than 2019

Their letter (which is supported by a non-member of the Partnership, Belgium) was prompted by evidence that this year’s fires in the Amazon are going to be even worse than those last year, which led to worldwide protests against the Brazilian government. In the first two weeks of September 2020 more fires have been recorded than during the entire month of September last year.

In addition, not only is the Amazon burning: the Pantanal is also seeing a record number of fires. An area the size of Belgium (almost 3 million hectares) has already been burnt. The Pantanal is a wildlife sanctuary, and untold millions of animals, birds and reptiles have been burned to death or have died from smoke inhalation, in what is probably one of the worst-ever extinctions of wildlife.

The fires in the Pantanal have been facilitated by an unprecedented drought, leaving rivers and streams dry, but police are investigating evidence that they were started deliberately by farmers seeking more grassland for their cattle. The Pantanal is also home to millions of cattle.

The letter’s signatories express alarm at the growth in deforestation which has led to the fires, pointing out that in the past Brazil successfully expanded agricultural production while reducing forest clearing.

Supermarkets intervene

“There is growing concern among consumers, companies, investors and European civil society about the present rates of deforestation”, they say.

Recently two of Germany’s biggest supermarket chains, Edeka and Lidl, asked the German government to put pressure on Brazil to reduce deforestation.

For Marcio Astrini, of the Brazilian NGO Climate Observatory, the letter will influence the EU-Mercosur trade deal, which still has to be ratified by most European parliaments.

“Jair Bolsonaro and his government are destroying our biomes, the Earth’s climate and the economic future of the country in the name of a toxic and stupid ideology, which favours environmental crime in detriment to productive forces and the comparative advantages which Brazil enjoyed”, he said.

Global protest

President Bolsonaro and his ministers, who against all the evidence continue to deny the severity of the fires in the Amazon, downplayed the importance of the letter, dismissing it as a “trade strategy” of the Europeans.

But it is not only the Europeans who are worried about what’s happening in the Amazon. A few days ago 230 agribusiness companies and NGOs joined forces to present the government with a list of proposals for ending deforestation (in Brazilian Portuguese)

The group, which includes WWF Brazil, the World Resources Institute, Imazon and Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (IPAM), as well as some of the world’s biggest agribusiness companies, like Bayer, Danone, Unilever, Natura, JBS, Marfrig and Amaggi, says that a rapid decrease in deforestation is fundamental, not only for environmental but for economic reasons too.

It wants a return to regular monitoring and application of fines for illegal clearing, which the Bolsonaro government has effectively sabotaged by cutting funds for environmental agencies.

“Jair Bolsonaro and his government are destroying our biomes, the Earth’s climate and the economic future of the country in the name of a toxic and stupid ideology”

It says access to official funds should be conditional upon socio-environmental criteria, and attempts by private landowners to declare themselves owners of areas located within protected public lands should be stopped.

In other words, what it is demanding is not rocket science, but the enforcement of existing laws, instead of the illegality which the Bolsonaro government has indirectly encouraged.

Neither the Amazon nor the Pantanal, both humid areas, catches fire spontaneously. Huge areas illegally cleared last year are being set on fire to prepare the land for farming. Trees were felled en masse by big chains stretched between tractors that topple everything in their path.

This year the felled vegetation is being burned to clear the land for cattle or soy. Between January 2019 and April 2020 an area of over 4,500 sq kms of Amazon forest was cleared.

Catastrophe foretold

The fires spread easily because of tinder-dry conditions, and because the environment ministry failed to release funds for firefighting until the dry season was well under way.

There were warnings. In June IPAM declared that the deforestation of the last year and a half in the Amazon could herald a catastrophe in the region. “If 100% is burnt, an unprecedented health calamity will add to the effects of Covid-19”, it said.

The fires have covered towns and cities in the Amazon with huge clouds of sooty smoke, leading to thousands of people, including babies and small children, being hospitalised for breathing problems, as reported in a study published by Human Rights Watch, IPAM and IPES (the Health Policies Study Institute), on 26 August.

The fires’ impact is not confined to the Amazon region: black clouds of sooty particles are spreading south and are expected to reach São Paulo, Brazil’s major metropolis, within a few days. Pressure for a Brazilian trade boycott is liable to intensify. − Climate News Network

UK food giants mull Brazil boycott to protect forests

UK supermarkets are considering a Brazil boycott, an end to purchases of its food to try to save its forests.

SÃO PAULO, 1 June, 2020 − The UK’s leading supermarkets are threatening a Brazil boycott in an attempt to protect the Amazon and slow the loss of its forests.

Their move has led the Brazilian Congress to postpone the reading of a bill supported by the president, Jair Bolsonaro, which is widely seen as a green light for more Amazon destruction.

Over 40 companies, including Tesco, Sainsburys, Waitrose, Morrisons, Lidl, Asda, and Marks & Spencer, signed the open letter containing the protest, as well as the Swedish pension fund AP7 and the Norwegian asset manager Storebrand.

The letter, published by the Retail Soy Group, says: “Should the measure pass, it would encourage further land grabbing and widespread deforestation which would jeopardise the survival of the Amazon and meeting the targets of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and undermine the rights of indigenous and traditional communities.

“We believe that it would also put at risk the ability of organisations such as ours to continue sourcing from Brazil in the future.

Climate regulation

“We urge the Brazilian government to reconsider its stance and hope to continue working with partners in Brazil to demonstrate that economic development and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive.”

The letter also outlines the importance of the Amazon for the environment, highlighting its role in regulating the global climate.

