Tag Archives: Amazon


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

New Brazilian map unmasks its illegal foresters

Those who illegally clear protected forests for profitable soy and beef exports are now revealed by a new Brazilian map.

LONDON, 22 July, 2020 – Europe’s shoppers should have a bone to pick with Brazil: at a conservative estimate, one fifth of its beef and animal feed exports to the European Union are tainted by the illegal destruction of the nation’s rainforest and savannah woodland, a new Brazilian map reveals.

Researchers report in the journal Science that they painstakingly compiled a map of the boundaries of 815,000 farms, plantations, ranches and other rural properties to identify those that did not comply with the nation’s Forest Code, designed to protect native biodiversity, and those that had cleared forest illegally.

Just 2% of these properties were responsible, they found, for 62% of illegal forest destruction in the Amazon and the Cerrado regions, and much of this destruction was linked to agricultural exports.

They think that 22% of the soy harvest and more than 60% of the beef exported to the European Union each year could be contaminated by illegal destruction of natural wilderness the Forest Code law was designed to help protect.

“Now Brazil has the information, it needs to take swift and decisive action to ensure that its exports are deforestation-free. Calling the situation hopeless is no longer an excuse”

“Until now, agribusiness and the Brazilian government have claimed they cannot monitor the entire supply chain, nor distinguish legal from illegal deforestation,” said Raoni Rajão, of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

“Not any more. We used freely available maps and data to reveal the specific farmers and ranchers clearing forests to produce soy and beef ultimately destined for Europe.

“Now Brazil has the information, it needs to take swift and decisive action against these rule-breakers to ensure that its exports are deforestation-free. Calling the situation hopeless is no longer an excuse.”

Right now Brazil is losing its native wilderness at the rate of a million hectares a year. This is the highest in a decade. A million hectares is 10,000 sq kms, an area bigger than the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Brazil’s Forest Code has been around for more than 50 years but revised and updated much more recently.

Brazil is one of the world’s great agricultural nations, and the biggest producer of soy – often as fodder for pigs and chickens in Europe and Asia – in the world.

Worsened under Bolsonaro

Of the 4.1 million head of cattle sent to slaughterhouses, at least 500,000 come from properties that may have illegally destroyed forest. Altogether 60% of all slaughtered animals could carry with them the taint of illegal deforestation. The EU imports 189,000 tonnes of Brazilian beef a year.

Although much of the Amazon and the Cerrado wilderness enjoys formal protection, levels of destruction have increased under the government led by Jair Bolsonaro and some of the protections have since been weakened.

Earlier this year, the scale of damage linked to drought, forest fire, climate change and illegal destruction led scientists to wonder aloud if the devastation was irretrievable.

Meanwhile, sustainable agriculture has become a key tenet in the EU’s so-called Green New Deal and an instance of concern that greenhouse gas emissions from forest clearing and forest fires in Brazil could cancel EU efforts to mitigate climate change.

Breaking point

European consumers and their suppliers have separately begun to worry about the global costs of agriculture at home and abroad.

The Science study, provocatively headlined “The rotten apples of Brazil’s agribusiness”, is likely to increase Europe-wide awareness of the neglect of legislation still nominally enforceable, and of the latest disregard of environmental protection intended to stop illegal forest destruction.

“Brazil’s forests are at breaking point,” said Britaldo Soares-Filho, another of the authors, of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais.

“It’s critical for Europe to use its trade might and purchasing power to help roll back this tragic dismantling of Brazil’s environmental protection, which has implications for the global climate, local people and the country’s valued ecosystem services.” – Climate News Network

Those who illegally clear protected forests for profitable soy and beef exports are now revealed by a new Brazilian map.

LONDON, 22 July, 2020 – Europe’s shoppers should have a bone to pick with Brazil: at a conservative estimate, one fifth of its beef and animal feed exports to the European Union are tainted by the illegal destruction of the nation’s rainforest and savannah woodland, a new Brazilian map reveals.

Researchers report in the journal Science that they painstakingly compiled a map of the boundaries of 815,000 farms, plantations, ranches and other rural properties to identify those that did not comply with the nation’s Forest Code, designed to protect native biodiversity, and those that had cleared forest illegally.

Just 2% of these properties were responsible, they found, for 62% of illegal forest destruction in the Amazon and the Cerrado regions, and much of this destruction was linked to agricultural exports.

They think that 22% of the soy harvest and more than 60% of the beef exported to the European Union each year could be contaminated by illegal destruction of natural wilderness the Forest Code law was designed to help protect.

“Now Brazil has the information, it needs to take swift and decisive action to ensure that its exports are deforestation-free. Calling the situation hopeless is no longer an excuse”

“Until now, agribusiness and the Brazilian government have claimed they cannot monitor the entire supply chain, nor distinguish legal from illegal deforestation,” said Raoni Rajão, of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

“Not any more. We used freely available maps and data to reveal the specific farmers and ranchers clearing forests to produce soy and beef ultimately destined for Europe.

“Now Brazil has the information, it needs to take swift and decisive action against these rule-breakers to ensure that its exports are deforestation-free. Calling the situation hopeless is no longer an excuse.”

Right now Brazil is losing its native wilderness at the rate of a million hectares a year. This is the highest in a decade. A million hectares is 10,000 sq kms, an area bigger than the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Brazil’s Forest Code has been around for more than 50 years but revised and updated much more recently.

