Tag Archives: Brazil

UN calls lethal Brazil dam burst a crime

Several hundred people were buried alive after a Brazil dam burst released toxic waste in the town of Brumadinho, a disaster the UN calls a crime.

SÃO PAULO, 4 February, 2019 − The latest Brazil dam burst, in the central state of Minas Gerais, happened less than a month after the country’s new climate-sceptic government came to office promising a relaxation of environmental laws and inspections to “take the yoke off producers”.

So sudden was the calamity that alarm sirens were submerged by the tidal wave of waste before they could sound. The avalanche of sludge then engulfed hundreds of people in its path aboard buses and lorries or in buildings.

The dam was built in the 1970s, using the “upstream construction” method since banned in other countries. It facilitated the rapid flow of the dam’s contents downhill when the walls collapsed.

The mine is owned by Vale, a Brazilian company which is the world’s largest iron ore producer, and its second largest mining company.

“Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams”

As the death toll rose, so did questions about the failure to prevent Brazil’s second big mining disaster in three years. In November 2015, an iron ore tailings mine owned by Samarco, a Vale joint venture with the Anglo-Australian BHP, had burst its banks, causing Brazil’s worst-ever environmental disaster, contaminating hundreds of miles of rivers with toxic waste, killing fish and other wildlife.

Yet instead of tightening up environmental laws, politicians, many of them funded by the mining companies, have worked instead to relax them.

In the national congress there are a dozen bills designed to loosen the rules for environmental licences. The same politicians also supported the election of a president who appointed climate sceptics to key ministries.

Climate change deleted

The issue of climate change was removed from the government’s agenda, and departments which addressed it have been abolished or downgraded. A determination to dismantle environmental safeguards and relax legislation seen as restrictive to business was openly expressed and was a key part of the new president’s platform.

On his first day in office, President Jair Bolsonaro signed an executive order creating a special secretariat for environmental licensing, a function previously performed by Ibama, the official environment agency (in Portuguese), which has a staff of experienced inspectors. The idea was to fast-track the process

Environment minister Ricardo Salles even suggested self-evaluation by companies or producers considered low-risk − the classification given to the dam at Brumadinho.

The disaster has also revealed that even before Bolsonaro’s election, mine inspections were being neglected. Brazil has 790 dams holding mine waste, but only 35 inspectors. In 2017 only 211 of these mines were inspected.

Inspections missed

Of the budget allocated for dam inspections, less than a quarter was actually spent, according to the Report on Dam Safety in 2017 produced by the National Water Agency, ANA (in Portuguese).

Baskut Tuncak, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the disposal of hazardous substances, whose requests to visit Brazil after the previous disaster have been systematically ignored, said: “Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams after the Samarco disaster in 2015”.

Monitoring of the dam, including the toxicity of the reject material, and the installation of early warning systems to prevent the loss of life and contamination of rivers should have been ensured, he said.

Tuncak, who is championing environmentally sound technologies that adapt to and mitigate climate change, called the dam burst at Brumadinho a crime.

Warnings ignored

He revealed that the Brazilian authorities had ignored UN warnings to improve environmental control. “Neither the government nor the Vale company seem to have learned from their errors and taken the necessary preventive measures after the Samarco disaster”.

For Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s most influential environmental NGOs, the blame lies with “a continuous process of disinvestment in the environmental agencies at both the national and the local level, leaving them unable to carry out their legal attributions.

“Besides imposing unacceptable risks on the environment and the population, this is bad for the companies themselves, because of the time taken to obtain licences.” (in Portuguese).

The way to prevent new tragedies, says ISA, is to strengthen these agencies, not dismantle them. Maybe the terrible tragedy of Brumadinho, with almost 350 dead, will persuade President Bolsonaro to listen to what the environmentalists are saying. − Climate News Network

Several hundred people were buried alive after a Brazil dam burst released toxic waste in the town of Brumadinho, a disaster the UN calls a crime.

SÃO PAULO, 4 February, 2019 − The latest Brazil dam burst, in the central state of Minas Gerais, happened less than a month after the country’s new climate-sceptic government came to office promising a relaxation of environmental laws and inspections to “take the yoke off producers”.

So sudden was the calamity that alarm sirens were submerged by the tidal wave of waste before they could sound. The avalanche of sludge then engulfed hundreds of people in its path aboard buses and lorries or in buildings.

The dam was built in the 1970s, using the “upstream construction” method since banned in other countries. It facilitated the rapid flow of the dam’s contents downhill when the walls collapsed.

The mine is owned by Vale, a Brazilian company which is the world’s largest iron ore producer, and its second largest mining company.

“Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams”

As the death toll rose, so did questions about the failure to prevent Brazil’s second big mining disaster in three years. In November 2015, an iron ore tailings mine owned by Samarco, a Vale joint venture with the Anglo-Australian BHP, had burst its banks, causing Brazil’s worst-ever environmental disaster, contaminating hundreds of miles of rivers with toxic waste, killing fish and other wildlife.

Yet instead of tightening up environmental laws, politicians, many of them funded by the mining companies, have worked instead to relax them.

In the national congress there are a dozen bills designed to loosen the rules for environmental licences. The same politicians also supported the election of a president who appointed climate sceptics to key ministries.

Climate change deleted

The issue of climate change was removed from the government’s agenda, and departments which addressed it have been abolished or downgraded. A determination to dismantle environmental safeguards and relax legislation seen as restrictive to business was openly expressed and was a key part of the new president’s platform.

On his first day in office, President Jair Bolsonaro signed an executive order creating a special secretariat for environmental licensing, a function previously performed by Ibama, the official environment agency (in Portuguese), which has a staff of experienced inspectors. The idea was to fast-track the process

Environment minister Ricardo Salles even suggested self-evaluation by companies or producers considered low-risk − the classification given to the dam at Brumadinho.

The disaster has also revealed that even before Bolsonaro’s election, mine inspections were being neglected. Brazil has 790 dams holding mine waste, but only 35 inspectors. In 2017 only 211 of these mines were inspected.

Inspections missed

Of the budget allocated for dam inspections, less than a quarter was actually spent, according to the Report on Dam Safety in 2017 produced by the National Water Agency, ANA (in Portuguese).

Baskut Tuncak, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the disposal of hazardous substances, whose requests to visit Brazil after the previous disaster have been systematically ignored, said: “Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams after the Samarco disaster in 2015”.

Monitoring of the dam, including the toxicity of the reject material, and the installation of early warning systems to prevent the loss of life and contamination of rivers should have been ensured, he said.

Tuncak, who is championing environmentally sound technologies that adapt to and mitigate climate change, called the dam burst at Brumadinho a crime.

Warnings ignored

He revealed that the Brazilian authorities had ignored UN warnings to improve environmental control. “Neither the government nor the Vale company seem to have learned from their errors and taken the necessary preventive measures after the Samarco disaster”.

For Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s most influential environmental NGOs, the blame lies with “a continuous process of disinvestment in the environmental agencies at both the national and the local level, leaving them unable to carry out their legal attributions.

“Besides imposing unacceptable risks on the environment and the population, this is bad for the companies themselves, because of the time taken to obtain licences.” (in Portuguese).

The way to prevent new tragedies, says ISA, is to strengthen these agencies, not dismantle them. Maybe the terrible tragedy of Brumadinho, with almost 350 dead, will persuade President Bolsonaro to listen to what the environmentalists are saying. − Climate News Network

Amazon in peril as Brazil cools on climate

The man who will become Brazil’s president next month is cold-shouldering moves to tame the pace of climate change, leaving the Amazon in peril.

SÃO PAULO, 12 December, 2018 − The election of an extreme rightwing climate sceptic as president will leave the Amazon in peril, because it radically alters Brazil’s position on climate change.

That process has already begun, with the cancellation of the outgoing president’s invitation to the United Nations to hold its 2019 climate talks, COP-25, in Brasilia.

President-elect Jair Bolsonaro is also threatening to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, claiming that a plot exists to reduce Brazil’s sovereignty over the Amazon.

While he does not officially take office until 1 January, Bolsonaro has already significantly altered Brazil’s position by cancelling the present government’s offer to host COP-25 only days after it was officially made by the departing president, Michel Temer.

Due for confirmation

It was due to be confirmed at this year’s UN talks (COP-24) in the Polish city of Katowice. The COPs (meetings of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) are rotated between the world’s five regions, and 2019 was to be the turn of Latin America and the Caribbean.

For André Nahur, a biologist and the coordinator of WWF Brazil’s programme for climate change and energy, it is a sign that under Bolsonaro Brazil will abdicate its role as a leader in environmental questions.

He said: “Brazil has been a protagonist in international climate talks, exercising an important role in diplomatic efforts to reduce greenhouse gases … in order to achieve world targets. Brazil’s participation is vital, because at the moment it is the seventh largest producer of greenhouse gases.”

He added that the withdrawal of Brazil’s offer for COP-25 will affect the country’s economic development: “All scenarios show that in countries concerned with climate change, GDP has grown and generated jobs.”

“I am not in favour of signing a trade deal with powers that do not respect the Paris agreement”

The Climate Observatory, a Brazilian NGO (Observatório do Clima) says Bolsonaro’s decision means that Brazil is abdicating its role in one of the few areas where the country is not just relevant but necessary.

“Ignoring the climate agenda, the government is also failing to protect the population affected by a growing number of extreme weather events. Unfortunately they do not stop happening just because some people doubt their causes,” it said.

To try to justify his stated intention to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement Bolsonaro has invoked the existence of a forgotten project once proposed by Gaia Colombia, known as the Triple A.