The Imazon Institute, a leading Brazilian NGO, estimates that, if passed, the bill would lead to an increase in deforestation of between 4000-6000 sq. miles (11 to 16,000 sq. kms).

The bill was originally presented to congress by President Bolsonaro as an executive order, Medida Provisoria No.910. Due to widespread protests in Brazil, its more outrageous provisions – which had led to it being dubbed “the landgrabbers’ charter” – were watered down, and it became a bill, No. 2633/5, due for reading two weeks ago.

“Let’s take advantage of the press being focussed on Covid-19 to deregulate”

After the speaker of the chamber of deputies, Rodrigo Maia, received the supermarkets’ letter, and letters from UK and European MPs, expressing concern about the preservation of the Amazon, he postponed the reading: a new date has yet to be set.

The European Parliament still has to approve a proposed trade deal between the European Union and the countries of the Mercosul block (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), and the question of the Amazon could prove an obstacle here.

The government’s attempt to undo environmental protections and open up public lands to deforestation, and eventually to soy and cattle production, became clear when the video of a cabinet meeting held on 22 April was made public a few days ago, following a Supreme Court order to investigate allegations of presidential misconduct.

During the ministerial meeting the environment minister, Ricardo Salles, was recorded as saying: “Let’s take advantage of the press being focussed on Covid-19 to deregulate” – or, as he put it, “drive the herd through, while everyone’s looking the other way.”

Salles’ 16 months in charge of the environment have already proved disastrous for the Amazon. He has fired veteran staff, weakened enforcement and effectively encouraged illegal deforestation.

Fire season nears

Last year the fires in the Amazon alarmed the world. This year, even during the first four months when normally the rains keep it low, deforestation has remained high, boding ill for the traditional fire season, which begins in June.

The landowners’ lobby, which supports the bill, says that legally titling the land – “land regularisation” – is an essential step towards forcing owners to comply with environmental laws to limit deforestation in the Amazon.

But the bill’s opponents say the bill will reward land grabbers who have already invaded and deforested public lands, and who will now be able to “self-declare” the land and claim it as their own, instead of being fined and expelled. This will encourage more occupations and deforestation in the future.

Not only public forests are at stake, but also many indigenous areas whose formal recognition has not yet been sanctioned by the president. Instead Jair Bolsonaro has declared he will not sanction a single further indigenous area, leaving them vulnerable to invasion. − Climate News Network

UK supermarkets are considering a Brazil boycott, an end to purchases of its food to try to save its forests.

SÃO PAULO, 1 June, 2020 − The UK’s leading supermarkets are threatening a Brazil boycott in an attempt to protect the Amazon and slow the loss of its forests.

Their move has led the Brazilian Congress to postpone the reading of a bill supported by the president, Jair Bolsonaro, which is widely seen as a green light for more Amazon destruction.

Over 40 companies, including Tesco, Sainsburys, Waitrose, Morrisons, Lidl, Asda, and Marks & Spencer, signed the open letter containing the protest, as well as the Swedish pension fund AP7 and the Norwegian asset manager Storebrand.

The letter, published by the Retail Soy Group, says: “Should the measure pass, it would encourage further land grabbing and widespread deforestation which would jeopardise the survival of the Amazon and meeting the targets of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and undermine the rights of indigenous and traditional communities.

“We believe that it would also put at risk the ability of organisations such as ours to continue sourcing from Brazil in the future.

Climate regulation

“We urge the Brazilian government to reconsider its stance and hope to continue working with partners in Brazil to demonstrate that economic development and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive.”

The letter also outlines the importance of the Amazon for the environment, highlighting its role in regulating the global climate.

The Imazon Institute, a leading Brazilian NGO, estimates that, if passed, the bill would lead to an increase in deforestation of between 4000-6000 sq. miles (11 to 16,000 sq. kms).

The bill was originally presented to congress by President Bolsonaro as an executive order, Medida Provisoria No.910. Due to widespread protests in Brazil, its more outrageous provisions – which had led to it being dubbed “the landgrabbers’ charter” – were watered down, and it became a bill, No. 2633/5, due for reading two weeks ago.

“Let’s take advantage of the press being focussed on Covid-19 to deregulate”

After the speaker of the chamber of deputies, Rodrigo Maia, received the supermarkets’ letter, and letters from UK and European MPs, expressing concern about the preservation of the Amazon, he postponed the reading: a new date has yet to be set.

The European Parliament still has to approve a proposed trade deal between the European Union and the countries of the Mercosul block (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), and the question of the Amazon could prove an obstacle here.

The government’s attempt to undo environmental protections and open up public lands to deforestation, and eventually to soy and cattle production, became clear when the video of a cabinet meeting held on 22 April was made public a few days ago, following a Supreme Court order to investigate allegations of presidential misconduct.

During the ministerial meeting the environment minister, Ricardo Salles, was recorded as saying: “Let’s take advantage of the press being focussed on Covid-19 to deregulate” – or, as he put it, “drive the herd through, while everyone’s looking the other way.”

Salles’ 16 months in charge of the environment have already proved disastrous for the Amazon. He has fired veteran staff, weakened enforcement and effectively encouraged illegal deforestation.

Fire season nears

Last year the fires in the Amazon alarmed the world. This year, even during the first four months when normally the rains keep it low, deforestation has remained high, boding ill for the traditional fire season, which begins in June.

The landowners’ lobby, which supports the bill, says that legally titling the land – “land regularisation” – is an essential step towards forcing owners to comply with environmental laws to limit deforestation in the Amazon.