Brazil is one of the world’s great agricultural nations, and the biggest producer of soy – often as fodder for pigs and chickens in Europe and Asia – in the world.

Worsened under Bolsonaro

Of the 4.1 million head of cattle sent to slaughterhouses, at least 500,000 come from properties that may have illegally destroyed forest. Altogether 60% of all slaughtered animals could carry with them the taint of illegal deforestation. The EU imports 189,000 tonnes of Brazilian beef a year.

Although much of the Amazon and the Cerrado wilderness enjoys formal protection, levels of destruction have increased under the government led by Jair Bolsonaro and some of the protections have since been weakened.

Earlier this year, the scale of damage linked to drought, forest fire, climate change and illegal destruction led scientists to wonder aloud if the devastation was irretrievable.

Meanwhile, sustainable agriculture has become a key tenet in the EU’s so-called Green New Deal and an instance of concern that greenhouse gas emissions from forest clearing and forest fires in Brazil could cancel EU efforts to mitigate climate change.

Breaking point

European consumers and their suppliers have separately begun to worry about the global costs of agriculture at home and abroad.

The Science study, provocatively headlined “The rotten apples of Brazil’s agribusiness”, is likely to increase Europe-wide awareness of the neglect of legislation still nominally enforceable, and of the latest disregard of environmental protection intended to stop illegal forest destruction.

“Brazil’s forests are at breaking point,” said Britaldo Soares-Filho, another of the authors, of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais.

“It’s critical for Europe to use its trade might and purchasing power to help roll back this tragic dismantling of Brazil’s environmental protection, which has implications for the global climate, local people and the country’s valued ecosystem services.” – Climate News Network

The wetter world ahead will suffer worse droughts

Things are bad now, but worse droughts are coming. More rain will fall in a warmer world, but not where and when we need it.

LONDON, 26 June, 2020 – Australian scientists have bad news for drought-stricken and fire-ravaged fellow-citizens: still worse droughts are in store.

Even though the world will grow wetter as greenhouse gas emissions rise and planetary average temperatures soar, the droughts will endure for longer and become more intense.

And this will be true not just for a country with a government that seems anxious not to acknowledge the role of climate change in a procession of disasters. It will be true for California and much of the US West. It will be true for the Mediterranean and parts of Africa, and for any areas that lie within the drylands zone.

It could be true even for the tropical rainforests. Wherever average rainfall seems to be in decline, droughts will become more devastating. And that includes Central America and the Amazon.

“The earlier we act on reducing our emissions, the less economic and social pain we will feel in the future”

And even in the rainy zones where precipitation seems to be on the rise, and floods more frequent, when droughts happen they will be more intense, according to new research in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The conclusion, although alarming, is not new. It reinforces decades of earlier research predicting that as the world warms floods, superstorms and megadroughts could all increase.

Every rise of 1°C in planetary average temperatures means that the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb water vapour also increases: for every 1°C rise, rainfall will increase by 2%, and with every average increase the extremes will become ever more extreme.

The latest finding is a test of new climate models to be used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Between 1998 and 2017, according to UN data, droughts have afflicted 1.5bn people and accounted for a third of all natural disaster impacts.

Search for precision

What will happen as humans go on burning ever more fossil fuels to raise planetary average temperatures ever higher will mean ever more severe tests for farmers, pastoralists, industry, natural ecosystems and national economies.

The latest study is an attempt to be a little more precise about the shape of the future in a warming world.

“We found the new models produced the most robust results for future droughts to date and that the degree of increase in drought duration and intensity was directly linked to the amounts of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere,” said Anna Ukkola of the Australian National University in Canberra, who led the study.

“However, while these insights grow clearer with each advance, the message they deliver remains the same – the earlier we act on reducing our emissions, the less economic and social pain we will feel in the future.” – Climate News Network

Things are bad now, but worse droughts are coming. More rain will fall in a warmer world, but not where and when we need it.

LONDON, 26 June, 2020 – Australian scientists have bad news for drought-stricken and fire-ravaged fellow-citizens: still worse droughts are in store.

Even though the world will grow wetter as greenhouse gas emissions rise and planetary average temperatures soar, the droughts will endure for longer and become more intense.

And this will be true not just for a country with a government that seems anxious not to acknowledge the role of climate change in a procession of disasters. It will be true for California and much of the US West. It will be true for the Mediterranean and parts of Africa, and for any areas that lie within the drylands zone.

It could be true even for the tropical rainforests. Wherever average rainfall seems to be in decline, droughts will become more devastating. And that includes Central America and the Amazon.

“The earlier we act on reducing our emissions, the less economic and social pain we will feel in the future”

And even in the rainy zones where precipitation seems to be on the rise, and floods more frequent, when droughts happen they will be more intense, according to new research in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The conclusion, although alarming, is not new. It reinforces decades of earlier research predicting that as the world warms floods, superstorms and megadroughts could all increase.

Every rise of 1°C in planetary average temperatures means that the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb water vapour also increases: for every 1°C rise, rainfall will increase by 2%, and with every average increase the extremes will become ever more extreme.

The latest finding is a test of new climate models to be used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Between 1998 and 2017, according to UN data, droughts have afflicted 1.5bn people and accounted for a third of all natural disaster impacts.

Search for precision

What will happen as humans go on burning ever more fossil fuels to raise planetary average temperatures ever higher will mean ever more severe tests for farmers, pastoralists, industry, natural ecosystems and national economies.

The latest study is an attempt to be a little more precise about the shape of the future in a warming world.