He said: “What is the ‘Triple A? It’s a big strip between the Andes, the Amazon and the Atlantic … The idea is to turn it into an ecological corridor.” This, says Bolsonaro, could result in Brazil losing its sovereignty over the area.

Doubtful explanation

The ambitious plan for the corridor, covering over 500,000 square miles of rainforest, surfaced several years ago, and is credited to Martín von Hildebrand, founder of the Gaia Amazonas NGO, but it has never been taken seriously, and it is certainly no part of the Paris Agreement.

While the president-elect evoked this non-existent problem to justify his dislike of the Paris deal, French president Emmanuel Macron hinted at the real consequences of leaving the treaty, declaring: “I say clearly that I am not in favour of signing a trade deal with powers that do not respect the Paris agreement.”

Brazil’s new position also leaves it out of step with the BRICS, the group of five big emerging countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

They produced a statement at the recent G20 meeting in Buenos Aires affirming their commitment to the “full implementation of the Paris Agreement, and the importance and urgency of guaranteeing funds for the Green Climate Fund”, to increase the developing countries’ capacity for mitigation and adaptation.

Faith in Trump

Bolsonaro has chosen as his foreign minister a diplomat, Ernesto Araujo, who scoffs at what he calls “climatism” and believes that US president Donald Trump is the saviour of the Christian values of the Western world, while globalisation is a communist plot.

If Brazil were just a small banana republic this would not matter. But the South American giant, the fifth largest country in the world, in both size and population, and ninth largest economy, is too big to ignore, especially as it contains 60% of the Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest tropical forest.

But even before Bolsonaro officially takes office deforestation has soared, hitting its highest level for a decade as loggers and landgrabbers anticipate a loosening of monitoring and enforcement.

Environmentalists fear that Brazil’s change of government could have disastrous consequences for the world’s climate. − Climate News Network

The man who will become Brazil’s president next month is cold-shouldering moves to tame the pace of climate change, leaving the Amazon in peril.

SÃO PAULO, 12 December, 2018 − The election of an extreme rightwing climate sceptic as president will leave the Amazon in peril, because it radically alters Brazil’s position on climate change.

That process has already begun, with the cancellation of the outgoing president’s invitation to the United Nations to hold its 2019 climate talks, COP-25, in Brasilia.

President-elect Jair Bolsonaro is also threatening to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, claiming that a plot exists to reduce Brazil’s sovereignty over the Amazon.

While he does not officially take office until 1 January, Bolsonaro has already significantly altered Brazil’s position by cancelling the present government’s offer to host COP-25 only days after it was officially made by the departing president, Michel Temer.

Due for confirmation

It was due to be confirmed at this year’s UN talks (COP-24) in the Polish city of Katowice. The COPs (meetings of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) are rotated between the world’s five regions, and 2019 was to be the turn of Latin America and the Caribbean.

For André Nahur, a biologist and the coordinator of WWF Brazil’s programme for climate change and energy, it is a sign that under Bolsonaro Brazil will abdicate its role as a leader in environmental questions.

He said: “Brazil has been a protagonist in international climate talks, exercising an important role in diplomatic efforts to reduce greenhouse gases … in order to achieve world targets. Brazil’s participation is vital, because at the moment it is the seventh largest producer of greenhouse gases.”

He added that the withdrawal of Brazil’s offer for COP-25 will affect the country’s economic development: “All scenarios show that in countries concerned with climate change, GDP has grown and generated jobs.”

“I am not in favour of signing a trade deal with powers that do not respect the Paris agreement”

The Climate Observatory, a Brazilian NGO (Observatório do Clima) says Bolsonaro’s decision means that Brazil is abdicating its role in one of the few areas where the country is not just relevant but necessary.

“Ignoring the climate agenda, the government is also failing to protect the population affected by a growing number of extreme weather events. Unfortunately they do not stop happening just because some people doubt their causes,” it said.

To try to justify his stated intention to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement Bolsonaro has invoked the existence of a forgotten project once proposed by Gaia Colombia, known as the Triple A.

He said: “What is the ‘Triple A? It’s a big strip between the Andes, the Amazon and the Atlantic … The idea is to turn it into an ecological corridor.” This, says Bolsonaro, could result in Brazil losing its sovereignty over the area.

Doubtful explanation

The ambitious plan for the corridor, covering over 500,000 square miles of rainforest, surfaced several years ago, and is credited to Martín von Hildebrand, founder of the Gaia Amazonas NGO, but it has never been taken seriously, and it is certainly no part of the Paris Agreement.

While the president-elect evoked this non-existent problem to justify his dislike of the Paris deal, French president Emmanuel Macron hinted at the real consequences of leaving the treaty, declaring: “I say clearly that I am not in favour of signing a trade deal with powers that do not respect the Paris agreement.”

Brazil’s new position also leaves it out of step with the BRICS, the group of five big emerging countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

They produced a statement at the recent G20 meeting in Buenos Aires affirming their commitment to the “full implementation of the Paris Agreement, and the importance and urgency of guaranteeing funds for the Green Climate Fund”, to increase the developing countries’ capacity for mitigation and adaptation.

Faith in Trump

Bolsonaro has chosen as his foreign minister a diplomat, Ernesto Araujo, who scoffs at what he calls “climatism” and believes that US president Donald Trump is the saviour of the Christian values of the Western world, while globalisation is a communist plot.

If Brazil were just a small banana republic this would not matter. But the South American giant, the fifth largest country in the world, in both size and population, and ninth largest economy, is too big to ignore, especially as it contains 60% of the Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest tropical forest.

But even before Bolsonaro officially takes office deforestation has soared, hitting its highest level for a decade as loggers and landgrabbers anticipate a loosening of monitoring and enforcement.

Environmentalists fear that Brazil’s change of government could have disastrous consequences for the world’s climate. − Climate News Network

Farmers face double trouble as world warms

At risk from heat and drought in a warming world, farmers face double trouble in two or more great farming regions at once.

LONDON, 30 November, 2018 – US researchers have confirmed that continued global warming means farmers face double trouble: a heightened possibility of a suddenly hungrier world, as ever-higher average global temperatures increase the probability of devastating heat and drought in two great agricultural regions of the world simultaneously.

This is not the first such warning. In October, a separate team of researchers used a different approach to find that continued climate change could increase the possibility of a return of the conditions that triggered the global drought and famine of 1875-78, which may have claimed 50 million lives.

Also in October, researchers at the University of Washington focused on the possible recurrence of three shifts in regional climate that combined to cause colossal harvest failure in India, China and Brazil.

This time, Californian scientists report in the journal Science Advances that they simply looked at the record of temperature change and the mathematical probabilities associated with it.

In the last century, thanks to profligate combustion of fossil fuels and the consequent increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the world has warmed on average by around 1°C.

“The default is to use historical probabilities. But … assuming that those historical probabilities will continue into the future doesn’t accurately reflect the current or future risk”

“If it’s getting warmer everywhere, then it’s more likely to be hot in two places at once, and it’s probably also more likely to be hot when it’s also dry in two places at once,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, of Stanford’s school of earth, energy and environmental sciences.

“When we look in the historical data at the key crop and pasture regions, we find that before anthropogenic climate change, there were very low odds that any two regions would experience those really severe conditions simultaneously,” he said.

“The global marketplace provides a hedge against localised extremes, but we’re already seeing an erosion of that climate buffer as extremes have increased in response to global warming.”

For most of human history harvest failure has been a hazard, but losses in one region have usually been balanced by gains in another. The global famine that began with the Asian monsoon failure of 1875 was a rare event, made more damaging by imperial mismanagement by the European powers.

Lengthening odds

But climate change brings with it the double jeopardy of low crop yields in two great zones of agricultural production at the same time. The odds of both low rainfall and high temperatures in the same year in both China and India – two great farming nations, with the two biggest populations – were, in 1980, just one in 20. These have now increased to more than one in seven.

“So what used to be a rare occurrence can now be expected to occur with some regularity, and we have very strong evidence that global warming is the cause,” said Professor Diffenbaugh.

The researchers found that, if the world continued burning fossil fuels under the notorious business-as-usual scenario, the chances that average temperatures would rise well beyond the range normally experienced in the mid-20th century would, in many regions, increase by 75%.

The researchers also found that – were the world to honour the promise of the Paris Climate Accord of 2015, to contain global warming to well below 2°C by 2100 – the risk of double trouble for two separate regions simultaneously is curbed.

Extremes increase

Extremes of heat by themselves pose a risk to crop yields and, increasingly, more parts of the world are more at risk  of harvest losses.

The Californian scientists looked at multiple risks in one region at the same time – high winds, storm surges, calamitous tropical cyclones, and also low humidity, high temperatures, high winds and lethal wild fires – and then the probability that similar or slightly different multiple hazards could overtake another region in the same year.

The implication is that with increasing average global temperatures, the kinds of hazards farmers and communities expect to confront could be about to change. For centuries, societies made decisions based on the probabilities they already understood.

“The default is to use historical probabilities,” said Professor Diffenbaugh. “But our research shows that assuming that those historical probabilities will continue into the future doesn’t accurately reflect the current or future risk.” – Climate News Network

At risk from heat and drought in a warming world, farmers face double trouble in two or more great farming regions at once.

LONDON, 30 November, 2018 – US researchers have confirmed that continued global warming means farmers face double trouble: a heightened possibility of a suddenly hungrier world, as ever-higher average global temperatures increase the probability of devastating heat and drought in two great agricultural regions of the world simultaneously.

