Brazil’s deforestation “sheriff” has been fired [04/28/2017]
- A little more than a year after being named Brazil’s deforestation “sheriff,” Thelma Krug has reportedly been fired after a dispute over how trends in forest destruction are monitored in the country. - Climate Home’s Claudio Angelo reports from Brasilia that government officials told members of the press that Krug had “expressed her interest in leaving” in order to “dedicate more time to her attributions at IPCC” — but that sources say Krug's dismissal was actually the result of a dispute with vice-minister Marcelo Cruz, who questioned the deforestation data produced by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), where Krug is a senior scientist. - Brazil has already named Krug’s replacement: Jair Schmitt, a biologist with the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), Brazil’s equivalent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he oversees the agency’s environmental inspections.
Amazon’s fate hangs on outcome of war between opposing worldviews [04/27/2017]
- The battle for the Amazon is being fought over two opposing viewpoints: the first, mostly held by indigenous and traditional people and their conservationist allies, sees forests and rivers as valuable for their own sake, and for the livelihoods, biodiversity, ecological services and climate change mitigation they provide. For them the forests need protection. - The second worldview holds that Amazon forests are natural resources to be harvested and turned into dollars, an outlook largely held by wealthy landowners, land thieves, loggers, cattle ranchers and farmers. For them the forests are there to be cut down, and the land is there to be used for economic benefit. - The bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby now has overwhelming political power in the Brazilian Congress and the Temer administration, which are pushing a raft of bills and administrative actions to take away indigenous land rights, dismember conservation units, gut environmental licensing laws and defund environmental protection agencies. - The great fear is that the collision of the two worldviews in the wilds of the Amazon will result in escalating lawlessness and bloodshed against indigenous and traditional people, along with significant environmental destruction. The loss of Amazon ecosystems could be catastrophic for humanity, as the region’s forests are crucial for global carbon storage.
The meat hook: satiating Asia’s demand for beef [04/27/2017]
- Traditionally, beef was never a favored meat across much of Asia, but rising incomes and changing cultures are dramatically increasing beef demand on the continent. - Increased beef demand in China is bumping up imports from Brazil, leading to a new boom in local beef production. - Given the massive climate impact of beef production, some Asian nations are trying to dissuade beef consumption but the results, if any, remain to be seen.
Plans to drill for oil near newly discovered Amazon Reef alarm scientists [04/26/2017]
- The reef system is believed to extend 9,500 square kilometers (or nearly 3,700 square miles), from the territorial waters of French Guiana to Maranhão State in northern Brazil. - Exploratory drilling could start as soon as this summer, with the closest well to be drilled just 28 kilometers (17 miles) from the reef, according to Greenpeace. - But there are hurdles yet to be cleared by oil companies hoping to drill near the Amazon Reef. A spokesperson for the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), told Mongabay that Total and BP are still awaiting permits to begin exploratory drilling, the aim of which would be to verify the existence of the oil reservoirs beneath the ocean floor.
Brazil moves to cut Amazon conservation units by 1.2 million hectares [04/19/2017]
- Under the cover of Brazil’s current political crisis, the Congress — dominated by the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby — is pushing forward measures to dramatically slash the size of conservation units in Pará state in the eastern Amazon, removing conservation protection from 1.2 million hectares (2.9 million acres) of forest. - The moves, yet to be approved by the full Congress, would reduce Jamanxim Flona (National Forest) by 480,000 hectares, Nascentes da Serra do Cachimbo Biological Reserve by 180,000 hectares, the National Park of Jamanxin by 344,000 hectares, and the Itaituba II National Forest by 169,000 hectares. - The dismembered portions of the conservation units would be re-designated as Areas of Environmental Protection (APAs), where private land ownership, agriculture and forest clearing is allowed. Brazilian agribusiness — wealthy ranchers and farmers — are likely to benefit significantly from the shift, while forests and biodiversity would suffer. - Some of the conservation units have received significant funding from foreign donors, including the European Union and the World Bank. The congressional measures must now go for approval to the lower Chamber of Deputies and then to the Senate. Both measures must be approved by the end of May or lose validity. Approval seems likely.
Deforestation has become big business in the Brazilian Amazon [04/18/2017]
- Agamenom da Silva Menezes, is typical of modern Amazonian real estate operators: he is a wealthy individual who openly works with those who make a living by illegally laying claim to, deforesting and selling public lands for a high price. Lawlessness in the region means such land theft is rarely punished. - Agamenom and others like him use militias, hired thugs, to intimidate landless peasant farmers as well as less powerful land thieves who try to claim Amazonian forests. The land is then deforested and sold to cattle ranchers, with each tract of stolen federal land bringing in an estimated R$20 million (US$6.4 million) on average. - In March, the Temer government slashed by over 50 percent the budget of the Ministry of the Environment, responsible for both IBAMA, the federal environmental agency, and the Chico Mendes Institute of Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), which oversees Brazil’s conservation units. - As a result, land thieves are likely to get bolder in their theft, deforestation and sale of public lands to cattle ranchers and others. Without a major shift in federal forestry policy and a dramatic improvement in enforcement, land theft and deforestation are likely to worsen across the Amazon basin.
Brazil slashes environment budget by 43% [04/07/2017]
- Brazil accounts for nearly two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest, the world's largest tropical forest. - After several years of decline, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is on the rise again. - Environmentalists say that the budget cut will "profoundly [impact] deforestation -- and, consequently, Brazil's climate targets."
Indigenous groups, Amazon’s best land stewards, under federal attack [04/05/2017]
- According to 2014 data for Legal Amazonia, 59 percent of that year’s illegal deforestation occurred on privately held lands, 27 percent in conservation units, 13 percent in agrarian reform settlements, and a mere 1 percent on indigenous lands — demonstrating that indigenous land stewards are the best at limiting deforestation. - Indigenous groups control large reserves in the Amazon and have the constitutional right to more, but land thieves and agribusiness are working to prevent recognition of new indigenous territories — forested territories that, if protected, could sequester a great deal of climate change-causing carbon. - While President Lula failed to live up to indigenous expectations, the Dilma and Temer governments, heavily influenced by the agricultural lobby, showed much greater hostility to indigenous needs and demands. Indigenous groups plan a mass protest on April 24-28 to make their grievances known to the Temer government. - “The Brazilian economy has become increasingly dependent on agribusiness [with] political repercussions.… People [aren’t] against the Indians because they are Indians or because they have too much land. The problem is that the Indians have lands these political actors want.” — Márcio Meira, former head of FUNAI, Brazil’s Indian affairs agency.
In Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, conservation efforts drown in a sea of eucalyptus [04/05/2017]
- Since 2001, Brazil has almost doubled its area of protected land without increasing its conservation budget. - In the central corridor of the Atlantic Forest, protected areas are scattered among large extensions of eucalyptus monocultures maintained by pulp companies. - With limited resources and facing powerful companies, those in charge of protected areas are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Rotten beef and illegal deforestation: Brazil’s largest meatpacker rocked by scandals [04/05/2017]
- On March 17, agents with Brazil’s Federal Police raided facilities belonging to JBS and another food processing giant, BRF, as well as several smaller companies. - The raids were the culmination of a two-year investigation, called “Operation Weak Flesh,” into an alleged scheme by which JBS, BRF, and others were bribing government officials to look the other way as they sold and exported rotten and salmonella-tainted beef, pork, and poultry. - Just four days after its plants were raided as part of the corruption probe, JBS found itself embroiled in another scandal. On March 21, as part of a three-year operation code-named “Cold Meat,” Brazil’s environmental protection agency, Ibama, raided two JBS meatpackers in the state of Pará that are accused of having purchased thousands of heads of cattle raised on illegally deforested land in the Amazon.
Jurisdictional certification approach aims to strengthen protections against deforestation [04/04/2017]
- Jurisdictional certification brings together all stakeholders across all commodities within a district or state to ensure the entire region is deforestation-free. - A few tropical forest regions have long used the jurisdictional approach; with proven success, more regions are now following suit. - Pilot programs in Brazil and elsewhere exemplify the successes and challenges of the jurisdictional approach.
Three new frog species found in disappearing Atlantic Forest [03/30/2017]
- The new species are of the Chiasmocleis genus of humming frogs. They spend most of their life underground, coming out only a few weeks a year for "explosive breeding." - The frogs look similar to species already known to science, but have distinct genes and minute physical differences that researchers used to set them apart. - They were found in the Atlantic Forest, which has been heavily degraded by agriculture. As little as 3.5 percent of the biome may remain today.
Amazon land speculators poised to gain control of vast public lands [03/27/2017]
- In the Brazilian Amazon, the paving of highways makes adjacent forests far more attractive to land thieves, resulting in major deforestation. The Sustainable BR-163 Plan of 2006 created vast swathes of protected land — eight new conservation units — to prevent land theft and deforestation from happening near the vulnerable BR-163 highway in Pará state. - From the start, land speculators wanted to get their hands on one of those units, the National Forest of Jamanxim, known as “Flona Jamaxim.” They’ve occupied large areas of the Flona, making it one of Brazil’s conservation units with the most serious illegal forest clearing. Illicit activities there helped turn the region into a very violent place. - The rise of the agribusiness-friendly Temer administration in August 2016 emboldened the land speculators. Working with the bancada ruralista, the agribusiness lobby, they got Temer to pass interim measures in December 2016, dismembering Flona Jamanxim, reclassifying 305,000 hectares, and allowing land thieves to keep the land they had seized. - Other conservation units are being targeted: in January 2017, the government announced plans to slash conservation units in Amazonas state — dismembering the Biological Reserve of Manicoré, National Park of Acari, and National Forests of Aripuanã and Urupadi, and more. If approved, one million hectares will lose environmental protection.
Yellow fever is killing howler monkeys in Brazil [03/27/2017]
- Brown howler monkeys are extremely susceptible to yellow fever, and an outbreak can cause local extinctions. - Hundreds of brown howler monkeys are estimated to have died at the RPPN-FMA reserve due to yellow fever. - Fortunately, the critically endangerd muriquis (also found in the reserve) seem less susceptible to yellow fever than the howler monkeys.
New cave catfish threatened by deforestation, mining, pollution [03/23/2017]
- The new catfish, Aspidoras mephisto, is the first completely cave-dependent member of the Callichthyidae family found in South America. - The species has adaptations to living underground, including a lack of pigment and reduced eyes. Researchers think it may use tree roots for shelter and food. - Surveys indicate A. mephisto is restricted to two caves in an area devoid of official protection. Deforestation and mining activities threaten the vegetation around the caves, and sewage from a nearby town may be polluting their water sources.
Crime and not enough punishment: Amazon thieves keep stolen public land [03/15/2017]
- Land grabbing and illegal ranching (even on public lands) has long been, and still is, big business in the Brazilian Amazon. Last year the Brazilian government launched its most ambitious crackdown ever. And some of the criminals caught up in the federal police net were members of Brazil’s richest families. - In June 2016, federal law enforcement pounced on a gang of land thieves. Antônio José Junqueira Vilela Filho, known as AJ Vilela, and Ricardo Caldeira Viacava, among others, were charged with clearing public lands — 300 square kilometers (74,132 acres) of forest, in total — an area 5 times larger than Manhattan, and of using slave labor to do it. - One of the gang’s innovations was to use sophisticated technology to work out just how much forest they could clear without being detected by monitoring satellites. Unfortunately for the offenders, they were spotted by Kayapó Indians who had their own sophisticated monitoring system (called radio!); they reported the crime to federal police. - But by October 2016, AJ Vilela was out of jail and awaiting trial. And unofficial reports from Pará state, gathered there by Mongabay in November, say that the gang is carrying on as before, illegally raising cattle on the public lands they illegally deforested. Question: why hasn’t the land been reclaimed by the government?
Current regulations unable to control trade in products from slave labor, expert says [03/13/2017]
- Kevin Bales is co-founder of the advocacy group Free the Slaves and professor of Contemporary Slavery at the University of Nottingham in the UK. - In his recent book, Blood and Earth, Bales discusses his research to uncover connections between labor rights and the protection of nature. - In this interview with Repórter Brasil, Bales discusses how current regulation is largely unable to stem the trade in products manufactured through slave labor and recommends governments devote more resources to combatting it. He also highlights a few promising developments that are helping to boost corporate transparency.