“We found the new models produced the most robust results for future droughts to date and that the degree of increase in drought duration and intensity was directly linked to the amounts of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere,” said Anna Ukkola of the Australian National University in Canberra, who led the study.

“However, while these insights grow clearer with each advance, the message they deliver remains the same – the earlier we act on reducing our emissions, the less economic and social pain we will feel in the future.” – 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

Tropical forests’ damage spreads catastrophically

Human inroads into tropical forests stretch far beyond oil plantations or the edge of cattle ranches and are a wider threat to conservation.

LONDON, 7 April, 2020 – Tropical forests are vital in the campaign to limit global heating. Here’s how to blunt them as a force – just put a clearing, or a plantation, a road or a ranch in the pristine wilderness. And then, as absorbers of atmospheric carbon, the trees up to 100 metres deep into the jungle will lose their edge.

Along that 100 metre width, the canopy height, leaf mass and phosphorus levels per square metre will begin to change. All three are measures of a tree’s capacity to grow vigorously and store carbon.

Researchers call this the edge effect. It matters. The world now has 1.2bn hectares of remaining tropical forest. This is an area far bigger than Canada.

But invasion of what, just one lifetime ago, were still unmapped wildernesses is now so aggressive that almost one fifth of the area of the world’s tropical forest is within 100 metres of a non-forest edge.

And about half of all the forest is within 500 metres of a ranch, road, settlement or plantation.

“The importance of this discovery trickles all the way down to how conservation managers work to mitigate biodiversity losses associated with agricultural expansion”

Scientists from the US report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they mapped change in the forests of Malaysian Borneo, looking closely at the sites where forest and commercial palm oil plantation co-exist.

They report that the levels of carbon stored “above ground” – that is, in the trunk and canopy – fell by an average of 22% along the forest edges, to a depth of 100 metres. The older this forest edge, the greater the fall in stored carbon.

There are already reports that degradation of the rainforest in the Amazon and Congo, amplified by the impact of climate change in the form of extreme heat and drought, is so advanced that within a decade or two these forests could cease to be “sinks” for atmospheric carbon, and instead start adding to the world’s burden of greenhouse gases that threaten to accelerate climate change, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

The world’s forests are vital in the global plans to contain or limit climate change driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Research has repeatedly confirmed that undisturbed forest is an efficient absorber and permanent store of atmospheric carbon and that almost any human transgression could damage the capacity of the rainforest to absorb carbon.

Road web spreads

And yet all the signs are ominous: humans will go on making inroads into natural wilderness, in the most literal sense: by 2050, there could be 25 million km new road lanes, most of them in the developing world, to carry timber trucks, livestock and minerals through the world’s forests.

There is an argument that “smart” roads can limit the damage to the environment and society caused by indiscriminate engineering: one group advocating this approach is the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science (TESS), based at James Cook University in Australia.

But the threat to the remaining forests is now so pronounced that many researchers simply point out, in the kind of understatement that comes naturally to scientists, that such changes have “far-reaching implications” for the conservation of forest biodiversity and carbon stocks.

They see their research as a potential guide to government and local authorities on the management of the remaining wild woodland.

“Not all forest-agriculture boundaries are created equal, and most remaining forests change for many years following the original land conversion that takes place nearby,” said Greg Asner of Arizona State University, one of the researchers.

“The importance of this discovery trickles all the way down to how conservation managers work to mitigate biodiversity losses associated with agricultural expansion.” – Climate News Network

Human inroads into tropical forests stretch far beyond oil plantations or the edge of cattle ranches and are a wider threat to conservation.

LONDON, 7 April, 2020 – Tropical forests are vital in the campaign to limit global heating. Here’s how to blunt them as a force – just put a clearing, or a plantation, a road or a ranch in the pristine wilderness. And then, as absorbers of atmospheric carbon, the trees up to 100 metres deep into the jungle will lose their edge.

Along that 100 metre width, the canopy height, leaf mass and phosphorus levels per square metre will begin to change. All three are measures of a tree’s capacity to grow vigorously and store carbon.

Researchers call this the edge effect. It matters. The world now has 1.2bn hectares of remaining tropical forest. This is an area far bigger than Canada.

But invasion of what, just one lifetime ago, were still unmapped wildernesses is now so aggressive that almost one fifth of the area of the world’s tropical forest is within 100 metres of a non-forest edge.

And about half of all the forest is within 500 metres of a ranch, road, settlement or plantation.

“The importance of this discovery trickles all the way down to how conservation managers work to mitigate biodiversity losses associated with agricultural expansion”

Scientists from the US report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they mapped change in the forests of Malaysian Borneo, looking closely at the sites where forest and commercial palm oil plantation co-exist.

They report that the levels of carbon stored “above ground” – that is, in the trunk and canopy – fell by an average of 22% along the forest edges, to a depth of 100 metres. The older this forest edge, the greater the fall in stored carbon.

There are already reports that degradation of the rainforest in the Amazon and Congo, amplified by the impact of climate change in the form of extreme heat and drought, is so advanced that within a decade or two these forests could cease to be “sinks” for atmospheric carbon, and instead start adding to the world’s burden of greenhouse gases that threaten to accelerate climate change, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

The world’s forests are vital in the global plans to contain or limit climate change driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Research has repeatedly confirmed that undisturbed forest is an efficient absorber and permanent store of atmospheric carbon and that almost any human transgression could damage the capacity of the rainforest to absorb carbon.