This is not the first such warning. In October, a separate team of researchers used a different approach to find that continued climate change could increase the possibility of a return of the conditions that triggered the global drought and famine of 1875-78, which may have claimed 50 million lives.

Also in October, researchers at the University of Washington focused on the possible recurrence of three shifts in regional climate that combined to cause colossal harvest failure in India, China and Brazil.

This time, Californian scientists report in the journal Science Advances that they simply looked at the record of temperature change and the mathematical probabilities associated with it.

In the last century, thanks to profligate combustion of fossil fuels and the consequent increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the world has warmed on average by around 1°C.

“The default is to use historical probabilities. But … assuming that those historical probabilities will continue into the future doesn’t accurately reflect the current or future risk”

“If it’s getting warmer everywhere, then it’s more likely to be hot in two places at once, and it’s probably also more likely to be hot when it’s also dry in two places at once,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, of Stanford’s school of earth, energy and environmental sciences.

“When we look in the historical data at the key crop and pasture regions, we find that before anthropogenic climate change, there were very low odds that any two regions would experience those really severe conditions simultaneously,” he said.

“The global marketplace provides a hedge against localised extremes, but we’re already seeing an erosion of that climate buffer as extremes have increased in response to global warming.”

For most of human history harvest failure has been a hazard, but losses in one region have usually been balanced by gains in another. The global famine that began with the Asian monsoon failure of 1875 was a rare event, made more damaging by imperial mismanagement by the European powers.

Lengthening odds

But climate change brings with it the double jeopardy of low crop yields in two great zones of agricultural production at the same time. The odds of both low rainfall and high temperatures in the same year in both China and India – two great farming nations, with the two biggest populations – were, in 1980, just one in 20. These have now increased to more than one in seven.

“So what used to be a rare occurrence can now be expected to occur with some regularity, and we have very strong evidence that global warming is the cause,” said Professor Diffenbaugh.

The researchers found that, if the world continued burning fossil fuels under the notorious business-as-usual scenario, the chances that average temperatures would rise well beyond the range normally experienced in the mid-20th century would, in many regions, increase by 75%.

The researchers also found that – were the world to honour the promise of the Paris Climate Accord of 2015, to contain global warming to well below 2°C by 2100 – the risk of double trouble for two separate regions simultaneously is curbed.

Extremes increase

Extremes of heat by themselves pose a risk to crop yields and, increasingly, more parts of the world are more at risk  of harvest losses.

The Californian scientists looked at multiple risks in one region at the same time – high winds, storm surges, calamitous tropical cyclones, and also low humidity, high temperatures, high winds and lethal wild fires – and then the probability that similar or slightly different multiple hazards could overtake another region in the same year.

The implication is that with increasing average global temperatures, the kinds of hazards farmers and communities expect to confront could be about to change. For centuries, societies made decisions based on the probabilities they already understood.

“The default is to use historical probabilities,” said Professor Diffenbaugh. “But our research shows that assuming that those historical probabilities will continue into the future doesn’t accurately reflect the current or future risk.” – Climate News Network

Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro puts Amazon at risk

If their new leader, Jair Bolsonaro, acts as many Brazilians expect him to, the Amazon forest is likely to suffer serious damage.

SÃO PAULO, 16 November, 2018 − The Amazon rainforest, the greatest remaining in the world, faces a new threat − from the policies espoused by Jair Bolsonaro, the ex-army captain who is now Brazil’s president-elect. The forest is globally vital for its ability to store atmospheric carbon released by the burning of fossil fuels.

Bolsonaro has caused alarm both in the country and abroad with his views on the environment. In anticipation of his victory, deforestation in the Amazon region increased by 50% in the three months before the poll.

The Real Time System for Detection of Deforestation in the Amazon region, Deter, which is administered by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and provides data for environmental inspectors, found that between August and October, the Amazon rainforest lost 1,674 square kilometres, an area bigger than Brazil’s largest metropolis, São Paulo. This was an increase of 48.8% compared to the same months in 2017.

Imazon, an NGO which also monitors deforestation, using a different system called SAD (Deforestation Alert System) registered an even bigger increase of 84% (in Portuguese) compared to 2017.

“Up to 15 million hectares of the Brazilian Amazon is at risk of losing its legal protection”

In the area that showed the greatest increase in illegal deforestation, the border region between the states of Acre and Amazonas, the main cause was cattle ranching. It is the cattle ranchers, together with the soy farmers, who are among Bolsonaro’s most enthusiastic supporters.

But even they were alarmed when he announced, as one of his first measures, the merging of the Ministry of the Environment, one of whose main functions is to enforce environmental laws, with the powerful Ministry of Agriculture, more or less like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. Brazil is one of the world’s top exporters of soy and beef, and farmers know they must adhere to the strict environmental and health conditions demanded by importers.

The president-elect’s radical plans also came under fire from eight former environment ministers. In an open letter to Bolsonaro, published in the newspaper Opinião do jornal Folha de São Paulo (in Portuguese), they urged him not to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, which, as an enthusiastic fan of Donald Trump, he has said he wants to do.

They point out that Brazil, host to the first Earth Summit in 1992 and to the follow-up 20 years later, Rio+20, is a world leader in sustainable development and the use of renewable energy resources, and, because of the importance of the Amazon rainforest to the world’s climate, a leading player in global environmental policy.

Double disaster possible

To abolish the Environment Ministry and leave the Paris Agreement, they say, would also be disastrous politically and commercially: “We cannot run the risk of international political isolation or the closing of consumer markets to our exports. In the 21st century Brazil can’t get off the world”.

Especially as, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in the next decade Brazil is expected to become the world’s biggest agricultural producer and food exporter, unless the reckless destruction of its natural resources prevents this.

Leaving the Paris Agreement, however, seems to be part of the anti-global mindset which predominates among Bolsonaro and his followers, very much influenced by the Steve Bannon playbook.

The president-elect has just announced the choice of an ultra-conservative diplomat to become Brazil’s new foreign minister. The new minister, Ernesto Araujo, sees globalisation as a Marxist plot, and wants Brazil, notable for its leadership of developing countries during previous governments and its active role in international organisations, to ally itself uncritically with the US, because “Donald Trump will save the Western world for Christianity.”

Partial retreat

However, under pressure from exporters, Bolsonaro has been forced to back down and maintain the Ministry of the Environment, although he is determined to weaken its monitoring and enforcement functions, and to water down environmental licensing laws.

He has also said that too much land in the Amazon is occupied by indigenous peoples and conservation units, and wants to open up these areas to economic exploitation. SAD figures show that while private properties account for the most deforested areas (58%), and even conservation units make up 24%, indigenous territories account for only 4% of the total. In other words, they are a barrier against deforestation.

Besides the ex-ministers, scientists and environmentalists have warned that if the president-elect carries out his promises, deforestation in the Amazon could explode. A group of researchers at INPE have used mathematical modelling to simulate possible changes in land use and calculated an increase of 268% in deforestation, rising from 6.9m km² in 2017 to 25.6m km² from 2020.

New risk

There is an added danger from another source, if individual Amazon states decide to invoke a clause in the Forest Code, which allows them to authorise a reduction in the 80% of land compulsorily set aside for conservation on private properties. A new study concludes that because of this potential reduction, “up to 15 million hectares of the Brazilian Amazon is at risk of losing its legal protection.”

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, and the University of São Paulo (in Portuguese) say this is equivalent to more than 4 times the entire forest area of the UK. As most of the newly elected state governors and members of state legislatures have declared support for Bolsonaro, the probability that they will enact the clause, leading to more deforestation, is high.

Unfortunately, many of them choose to ignore the warnings of scientists like Paulo Moutinho of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) who said that “one of the ways to value this great forest is to recognise it as a great irrigation system . . . we can say that the food that is produced in Brazil, not only now but in the future, depends on this gigantic irrigation system which is the standing forest.” − Climate News Network

If their new leader, Jair Bolsonaro, acts as many Brazilians expect him to, the Amazon forest is likely to suffer serious damage.

SÃO PAULO, 16 November, 2018 − The Amazon rainforest, the greatest remaining in the world, faces a new threat − from the policies espoused by Jair Bolsonaro, the ex-army captain who is now Brazil’s president-elect. The forest is globally vital for its ability to store atmospheric carbon released by the burning of fossil fuels.

Bolsonaro has caused alarm both in the country and abroad with his views on the environment. In anticipation of his victory, deforestation in the Amazon region increased by 50% in the three months before the poll.

The Real Time System for Detection of Deforestation in the Amazon region, Deter, which is administered by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and provides data for environmental inspectors, found that between August and October, the Amazon rainforest lost 1,674 square kilometres, an area bigger than Brazil’s largest metropolis, São Paulo. This was an increase of 48.8% compared to the same months in 2017.

Imazon, an NGO which also monitors deforestation, using a different system called SAD (Deforestation Alert System) registered an even bigger increase of 84% (in Portuguese) compared to 2017.

“Up to 15 million hectares of the Brazilian Amazon is at risk of losing its legal protection”

In the area that showed the greatest increase in illegal deforestation, the border region between the states of Acre and Amazonas, the main cause was cattle ranching. It is the cattle ranchers, together with the soy farmers, who are among Bolsonaro’s most enthusiastic supporters.

But even they were alarmed when he announced, as one of his first measures, the merging of the Ministry of the Environment, one of whose main functions is to enforce environmental laws, with the powerful Ministry of Agriculture, more or less like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. Brazil is one of the world’s top exporters of soy and beef, and farmers know they must adhere to the strict environmental and health conditions demanded by importers.