But the bill’s opponents say the bill will reward land grabbers who have already invaded and deforested public lands, and who will now be able to “self-declare” the land and claim it as their own, instead of being fined and expelled. This will encourage more occupations and deforestation in the future.

Not only public forests are at stake, but also many indigenous areas whose formal recognition has not yet been sanctioned by the president. Instead Jair Bolsonaro has declared he will not sanction a single further indigenous area, leaving them vulnerable to invasion. − Climate News Network

Tropical deforestation releases deadly infections

Brazil’s burning forests are bad news for the global climate. Now scientists say the trees harbour deadly infections too.

SÃO PAULO, 29 April, 2020 − As forest destruction continues unabated in Brazil, scientists are alarmed that, as well as spurring climate change, it may unleash new and deadly infections on humankind.

There is growing awareness that large-scale tropical deforestation, as in the Amazon, not only brings disastrous consequences for the climate, but releases new diseases like Covid-19 by enabling infections to pass from wild animals to human beings.

As one well-known Amazon scientist, biologist Philip Fearnside, puts it: “Amazon deforestation facilitates transmission both of new diseases and of old ones like malaria.

“The connection between deforestation and infectious diseases is just one more impact of deforestation, added to impacts of losing both Amazonia’s biodiversity and the forest’s vital climate functions in avoiding global warming and in recycling water.”

He is one of the co-authors of a paper by a team led by Joel Henrique Ellwanger on the impacts of Amazon deforestation on infectious diseases and public health, which has just been published in the Annals of the Brazilian Academy.

Dr Fearnside adds: “Many ‘new’ human diseases originate from pathogens transferred from wild animals, as occurred with the Covid-19 coronavirus. Amazonia contains a vast number of animal species and their associated pathogens with the potential to be transferred to humans.”

No surprise

The warnings are not new. Ana Lúcia Tourinho, with a Ph.D in ecology at the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT), interviewed by Deutsche Welle, said: “For at least two decades scientists have repeated the warning: as populations advance on the forests, the risk grows of micro-organisms – up till then in equilibrium – migrating to humans and causing victims.

“That is why news of the propagation of the new coronavirus detected in China, which has spread throughout the world, was not a surprise.

“When a vírus which is not part of our evolutionary history leaves its natural host and enters our body it brings chaos”, she said.

Isolated and in equilibrium with their habitats, like dense forests, this sort of vírus would not be a threat to humans. The problem comes when this natural reservoir is destroyed and occupied (by other species).

Scientific studies published years before the present pandemic already showed the connection between the loss of forest, proliferation of bats in the degraded areas, and the coronavirus.

One example is the study by Dr Aneta Afelt, a researcher at the University of Warsaw, who concluded that the high rates of forest destruction in the last 40 years in Asia were an indication that the next serious infectious disease could come from there.

“For at least two decades scientists have repeated the warning: as populations advance on the forests, the risk grows of micro-organisms migrating to humans”

To reach this conclusion, she followed the trail of previous pandemics triggered by other coronaviruses like Sars in 2002 and 2003, and Mers in 2012.

“Because it’s one of the regions where population growth is most intense, where sanitary conditions remain bad and where the rate of deforestation is high, south-east Asia has all the conditions for becoming the place where infectious diseases emerge or re-emerge”, she wrote in 2018.

If destruction of the Amazon continues at the present accelerated pace, Dr Tourinho says, and it is turned into an area of savannah, “we cannot imagine what might come out of there in terms of diseases.”

The relationship between deforestation and the increase of diseases in the Amazon has been studied by Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA).

A 2015 survey in 773 Amazon towns showed that for each 1% of forest destroyed, malaria cases increased by 23%. The incidence of leishmaniasis, a disease spread by the bite of sand flies, which causes skin sores, disfigurement and can kill, also increased.

Since Jair Bolsonaro, an extreme right-wing climate denier, became president of Brazil in January 2019, the rate of deforestation, followed by forest fires, has exploded.

Officially-sanctioned illegality

This year the Institute of People and the Environment of the Amazon (Imazon)’s deforestation alert system (SAD) reports that an area of 254 sq km in the Amazon region was deforested in March, a increase of 279% over the same month last year.

This is even more alarming because traditionally deforestation begins in June, at the end of the rainy season. This year it has begun three months earlier.

The illegal clearing of the forest, much of it in indigenous reserves or conservation areas, by land grabbers, for cattle, soy, and logging projects, and by miners panning for gold, has been openly encouraged by Bolsonaro and his so-called Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles.

The Amazon Council set up by the president to coordinate action in the region does not include a single scientist, environmentalist or Amazon researcher, or even any experts from the government agencies for the environment and indigenous affairs, Ibama and Funai.

Instead, all its members are officers of the armed forces or the police. The likelihood that it will do anything serious to stop deforestation is zero.

Yet the destruction of the Amazon is a disaster not only for the world’s climate but also for its health, and Brazil is set to become one of the worst-affected countries. Climate News Network

Brazil’s burning forests are bad news for the global climate. Now scientists say the trees harbour deadly infections too.

SÃO PAULO, 29 April, 2020 − As forest destruction continues unabated in Brazil, scientists are alarmed that, as well as spurring climate change, it may unleash new and deadly infections on humankind.

There is growing awareness that large-scale tropical deforestation, as in the Amazon, not only brings disastrous consequences for the climate, but releases new diseases like Covid-19 by enabling infections to pass from wild animals to human beings.

As one well-known Amazon scientist, biologist Philip Fearnside, puts it: “Amazon deforestation facilitates transmission both of new diseases and of old ones like malaria.