Road web spreads

And yet all the signs are ominous: humans will go on making inroads into natural wilderness, in the most literal sense: by 2050, there could be 25 million km new road lanes, most of them in the developing world, to carry timber trucks, livestock and minerals through the world’s forests.

There is an argument that “smart” roads can limit the damage to the environment and society caused by indiscriminate engineering: one group advocating this approach is the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science (TESS), based at James Cook University in Australia.

But the threat to the remaining forests is now so pronounced that many researchers simply point out, in the kind of understatement that comes naturally to scientists, that such changes have “far-reaching implications” for the conservation of forest biodiversity and carbon stocks.

They see their research as a potential guide to government and local authorities on the management of the remaining wild woodland.

“Not all forest-agriculture boundaries are created equal, and most remaining forests change for many years following the original land conversion that takes place nearby,” said Greg Asner of Arizona State University, one of the researchers.

“The importance of this discovery trickles all the way down to how conservation managers work to mitigate biodiversity losses associated with agricultural expansion.” – Climate News Network

Rainforest and reef systems face collapse

rainforest

In less than a human lifetime, the world’s greatest rainforest could become parched grassland and scrub, and the Caribbean coral reef system could collapse completely.

LONDON, 17 March, 2020 – The entire Amazon rainforest could collapse into savannah – dry grassland with scrub and intermittent woodland – within 50 years as a result of human action.

And the study of what it takes to alter an enduring natural ecosystem confirms that, within as little as 15 years, the rich Caribbean coral reef system could be no more.

A new statistical examination of the vulnerability of what had once seemed the eternal forest and the glorious coral reefs confirms that once large ecosystems begin to change, they can reach a point at which the collapse becomes sudden and irreversible.

The research confirms an increasing fear that global heating driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels could tip not just climate but also natural landscapes into a new and potentially catastrophic states.

Dramatic warning

More directly, as reported in an interview with Brazilian scientist Antonio Donato Nobre in Climate News Network yesterday, it confirms a dramatic warning delivered in December last year that the Amazon rainforest – a landscape almost as vast as the entire 48 contiguous states of the US – may already be teetering on the edge of functional disruption.

How this disruption could happen was recently outlined by two scientists, Thomas Lovejoy, professor of biology at George Mason University in Virginia, US, and Carlos Nobre, a leading expert on the Amazon and climate change, who is the brother of Antonio Donato Nobre and is senior researcher at the University of Saõ Paulo’s Institute for Advanced Studies.

Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre point out that most of the rain that keeps the Amazon a rainforest is actually recycled from the dense canopy that covers the region. After rainfall, evapotranspiration from the foliage returns water vapour to the air above the forest and falls anew as rain, again and again.

“Over the whole basin, the air rises, cools and precipitates out close to 20% of the world’s river water in the Amazon river system,” they warn in a Science journal report.

“Current deforestation is substantial and frightening: 17% across the entire Amazon basin and approaching 20% in the Brazilian Amazon.

“Already there are ominous signals of it in nature. Dry seasons in the Amazon are already hotter and longer. Mortality rates of wet-climate species are increased, whereas dry-climate species are showing resilience. The increasing frequency of unprecedented droughts in 2005, 2010 and 2015/16 is signalling that the tipping point is at hand.”

By contrast, the latest study in Nature Communications zeroes in on the rates at which large ecosystems could, in principle, change once the climate has begun to shift and the natural habitat is in some way degraded.

“This is yet another strong argument to avoid degrading our planet’s ecosystems; we need to do more to conserve biodiversity.”

Three scientists in the UK used computer models to test data from four terrestrial landscapes, 25 marine habitats and 13 freshwater ecosystems. They found, not surprisingly, that larger ecosystems tend to undergo regime shifts more slowly than the smaller ones.

However, as the ecosystem gets bigger, the additional time taken for collapse to happen gets briefer, so big ecosystems fail relatively more quickly.

This would mean that it would take 15 years for 20,000 sq km of Caribbean reef system to collapse, once some fatal trigger point had been reached. And the 5.5 million sq km of the Amazon tropical moist forest, once it starts to go, could be gone in just 49 years.

“Unfortunately, what our paper reveals is that humanity needs to prepare for change far sooner than expected,” says Simon Willcock, senior lecturer in environmental geography at Bangor University in Wales.

And his colleague, Dr Gregory Cooper, postdoctoral research fellow at the University of London’s Centre for Development, Environment and Policy, says: “This is yet another strong argument to avoid degrading our planet’s ecosystems; we need to do more to conserve biodiversity.”

Atmospheric carbon

Other researchers have separately found that the Amazon rainforest could be about to become a source of yet more atmospheric carbon – rather than a green machine for absorbing surplus carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – as a result of climate change and environmental destruction.

The Amazon ecosystem took 58 million years to evolve. But the message is that it could unravel in a very short time.

Alexandre Antonelli, director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London, was not one of the researchers, but he describes the results of the study as “terrifying” and warns that the Amazon could pass the point of no return this year.

He says: “Nature is fragile. Just because an area is big or a species is common, it doesn’t mean they’ll last forever.

“The Sahel – an area south of the Sahara that is six times the size of Spain – went from being vegetated and bountiful to just a desert in a few hundred years.

“The American chestnut – one of the most important trees of eastern North America – almost faced extinction after a fungal disease caused some three to four billion trees to die in the early 1900s.