The president-elect’s radical plans also came under fire from eight former environment ministers. In an open letter to Bolsonaro, published in the newspaper Opinião do jornal Folha de São Paulo (in Portuguese), they urged him not to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, which, as an enthusiastic fan of Donald Trump, he has said he wants to do.

They point out that Brazil, host to the first Earth Summit in 1992 and to the follow-up 20 years later, Rio+20, is a world leader in sustainable development and the use of renewable energy resources, and, because of the importance of the Amazon rainforest to the world’s climate, a leading player in global environmental policy.

Double disaster possible

To abolish the Environment Ministry and leave the Paris Agreement, they say, would also be disastrous politically and commercially: “We cannot run the risk of international political isolation or the closing of consumer markets to our exports. In the 21st century Brazil can’t get off the world”.

Especially as, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in the next decade Brazil is expected to become the world’s biggest agricultural producer and food exporter, unless the reckless destruction of its natural resources prevents this.

Leaving the Paris Agreement, however, seems to be part of the anti-global mindset which predominates among Bolsonaro and his followers, very much influenced by the Steve Bannon playbook.

The president-elect has just announced the choice of an ultra-conservative diplomat to become Brazil’s new foreign minister. The new minister, Ernesto Araujo, sees globalisation as a Marxist plot, and wants Brazil, notable for its leadership of developing countries during previous governments and its active role in international organisations, to ally itself uncritically with the US, because “Donald Trump will save the Western world for Christianity.”

Partial retreat

However, under pressure from exporters, Bolsonaro has been forced to back down and maintain the Ministry of the Environment, although he is determined to weaken its monitoring and enforcement functions, and to water down environmental licensing laws.

He has also said that too much land in the Amazon is occupied by indigenous peoples and conservation units, and wants to open up these areas to economic exploitation. SAD figures show that while private properties account for the most deforested areas (58%), and even conservation units make up 24%, indigenous territories account for only 4% of the total. In other words, they are a barrier against deforestation.

Besides the ex-ministers, scientists and environmentalists have warned that if the president-elect carries out his promises, deforestation in the Amazon could explode. A group of researchers at INPE have used mathematical modelling to simulate possible changes in land use and calculated an increase of 268% in deforestation, rising from 6.9m km² in 2017 to 25.6m km² from 2020.

New risk

There is an added danger from another source, if individual Amazon states decide to invoke a clause in the Forest Code, which allows them to authorise a reduction in the 80% of land compulsorily set aside for conservation on private properties. A new study concludes that because of this potential reduction, “up to 15 million hectares of the Brazilian Amazon is at risk of losing its legal protection.”

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, and the University of São Paulo (in Portuguese) say this is equivalent to more than 4 times the entire forest area of the UK. As most of the newly elected state governors and members of state legislatures have declared support for Bolsonaro, the probability that they will enact the clause, leading to more deforestation, is high.

Unfortunately, many of them choose to ignore the warnings of scientists like Paulo Moutinho of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) who said that “one of the ways to value this great forest is to recognise it as a great irrigation system . . . we can say that the food that is produced in Brazil, not only now but in the future, depends on this gigantic irrigation system which is the standing forest.” − Climate News Network

Tax havens threaten oceans and rainforests

Most of the foreign money funding ocean plunder and the felling of the Amazon forest comes through tax havens, researchers say.

LONDON, 14 August, 2018 – Tax havens have provided more than two-thirds of the foreign capital known to be linked to Amazon deforestation and pirate fishing, a new study says.

The researchers say 70% of known vessels involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing are or have been flagged under a tax haven jurisdiction. On average, they report, 68% of all investigated foreign capital (US$18.4bn of a total $26.9bn) which went to sectors associated with Amazon  deforestation between 2000 and 2011 was transferred through tax havens.

The report is the work of a team of researchers from the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) and the Global Economic Dynamics and the Biosphere programme (GEDB), who say it is the first study to show how tax havens are linked to economic sectors with the potential to cause serious global environmental damage.

They say the release of the Paradise Papers and Panama Papers exposed how multinationals, politicians and the rich use offshore tax havens to conceal their wealth and money flows, and to reduce their exposure to tax. Accepting that the term “tax haven” is contested, their report uses a definition proposed in a report prepared for the US Congress.

The study’s lead author, Victor Galaz, deputy director of the SRC, says: “Our analysis shows that the use of tax havens is not only a socio-political and economic challenge, but also an environmental one. While the use of tax haven jurisdictions is not illegal in itself, financial secrecy hampers the ability to analyse how financial flows affect economic activities on the ground, and their environmental impacts.”

The study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, is part of an on-going research project, Earth System Finance: New perspectives on financial markets and sustainability, led by GEDB and the Stockholm Resilience Centre in collaboration with Future Earth.

Systematic approach

The researchers say most previous analyses of the environmental impacts of tax havens are the work of investigative journalists focusing on a few locations. The new study, in contrast, takes a more systematic approach to analyse how the havens influence the sustainability of the ocean and the Amazon rainforest, two examples of the global environmental commons.

The Amazon forest is critical for stabilising the Earth’s climate system, and the oceans provide protein and income for millions of people worldwide, particularly in low-income food-deficit countries.

“The absence of a more systemic view is not surprising considering the chronic lack of data resulting from the financial opaqueness created by the use of these jurisdictions,” says co-author Beatrice Crona, GEDB’s executive director.

The study says lack of transparency hides how tax havens are linked to the degradation of environmental commons that are crucial for both people and planet at global scales.

“The use of tax havens is not only a socio-political and economic challenge, but also an environmental one”

It includes the first calculation of the foreign capital that flows into the beef and soya sectors operating in the Brazilian Amazon, both linked to deforestation.

The Cayman Islands proved to be the largest governmental source of transfers for foreign capital to both sectors. Well-known as a tax haven, the Islands provide three benefits to investors: legal efficiency, tax minimisation, and secrecy.

The study also includes a systematic analysis of tax havens’ role in global IUU fishing. With 70% of the vessels found to carry out or support IUU fishing, and for which flag information is available, flagged under a tax haven jurisdiction now or in the past, Belize and Panama are frequently mentioned.

Many of these tax havens are also so-called flags of convenience states, countries with limited monitoring and enforcement capacity that do not penalise vessels sailing under their flag even if they are identified as operating in violation of international law.

Dual identities

This combination of tax havens and flags of convenience allows companies to operate fishing vessels with dual identities, one used for legal and the other for illegal fishing.

“The global nature of fisheries value chains, complex ownership structures and limited governance capacities of many coastal nations, make the sector susceptible to the use of tax havens,” says co-author Henrik Österblom, SRC  deputy science director.

Among issues which the researchers suggest should be central to future research and to the governance of tax havens is the loss of tax revenue the havens cause. This, they argue, should be seen as an indirect subsidy to economic activities which damage the global commons, and organisations like UN Environment should assess the environmental costs involved.

And they argue that the international community should view tax evasion and aggressive tax planning as not only a socio-political problem, but also an environmental one. Putting tax havens on the global sustainability agenda, they say, is key to protecting the environment and achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. – Climate News Network

Most of the foreign money funding ocean plunder and the felling of the Amazon forest comes through tax havens, researchers say.

LONDON, 14 August, 2018 – Tax havens have provided more than two-thirds of the foreign capital known to be linked to Amazon deforestation and pirate fishing, a new study says.

The researchers say 70% of known vessels involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing are or have been flagged under a tax haven jurisdiction. On average, they report, 68% of all investigated foreign capital (US$18.4bn of a total $26.9bn) which went to sectors associated with Amazon  deforestation between 2000 and 2011 was transferred through tax havens.

The report is the work of a team of researchers from the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) and the Global Economic Dynamics and the Biosphere programme (GEDB), who say it is the first study to show how tax havens are linked to economic sectors with the potential to cause serious global environmental damage.

They say the release of the Paradise Papers and Panama Papers exposed how multinationals, politicians and the rich use offshore tax havens to conceal their wealth and money flows, and to reduce their exposure to tax. Accepting that the term “tax haven” is contested, their report uses a definition proposed in a report prepared for the US Congress.

The study’s lead author, Victor Galaz, deputy director of the SRC, says: “Our analysis shows that the use of tax havens is not only a socio-political and economic challenge, but also an environmental one. While the use of tax haven jurisdictions is not illegal in itself, financial secrecy hampers the ability to analyse how financial flows affect economic activities on the ground, and their environmental impacts.”

The study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, is part of an on-going research project, Earth System Finance: New perspectives on financial markets and sustainability, led by GEDB and the Stockholm Resilience Centre in collaboration with Future Earth.

Systematic approach

The researchers say most previous analyses of the environmental impacts of tax havens are the work of investigative journalists focusing on a few locations. The new study, in contrast, takes a more systematic approach to analyse how the havens influence the sustainability of the ocean and the Amazon rainforest, two examples of the global environmental commons.

The Amazon forest is critical for stabilising the Earth’s climate system, and the oceans provide protein and income for millions of people worldwide, particularly in low-income food-deficit countries.

“The absence of a more systemic view is not surprising considering the chronic lack of data resulting from the financial opaqueness created by the use of these jurisdictions,” says co-author Beatrice Crona, GEDB’s executive director.

The study says lack of transparency hides how tax havens are linked to the degradation of environmental commons that are crucial for both people and planet at global scales.

“The use of tax havens is not only a socio-political and economic challenge, but also an environmental one”

It includes the first calculation of the foreign capital that flows into the beef and soya sectors operating in the Brazilian Amazon, both linked to deforestation.