“The connection between deforestation and infectious diseases is just one more impact of deforestation, added to impacts of losing both Amazonia’s biodiversity and the forest’s vital climate functions in avoiding global warming and in recycling water.”

He is one of the co-authors of a paper by a team led by Joel Henrique Ellwanger on the impacts of Amazon deforestation on infectious diseases and public health, which has just been published in the Annals of the Brazilian Academy.

Dr Fearnside adds: “Many ‘new’ human diseases originate from pathogens transferred from wild animals, as occurred with the Covid-19 coronavirus. Amazonia contains a vast number of animal species and their associated pathogens with the potential to be transferred to humans.”

No surprise

The warnings are not new. Ana Lúcia Tourinho, with a Ph.D in ecology at the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT), interviewed by Deutsche Welle, said: “For at least two decades scientists have repeated the warning: as populations advance on the forests, the risk grows of micro-organisms – up till then in equilibrium – migrating to humans and causing victims.

“That is why news of the propagation of the new coronavirus detected in China, which has spread throughout the world, was not a surprise.

“When a vírus which is not part of our evolutionary history leaves its natural host and enters our body it brings chaos”, she said.

Isolated and in equilibrium with their habitats, like dense forests, this sort of vírus would not be a threat to humans. The problem comes when this natural reservoir is destroyed and occupied (by other species).

Scientific studies published years before the present pandemic already showed the connection between the loss of forest, proliferation of bats in the degraded areas, and the coronavirus.

One example is the study by Dr Aneta Afelt, a researcher at the University of Warsaw, who concluded that the high rates of forest destruction in the last 40 years in Asia were an indication that the next serious infectious disease could come from there.

“For at least two decades scientists have repeated the warning: as populations advance on the forests, the risk grows of micro-organisms migrating to humans”

To reach this conclusion, she followed the trail of previous pandemics triggered by other coronaviruses like Sars in 2002 and 2003, and Mers in 2012.

“Because it’s one of the regions where population growth is most intense, where sanitary conditions remain bad and where the rate of deforestation is high, south-east Asia has all the conditions for becoming the place where infectious diseases emerge or re-emerge”, she wrote in 2018.

If destruction of the Amazon continues at the present accelerated pace, Dr Tourinho says, and it is turned into an area of savannah, “we cannot imagine what might come out of there in terms of diseases.”

The relationship between deforestation and the increase of diseases in the Amazon has been studied by Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA).

A 2015 survey in 773 Amazon towns showed that for each 1% of forest destroyed, malaria cases increased by 23%. The incidence of leishmaniasis, a disease spread by the bite of sand flies, which causes skin sores, disfigurement and can kill, also increased.

Since Jair Bolsonaro, an extreme right-wing climate denier, became president of Brazil in January 2019, the rate of deforestation, followed by forest fires, has exploded.

Officially-sanctioned illegality

This year the Institute of People and the Environment of the Amazon (Imazon)’s deforestation alert system (SAD) reports that an area of 254 sq km in the Amazon region was deforested in March, a increase of 279% over the same month last year.

This is even more alarming because traditionally deforestation begins in June, at the end of the rainy season. This year it has begun three months earlier.

The illegal clearing of the forest, much of it in indigenous reserves or conservation areas, by land grabbers, for cattle, soy, and logging projects, and by miners panning for gold, has been openly encouraged by Bolsonaro and his so-called Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles.

The Amazon Council set up by the president to coordinate action in the region does not include a single scientist, environmentalist or Amazon researcher, or even any experts from the government agencies for the environment and indigenous affairs, Ibama and Funai.

Instead, all its members are officers of the armed forces or the police. The likelihood that it will do anything serious to stop deforestation is zero.

Yet the destruction of the Amazon is a disaster not only for the world’s climate but also for its health, and Brazil is set to become one of the worst-affected countries. Climate News Network

Ex-general takes over Brazil’s Amazon protection

Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, is a former soldier. He’s now appointed an ex-military colleague to oversee Amazon protection, causing widespread dismay.

SÃO PAULO, 31 January, 2020 − Alarmed by warnings that his neglect of the need to protect the Amazon could lead to disinvestment and export bans, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has turned to his usual solution to problems: call in the army.

He has chosen his vice-president, retired general Hamilton Mourão, to head a new Amazon Council which will co-ordinate “the activities of all the ministries involved in the protection, defence and development and sustainable development of the Amazon”.

He has also decided to create a new environmental police force (in Portuguese) to protect the Amazon. The “Green Police” will recruit agents from local state forces.

The creation of the council is a belated attempt to undo the damage done in the first year of Bolsonaro’s government, when the environment ministry was entrusted to right-wing climate sceptic Ricardo Salles.

Salles, a São Paulo lawyer who had never set foot in the Amazon and faces charges of fraud dating from his term as environment secretary of the local state government, immediately set about dismantling the ministry’s capacity to monitor deforestation, enforce the law and fine offenders, replacing experienced, qualified staff with retired police officers, and blaming Greenpeace and other NGOs for environmental disasters.

“What finally persuaded Bolsonaro that he had to listen to the critics was pressure from Brazilian exporters and foreign investors”

As a result of his unfounded accusations of irregularities among recipients, Norway and Germany suspended their contributions to the billion dollar Amazon Fund, set up in 2000 to finance sustainable development projects and firefighting brigades.

Bolsonaro also gave the go-ahead to wildcat miners and landgrabbers to invade protected areas, with remarks that disparaged indigenous peoples and encouraged economic activities in the rainforest.