“Natural ecosystems are usually resilient to change when kept intact, but after decades of disruption, exploitation and climatic stress, it should come as no surprise that they are breaking down.

“In other words, you can’t simply remove huge chunks of a rainforest and hope everything will be fine – it won’t. Based on these results, 2020 is our very last opportunity to stop Amazonian deforestation.” – Climate News Network

In less than a human lifetime, the world’s greatest rainforest could become parched grassland and scrub, and the Caribbean coral reef system could collapse completely.

LONDON, 17 March, 2020 – The entire Amazon rainforest could collapse into savannah – dry grassland with scrub and intermittent woodland – within 50 years as a result of human action.

And the study of what it takes to alter an enduring natural ecosystem confirms that, within as little as 15 years, the rich Caribbean coral reef system could be no more.

A new statistical examination of the vulnerability of what had once seemed the eternal forest and the glorious coral reefs confirms that once large ecosystems begin to change, they can reach a point at which the collapse becomes sudden and irreversible.

The research confirms an increasing fear that global heating driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels could tip not just climate but also natural landscapes into a new and potentially catastrophic states.

Dramatic warning

More directly, as reported in an interview with Brazilian scientist Antonio Donato Nobre in Climate News Network yesterday, it confirms a dramatic warning delivered in December last year that the Amazon rainforest – a landscape almost as vast as the entire 48 contiguous states of the US – may already be teetering on the edge of functional disruption.

How this disruption could happen was recently outlined by two scientists, Thomas Lovejoy, professor of biology at George Mason University in Virginia, US, and Carlos Nobre, a leading expert on the Amazon and climate change, who is the brother of Antonio Donato Nobre and is senior researcher at the University of Saõ Paulo’s Institute for Advanced Studies.

Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre point out that most of the rain that keeps the Amazon a rainforest is actually recycled from the dense canopy that covers the region. After rainfall, evapotranspiration from the foliage returns water vapour to the air above the forest and falls anew as rain, again and again.

“Over the whole basin, the air rises, cools and precipitates out close to 20% of the world’s river water in the Amazon river system,” they warn in a Science journal report.

“Current deforestation is substantial and frightening: 17% across the entire Amazon basin and approaching 20% in the Brazilian Amazon.

“Already there are ominous signals of it in nature. Dry seasons in the Amazon are already hotter and longer. Mortality rates of wet-climate species are increased, whereas dry-climate species are showing resilience. The increasing frequency of unprecedented droughts in 2005, 2010 and 2015/16 is signalling that the tipping point is at hand.”

By contrast, the latest study in Nature Communications zeroes in on the rates at which large ecosystems could, in principle, change once the climate has begun to shift and the natural habitat is in some way degraded.

“This is yet another strong argument to avoid degrading our planet’s ecosystems; we need to do more to conserve biodiversity.”

Three scientists in the UK used computer models to test data from four terrestrial landscapes, 25 marine habitats and 13 freshwater ecosystems. They found, not surprisingly, that larger ecosystems tend to undergo regime shifts more slowly than the smaller ones.

However, as the ecosystem gets bigger, the additional time taken for collapse to happen gets briefer, so big ecosystems fail relatively more quickly.

This would mean that it would take 15 years for 20,000 sq km of Caribbean reef system to collapse, once some fatal trigger point had been reached. And the 5.5 million sq km of the Amazon tropical moist forest, once it starts to go, could be gone in just 49 years.

“Unfortunately, what our paper reveals is that humanity needs to prepare for change far sooner than expected,” says Simon Willcock, senior lecturer in environmental geography at Bangor University in Wales.

And his colleague, Dr Gregory Cooper, postdoctoral research fellow at the University of London’s Centre for Development, Environment and Policy, says: “This is yet another strong argument to avoid degrading our planet’s ecosystems; we need to do more to conserve biodiversity.”

Atmospheric carbon

Other researchers have separately found that the Amazon rainforest could be about to become a source of yet more atmospheric carbon – rather than a green machine for absorbing surplus carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – as a result of climate change and environmental destruction.

The Amazon ecosystem took 58 million years to evolve. But the message is that it could unravel in a very short time.

Alexandre Antonelli, director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London, was not one of the researchers, but he describes the results of the study as “terrifying” and warns that the Amazon could pass the point of no return this year.

He says: “Nature is fragile. Just because an area is big or a species is common, it doesn’t mean they’ll last forever.

“The Sahel – an area south of the Sahara that is six times the size of Spain – went from being vegetated and bountiful to just a desert in a few hundred years.

“The American chestnut – one of the most important trees of eastern North America – almost faced extinction after a fungal disease caused some three to four billion trees to die in the early 1900s.

“Natural ecosystems are usually resilient to change when kept intact, but after decades of disruption, exploitation and climatic stress, it should come as no surprise that they are breaking down.

“In other words, you can’t simply remove huge chunks of a rainforest and hope everything will be fine – it won’t. Based on these results, 2020 is our very last opportunity to stop Amazonian deforestation.” – Climate News Network

Amazon rainforest reaches point of no return

rainforest

Brazilian rainforest expert warns that increased deforestation under President Bolsonaro’s regime is having a catastrophic effect on climate.

LONDON, 16 March, 2020 – Antonio Donato Nobre is passionate about the Amazon region and despairs about the level of deforestation taking place in what is the world’s biggest rainforest.