The Cayman Islands proved to be the largest governmental source of transfers for foreign capital to both sectors. Well-known as a tax haven, the Islands provide three benefits to investors: legal efficiency, tax minimisation, and secrecy.

The study also includes a systematic analysis of tax havens’ role in global IUU fishing. With 70% of the vessels found to carry out or support IUU fishing, and for which flag information is available, flagged under a tax haven jurisdiction now or in the past, Belize and Panama are frequently mentioned.

Many of these tax havens are also so-called flags of convenience states, countries with limited monitoring and enforcement capacity that do not penalise vessels sailing under their flag even if they are identified as operating in violation of international law.

Dual identities

This combination of tax havens and flags of convenience allows companies to operate fishing vessels with dual identities, one used for legal and the other for illegal fishing.

“The global nature of fisheries value chains, complex ownership structures and limited governance capacities of many coastal nations, make the sector susceptible to the use of tax havens,” says co-author Henrik Österblom, SRC  deputy science director.

Among issues which the researchers suggest should be central to future research and to the governance of tax havens is the loss of tax revenue the havens cause. This, they argue, should be seen as an indirect subsidy to economic activities which damage the global commons, and organisations like UN Environment should assess the environmental costs involved.

And they argue that the international community should view tax evasion and aggressive tax planning as not only a socio-political problem, but also an environmental one. Putting tax havens on the global sustainability agenda, they say, is key to protecting the environment and achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. – Climate News Network

Brazil forgets its solar power potential

Here’s a paradox: in one of the world’s sunniest countries, the Brazilian government remains lukewarm about its solar power potential, despite its plummeting costs.

SÃO PAULO, 27 December, 2017 – There’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil, as the song has it – and an awful lot of sunshine too, offering huge solar power potential. But the government seems reluctant to develop it.

Brazil’s official energy policy, outlined in its recently published Ten Year Energy Plan 2026, still gives priority to hydropower and fossil fuels. Renewables are expected to provide about 160 GW by 2026, with solar accounting for just short of 10 GW. In 2016 a promised auction, planned to invite bids from solar companies to supply energy, was cancelled.

The government’s explanation for neglecting solar in this way is the high cost of implementing projects. Yet new studies show that in many countries solar energy is now cheaper than other renewables and, in some, cheaper than coal and oil. In some it is even the cheapest source of energy.

So while the government rushed through a bill to provide multi-billion dollar tax relief for oil companies, no incentives are contemplated for renewables. To make up the expected shortfall in energy once the economy, now in recession, kicks off again, more coal-fired generating plants are seen as the answer, even though that would mean an increase in CO2 emissions.

Prtivate interest

In spite of this lack of government enthusiasm, the year-round high levels of sunlight in Brazil’s north-east region are beginning to attract private companies. In the dry, sunbaked state of Piauí the largest solar energy farm in Latin America has just been opened.

Built by an Italian multinational, Enel Green Power, at a cost of US$300 million, the Nova Olinda farm has 930,000 PV panels covering an area of 690 hectares. With an installed capacity of 292MW, it has the potential to produce 600MW, enough to power 300,000 homes.

Enel, launched in 2008 to produce renewable energy, has projects in nine other Latin American countries, as well as the USA, Canada, India, South Africa and six European countries.

Piaui is one of Brazil’s poorest states, and the project also offers jobs, training and recycling workshops to the local community. It is providing the PV panels for the first solar-powered itinerant cinema, CineSolar, packed into a van which travels around rural communities, where many homes are still lit by oil lamps, to stage open-air shows.

The age of solar power is dawning, but there are still battles to be fought against the entrenched interests of the fossil fuel industry

Brazil boasts one of the cleanest energy mixes in the world, with 76% coming from renewable sources. But 66% of this is from hydropower, mainly from a network of giant dams, many of them in the Amazon.

The devastating droughts of recent years, which dramatically reduced river levels and left reservoirs so low they could not power the turbines, showed the danger of depending so heavily on a single source.

The government’s reluctance to invest in solar energy flies in the face of mounting evidence of its rapidly plunging cost. A review at the end of 2016 for Bloomberg New Energy Finance concluded that solar power was “efficient, viable and profitable”.

It found that investment in sustainable sources is steadily increasing, in both developed and emerging countries, with investment in the southern hemisphere beginning to outstrip that in the north – in 2016 it was US$154 billion against US$153 $billion in OECD countries. China accounted for the biggest investment.

Improved technology

The growth in solar is happening largely because of this fall in cost and the development of new, more accessible technologies. The 2015 Paris Agreement also encouraged signatories to seek cleaner sources of energy and so reduce their CO2 emissions.

Yet it is not all plain sailing for solar energy. The Bloomberg study warned that some countries now face difficulties in integrating solar energy produced by the new plants into the electricity distribution network.

In some cases the companies which control the grid give priority to the energy generated by fossil fuels over renewables.

The age of solar power is dawning, but there are still battles to be fought against the entrenched interests of the fossil fuel industry. – Climate News Network

Here’s a paradox: in one of the world’s sunniest countries, the Brazilian government remains lukewarm about its solar power potential, despite its plummeting costs.

SÃO PAULO, 27 December, 2017 – There’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil, as the song has it – and an awful lot of sunshine too, offering huge solar power potential. But the government seems reluctant to develop it.

Brazil’s official energy policy, outlined in its recently published Ten Year Energy Plan 2026, still gives priority to hydropower and fossil fuels. Renewables are expected to provide about 160 GW by 2026, with solar accounting for just short of 10 GW. In 2016 a promised auction, planned to invite bids from solar companies to supply energy, was cancelled.

The government’s explanation for neglecting solar in this way is the high cost of implementing projects. Yet new studies show that in many countries solar energy is now cheaper than other renewables and, in some, cheaper than coal and oil. In some it is even the cheapest source of energy.

So while the government rushed through a bill to provide multi-billion dollar tax relief for oil companies, no incentives are contemplated for renewables. To make up the expected shortfall in energy once the economy, now in recession, kicks off again, more coal-fired generating plants are seen as the answer, even though that would mean an increase in CO2 emissions.

Prtivate interest

In spite of this lack of government enthusiasm, the year-round high levels of sunlight in Brazil’s north-east region are beginning to attract private companies. In the dry, sunbaked state of Piauí the largest solar energy farm in Latin America has just been opened.

Built by an Italian multinational, Enel Green Power, at a cost of US$300 million, the Nova Olinda farm has 930,000 PV panels covering an area of 690 hectares. With an installed capacity of 292MW, it has the potential to produce 600MW, enough to power 300,000 homes.

Enel, launched in 2008 to produce renewable energy, has projects in nine other Latin American countries, as well as the USA, Canada, India, South Africa and six European countries.

Piaui is one of Brazil’s poorest states, and the project also offers jobs, training and recycling workshops to the local community. It is providing the PV panels for the first solar-powered itinerant cinema, CineSolar, packed into a van which travels around rural communities, where many homes are still lit by oil lamps, to stage open-air shows.

The age of solar power is dawning, but there are still battles to be fought against the entrenched interests of the fossil fuel industry

Brazil boasts one of the cleanest energy mixes in the world, with 76% coming from renewable sources. But 66% of this is from hydropower, mainly from a network of giant dams, many of them in the Amazon.

The devastating droughts of recent years, which dramatically reduced river levels and left reservoirs so low they could not power the turbines, showed the danger of depending so heavily on a single source.

The government’s reluctance to invest in solar energy flies in the face of mounting evidence of its rapidly plunging cost. A review at the end of 2016 for Bloomberg New Energy Finance concluded that solar power was “efficient, viable and profitable”.

It found that investment in sustainable sources is steadily increasing, in both developed and emerging countries, with investment in the southern hemisphere beginning to outstrip that in the north – in 2016 it was US$154 billion against US$153 $billion in OECD countries. China accounted for the biggest investment.

Improved technology

The growth in solar is happening largely because of this fall in cost and the development of new, more accessible technologies. The 2015 Paris Agreement also encouraged signatories to seek cleaner sources of energy and so reduce their CO2 emissions.

Yet it is not all plain sailing for solar energy. The Bloomberg study warned that some countries now face difficulties in integrating solar energy produced by the new plants into the electricity distribution network.

In some cases the companies which control the grid give priority to the energy generated by fossil fuels over renewables.

The age of solar power is dawning, but there are still battles to be fought against the entrenched interests of the fossil fuel industry. – Climate News Network

Brasilia pays UK to exploit Brazilian oil fields

British companies targeting Brazilian oil deposits stand to benefit from massive tax relief offered by Brazil itself, despite its own recession.

SÃO PAULO, 6 December, 2017 – Over 120 NGOs and indigenous organisations have protested at a US$300 billion tax relief offer to help UK companies seeking to drill for Brazilian oil in offshore deposits

In a letter to the speaker of the lower house of the Brazilian parliament just before it approved the first stage of the proposal, they said the drilling would “expose the world to unacceptable climate risks” and cause unacceptable costs to the Brazilian economy, which is already facing crisis and imposing austerity cuts in basic services.

The companies plan to drill in what is called the pre-salt region, an oil-bearing rock formation in deep water offshore. 

Its name derives from its antiquity; the region’s layers of rock were laid down about 160 million years ago and then covered by later layers which do contain salt. The Brazilian energy multi-national Petrobras describes the pre-salt product as “excellent quality, high commercial value light oil”.

The bill before parliament offers the oil companies tax relief until 2040. After heated debate, it was passed late at night, by 208 votes to 184. It is being rushed through congress at the very end of the parliamentary year; a vote on the final stage is due on 6 December.   