Suppliers of Lowe’s in the US and Walmart in Brazil linked to slave labor in the Amazon [03/13/2017]
- Slave labor-analogous conditions were revealed by investigation of logging camps in Pará, Brazil. - A supply chain investigation of the timber harvested through these camps has found links to markets in Brazil and the U.S. - Major retailers with links to intermediaries that sourced wood from logging camps found to use slave labor practices include Lowe's, Timber Holdings, and Brazilian Walmart stories. Timber Holdings has used wood from Brazil in major renovation projects for New York's Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park.
Slave labor in the Amazon: Risking lives to cut down the rainforest [03/13/2017]
- Investigations show conditions analogous to slave labor as defined by Brazilian law are not uncommon at small logging camps in Pará, Brazil. - A recent bust of one labor camp by a team headed by the Ministry of Labor led to the rescue several men living in substandard conditions. Interviews of the men and observations by Repórter Brasil indicate their lives were forcibly put at-risk at the camp. - Workers from other logging camps came forward to report instances of nonpayment, and being threatened by guns when they demanded their pay. - Although the job is life threatening and illegal, and wages aren't guaranteed, workers report often having no other choice but to work at the logging camps.
Investigation reveals slave labor conditions in Brazil’s timber industry [03/13/2017]
- The report was the culmination of an investigation into slave labor practices in the state of Pará’s timber industry led by the Integrated Action Network to Combat Slavery (RAICE). - The investigation found several conditions used by Brazilian law to define slave labor were occurring at logging camps, including forced work, debt bondage, isolation, exhausting working hours and life-threatening activities. - According to the report, workers at the camp often felt forced into illegal logging because of dire economic circumstances.
Big data timber exchange partners with FSC in Brazil [03/13/2017]
- BVRio pulls together data on the pricing, supply chain and certification of timber and wood products through its Responsible Timber Exchange. - Since opening in November 2016, the exchange has fielded more than 400 offers for 5 million cubic meters of timber. - The partnership with the Forest Stewardship Council is aimed at bolstering the market for certified forest products.
Displaced by Brazil’s giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, ‘river people’ reoccupy reservoir [03/13/2017]
- Thousands who once lived near the Xingu River have been mostly relocated and compensated, but some refuse to go and have taken back territory by reoccupying the Belo Monte Dam reservoir. - Overall, tens of thousands of people have been displaced by the dam, which was finished in 2015. - Locals known as ‘river people’ are in the process of resettling the area near the reservoir, with over 100 people currently living there.
New bill aims to cut protection of 1M hectares of Brazilian rainforest [03/10/2017]
- State legislators presented the proposal early last month to President Michel Temer’s Chief of Staff, which included changes to five protected areas in the southern state of Amazonas. - When presenting the proposal, the legislators argued that the “protected” classification undermines the legal security of rural producers and economic investments that have already been made in the region. - Conservation groups worry that, if approved, the bid would put more than a million hectares of rainforest at risk to deforestation. - When surveying documents filed with Brazil’s National Department of Mineral Production, WWF reportedly uncovered a link between the proposed bill and applications for prospecting and mining in southern Amazonas.
Cattle industry lags behind in addressing impact on deforestation [03/09/2017]
- Supply chain transparency is especially difficult in the cattle industry because cattle frequently change hands, unlike soy or oil palm crops that remain stationary for years. - While some major cattle companies have taken strides toward sustainability, they still lack sufficient support from the industry as a whole. - While consumers are increasingly pushing for deforestation-free palm oil and other products, consumer pressure for change in the cattle industry hasn’t been as significant.
Amazon Soy Moratorium: defeating deforestation or greenwash diversion? [03/08/2017]
- In the early 2000s, public outrage over Amazon clear cutting for soy production caused transnational grain companies including Cargill, Bunge and Brazil’s Amaggi, to join with soy producers and environmental NGOs including Greenpeace to sign the voluntary Amazon Soy Moratorium, banning direct conversion of Amazon forests to soy after 2006. - The agreement’s signatories have long proclaimed its phenomenal success. A 2014 study found that in the 2 years preceding the agreement, nearly 30 percent of soy expansion in the Amazon biome occurred through deforestation. But after the ASM direct deforestation for soy fell to only 1 percent of soy expansion in the Amazon biome. - Critics say these statistics hide major ASM failings: that its apparent success is largely due to there already being so much deforested land in the Amazon as of 2006, that there was plenty of room for soy expansion without cutting forest. Also, cleared pastureland onto which soy moved, often simply displaced cattle into forests newly cut by land grabbers for ranchers. - Of most concern: ASM covers only one of two Legal Amazonia biomes. While marginally protecting the Amazon, it doesn’t cover the Cerrado savanna, where soy growers have aggressively cleared millions of acres of biodiverse habitat — critics see the ASM as corporate and NGO greenwash; defenders say it inspired other tropical deforestation agreements globally.
Brazilian savanna and Bolivian rainforest at risk from soy production, says report [03/08/2017]
- Soybeans, which make up the main feed for livestock that supply fast food chains like Burger King, occupy almost 1 million square kilometers (386,000 square miles) of land around the world. - Through the investigation, researchers found that the production of some of Burger King's meat may be linked to deforestation. - The report focuses on the massive soy purchase operations of multinational agricultural corporations Cargill, Bunge, and Archer Daniels Midland.
Pressure over water in Brazil puts pulp industry in the spotlight [03/02/2017]
- Brazil is the world's largest producer of eucalyptus-derived pulp and the state of Espírito Santo is one of its biggest production centers. - More than a third of the state, which was once rich in Atlantic Forest, is at risk of becoming desert. - The region faces one of the worst droughts in its history, which is causing billions in losses.