“Just when I thought the destruction couldn’t get any worse, it has,” says Nobre, one of Brazil’s leading scientists who has studied the Amazon – its unique flora and fauna, and its influence on both the local and global climate – for more than 40 years.

“In terms of the Earth’s climate, we have gone beyond the point of no return. There’s no doubt about this.”

For decades, he has fought against deforestation. There have been considerable ups and downs in that time, but he points out that Brazil was once a world-leader in controlling deforestation.

“We developed the system that’s now being used by other countries,” he told Climate News Network in an interview during his lecture tour of the UK.

“Using satellite data, we monitored and we controlled. From 2005 to 2012, Brazil managed to reduce up to 83% of deforestation.”

Dramatic increase

Then the law on land use was relaxed, and deforestation increased dramatically – by as much as 200% between 2017 and 2018.

It’s all become much worse since Jair Bolsonaro became Brazilian president at the beginning of last year, Nobre says.

“There are some dangerous people in office,” he says. “The Minister of Environment is a convicted criminal. The Minister of Foreign Affairs is a climate sceptic.”

Nobre argues that Bolsonaro doesn’t care about the Amazon and has contempt for environmentalists.

His administration is encouraging the land grabbers who illegally take over protected or indigenous tribal land, which they then sell on to cattle ranchers and soybean conglomerates.

For indigenous tribes, life has become more dangerous. “They are being murdered, their land is being invaded,” Nobre says.

In August last year, the world watched as large areas of the Amazon region – a vital carbon sink sucking up and recycling global greenhouse gases – went up in flames.

Nobre says the land grabbers had organised what they called a “day of fires” in August last year to honour Bolsonaro.

Half of the Amazon rainforest to the east is gone . It’s losing
the battle, going in the direction of a savanna.”

“Thousands of people organized, through WhatsApp, to make something visible from space,” he says. “They hired people on motorbikes with gasoline jugs to set fire to any land they could.”

The impact on the Amazon is catastrophic, Nobre says. “Half of the Amazon rainforest to the east is gone – it’s losing the battle, going in the direction of a savanna.

“When you clear land in a healthy system, it bounces back. But once you cross a certain threshold, a tipping point, it turns into a different kind of equilibrium. It becomes drier, there’s less rain. It’s no longer a forest.”

As well as storing and recycling vast amounts of greenhouse gas, the trees in the Amazon play a vital role in harvesting heat from the Earth’s surface and transforming water vapour into condensation above the forest. This acts like a giant sprinkler system in the sky, Nobre explains..

When the trees go and this system breaks down, the climate alters not only in the Amazon region but over a much wider area.

Time running out

“We used to say the Amazon had two seasons: the wet season and the wetter season,” Nobre says. “Now, you have many months without a drop of water.”

Nobre spent many years living and carrying out research in the rainforest and is now attached to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

The vast majority of Brazilians, he says, are against deforestation and are concerned about climate change – but while he believes that there is still hope for the rainforest, he says that time is fast running out.

Many leading figures in Brazil, including a group of powerful generals, have been shocked by the international reaction to the recent spate of fires in the Amazon and fear that the country is becoming a pariah on the global stage.

Nobre is angry with his own government, but also with what he describes as the massive conspiracy on climate change perpetrated over the years by the oil, gas and coal lobbies.

Ever since the late 1970s, the fossil fuel companies’ scientists have known about the consequences of the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“They brought us to this situation knowingly,” Nobre says. “It’s not something they did out of irresponsible ignorance. They paid to bash the science.” – Climate News Network

  • Jessica Rawnsley is a UK-based environmental journalist. She has written stories on the Extinction Rebellion movement and police tactics connected with demonstrations. She has a particular interest in campaigning groups and their influence on government climate policies.
  • TOMORROW: Forest and coral reef systems in danger of collapse.

Brazilian rainforest expert warns that increased deforestation under President Bolsonaro’s regime is having a catastrophic effect on climate.

LONDON, 16 March, 2020 – Antonio Donato Nobre is passionate about the Amazon region and despairs about the level of deforestation taking place in what is the world’s biggest rainforest.

“Just when I thought the destruction couldn’t get any worse, it has,” says Nobre, one of Brazil’s leading scientists who has studied the Amazon – its unique flora and fauna, and its influence on both the local and global climate – for more than 40 years.

“In terms of the Earth’s climate, we have gone beyond the point of no return. There’s no doubt about this.”

For decades, he has fought against deforestation. There have been considerable ups and downs in that time, but he points out that Brazil was once a world-leader in controlling deforestation.

“We developed the system that’s now being used by other countries,” he told Climate News Network in an interview during his lecture tour of the UK.

“Using satellite data, we monitored and we controlled. From 2005 to 2012, Brazil managed to reduce up to 83% of deforestation.”

Dramatic increase

Then the law on land use was relaxed, and deforestation increased dramatically – by as much as 200% between 2017 and 2018.

It’s all become much worse since Jair Bolsonaro became Brazilian president at the beginning of last year, Nobre says.

“There are some dangerous people in office,” he says. “The Minister of Environment is a convicted criminal. The Minister of Foreign Affairs is a climate sceptic.”

Nobre argues that Bolsonaro doesn’t care about the Amazon and has contempt for environmentalists.

His administration is encouraging the land grabbers who illegally take over protected or indigenous tribal land, which they then sell on to cattle ranchers and soybean conglomerates.

For indigenous tribes, life has become more dangerous. “They are being murdered, their land is being invaded,” Nobre says.