Targets flouted

If approved, the bill would wreck Brazil’s Paris Agreement targets to reduce carbon emissions. The known reserves of pre-salt oil are estimated at 176 billion barrels, which, if burned, would release 74.8 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. 

“This is equivalent to almost 18% of everything humanity can still release into the air to meet the most ambitious Paris target of stabilising warming at 1.5°C”, the NGOs write.

They point out that a temperature rise of more than 1.5°C will have dramatic consequences, not only for island nations which will be swamped by rising sea levels, but also for the drought-prone Brazilian north-east and for coastal cities like Rio de Janeiro.

British oil companies will be the main beneficiaries of this largesse with Brazilian taxpayers’ money – BP, Shell and Premier Oil, which successfully bid for licences to drill in the pre-salt area. 

“This is equivalent to almost 18% of everything humanity can still release into the air to meet the most ambitious Paris target of stabilising warming at 1.5°C”

Greenpeace says it has discovered information showing that the UK government actively lobbied on the companies’ behalf during a visit to Brazil by the British international trade minister Greg Hands in March, ostensibly to open a UK trade fair. 

After meeting the oil companies, it says, Hands put their concerns to Paulo Pedrosa, Brazil’s deputy minister for mining and energy.

Soon after, Shell and a consortium including BP were given three oil licences, and the Brazilian government decided to reduce its “local content requirements” – regulations that oblige companies to hire local workers and use local goods, to try to boost the economy of developing countries and regions.

Opposition congressman Carlos Zarattini said that, under pressure from the UK, the government of President Michel Temer had altered tax rules, environmental safeguards and the requirement for Brazilian content in equipment and labour. Zeroing taxes on the import of vessels, he said, could cause the collapse of Brazilian shipyards.

The NGOs suspect the Brazilian government’s intention is to exploit the countrys oil reserves as much as possible before the world moves inexorably to a low carbon economy. 

Precautionary principle

With the growing movement in favour of leaving-it-in-the-ground, they calculate there could be fierce  competition by oil-rich nations to sell off their reserves. By offering generous incentives to exploit the deep sea pre-salt reserves, Brazil hopes to get ahead of the game. 

And it is not only the pre-salt area which interests the oil companies. BP is also bidding to drill in the mouth of the Amazon, even after alerts that the blocks on offer are very near a coral reef and in a region with many species threatened by extinction, and with possibly several new species as well.

At recent public meetings in towns near the proposed exploration, a BP spokesman insisted the company had learned a lot from its experience in the Gulf of Mexico.

Greenpeace oil specialist Thiago Almeida, who was present at the meetings, suggested that in view of the scant knowledge available on the region, the precautionary principle should be applied, and BP should abandon its plans and stay away from the Amazon estuary. Climate News Network

British companies targeting Brazilian oil deposits stand to benefit from massive tax relief offered by Brazil itself, despite its own recession.

SÃO PAULO, 6 December, 2017 – Over 120 NGOs and indigenous organisations have protested at a US$300 billion tax relief offer to help UK companies seeking to drill for Brazilian oil in offshore deposits

In a letter to the speaker of the lower house of the Brazilian parliament just before it approved the first stage of the proposal, they said the drilling would “expose the world to unacceptable climate risks” and cause unacceptable costs to the Brazilian economy, which is already facing crisis and imposing austerity cuts in basic services.

The companies plan to drill in what is called the pre-salt region, an oil-bearing rock formation in deep water offshore. 

Its name derives from its antiquity; the region’s layers of rock were laid down about 160 million years ago and then covered by later layers which do contain salt. The Brazilian energy multi-national Petrobras describes the pre-salt product as “excellent quality, high commercial value light oil”.

The bill before parliament offers the oil companies tax relief until 2040. After heated debate, it was passed late at night, by 208 votes to 184. It is being rushed through congress at the very end of the parliamentary year; a vote on the final stage is due on 6 December.   

Targets flouted

If approved, the bill would wreck Brazil’s Paris Agreement targets to reduce carbon emissions. The known reserves of pre-salt oil are estimated at 176 billion barrels, which, if burned, would release 74.8 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. 

“This is equivalent to almost 18% of everything humanity can still release into the air to meet the most ambitious Paris target of stabilising warming at 1.5°C”, the NGOs write.

They point out that a temperature rise of more than 1.5°C will have dramatic consequences, not only for island nations which will be swamped by rising sea levels, but also for the drought-prone Brazilian north-east and for coastal cities like Rio de Janeiro.

British oil companies will be the main beneficiaries of this largesse with Brazilian taxpayers’ money – BP, Shell and Premier Oil, which successfully bid for licences to drill in the pre-salt area. 

“This is equivalent to almost 18% of everything humanity can still release into the air to meet the most ambitious Paris target of stabilising warming at 1.5°C”

Greenpeace says it has discovered information showing that the UK government actively lobbied on the companies’ behalf during a visit to Brazil by the British international trade minister Greg Hands in March, ostensibly to open a UK trade fair. 

After meeting the oil companies, it says, Hands put their concerns to Paulo Pedrosa, Brazil’s deputy minister for mining and energy.

Soon after, Shell and a consortium including BP were given three oil licences, and the Brazilian government decided to reduce its “local content requirements” – regulations that oblige companies to hire local workers and use local goods, to try to boost the economy of developing countries and regions.

Opposition congressman Carlos Zarattini said that, under pressure from the UK, the government of President Michel Temer had altered tax rules, environmental safeguards and the requirement for Brazilian content in equipment and labour. Zeroing taxes on the import of vessels, he said, could cause the collapse of Brazilian shipyards.

The NGOs suspect the Brazilian government’s intention is to exploit the countrys oil reserves as much as possible before the world moves inexorably to a low carbon economy. 

Precautionary principle

With the growing movement in favour of leaving-it-in-the-ground, they calculate there could be fierce  competition by oil-rich nations to sell off their reserves. By offering generous incentives to exploit the deep sea pre-salt reserves, Brazil hopes to get ahead of the game. 

And it is not only the pre-salt area which interests the oil companies. BP is also bidding to drill in the mouth of the Amazon, even after alerts that the blocks on offer are very near a coral reef and in a region with many species threatened by extinction, and with possibly several new species as well.

At recent public meetings in towns near the proposed exploration, a BP spokesman insisted the company had learned a lot from its experience in the Gulf of Mexico.

Greenpeace oil specialist Thiago Almeida, who was present at the meetings, suggested that in view of the scant knowledge available on the region, the precautionary principle should be applied, and BP should abandon its plans and stay away from the Amazon estuary. Climate News Network

Brazil’s recession grows as emissions rise

Uniquely among major economies, Brazil’s recession has left 13 million workers jobless while its carbon emissions continue to grow.

SANTAREM, 14 November, 2017 – Brazil’s recession has earned it an unhappy distinction: it is the only major country in the world where damage to the climate is growing while people are becoming poorer.

In 2016 Brazil’s total greenhouse gas emissions rose by almost 9%, reaching their highest level since 2008. This makes it the only large economy in the world whose emissions are growing while living standards for most of its population, far from rising, have fallen. The main causes of the rise in emissions are deforestation and farming practices.

The System for Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Removals Estimates, SEEG, part of Brazil’s Climate Observatory, produces annual estimates of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. It says they rose from just over two billion tons of CO2 equivalent in 2015, to nearly 2.3bn tons in 2016. 

“Uncontrolled deforestation, especially in the Amazon, has led to the emission of 218 million tons more CO2 in 2016 than in 2015. That’s twice what Belgium emits in a year”   

This means the total has already, five years early, reached the 2020 target for Brazil decided under the Paris Agreement, showing that only drastic measures will bring emissions down again. If the economy recovers, as the government hopes it will over the next few years, the task will be even more difficult.   

Yet the government remains upbeat. In his speech to the UN Assembly in September, President Michel Temer claimed that new data showed a drop of over 20% in deforestation in the Amazon in the period from September 2016 to July 2017 (a claim later reduced to 16%), saying: “We have rejoined the right road and we will persist on this road.” 

Environment minister José Sarney Filho spoke of the tendency being reversed, but environmentalists remain sceptical. One said the real reversal of the tendency was the increase of deforestation in 2015 and 2016, after the reduction seen between 2005 and 2012.

The biggest cause of the rise in emissions was agriculture, which accounted for 74% of Brazil’s emissions in 2016. Of this total, 51% was due to what is euphemistically called change in land use” – deforestation. 

Changing appetites

A 23% growth in the use of nitrogen fertilisers, which produce nitrous oxide, has also worsened the problem, as has the fall in beef consumption, caused by consumers turning to  cheaper meats like pork and chicken. 

Paradoxically, this has meant greater numbers of cattle grazing and producing methane, as fewer are sent to the slaughterhouse. Brazil has the largest herd in the world, with 198 million head of cattle.   

While the total of emissions from farming and deforestation rose, during the same period almost all other sectors of the economy saw theirs falling. The energy sector dropped by over 7%, because of lower demand and the growing contribution of renewables.

Ane Alencar, the researcher responsible for the SEEG calculations, who works at  IPAM, the Institute for Environmental Research in the Amazon (Portuguese only), said: “Uncontrolled deforestation, especially in the Amazon, has led to the emission of 218 million tons more CO2 in 2016 than in 2015. That’s twice what Belgium emits in a year.” She said most of this deforestation was illegal, contributing nothing to Brazil’s GDP.