The changing face of Amazon development: from land grab to eco-lodge [02/23/2017]
- Ariosto da Riva was often described as “the last of the bandeirantes”, the violent adventurers who first penetrated the Brazilian Amazon in the 16th century in search of gold. Working with Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985), he owned a million hectares of forest, pushed indigenous people from their lands, and brought in settlers. - His daughter, Vitória da Riva Carvalho, though wealthy, did not buy into his legacy. She is noted instead for her strong defense of the rainforest and for her world-renowned ecotourism destination, the Cristalino Jungle Lodge, located outside the town of Alta Floresta — which her father settled — in northernmost Mato Grosso state. - The evolution of the relationship between father and daughter helps trace the unfolding land conflicts that have smouldered and exploded in the Amazon between indigenous and traditional peoples on one side; and land speculators, land grabbers, loggers, settlers and soy growers on the other. - Today, most of the indigenous people who lived in the region where the Cristalino Jungle Lodge entertains its wealthy guests are gone — dead, pushed into indigenous reserves, or retreated elsewhere. But for now, the rainforest and much extraordinary biodiversity remains, with people like Vitória da Riva Carvalho as its stewards.
Judge halts excavation plans for largest-ever Brazilian goldmine [02/22/2017]
- The Belo Sun goldmine, to be Brazil’s largest, would use cyanide and other industrial processes to produce 5 million ounces of gold over 12 years. The company´s environmental impact assessment says it will process nearly 35 million tons of rock. The open-pit mine would leave behind gigantic solid waste piles covering many hectares, plus a huge toxic waste impoundment near the Xingu River. - A Brazilian judge suspended the project’s installation license this week, faulting the Canadian company that would be excavating Belo Sun with improperly acquiring federal land and potentially removing families from those lands to “reduce social costs.” - The proposed Belo Sun goldmine is within a short distance of the controversial Belo Monte dam, which has dislocated residents, caused deforestation, and harmed the environment, causing major fish kills on the Xingu River, a major tributary of the Amazon River. Residents are concerned that the addition of the nation’s biggest goldmine will do more severe harm. - Residents fear that a failure of the Belo Sun toxic waste impoundment dam would create a disaster on the Xingu River similar in scale to the Samarco Fundão dam collapse in 2015, which dumped roughly 50 million tons of toxic iron ore waste into the Doce River, polluting it for 500 miles, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, and causing Brazil´s largest environmental disaster.
What happens when the soy and palm oil boom ends? [02/21/2017]
- Over the past 30 years demand and production of oils crops like oil palm and soybeans has boomed across the tropics. - This rapid expansion has in some places taken a heavy toll on native, wildlife-rich ecosystems. - Derek Byerlee, co-author of a new book titled The Tropical Oil Crop Revolution, spoke with Mongabay about the tropical oil crop sector and what's to come for the industry.
Protected areas found to be ‘significant’ sources of carbon emissions [02/17/2017]
- The researchers found 2,018 protected areas across the tropics store nearly 15 percent of all tropical forest carbon. This is because protected areas tend to have denser, older forest – thus, higher carbon stocks. - Their study uncovered that, on average, nearly 0.2 percent of protected area forest cover was razed per year between 2000 and 2012. - Less than nine percent of the reserves that the researchers sampled contributed 80 percent of the total carbon emissions between 2000 and 2012, putting this small subset of reserves on par with the UK’s entire transportation sector. - The researchers say their findings could help prioritize conservation attention.
Getting there: The rush to turn the Amazon into a soy transport corridor [02/15/2017]
- The development over the last 40 years of Mato Grosso state in Brazil’s interior as an industrial agribusiness powerhouse has, from the beginning, been hindered by a major economic problem: how to get the commodities to the coast for profitable export. - The first route of export from Mato Grosso was a costly and time-consuming southern one, with commodities trucked on a circuitous route to Santos in São Paulo state and Paranaguá in Paraná state on the Atlantic coast. - The paving of the northern section of BR-163, running south to north through Pará state, opened a much less expensive, faster route, with commodities now moved to Miritituba on the Tapajós River, then downstream to the Amazon, and on to Europe and China. - New infrastructure plans call for the channelization of the Juruena, Teles Pires and Tapajós rivers, creating a 1,000-mile industrial waterway. Two railways, one over the Andes, are also proposed. These schemes pose grave threats to the Amazon rainforest, biodiversity, indigenous and traditional communities, and even the global climate.
Brazil’s ‘river people’ join forces with indigenous communities, offer alternative to deforestation [02/10/2017]
- Extractive reserves are important to the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, creating buffer zones of protection from deforestation and the exploitation of natural resources. - Extractive reserves cover 3.4 million hectares of land in Brazil, nearly all of it in the Amazon. - Mining, logging and professional hunting are prohibited within the Xingu Resex, but trading posts allow for the exchange of goods gathered from within the reserve.
Soy invasion poses imminent threat to Amazon, say agricultural experts [02/08/2017]
- The meteoric rise in soy production in the state of Mato Grosso is eating up rainforest and savanna at a staggering rate, with 1.2 million hectares under production in 1991; 6.2 million hectares in 2010; and 9.4 million hectares by 2016. Much of that soy is being exported to China, and it is expected that Brazil will grow more soy to meet Asia’s need. - Since the time of Brazil’s military government (1964-1985), down to the present day, the national government has repeatedly offered lip service in support of Brazil’s agrarian poor, while offering large tax breaks and other major incentives to large landowners, large-scale agribusiness, and transnational commodities companies. - This trend of overwhelming federal support for big soy growers seems likely to continue under current Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi (once dubbed the “Soy King”), and due to the powerful influence held by the ruralista agribusiness lobby in the National Congress. - If China’s 21st century demand for soy, and Brazil’s ambition to meet that demand, don’t slacken, Amazon deforestation rates are likely to continue rising, and indigenous peoples are likely to see on-going threats to their communities and livelihoods. One place the threat is most dire is in the Tapajós Basin on the border of Mato Grosso and Pará states.
Scientists launch expedition to find missing monkeys [02/02/2017]
- Vanzolini's bald-faced saki hasn't been seen since scientists first discovered it in western Brazil in the 1930s. - Navigating along the Rio Juruá and its tributaries, the expedition will be the first comprehensive biological survey of the region. - Its international team of researchers hopes to uncover the saki, as well as other yet-undocumented species, while calling conservation attention to the river and surrounding rainforest.