The effect of this policy was a huge surge in Amazon forest fires and a big increase in deforestation over the previous year. When confronted with the figures, Bolsonaro’s answer was to accuse the head of Brazil’s internationally respected monitoring agency, INPE, of lying and being in the pay of NGOs, forcing him to resign.

What finally persuaded Bolsonaro that he had to listen to the critics was pressure from Brazilian exporters and foreign investors.

Change of tune

With disinvestment in environmentally unsustainable areas growing, large investment fund managers warned that pressure from shareholders, increasingly worried about the climate crisis, would force them to pull out of Brazil unless the government changed its tune and began protecting the Amazon.

Brazil’s politically powerful agribusiness lobby spelt out the consequences for their grain and meat exports if the government continued to encourage deforestation, because consumers now demand sustainability.

But instead of sacking his environment minister or increasing funds to prevent deforestation and fires, Bolsonaro has appointed Hamilton Mourão, whose Amazon experience is five years as military commander in the region, to sort out the problem.

Scientists, environmentalists and NGOs with years of experience in the Amazon were not consulted before the surprise move. Even Mourão himself, when interviewed, was vague about what he is meant to do or how he will do it.

Ignoring local knowledge

The army’s involvement in the Amazon began in the 1960s when Brazil was at the beginning of a 21-year-long military dictatorship. The key word was development – highways, dams, cattle ranches – ignoring the indigenous and traditional people who already lived there. As a result, thousands were displaced and many died from diseases transmittted by outsiders.

The decision to resort to the military has caused dismay among environmentalists. Suely Araújo, former head of Ibama, the environmental enforcement agency, who resigned in protest (in Portuguese) at the minister’s and Bolsonaro’s comments, said: “The solution is not in militarising environmental policy… military support for operations in critical areas might be necessary, but it should be understood that environmental monitoring has to go way beyond troops on the ground.”

She pointed out that Ibama’s 2020 budget for monitoring work throughout Brazil has been slashed by 25% over the previous year.

The latest figures from INPE show an 85.3% increase in deforestation (in Portuguese) for the year ending in August 2019, compared with the year before. Fires for the same period were 30% higher. − Climate News Network

Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, is a former soldier. He’s now appointed an ex-military colleague to oversee Amazon protection, causing widespread dismay.

SÃO PAULO, 31 January, 2020 − Alarmed by warnings that his neglect of the need to protect the Amazon could lead to disinvestment and export bans, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has turned to his usual solution to problems: call in the army.

He has chosen his vice-president, retired general Hamilton Mourão, to head a new Amazon Council which will co-ordinate “the activities of all the ministries involved in the protection, defence and development and sustainable development of the Amazon”.

He has also decided to create a new environmental police force (in Portuguese) to protect the Amazon. The “Green Police” will recruit agents from local state forces.

The creation of the council is a belated attempt to undo the damage done in the first year of Bolsonaro’s government, when the environment ministry was entrusted to right-wing climate sceptic Ricardo Salles.

Salles, a São Paulo lawyer who had never set foot in the Amazon and faces charges of fraud dating from his term as environment secretary of the local state government, immediately set about dismantling the ministry’s capacity to monitor deforestation, enforce the law and fine offenders, replacing experienced, qualified staff with retired police officers, and blaming Greenpeace and other NGOs for environmental disasters.

“What finally persuaded Bolsonaro that he had to listen to the critics was pressure from Brazilian exporters and foreign investors”

As a result of his unfounded accusations of irregularities among recipients, Norway and Germany suspended their contributions to the billion dollar Amazon Fund, set up in 2000 to finance sustainable development projects and firefighting brigades.

Bolsonaro also gave the go-ahead to wildcat miners and landgrabbers to invade protected areas, with remarks that disparaged indigenous peoples and encouraged economic activities in the rainforest.

The effect of this policy was a huge surge in Amazon forest fires and a big increase in deforestation over the previous year. When confronted with the figures, Bolsonaro’s answer was to accuse the head of Brazil’s internationally respected monitoring agency, INPE, of lying and being in the pay of NGOs, forcing him to resign.

What finally persuaded Bolsonaro that he had to listen to the critics was pressure from Brazilian exporters and foreign investors.

Change of tune

With disinvestment in environmentally unsustainable areas growing, large investment fund managers warned that pressure from shareholders, increasingly worried about the climate crisis, would force them to pull out of Brazil unless the government changed its tune and began protecting the Amazon.

Brazil’s politically powerful agribusiness lobby spelt out the consequences for their grain and meat exports if the government continued to encourage deforestation, because consumers now demand sustainability.

But instead of sacking his environment minister or increasing funds to prevent deforestation and fires, Bolsonaro has appointed Hamilton Mourão, whose Amazon experience is five years as military commander in the region, to sort out the problem.

Scientists, environmentalists and NGOs with years of experience in the Amazon were not consulted before the surprise move. Even Mourão himself, when interviewed, was vague about what he is meant to do or how he will do it.

Ignoring local knowledge

The army’s involvement in the Amazon began in the 1960s when Brazil was at the beginning of a 21-year-long military dictatorship. The key word was development – highways, dams, cattle ranches – ignoring the indigenous and traditional people who already lived there. As a result, thousands were displaced and many died from diseases transmittted by outsiders.

The decision to resort to the military has caused dismay among environmentalists. Suely Araújo, former head of Ibama, the environmental enforcement agency, who resigned in protest (in Portuguese) at the minister’s and Bolsonaro’s comments, said: “The solution is not in militarising environmental policy… military support for operations in critical areas might be necessary, but it should be understood that environmental monitoring has to go way beyond troops on the ground.”