In August last year, the world watched as large areas of the Amazon region – a vital carbon sink sucking up and recycling global greenhouse gases – went up in flames.

Nobre says the land grabbers had organised what they called a “day of fires” in August last year to honour Bolsonaro.

Half of the Amazon rainforest to the east is gone . It’s losing
the battle, going in the direction of a savanna.”

“Thousands of people organized, through WhatsApp, to make something visible from space,” he says. “They hired people on motorbikes with gasoline jugs to set fire to any land they could.”

The impact on the Amazon is catastrophic, Nobre says. “Half of the Amazon rainforest to the east is gone – it’s losing the battle, going in the direction of a savanna.

“When you clear land in a healthy system, it bounces back. But once you cross a certain threshold, a tipping point, it turns into a different kind of equilibrium. It becomes drier, there’s less rain. It’s no longer a forest.”

As well as storing and recycling vast amounts of greenhouse gas, the trees in the Amazon play a vital role in harvesting heat from the Earth’s surface and transforming water vapour into condensation above the forest. This acts like a giant sprinkler system in the sky, Nobre explains..

When the trees go and this system breaks down, the climate alters not only in the Amazon region but over a much wider area.

Time running out

“We used to say the Amazon had two seasons: the wet season and the wetter season,” Nobre says. “Now, you have many months without a drop of water.”

Nobre spent many years living and carrying out research in the rainforest and is now attached to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

The vast majority of Brazilians, he says, are against deforestation and are concerned about climate change – but while he believes that there is still hope for the rainforest, he says that time is fast running out.

Many leading figures in Brazil, including a group of powerful generals, have been shocked by the international reaction to the recent spate of fires in the Amazon and fear that the country is becoming a pariah on the global stage.

Nobre is angry with his own government, but also with what he describes as the massive conspiracy on climate change perpetrated over the years by the oil, gas and coal lobbies.

Ever since the late 1970s, the fossil fuel companies’ scientists have known about the consequences of the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“They brought us to this situation knowingly,” Nobre says. “It’s not something they did out of irresponsible ignorance. They paid to bash the science.” – Climate News Network

  • Jessica Rawnsley is a UK-based environmental journalist. She has written stories on the Extinction Rebellion movement and police tactics connected with demonstrations. She has a particular interest in campaigning groups and their influence on government climate policies.
  • TOMORROW: Forest and coral reef systems in danger of collapse.

Tropical forests may be heating Earth by 2035

Climate change so far has meant more vigorous forest growth as greenhouse gases rise. The tropical forests may soon change that.

LONDON, 6 March, 2020 – Within about fifteen years, the great tropical forests of Amazonia and Africa could stop absorbing atmospheric carbon, and slowly start to release more carbon than growing trees can fix.

A team of scientists from 100 research institutions has looked at the evidence from pristine tracts of tropical forest to find that – overall – the foliage soaked up the most carbon, most efficiently, more than two decades ago.

Since then, the measured efficiency of the forests as a “sink” in which carbon is sequestered from the atmosphere has been dwindling. By the last decade, the ability of a tropical forest to absorb carbon had dropped by a third.

All plant growth is a balancing act based on sunshine and atmospheric carbon and rainfall. Plants absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, and surrender it as they die.

In a dense, undisturbed wilderness, fallen leaves and even fallen trees are slightly less likely to decompose completely: the atmospheric carbon in leaf and wood form has a better chance of being preserved in flooded forests as peat, or being buried before it can completely decompose.

The forest becomes a bank vault, repository or sink of the extra carbon that humans are now spilling into the atmosphere from car exhausts, factory chimneys and power station furnaces.

Theory and practice

And in theory, as more and more carbon dioxide gets into the atmosphere, plants respond to the more generous fertilisation by growing more vigorously, and absorbing more carbon.

But as more carbon gets into the atmosphere, the temperature rises and weather patterns begin to become more extreme. Summers get hotter, rainfall more capricious. Then trees become vulnerable to drought, forest fire and invasive diseases, and die more often, and decompose more completely.

Wannes Hubau, once of the University of Leeds in the UK and now at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium, and more than 100 colleagues from around the world, report in the journal Nature that they assembled 30 years of measurement from more than 300,000 trees in 244 undisturbed plots of forest in 11 countries in Africa, and from 321 plots of forest in Amazonia, and did the sums.

In the 1990s, intact tropical forests removed around 46 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. By the 2010s, the uptake had fallen to around 25 billion tonnes. This means that 21 billion tons of greenhouse gas that might otherwise have been turned into timber and root had been added to the atmosphere.

This is pretty much what the UK, France, Germany and Canada together spilled into the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion over a 10-year period.

“We’ve found one of the most worrying impacts of climate change has already begun. This is decades ahead of even the most pessimistic climate models”

“Extra carbon boosts tree growth, but every year this effect is being increasingly countered by the negative impacts of higher temperatures and droughts which slow growth and can kill trees,” said Dr Hubau.

“Our modeling shows a long-term decline in the African sink and that the Amazon sink will continue to rapidly weaken, which we predict will become a carbon source in the mid-2030s.”

Tropical forests are an integral factor in the planetary carbon budget – a crude accounting system that climate scientists rely upon to model the choice of futures that face humankind as the world heats up.

Around half of Earth’s carbon is stored in terrestrial vegetation and the tropical forests account for about a third of the planet’s primary productivity. So how forests respond to a warmer world is vital.