Birds wanted: Recovering forests need avian assist [02/02/2017]
- Clearing swaths of rainforests can permanently drive away or kill off birds that are important partners in the regeneration of the forest, the study finds. - The study surveyed 330 sites in the Brazilian Amazon, turning up 472 species of birds. - The analyses demonstrate that recovering forests don’t have the diversity of birds needed to ensure their survival. - The authors say that their findings point to a need to preserve standing forests, even if they’re heavily degraded.
Brazil alters indigenous land demarcation process, sparking conflict [02/02/2017]
- In mid-January Brasília issued Ordinance 80, which moves decisions regarding indigenous land demarcation from Funai, the agency of Indian affairs, to the Justice Ministry. Large-scale landowners applauded the measure, while indigenous land rights activists are opposed to it. - Brazil’s population includes 900,000 indigenous people, of whom 517,000 live on officially recognized indigenous lands. About 13 percent of the country’s territory is set aside as indigenous lands — 98.5 percent of it in the Amazon. - The demarcation process has been fraught with controversy; demarcation of indigenous territory has been delayed for years by Funai, and in some places, by decades. Federal authorities argue that the shift of decision-making to the Justice Ministry will speed the resolution of land conflicts. - Ordinance 80 opponents say that the shift to the Ministry of Justice takes away Funai’s power to decide indigenous demarcation matters via consultations with technical experts and anthropologists, an authority that is enshrined in Brazil’s Constitution.
Introducing Mongabay news alerts [02/01/2017]
Now Mongabay readers can keep up-to-date on the latest conservation and environmental science developments by subscribing to our free topic-based news alerts.
Battle for the Amazon: As Sinop grew, the Amazon rainforest faded away [02/01/2017]
- Sinop, a city of 125,000 people in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon in Mato Grosso state, is a modern success story. Prosperous and booming, the small urban center services a region dominated today by industrial agriculture. - Few remember how the city came to be. As recently as the 1970’s, the Sinop region was mostly rainforest and occupied by indigenous peoples. - At the time, Brazil’s military government highly favored large-scale land speculators. These men gained dubious title to millions of acres of rainforest, divided it into lots, and sold it off to poor Brazilian settlers. Many settlers found their transplantation into the Amazon very difficult. - Indigenous and traditional people who lacked land titles were driven out, often violently. The story of Sinop is a story of development, exploitation and conflict that has continued to play out across the Amazon region — especially in the Tapajós River basin today.
First-ever underwater photos of newly discovered Amazon Reef have surfaced [01/30/2017]
- Extending from French Guiana to Maranhão State in northern Brazil, the Amazon Reef is a 9500-square-kilometer (or nearly 3,700-square-mile) system of corals, sponges, and rhodoliths (a colorful marine algae that resembles coral) located where the Amazon River meets the Atlantic Ocean — a region currently threatened by oil exploration activities. - When the reef was discovered in April 2016, Fabiano Thompson of Brazil’s Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, who was part of the team of scientists who made the discovery, told Mongabay that “The oceanographic conditions (biogeochemistry and microbiology) of this system are unique, not found in other places of the planet.” - The mouth of the Amazon River basin also provides valuable habitat for a range of species, including the American manatee, the yellow-spotted Amazon river turtle, dolphins, and giant river otters, which are listed as Endangered on the IUCN’s Red List.
Primates face impending extinction – what’s next? [01/24/2017]
- Nonhuman primates are on the decline almost everywhere. - The third most diverse Order of mammals, primates are under the highest level of threat of any larger group of mammals, and among the highest of any group of vertebrates - 63% of primates are threatened, meaning that they fall into one of the three IUCN categories of threat—Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable. - This post is a commentary - the views expressed are those of the authors.
Is Brazil green washing hydropower? The case of the Teles Pires dam [01/18/2017]
- The Teles Pires Hydroelectric Company (builder and operator of Brazil’s Teles Pires dam in the Amazon Basin) was awarded a Green Certificate in the “Responsible Social and Environmental Management” category of the Chico Mendes Award, a prize named after the murdered Brazilian eco-hero. - The company has won other green awards for its construction projects (including Amazon dams), and been awarded carbon credits by the United Nations. - But critics ask how green the company that built the Tele Pires dam can be when their project wrecked indigenous and traditional communities, led to the dynamiting of an indigenous sacred site, did harm to biodiversity and fisheries, while also likely producing significant carbon emissions. - The company claims it is not to blame, because it complied with all government regulations during the dam’s construction, and even went further to make the project sustainable. The Teles Pires dam raises key questions about “sustainability,” and who has the right to define it.
‘Day of Terror’: Munduruku village attacked by Brazil’s Federal Police [01/11/2017]
- On November 7, 2012, Brazil’s Federal Police launched the Eldorado Operation with a raid aimed at destroying an illegal gold mining barge at Teles Pires, a Munduruku village. During the attack, an Indian was killed by police — “executed,” according to a Federal Public Ministry (MPF) investigation. - The gold mining barge that was destroyed that day — and others in indigenous territory along the Teles Pires River in the Tapajós Basin — had been allowed to operate illegally by the government for years previously. - The income earned from the gold mining barges had recently been used to fund indigenous opposition to the Belo Monte mega-dam, and resistance to more than 40 dams proposed for the Tapajós Basin. The extreme violence of the Eldorado Operation has shaken Munduruku trust in Brazil’s government. - According to the Indians, the police told them to lie about these events, or face persecution. Mongabay’s videotaped eyewitness interviews have resulted in the MPF opening a new investigation into the Eldorado Operation; MPF is seeking US $2.9 million in damages for the Munduruku.
New maps show how our consumption impacts wildlife thousands of miles away [01/06/2017]
- The study identified 6,803 threatened species, pinpointed the commodities that contribute to threats affecting those species, then traced the implicated commodities to final consumers in 187 countries. - The maps revealed some unexpected linkages. - These maps can help connect conservationists, consumers, companies and governments to better target conservation actions, researchers say.