She pointed out that Ibama’s 2020 budget for monitoring work throughout Brazil has been slashed by 25% over the previous year.

The latest figures from INPE show an 85.3% increase in deforestation (in Portuguese) for the year ending in August 2019, compared with the year before. Fires for the same period were 30% higher. − Climate News Network

Indigenous firefighters tackle Brazil’s blazes

If the fires raging across the Amazon are controlled, much of the credit should go to the indigenous firefighters with intimate knowledge of the terrain.

SÃO PAULO, 8 November, 2019 − As global concern increases over the burning of the Amazon forest, the Brazilian government is keeping very quiet over one telling point: in many cases the people it is using to combat the flames are indigenous firefighters.

In August, the fires raging in the rainforest alarmed the world. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, variously blamed NGOs, the press and indigenous people for them, although there was plenty of evidence that many were deliberately caused by farmers and land grabbers wanting to clear the forest for cattle, crops and profit.

Bolsonaro eventually sent troops to try to extinguish the blazes. What he never acknowledged was that, far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them, because of their first-hand forest knowledge.

Writing on the website Manchetes Socioambientais, Clara Roman, a journalist with Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s largest environmental NGOs, described the work of these firefighters. They are recruited by the Centre for the Prevention and Combat of Forest Fires, Prevfogo, a department of IBAMA, the official environment agency.

They number 700 and come from many different ethnic groups: the Tenharim, Paresí, Gavião, Xerente, Guajajara, Krikati, Terena, Kadiwéu, Xakriabá, Javaé, Karajás, Pataxó and Kayapó, including several tribes in the Xingu area.

Survival knowledge

Rodrigo Faleiros, of PrevFogo, who hires them, says indigenous people make better firefighters than local people, because “they know the territory well, they know how to survive in the forest and they understand the effects of fire”.

Their equipment is a backpack pump with 20 litres of water. They carry flails to beat the flames and wear protective goggles, fire-resistant shoes to tread on burning embers, leg protectors against snakes and thorns, and uniforms that are fire-resistant for up to two minutes.

They usually set out at night or in the early hours when the temperature in the burning forest is more tolerable and the humidity a little higher.

The work of the firefighters mixes modern technology with ancient knowledge. Prevfogo receives real time information on where the fires are from a satellite controlled by INPE, Brazil’s national space research agency. This is transmitted to the nearest firefighters’ unit.

“Far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them”

Since it began hiring indigenous firefighters Prevfogo has gradually incorporated into its practices traditional wisdom on the dynamics and management of fires. These include the use of preventive controlled fires at the beginning of the dry season, when humidity is still high and the chances of the fire spreading are fewer.

These controlled fires burn up dry organic material, reducing the amount available which could fuel fires that get out of control when the dry season is at its height. Another practice is the use of firebreaks or clearings in the forest where the fire finds no organic material and so dies out.

But the number of fires this year is a record, and the effects of climate change are not helping, as the rains that traditionally start in September have been delayed and average temperatures all over Brazil are higher than usual.

ISA researcher Antonio Oviedo says that because of the increase in deforestation, plus climate change and the present political context, the number of fires that turn into forest fires has increased. Even when it is not clearcut, humidity has fallen as the forest gets degraded by illegal logging.

An increasing number of fires are inside indigenous areas, traditionally the most intensively preserved areas, whether in the rainforest or in other areas of Brazil. In August this increase amounted to 182% more fires than in 2018. Bolsonaro’s (literally) inflammatory rhetoric, which has encouraged the invasion of indigenous reserves, has contributed.

Farming tool

Most of the fires occur in areas that have been invaded by illegal loggers and miners. Indigenous people use fire as a tool for their agriculture. They burn at the right time, in the right place, to guarantee flowering, fruiting and also refuge for the wild animals they need to hunt.

The fires that raged through the Amazon between July and September and are now devastating a large area of Brazil’s wetlands, known as the Pantanal, are destructive, harming habitats, killing wildlife and drying out the forest.

In September deforestation alerts were almost 100% higher than in the same month of the previous year. INPE data revealed that almost 1500 sq. kms of forest were cleared, compared to just over 700 sq. kms in 2018.

Deforestation already accounted for 44% of Brazil’s carbon emissions in 2018, according to SEEG, the System of Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the Climate Observatory. This year they will almost certainly be higher. − Climate News Network

If the fires raging across the Amazon are controlled, much of the credit should go to the indigenous firefighters with intimate knowledge of the terrain.

SÃO PAULO, 8 November, 2019 − As global concern increases over the burning of the Amazon forest, the Brazilian government is keeping very quiet over one telling point: in many cases the people it is using to combat the flames are indigenous firefighters.

In August, the fires raging in the rainforest alarmed the world. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, variously blamed NGOs, the press and indigenous people for them, although there was plenty of evidence that many were deliberately caused by farmers and land grabbers wanting to clear the forest for cattle, crops and profit.

Bolsonaro eventually sent troops to try to extinguish the blazes. What he never acknowledged was that, far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them, because of their first-hand forest knowledge.

Writing on the website Manchetes Socioambientais, Clara Roman, a journalist with Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s largest environmental NGOs, described the work of these firefighters. They are recruited by the Centre for the Prevention and Combat of Forest Fires, Prevfogo, a department of IBAMA, the official environment agency.

They number 700 and come from many different ethnic groups: the Tenharim, Paresí, Gavião, Xerente, Guajajara, Krikati, Terena, Kadiwéu, Xakriabá, Javaé, Karajás, Pataxó and Kayapó, including several tribes in the Xingu area.