Budget halved

The government of President Temer is caught between the need to fulfil Brazil’s international obligations and the demands of the influential rural lobby, who want more deforestation, not less, and less enforcement, not more.   

The reduction achieved in the last few months was won in spite of government policy, not because of it. As part of the government’s austerity programme, Temer had actually halved the budget of the environment ministry in 2016, leading to a drastic fall in its ability to stop illegal deforestation and protect conservation efforts.

But a grant from the Amazon Fund, set up by Norway in 2008 to save the rainforest, with contributions from Germany and the Brazilian state oil company, Petrobras, has enabled Ibama (the Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, the environment enforcement agency – Portuguese only) to re-equip its posts in the Amazon region and hire more staff. 

Yet enforcing environment laws in Brazil is never straightforward. A few days ago there was a dramatic illustration of the problems faced by Ibama after it destroyed the dredgers being used illegally to find gold on the bed of the Madeira river, a large Amazon tributary.

General amnesty

An angry crowd of gold miners, deprived of their livelihood, attacked the agency’s offices in the nearby town of Humaitá and set them on fire, after looting hundreds of confiscated electric saws. All the agency’s vehicles, and a boat on the river used for its work, were torched.

In Brasilia, pressure against the country’s environmental laws is more sophisticated. In the national congress the powerful farmers’ lobby has just pushed through Law No. 13465, which  will amnesty everyone who illegally invaded public lands, including parks and conservation areas, between 2004 and 2011. 

Ignoring protests that the new law, dubbed “the landgrabbers’ charter, will encourage new invasions, signalling that crime pays, President Temer has sanctioned the law. He needs the farmers’ votes for his own political survival. Climate News Network

Uniquely among major economies, Brazil’s recession has left 13 million workers jobless while its carbon emissions continue to grow.

SANTAREM, 14 November, 2017 – Brazil’s recession has earned it an unhappy distinction: it is the only major country in the world where damage to the climate is growing while people are becoming poorer.

In 2016 Brazil’s total greenhouse gas emissions rose by almost 9%, reaching their highest level since 2008. This makes it the only large economy in the world whose emissions are growing while living standards for most of its population, far from rising, have fallen. The main causes of the rise in emissions are deforestation and farming practices.

The System for Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Removals Estimates, SEEG, part of Brazil’s Climate Observatory, produces annual estimates of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. It says they rose from just over two billion tons of CO2 equivalent in 2015, to nearly 2.3bn tons in 2016. 

“Uncontrolled deforestation, especially in the Amazon, has led to the emission of 218 million tons more CO2 in 2016 than in 2015. That’s twice what Belgium emits in a year”   

This means the total has already, five years early, reached the 2020 target for Brazil decided under the Paris Agreement, showing that only drastic measures will bring emissions down again. If the economy recovers, as the government hopes it will over the next few years, the task will be even more difficult.   

Yet the government remains upbeat. In his speech to the UN Assembly in September, President Michel Temer claimed that new data showed a drop of over 20% in deforestation in the Amazon in the period from September 2016 to July 2017 (a claim later reduced to 16%), saying: “We have rejoined the right road and we will persist on this road.” 

Environment minister José Sarney Filho spoke of the tendency being reversed, but environmentalists remain sceptical. One said the real reversal of the tendency was the increase of deforestation in 2015 and 2016, after the reduction seen between 2005 and 2012.

The biggest cause of the rise in emissions was agriculture, which accounted for 74% of Brazil’s emissions in 2016. Of this total, 51% was due to what is euphemistically called change in land use” – deforestation. 

Changing appetites

A 23% growth in the use of nitrogen fertilisers, which produce nitrous oxide, has also worsened the problem, as has the fall in beef consumption, caused by consumers turning to  cheaper meats like pork and chicken. 

Paradoxically, this has meant greater numbers of cattle grazing and producing methane, as fewer are sent to the slaughterhouse. Brazil has the largest herd in the world, with 198 million head of cattle.   

While the total of emissions from farming and deforestation rose, during the same period almost all other sectors of the economy saw theirs falling. The energy sector dropped by over 7%, because of lower demand and the growing contribution of renewables.

Ane Alencar, the researcher responsible for the SEEG calculations, who works at  IPAM, the Institute for Environmental Research in the Amazon (Portuguese only), said: “Uncontrolled deforestation, especially in the Amazon, has led to the emission of 218 million tons more CO2 in 2016 than in 2015. That’s twice what Belgium emits in a year.” She said most of this deforestation was illegal, contributing nothing to Brazil’s GDP.

Budget halved

The government of President Temer is caught between the need to fulfil Brazil’s international obligations and the demands of the influential rural lobby, who want more deforestation, not less, and less enforcement, not more.   

The reduction achieved in the last few months was won in spite of government policy, not because of it. As part of the government’s austerity programme, Temer had actually halved the budget of the environment ministry in 2016, leading to a drastic fall in its ability to stop illegal deforestation and protect conservation efforts.

But a grant from the Amazon Fund, set up by Norway in 2008 to save the rainforest, with contributions from Germany and the Brazilian state oil company, Petrobras, has enabled Ibama (the Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, the environment enforcement agency – Portuguese only) to re-equip its posts in the Amazon region and hire more staff. 

Yet enforcing environment laws in Brazil is never straightforward. A few days ago there was a dramatic illustration of the problems faced by Ibama after it destroyed the dredgers being used illegally to find gold on the bed of the Madeira river, a large Amazon tributary.

General amnesty

An angry crowd of gold miners, deprived of their livelihood, attacked the agency’s offices in the nearby town of Humaitá and set them on fire, after looting hundreds of confiscated electric saws. All the agency’s vehicles, and a boat on the river used for its work, were torched.

In Brasilia, pressure against the country’s environmental laws is more sophisticated. In the national congress the powerful farmers’ lobby has just pushed through Law No. 13465, which  will amnesty everyone who illegally invaded public lands, including parks and conservation areas, between 2004 and 2011. 

Ignoring protests that the new law, dubbed “the landgrabbers’ charter, will encourage new invasions, signalling that crime pays, President Temer has sanctioned the law. He needs the farmers’ votes for his own political survival. Climate News Network

Brazilian downpours oust familiar drizzle

Misty rain is giving way to fear of flash floods as Brazilian downpours cause chaos in the country’s biggest city.

SÃO PAULO, 19 August, 2017 – Climate change has put an end to the romantic garoa for which São Paulo, South America’s biggest city, was once famous, as fierce Brazilian downpours move in. The gentle misty rain has been replaced by flash floods and violent deluges, with human victims and economic costs.

Less than half a century ago São Paulo’s famous garoa was much used in song and verse to paint an enticing picture of the city. There was even a popular band called the Demons of the Garoa.

Now that gentle rain is just a memory: instead, people frequently run the risk of being trapped in streets suddenly turned into raging torrents; cars are flattened by falling trees; hillside shanty dwellings are swallowed up by mudslides. The city has also got much hotter.

A new study published in the August number of the International Journal of Climatology has confirmed that rainfall patterns in the southeast region of Brazil, where São Paulo is located, have changed substantially.

After analysing meteorological data for the region over the last 74 years, a group of scientists from São Paulo University (USP) found an increase both in the frequency of rainy days and in the volume of rain. Professor (retired) Maria Assunção Faus da Silva Dias, of the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences at USP, said the aim of their research was to verify if the forecasts about changing rain patterns were becoming a reality.

“We discovered that where it rains a lot it will rain more, and where there is drought there will be more drought”

In previous studies, climatologists had foreseen that one of the main effects of climate change would be the exacerbation of extreme effects, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of storms and severe droughts.

The data they used was extracted from 36 meteorological stations in the southeast of Brazil. They checked the quantity of days without rain, with a small amount (less than 5 mm), or with extreme rain.

“Looking at the pattern of rain in the last decades, we can project tendencies. We discovered that where it rains a lot it will rain more, and where there is drought there will be more drought,” explained Professor Faus da Silva Dias, in further confirmation of a frequently predicted consequence of climate change. 

The team concluded that climate change has altered the rain pattern in the region, with an increase in rainfall in the state of São Paulo and a reduction in the states of Rio de Janeiro and Espirito Santo.

Strong storms

In these two states, located to the northeast of São Paulo on the Atlantic coast, they found a reduction in the frequency of rainy days and in the volume of rain, but a concentration of strong storms in fewer days. Days with light rain were less frequent.

The effects of the changing rain patterns have been felt more in highly urbanised regions, like São Paulo. In the metropolis, home to 20 million people, so-called heat islands have led to a substantial rise in temperatures. Over the last 70 years, the temperature in São Paulo’s urban region has increased by about 4°C (39°F) – equivalent to the forecast global rise for the next century.

Besides putting an end to the garoa, this has contributed to the increase in extreme downpours. The air from the colder regions around the city converges on this heat bubble, provoking intense storms.

According to Professor Faus da Silva Dias there is another factor that could be playing into the change in rainfall patterns. This is an alteration in the Zone of Convergence of the South Atlantic, a band of rainclouds that usually extends from the Amazon to the southeast, reaching the ocean. “One of the hypotheses is that, with climate change, this zone of rain has moved slightly further south”, she says. – Climate News Network

Misty rain is giving way to fear of flash floods as Brazilian downpours cause chaos in the country’s biggest city.

SÃO PAULO, 19 August, 2017 – Climate change has put an end to the romantic garoa for which São Paulo, South America’s biggest city, was once famous, as fierce Brazilian downpours move in. The gentle misty rain has been replaced by flash floods and violent deluges, with human victims and economic costs.