The end of a People: Amazon dam destroys sacred Munduruku “Heaven” [01/05/2017]
- Four dams are being built on the Teles Pires River — a major tributary of the Tapajós River — to provide Brazil with hydropower, and to possibly be a first step toward constructing an industrial waterway to transport soy and other commodities from Mato Grosso state, in the interior, to the Atlantic coast. - Those dams are being built largely without consultation with impacted indigenous people, as required by the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169, an agreement which Brazil signed. - A sacred rapid, known as Sete Quedas, the Munduruku “Heaven”, was dynamited in 2013 to build the Teles Pires dam. A cache of sacred artefacts was also seized by the dam construction consortium and the Brazilian state. - The Indians see both events as callous attacks on their sacred sites, and say that these desecrations will result in the destruction of the Munduruku as a people — 13,000 Munduruku Indians live in 112 villages, mainly along the upper reaches of the Tapajós River and its tributaries in the heart of the Amazon.
What to expect for rainforests in 2017 [01/05/2017]
- Will deforestation continue to rise in Brazil? - Will Indonesia continue on a path toward forestry reform? - What effect will Donald Trump have on rainforest conservation?
Battle for the Amazon: Tapajós Basin threatened by massive development [01/03/2017]
- The Brazilian Amazon has systematically been deforested, dammed and developed by the federal government, river basin by river basin. The most recent to be so developed was the Xingu watershed. The next target, where road and dam construction has already begun, is the Tapajós Basin. - Plans by agribusiness and the government call for the paving of the BR-163 highway (almost complete); the building of a new railroad, nicknamed Ferrogrão or Grainrail (just given approval); and the building of the Teles Pires-Tapajós industrial waterway, requiring dozens of dams, plus canals. - As Mato Grosso soy plantations creep north deeper into the Tapajós region, agribusiness hopes to benefit from the rapid development of transportation infrastructure that will provide a cheap, fast northern road, rail and water route to the Atlantic for the export of commodities. - Indigenous groups, traditional river communities, environmentalists and social NGOs oppose the mega-infrastructure projects, which they say will bring deforestation, cultural disruption, and quicken local and global climate change. The conflict is over no less than the fate of the Amazon.
Food from Brazil’s Amazon finds its way to metropolitan tables [01/02/2017]
- Amazonian ingredients have long been used by indigenous peoples, many of whom still rely on the Amazon rainforest for subsistence. - As forest-sourced ingredients find their way into more restaurants, observers are concerned about this new industry's impact on the Brazilian Amazon and forest-dependent communities. - World-renowned, two-star Michelin chef Alex Atala is at the forefront when it comes to the sustainable use of indigenous ingredients.
The year in tropical rainforests: 2016 [01/01/2017]
- After 2015's radical advancements in transparency around tropical forests between improved forest cover monitoring systems and corporate policies on commodity sourcing, progress slowed in 2016 with no major updates on tropical forest cover, resistance from several governments in releasing forest data, and some notable backtracking on zero deforestation commitments. - But even without the pan-tropical updates, we know that deforestation increased sharply in the Brazilian Amazon, which accounts for the world's largest area of tropical forest. - Low commodity prices may have bought some relief for forests.
Temer government set to overthrow Brazil’s environmental agenda [12/22/2016]
- A catastrophic setback to environmental and indigenous protections was narrowly averted last week when quick action from two federal deputies prevented the agricultural lobby from forcing passage of bills to authorize construction of three mega-industrial waterways in the Amazon and elsewhere. - The Congress will likely pick up the bills again after the recess in February. They would authorize building many dozens of dams and industrial waterways in three river basins — PDC 119/2015 on the Tapajós, Teles Pires and Juruena rivers in the Amazon; PDC 120/2015 on the Tocantins and Araguaia rivers, also in the Amazon; and PDC 118/2015 on the Paraguai River. - In 2005, a similar bill was passed, fast tracking the Belo Monte dam and bypassing proper environmental evaluation. Today, Norte Energia, the consortium that built the Amazon mega-dam has been charged with environmental crimes, ethnocide and is under investigation for corruption. - Another bill working its way through the National Congress would completely gut the environmental licensing process for most infrastructure projects, while still another would take away hard won protections guaranteed to Brazil’s indigenous people in the 1988 Constitution.
Resource wars: Brazilian gold miners go up against indigenous people [12/15/2016]
- Violence in the Brazilian Amazon is on the increase. Last year, Brazil ranked as the most dangerous nation for environmentalists worldwide. Indigenous people are especially at risk, with 137 killings in Brazil reported in 2015. - One cause of this violence arises from the conflict between indigenous people and small-scale mineral prospectors, especially gold miners, who lay claim to the same lands. - Lack of government action to demarcate indigenous lands, along with an inadequate federal law enforcement presence in the Amazon, have exacerbated the problem. - Many worry that violence will escalate if the federal government doesn’t step in to help mediate the claims made by indigenous groups and prospectors. However, some indigenous people see the small-scale prospectors as potential allies in the face of large-scale mining operations moving into the region and as the Tapajós Basin is progressively industrialized.
Brazilian state invites private companies to run Atlantic Forest parks [12/15/2016]
- São Paulo — Brazil’s wealthiest state and the country’s industrial powerhouse — has turned over the concessions for 25 state parks to the private sector. The parks protect a large portion of the Atlantic Forest, the most threatened biome in Brazil. - Environmentalists worry that these company concessions, granted for 30 years, will lead to greater deforestation, though the government denies this possibility. - Social advocates say that local people who rely on the parks for ecotourism jobs and other employment could easily be excluded from working in the parks by the for-profit companies. - Critics say the law is unconstitutional because the state did not invite environmentalists and the people that would be impacted by the law to participate in discussions of the legislation before it was enacted.
Brazil’s dispossessed: Belo Monte dam ruinous for indigenous cultures [12/08/2016]
- Brazil’s Public Federal Ministry (MPF) launched a lawsuit in 2015 accusing Norte Energia, the consortium that built the Belo Monte mega-dam on the Xingu River in Pará state, along with the federal government’s National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) with the crime of ethnocide. - Indigenous families say that serious harm was done to them when they were uprooted from their riverside homes; forced to give up their sustainable fishing, hunting and farming livelihoods; and compelled to seek jobs in an economically depressed urban environment. - Tamawaerw Paracana, an indigenous woman, describes the everyday challenges her family faces as they try to survive in an urban resettlement community: “I don’t have the means to live here. I don’t have the money for food. Here you have to have a job.… People who don’t work, can’t eat. There’s no food.” The ethnocide case has yet to go to court. - “Every day that goes by, there are more dams being built in our country; there are more people affected; and there are more rights violated. So our goal is to organize all the people affected and carry on this fight,” says Edizangela Alves Barros, an indigenous activist.