Survival knowledge

Rodrigo Faleiros, of PrevFogo, who hires them, says indigenous people make better firefighters than local people, because “they know the territory well, they know how to survive in the forest and they understand the effects of fire”.

Their equipment is a backpack pump with 20 litres of water. They carry flails to beat the flames and wear protective goggles, fire-resistant shoes to tread on burning embers, leg protectors against snakes and thorns, and uniforms that are fire-resistant for up to two minutes.

They usually set out at night or in the early hours when the temperature in the burning forest is more tolerable and the humidity a little higher.

The work of the firefighters mixes modern technology with ancient knowledge. Prevfogo receives real time information on where the fires are from a satellite controlled by INPE, Brazil’s national space research agency. This is transmitted to the nearest firefighters’ unit.

“Far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them”

Since it began hiring indigenous firefighters Prevfogo has gradually incorporated into its practices traditional wisdom on the dynamics and management of fires. These include the use of preventive controlled fires at the beginning of the dry season, when humidity is still high and the chances of the fire spreading are fewer.

These controlled fires burn up dry organic material, reducing the amount available which could fuel fires that get out of control when the dry season is at its height. Another practice is the use of firebreaks or clearings in the forest where the fire finds no organic material and so dies out.

But the number of fires this year is a record, and the effects of climate change are not helping, as the rains that traditionally start in September have been delayed and average temperatures all over Brazil are higher than usual.

ISA researcher Antonio Oviedo says that because of the increase in deforestation, plus climate change and the present political context, the number of fires that turn into forest fires has increased. Even when it is not clearcut, humidity has fallen as the forest gets degraded by illegal logging.

An increasing number of fires are inside indigenous areas, traditionally the most intensively preserved areas, whether in the rainforest or in other areas of Brazil. In August this increase amounted to 182% more fires than in 2018. Bolsonaro’s (literally) inflammatory rhetoric, which has encouraged the invasion of indigenous reserves, has contributed.

Farming tool

Most of the fires occur in areas that have been invaded by illegal loggers and miners. Indigenous people use fire as a tool for their agriculture. They burn at the right time, in the right place, to guarantee flowering, fruiting and also refuge for the wild animals they need to hunt.

The fires that raged through the Amazon between July and September and are now devastating a large area of Brazil’s wetlands, known as the Pantanal, are destructive, harming habitats, killing wildlife and drying out the forest.

In September deforestation alerts were almost 100% higher than in the same month of the previous year. INPE data revealed that almost 1500 sq. kms of forest were cleared, compared to just over 700 sq. kms in 2018.

Deforestation already accounted for 44% of Brazil’s carbon emissions in 2018, according to SEEG, the System of Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the Climate Observatory. This year they will almost certainly be higher. − Climate News Network

Bolsonaro’s legal bonfire fuels Amazon inferno

Brazil’s president has destroyed the protection enacted by his predecessors, leaving an Amazon inferno to torch the rainforest.

SÃO PAULO , 26 August, 2019 − The dry season in Brazil is only just beginning, but fires are raging throughout the rainforest, leaving an Amazon inferno, and heavy palls of sooty smoke engulfing towns and cities.

The images of huge patches of Earth’s largest tropical forest being reduced to charred ashes and blackened tree stumps have alarmed the world as the planet’s biggest carbon sink is transformed instead into a source of carbon emissions.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who has deliberately weakened public policies which were in place to protect the rainforest and punish illegal loggers and farmers, tried to blame NGOs and indigenous peoples for the fires.
His foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, decided it is all a leftwing plot to destroy Brazil.

The truth is less exotic. All the evidence points to the fires, many inside protected areas and national parks, being deliberately started by land grabbers, ranchers and farmers, to claim the land, once cleared of forest, as theirs.

“The Amazon is our common good”

Encouraged by the president’s openly pro-development, anti-environment agenda, they are so confident that they will not be punished that in one small Amazon town, Novo Progresso, the local paper published a call by local farmers for a “Day of Fire” with the declared aim of showing Bolsonaro they were ready to open up the land for agriculture.

The day chosen was 10 August. The following day INPE, the government’s institute for space research, which monitors the Amazon daily, recorded an explosion of fires, with over 200 in the immediate area, including some in the Jamanxim national forest and the Serra do Cachimbo nature reserve, both protected areas.

INPE recorded over 72,000 fires all over Brazil during the first seven months of this year. The INPE system of deforestation alerts in real time, Deter, showed an increase of 278% over the year before. From August 2018 to July 2019 it showed a total of 6,833 sq kms of cleared forest, up from 4,572 sq kms between August 2017 and July 2018.

When confronted with these statistics, instead of taking steps to halt the fires and the deforestation, Bolsonaro declared the numbers were “lies” and forced the director, Ricardo Galvão, a highly respected scientist, to resign.

Day becomes night

However, what caused the shockwaves that turned the fires into an international crisis was the huge black cloud of smog which descended on São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest metropolis, on Monday 19 August, turning day into night.

Scientists, with the aid of satellite images from Nasa, concluded that the cloud came from fires in Brazil’s mid-west and north, as well as from neighbouring Bolivia and Paraguay.

INPE researcher Saulo Ribeiro de Freitas, quoted by FAPESP, São Paulo’s scientific research institute, said that the mass of polluted air generated by the fires in these areas was pushed to a height of 5,000m by the winds blowing from east to west, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, until they hit the Andes mountains.

Then the air was blown south by the anti-cyclone system. de Freitas explained that “the convergence of this mass of polluted air coming from the north with a cold front coming from the south” produced “a river of soot which mingled with other pollutants in the atmosphere, like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrous oxide and methane, to form a smog.”