Less than half a century ago São Paulo’s famous garoa was much used in song and verse to paint an enticing picture of the city. There was even a popular band called the Demons of the Garoa.

Now that gentle rain is just a memory: instead, people frequently run the risk of being trapped in streets suddenly turned into raging torrents; cars are flattened by falling trees; hillside shanty dwellings are swallowed up by mudslides. The city has also got much hotter.

A new study published in the August number of the International Journal of Climatology has confirmed that rainfall patterns in the southeast region of Brazil, where São Paulo is located, have changed substantially.

After analysing meteorological data for the region over the last 74 years, a group of scientists from São Paulo University (USP) found an increase both in the frequency of rainy days and in the volume of rain. Professor (retired) Maria Assunção Faus da Silva Dias, of the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences at USP, said the aim of their research was to verify if the forecasts about changing rain patterns were becoming a reality.

“We discovered that where it rains a lot it will rain more, and where there is drought there will be more drought”

In previous studies, climatologists had foreseen that one of the main effects of climate change would be the exacerbation of extreme effects, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of storms and severe droughts.

The data they used was extracted from 36 meteorological stations in the southeast of Brazil. They checked the quantity of days without rain, with a small amount (less than 5 mm), or with extreme rain.

“Looking at the pattern of rain in the last decades, we can project tendencies. We discovered that where it rains a lot it will rain more, and where there is drought there will be more drought,” explained Professor Faus da Silva Dias, in further confirmation of a frequently predicted consequence of climate change. 

The team concluded that climate change has altered the rain pattern in the region, with an increase in rainfall in the state of São Paulo and a reduction in the states of Rio de Janeiro and Espirito Santo.

Strong storms

In these two states, located to the northeast of São Paulo on the Atlantic coast, they found a reduction in the frequency of rainy days and in the volume of rain, but a concentration of strong storms in fewer days. Days with light rain were less frequent.

The effects of the changing rain patterns have been felt more in highly urbanised regions, like São Paulo. In the metropolis, home to 20 million people, so-called heat islands have led to a substantial rise in temperatures. Over the last 70 years, the temperature in São Paulo’s urban region has increased by about 4°C (39°F) – equivalent to the forecast global rise for the next century.

Besides putting an end to the garoa, this has contributed to the increase in extreme downpours. The air from the colder regions around the city converges on this heat bubble, provoking intense storms.

According to Professor Faus da Silva Dias there is another factor that could be playing into the change in rainfall patterns. This is an alteration in the Zone of Convergence of the South Atlantic, a band of rainclouds that usually extends from the Amazon to the southeast, reaching the ocean. “One of the hypotheses is that, with climate change, this zone of rain has moved slightly further south”, she says. – Climate News Network

Amazon dams plan is set to cost the Earth

It’s one thing to harness a river. It’s quite another to build a series of Amazon dams and control the life of the planet’s richest habitat.

LONDON, 29 June, 2017 – Even clean energy could devastate the Amazon, according to new research. A massive increase in hydropower from a series of planned Amazon dams could harm the world’s most important rainforest all the way from the slopes of the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean.

Altogether, 428 dams are being built or are under consideration along the network of rivers that drain – and nourish – 6 million square kilometres of forest spanning nine countries. Of these, around 140 are already finished or under construction.

The Amazon is home to four of the world’s 10 largest rivers. Of the 34 largest tropical rivers, 20 are in the Amazon region, and these rivers are the source of one fifth of the planet’s fresh water.

That same flow delivers the nutrient-rich sediments to habitats downstream to support the teeming life of the region, including the canopy that shelters its shrubs, plants, insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds.

Widespread benefits

Those rivers exchange sediments and nourish a mosaic of wetlands, said Edgardo Latrubesse, a geographer at the University of Texas at Austin, who led a collaboration from 10 universities to assess the potential environmental damage, and report in the journal Nature

“People say: ‘Oh another dam, another river.’ It’s not. It’s the Amazon,” Professor Latrubesse said. “We have to put the risks on the table and change the way people are looking at the problem. We are massively destroying our natural resources, and time urges us to find some rational alternatives for preservation and sustainable development.”

Dams conserve water, deliver irrigation in the dry season, reduce the threat of flooding and of course provide energy for hydropower. On the other hand, they impose an environmental cost: sediments vital downstream are trapped upriver and the floods they might prevent are an integral part of the forest’s long-term stability

So dams come at a price not normally measured in economic cost-benefit analyses, but they can change a river system and damage an economy all the same.

“People say: ‘Oh another dam, another river.’ It’s not. It’s the Amazon. We have to put the risks on the table and change the way people are looking at the problem. We are massively destroying our natural resources”

The researchers first devised what they called a Dam Environmental Vulnerability Index, assessing the vulnerability to land use change, erosion, run-off pollution, trapped sediment and other changes to river systems, to test the real value of the 140 dams already happening and the ones still under consideration.

Many of the dams are in areas that yield heavy loads of sediment: the Andean Cordillera, for instance, provides more than 90% of the silt to the entire river system. The Marañon and Ucayali rivers are or will be home to 104 and 47 dams respectively.

Up to 80% of the area upstream of the lowest-planned dam will be vulnerable: dams will change river dynamics, to alter the pattern of creation of oxbow lakes and floodplain sediment storage, putting thousands of species at risk. 

The Madeira River drains waters rich in sediments from Bolivia and Peru and has the most diverse fish population. Two huge dams have already led to a 20% fall in sediment concentration in the Madeira, and 25 dams are planned further upstream.

Indivisible

“The Amazon is the most important river basin on the planet. It’s a microcosm of our issues of today involving environment, energy and health of the planet,” said Victor Baker, a hydrologist at the University of Arizona, and one of the authors.

“The river and its individual pieces cannot be separated out. That an individual dam assessment can be separated from the rest of the system isn’t scientifically valid.”

And collectively, the authors close their study with a warning: “Citizens of the Amazon Basin countries will ultimately have to decide whether hydropower generation is worth the price of causing profound damage to the most diverse and productive river system in the world.

“If those decisions are made within the context of a comprehensive understanding of the fluvial system as a whole, the many benefits the rivers provide to humans and the environment could be retained.” – Climate News Network

It’s one thing to harness a river. It’s quite another to build a series of Amazon dams and control the life of the planet’s richest habitat.

LONDON, 29 June, 2017 – Even clean energy could devastate the Amazon, according to new research. A massive increase in hydropower from a series of planned Amazon dams could harm the world’s most important rainforest all the way from the slopes of the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean.

Altogether, 428 dams are being built or are under consideration along the network of rivers that drain – and nourish – 6 million square kilometres of forest spanning nine countries. Of these, around 140 are already finished or under construction.

The Amazon is home to four of the world’s 10 largest rivers. Of the 34 largest tropical rivers, 20 are in the Amazon region, and these rivers are the source of one fifth of the planet’s fresh water.

That same flow delivers the nutrient-rich sediments to habitats downstream to support the teeming life of the region, including the canopy that shelters its shrubs, plants, insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds.

Widespread benefits

Those rivers exchange sediments and nourish a mosaic of wetlands, said Edgardo Latrubesse, a geographer at the University of Texas at Austin, who led a collaboration from 10 universities to assess the potential environmental damage, and report in the journal Nature

“People say: ‘Oh another dam, another river.’ It’s not. It’s the Amazon,” Professor Latrubesse said. “We have to put the risks on the table and change the way people are looking at the problem. We are massively destroying our natural resources, and time urges us to find some rational alternatives for preservation and sustainable development.”

Dams conserve water, deliver irrigation in the dry season, reduce the threat of flooding and of course provide energy for hydropower. On the other hand, they impose an environmental cost: sediments vital downstream are trapped upriver and the floods they might prevent are an integral part of the forest’s long-term stability

So dams come at a price not normally measured in economic cost-benefit analyses, but they can change a river system and damage an economy all the same.

“People say: ‘Oh another dam, another river.’ It’s not. It’s the Amazon. We have to put the risks on the table and change the way people are looking at the problem. We are massively destroying our natural resources”

The researchers first devised what they called a Dam Environmental Vulnerability Index, assessing the vulnerability to land use change, erosion, run-off pollution, trapped sediment and other changes to river systems, to test the real value of the 140 dams already happening and the ones still under consideration.

Many of the dams are in areas that yield heavy loads of sediment: the Andean Cordillera, for instance, provides more than 90% of the silt to the entire river system. The Marañon and Ucayali rivers are or will be home to 104 and 47 dams respectively.

Up to 80% of the area upstream of the lowest-planned dam will be vulnerable: dams will change river dynamics, to alter the pattern of creation of oxbow lakes and floodplain sediment storage, putting thousands of species at risk. 

The Madeira River drains waters rich in sediments from Bolivia and Peru and has the most diverse fish population. Two huge dams have already led to a 20% fall in sediment concentration in the Madeira, and 25 dams are planned further upstream.

Indivisible

“The Amazon is the most important river basin on the planet. It’s a microcosm of our issues of today involving environment, energy and health of the planet,” said Victor Baker, a hydrologist at the University of Arizona, and one of the authors.

“The river and its individual pieces cannot be separated out. That an individual dam assessment can be separated from the rest of the system isn’t scientifically valid.”

And collectively, the authors close their study with a warning: “Citizens of the Amazon Basin countries will ultimately have to decide whether hydropower generation is worth the price of causing profound damage to the most diverse and productive river system in the world.

“If those decisions are made within the context of a comprehensive understanding of the fluvial system as a whole, the many benefits the rivers provide to humans and the environment could be retained.” – Climate News Network