Brazil pledges ‘largest restoration commitment ever made’ [12/08/2016]
- Proponents of the pledge believe the restoration will help the country meet climate change and conservation targets as well as Brazil’s economy through the development of more productive agricultural lands and new jobs. - Twelve million hectares of forest land is slated for restoration, along with 10 million hectares of farmland and pastures. - The announcement follows a recent uptick in deforestation in the country, which contains 60 percent of the Amazon Rainforest. Deforestation levels in 2015-2016 were up 75 percent over the three-decade low reached in 2012.
Brazil: deforestation in the Amazon increased 29% over last year [11/30/2016]
- Deforestation in the world’s largest rainforest jumped 29 percent over last year. - Deforestation from 2015-2016 reached the highest level since 2008. - Relaxed environmental regulation, dry conditions, and Brazil's economy may be factors in the rising rate of forest loss.
NYT explores life and impact of Chico Mendes, “a Fighter for the Amazon” [11/28/2016]
- The NYTimes has released a video looking back on Mendes’ life and untimely death, which, as the newspaper notes, is widely credited with having marked “a turning point in Brazil’s environmental consciousness.” - In the 1980s, the Amazon was being burned to make way for pastureland and other economic development projects at an alarming rate — the NYTimes video features one scientist showing off the latest remote sensing technology and noting that it allows researchers to track as many as 7,000 fires per day. - Two Brazilian men — a local rancher and his 23-year-old son — were convicted of murdering Mendes and sentenced to 19 years in prison in 1990.
Top scientists: Amazon’s Tapajós Dam Complex “a crisis in the making” [11/28/2016]
- BRAZIL’S GRAND PLAN: Build 40+ dams, new roads and railways at the heart of the Amazon to transport soy from the interior to the coast and foreign markets, turning the Tapajós Basin and its river systems into an industrial waterway, leading to unprecedented deforestation, top researchers say. - ECOSYSTEM IMPACTS: “The effects would clearly be devastating for the ecology and connectivity of the greater Tapajós Basin,” says William Laurance, of James Cook University, Australia; a leading rainforest ecology scientist. “It is not overstating matters to term this a crisis in the making.” - HUMAN IMPACTS: The dams would produce “A human rights crisis, driven by the flooding of indigenous territories and forced relocation of indigenous villages… [plus] the loss of fisheries, reduced fertility of fertile floodplains, and polluting of clean water sources,” says Amazon Watch’s Christian Poirier. - CLIMATE IMPACTS: “The worst-case scenario… over 200,000 square kilometers of deforestation,” says climatologist Carlos Nobre, which would be “very serious” and create “regional climate change.” Tapajós deforestation could even help tip the global scales, as the Amazon ceases being a carbon sink, and becomes a carbon source — with grave consequences for the planet.
Amazon oil spill impacts indigenous villages on Teles Pires River [11/21/2016]
- An oil spill was detected on November 13th on the Teles Pires River, a tributary of the Tapajós River, in a remote part of the Brazilian Amazon. The spill occurred near the under-construction São Manoel hydropower dam. The spill’s cause or extent is as yet unknown. - Roughly 320 indigenous people were affected in villages near the dam site. Empresa de Energia São Manoel, the consortium building the dam, has sent more than 4,000 liters of fresh water to affected indigenous communities. IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, is investigating. - Indigenous leader Taravi Kayabi described the spill’s impact on his community: “All this is a terrible sadness for our people. This region is sacred to us. Now, along with the land being flooded [due to the dam], they´ve dirtied our water. The fish have disappeared, too. People are getting sick with diarrhea. Everyone is worried about their health.” - The Teles Pires River already has three other dams, which have to date been subject to 24 lawsuits. Most of these cases focused on environmental impacts and violations of indigenous rights. The dams are part of the Tapajós Complex, a gigantic infrastructure project aimed at turning the Tapajós River and its tributaries into an industrial waterway for soy transport.
New report: Brazil’s Cerrado could sidestep conversion for agriculture [11/13/2016]
- Home to almost half of Brazil’s agriculture, the country’s leaders are looking toward the Cerrado to accelerate economic development. - The Cerrado is also home to indigenous communities and traditional societies, such as the quilombolas, descendants of escaped African slaves. - The report argues for a more inclusive process that preserves traditional farming practices, intensifies existing large-scale agriculture and protects the Cerrado’s water, habitat and biodiversity.
Feral pigs, vampire bats, and infectious diseases in rural Brazil [11/12/2016]
- The distribution of feral pigs — which are also known as wild boars, or “javali” in Portuguese, and are actually the same species as the domestic pig (Sus scrofa) — has increased five-fold since they were first recorded in Brazil in 2007. - A group of Brazilian researchers found that not only might vampire bat populations explode as a result of this invasion of feral pigs, but associated threats, such as the spread of infectious diseases, could increase as well. - Wild boar are becoming a dominant mammal in Brazil’s Atlantic forest and could potentially invade the Amazon region.
‘A man schooled in the Amazon:’ Q&A with director of new feature film about the fight to save the rainforest [11/09/2016]
- Carter is the founder of Aliança da Terra (Land Alliance), a Brazilian non-profit organization that works directly with ranchers in the Amazon to reduce the environmental and social impact of their operations. - Wortman, who previously won an Emmy for his documentary Nefertiti Resurrected, intends to cast “real life characters,” such as John Carter himself, alongside professional actors in order to tell the true story of “Those fighting to save [the Amazon] and those fighting to take it.” - As much as it’s a Western and a love story, Wortman says the film is “a snapshot of what is going on in Brazil right now, which is the first wave that comes through. That’s why it’s called Frontier."