For the first time, inhabitants of São Paulo were feeling the direct impact of the Amazon fires, over 2,000 miles away. Even so, it took the government several more days before it reacted, ordering Air Force planes into the air to spray water, and boosting local firefighting teams with units of the national guard.

Forest defences sabotaged

This belated action was triggered by the international repercussions, with the Amazon fires making their way onto the agenda of the G7 meeting in Biarritz, thanks to French president Emmanuel Macron, who said: “The Amazon is our common good.”

France has a physical stake in the Amazon region because of French Guiana, officially a regional department of France. Nine countries include a part of the Amazon basin in their territories.

It is not the first time that the G7 has put the Amazon and its role in global warming on its agenda. In 1991 it established a US$250 million Pilot Programme (PPG7) for the preservation of tropical forests in Brazil, which funded the demarcation of indigenous reserves and sustainable development projects.

More recently, Norway and Germany set up the Amazon Fund to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation through grants to local authorities and NGO projects. Due to interference by the environment minister, Ricardo Salles, who tried to discredit the NGO projects, Norway and Germany have suspended some of their funding, leaving local authorities without the money for firefighting activities.

Through its own actions, the Bolsonaro government has not only encouraged the assault on the Amazon rainforest, but deliberately sabotaged the public policies put in place by previous governments and other countries to defend it. − Climate News Network

Brazil’s president has destroyed the protection enacted by his predecessors, leaving an Amazon inferno to torch the rainforest.

SÃO PAULO , 26 August, 2019 − The dry season in Brazil is only just beginning, but fires are raging throughout the rainforest, leaving an Amazon inferno, and heavy palls of sooty smoke engulfing towns and cities.

The images of huge patches of Earth’s largest tropical forest being reduced to charred ashes and blackened tree stumps have alarmed the world as the planet’s biggest carbon sink is transformed instead into a source of carbon emissions.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who has deliberately weakened public policies which were in place to protect the rainforest and punish illegal loggers and farmers, tried to blame NGOs and indigenous peoples for the fires.
His foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, decided it is all a leftwing plot to destroy Brazil.

The truth is less exotic. All the evidence points to the fires, many inside protected areas and national parks, being deliberately started by land grabbers, ranchers and farmers, to claim the land, once cleared of forest, as theirs.

“The Amazon is our common good”

Encouraged by the president’s openly pro-development, anti-environment agenda, they are so confident that they will not be punished that in one small Amazon town, Novo Progresso, the local paper published a call by local farmers for a “Day of Fire” with the declared aim of showing Bolsonaro they were ready to open up the land for agriculture.

The day chosen was 10 August. The following day INPE, the government’s institute for space research, which monitors the Amazon daily, recorded an explosion of fires, with over 200 in the immediate area, including some in the Jamanxim national forest and the Serra do Cachimbo nature reserve, both protected areas.

INPE recorded over 72,000 fires all over Brazil during the first seven months of this year. The INPE system of deforestation alerts in real time, Deter, showed an increase of 278% over the year before. From August 2018 to July 2019 it showed a total of 6,833 sq kms of cleared forest, up from 4,572 sq kms between August 2017 and July 2018.

When confronted with these statistics, instead of taking steps to halt the fires and the deforestation, Bolsonaro declared the numbers were “lies” and forced the director, Ricardo Galvão, a highly respected scientist, to resign.

Day becomes night

However, what caused the shockwaves that turned the fires into an international crisis was the huge black cloud of smog which descended on São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest metropolis, on Monday 19 August, turning day into night.

Scientists, with the aid of satellite images from Nasa, concluded that the cloud came from fires in Brazil’s mid-west and north, as well as from neighbouring Bolivia and Paraguay.

INPE researcher Saulo Ribeiro de Freitas, quoted by FAPESP, São Paulo’s scientific research institute, said that the mass of polluted air generated by the fires in these areas was pushed to a height of 5,000m by the winds blowing from east to west, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, until they hit the Andes mountains.

Then the air was blown south by the anti-cyclone system. de Freitas explained that “the convergence of this mass of polluted air coming from the north with a cold front coming from the south” produced “a river of soot which mingled with other pollutants in the atmosphere, like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrous oxide and methane, to form a smog.”

For the first time, inhabitants of São Paulo were feeling the direct impact of the Amazon fires, over 2,000 miles away. Even so, it took the government several more days before it reacted, ordering Air Force planes into the air to spray water, and boosting local firefighting teams with units of the national guard.

Forest defences sabotaged

This belated action was triggered by the international repercussions, with the Amazon fires making their way onto the agenda of the G7 meeting in Biarritz, thanks to French president Emmanuel Macron, who said: “The Amazon is our common good.”

France has a physical stake in the Amazon region because of French Guiana, officially a regional department of France. Nine countries include a part of the Amazon basin in their territories.

It is not the first time that the G7 has put the Amazon and its role in global warming on its agenda. In 1991 it established a US$250 million Pilot Programme (PPG7) for the preservation of tropical forests in Brazil, which funded the demarcation of indigenous reserves and sustainable development projects.

More recently, Norway and Germany set up the Amazon Fund to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation through grants to local authorities and NGO projects. Due to interference by the environment minister, Ricardo Salles, who tried to discredit the NGO projects, Norway and Germany have suspended some of their funding, leaving local authorities without the money for firefighting activities.

Through its own actions, the Bolsonaro government has not only encouraged the assault on the Amazon rainforest, but deliberately sabotaged the public policies put in place by previous governments and other countries to defend it. − Climate News Network