Because the Amazon region is being hit by higher temperatures, and more frequent and prolonged droughts than forests in tropical Africa, Amazonia is weakening at a faster rate.

But decline has also begun in Africa. In the 1990s, the undisturbed tropical forests alone inhaled 17% of human-made carbon dioxide emissions. In the decade just ended, this proportion fell to 6%.

Catastrophic prospect

In roughly the same period, the area of intact forest fell by 19%, and global carbon dioxide emissions rose by 46%. Even so, the tropical forests store 250 billion tonnes of carbon in their trees alone: 90 years of fossil fuel emissions at the present rate. So their sustained loss would be catastrophic.

“Intact tropical forests remain a vital carbon sink but this research reveals that unless policies are put in place to stabilise the Earth’s climate, it is only a matter of time until they are no longer able to sequester carbon,” said Simon Lewis, a geographer at the University of Leeds, and one of the authors.

“One big concern for the future of humanity is when carbon-cycle feedbacks really kick in, with nature switching from slowing climate change to accelerating it.

“After years of work deep in the Congo and Amazon rainforests, we’ve found one of the most worrying impacts of climate change has already begun.

“This is decades ahead of even the most pessimistic climate models. There is no time to lose in tackling climate change.” – Climate News Network

Climate change so far has meant more vigorous forest growth as greenhouse gases rise. The tropical forests may soon change that.

LONDON, 6 March, 2020 – Within about fifteen years, the great tropical forests of Amazonia and Africa could stop absorbing atmospheric carbon, and slowly start to release more carbon than growing trees can fix.

A team of scientists from 100 research institutions has looked at the evidence from pristine tracts of tropical forest to find that – overall – the foliage soaked up the most carbon, most efficiently, more than two decades ago.

Since then, the measured efficiency of the forests as a “sink” in which carbon is sequestered from the atmosphere has been dwindling. By the last decade, the ability of a tropical forest to absorb carbon had dropped by a third.

All plant growth is a balancing act based on sunshine and atmospheric carbon and rainfall. Plants absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, and surrender it as they die.

In a dense, undisturbed wilderness, fallen leaves and even fallen trees are slightly less likely to decompose completely: the atmospheric carbon in leaf and wood form has a better chance of being preserved in flooded forests as peat, or being buried before it can completely decompose.

The forest becomes a bank vault, repository or sink of the extra carbon that humans are now spilling into the atmosphere from car exhausts, factory chimneys and power station furnaces.

Theory and practice

And in theory, as more and more carbon dioxide gets into the atmosphere, plants respond to the more generous fertilisation by growing more vigorously, and absorbing more carbon.

But as more carbon gets into the atmosphere, the temperature rises and weather patterns begin to become more extreme. Summers get hotter, rainfall more capricious. Then trees become vulnerable to drought, forest fire and invasive diseases, and die more often, and decompose more completely.

Wannes Hubau, once of the University of Leeds in the UK and now at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium, and more than 100 colleagues from around the world, report in the journal Nature that they assembled 30 years of measurement from more than 300,000 trees in 244 undisturbed plots of forest in 11 countries in Africa, and from 321 plots of forest in Amazonia, and did the sums.

In the 1990s, intact tropical forests removed around 46 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. By the 2010s, the uptake had fallen to around 25 billion tonnes. This means that 21 billion tons of greenhouse gas that might otherwise have been turned into timber and root had been added to the atmosphere.

This is pretty much what the UK, France, Germany and Canada together spilled into the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion over a 10-year period.

“We’ve found one of the most worrying impacts of climate change has already begun. This is decades ahead of even the most pessimistic climate models”

“Extra carbon boosts tree growth, but every year this effect is being increasingly countered by the negative impacts of higher temperatures and droughts which slow growth and can kill trees,” said Dr Hubau.

“Our modeling shows a long-term decline in the African sink and that the Amazon sink will continue to rapidly weaken, which we predict will become a carbon source in the mid-2030s.”

Tropical forests are an integral factor in the planetary carbon budget – a crude accounting system that climate scientists rely upon to model the choice of futures that face humankind as the world heats up.

Around half of Earth’s carbon is stored in terrestrial vegetation and the tropical forests account for about a third of the planet’s primary productivity. So how forests respond to a warmer world is vital.

Because the Amazon region is being hit by higher temperatures, and more frequent and prolonged droughts than forests in tropical Africa, Amazonia is weakening at a faster rate.

But decline has also begun in Africa. In the 1990s, the undisturbed tropical forests alone inhaled 17% of human-made carbon dioxide emissions. In the decade just ended, this proportion fell to 6%.

Catastrophic prospect

In roughly the same period, the area of intact forest fell by 19%, and global carbon dioxide emissions rose by 46%. Even so, the tropical forests store 250 billion tonnes of carbon in their trees alone: 90 years of fossil fuel emissions at the present rate. So their sustained loss would be catastrophic.

“Intact tropical forests remain a vital carbon sink but this research reveals that unless policies are put in place to stabilise the Earth’s climate, it is only a matter of time until they are no longer able to sequester carbon,” said Simon Lewis, a geographer at the University of Leeds, and one of the authors.

“One big concern for the future of humanity is when carbon-cycle feedbacks really kick in, with nature switching from slowing climate change to accelerating it.

“After years of work deep in the Congo and Amazon rainforests, we’ve found one of the most worrying impacts of climate change has already begun.

“This is decades ahead of even the most pessimistic climate models. There is no time to lose in tackling climate change.” – 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