No more mining disasters [11/04/2016]
- On October 20, 2016, prosecutors charged 21 people, including senior BHP and Vale executives, with qualified homicide for their alleged roles in this disaster. The companies were also charged with 12 environmental crimes. - Sadly, disasters involving poorly managed mine waste storage are not unique to Brazil. In the past few years alone, there have been a number of high-profile mine tailings dam disasters that communities from Canada to Mexico are still dealing with. - We can’t wait for another Samarco mine disaster to occur. Regulators must set strong rules to require dry mine waste storage – eliminating the need for gigantic, disaster-prone dams by dewatering mine waste. Regulators must set strong rules to require dry mine waste storage — eliminating the need for gigantic, disaster-prone dams by dewatering mine waste. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Rio Doce: The murder of an already dead river (commentary) [11/04/2016]
- On November 5, 2015, an iron mining tailings dam, owned by the Samarco company, a joint venture of Vale and Austro-British BHP Billiton, collapsed in Brazil killing 19 people and sending a toxic sludge flood into the Rio Doce, polluting its length to the Atlantic Ocean. - Dr. Fabiano de Melo recognizes this historic tragedy, but notes that the Rio Doce has died twice. It first died a slow death, over several hundred years, as the great river’s watershed was deforested and its wildlife slaughtered in order to serve human needs and desires. The Samarco disaster marked its second death. - “Many actions can and should be taken to restore the river and its biodiversity,” he says in this Mongabay commentary: “Forest recovery programs, followed by projects to reintroduce native fauna, in particular aquatic fauna, should be prioritized. [A]n intensive effort to implement sanitation projects in urban areas” is also needed. - “Without any action, we are facing the final funeral of the [Rio Doce] basin,” he concludes. “In a few years, with the current government policies and negative interventions, there will be nothing left but memories of a mighty river.” This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
One-Year Anniversary of Brazil dam disaster brings prosecutions [11/02/2016]
- One year ago, the collapse of the Fundão tailings dam killed 19 people and polluted the entire 663-kilometer (441-mile) length of the Rio Doce with 40 billion liters (over 10.5 billion gallons) of toxic mud tailings. It is the worst environmental and mining disaster in Brazil’s history. - At the end of October, federal prosecutors charged 22 executives and four companies (Samarco, Vale, BHP Billiton and VOGBR Consultancy) for their role in the disaster that occurred in Mariana town, Minas Gerais state. - The 272-page federal complaint includes numerous internal company documents that appear to show that Samarco knew of the threat their tailings dam posed to public safety, but did little to address the worsening problem. - These internal documents went so far as to estimate the deaths likely to be caused by the dam collapse. Samarco’s estimate of 20 or more deaths was just one above the actual total of 19 people killed. The complaint also lists damage to commercial fisheries (14 tons of dead fish), to forests and communities.
Quantifying the ecological impacts of the 20th century trade in Amazonian furs [10/25/2016]
- A study published this month in the journal Science Advances comprises the first systematic accounting of the history, scale, and repercussions of the Amazonian hide trade throughout the 20th century. - An international team of researchers used previously unanalyzed historical documents and unpublished shipping records cataloguing the quantity and scale of the wildlife trade to determine trends in the vulnerability of different wild animal species. - They found widespread collapse of giant river otter, black caiman and manatee populations in the aftermath of commercial hunting, while terrestrial species such as collared peccaries, deer, and even jaguars were found to be much more resilient to hunting pressure even during peak international hide exports.
Lakes in community hands spur gains for people and fish [10/20/2016]
- In an 8-year study covering a 500-kilometer stretch of a tributary to the Amazon, a team of scientists from Brazil and England found that the often-overfished arapaima came back in community-managed lakes. - Protected lakes had populations more than 30 times those where commercial fishing was allowed. - The team estimates that each protected lake is worth about $10,000 per community in revenue from arapaima stocks annually.
Study finds Brazil isn’t counting all deforestation in official estimates [10/19/2016]
- A new study published in the journal Conservation Letters finds that, between 2008 and 2012, close to 9,000 square kilometers (about 3,475 square miles) of the Brazilian Amazon were cleared without being detected by the government’s official monitoring system. - Brazil’s Monitoring Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by Satellite Project (known as PRODES) has played a key role in Brazil’s recent efforts to rein in deforestation. - But when researchers with Brown University compared data from PRODES with two independent satellite measures of forest loss — from the Global Forest Change project and the Fire Information for Resource Management Systems — they found an area of deforestation roughly the size of Puerto Rico was not included in the PRODES monitoring.
Violence against indigenous people high, as land conflicts heat up [10/18/2016]
- There were 137 killings of indigenous people in Brazil in 2015, with the state of Mato Grosso do Sul recording the highest number (25 for the year), said a major report released in September by the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI). - Much of the violence is due to land conflicts exacerbated by the government’s failure to demarcate indigenous lands, resulting in conflicts between large-scale farmers and indigenous people. There are 96 indigenous lands in Brazil, but only four have been demarcated and approved so far. Another 68 are classified with the status of "no action" according to CIMI. - A high number of indigenous people also took their own lives, with 87 registered cases of suicide in 2015 by indigenous people. Again, Mato Grosso do Sul led the list with 45 cases. - Data showed that the infant mortality rate is nearly twice as high among Brazil’s indigenous groups (26.35 deaths per thousand live births) as compared to the national average (13.82 per thousand live births).
Environmental official murdered in Brazilian Amazon [10/17/2016]
- Luiz Alberto Araújo, head of the Altamira municipal government environmental department in the state of Pará, was gunned down in an execution-style killing last Thursday. 448 environmentalists were killed in Brazil between 2002-2013 — half the total murdered worldwide. - Araújo provided information this year that helped lead to the arrest of a major illegal logging operation led by Antonio José Junqueira Vilela Filho, known as Ajj. - Ajj ran his operation near Altamira for ten years, often only cutting valuable understory trees, and leaving the tallest behind to fool satellites and avoid detection. His operation kept loggers in slave-like conditions. Ajj was fined US$37 million, the largest such fine ever in the Amazon. - Last February, Araújo’s team collected tons of dead fish secretly buried near the newly completed Belo Monte mega-dam, near Altamira. Norte Energia, the company operating the dam, was fined US$11 million for the 16.2 tons of fish illegally killed during the flooding of the dam’s reservoir.
A cost-benefit analysis of securing indigenous land rights in the Amazon [10/12/2016]
- According to the report, the investments required to secure land rights for indigenous communities would be modest, but could generate billions of dollars in returns economically, environmentally, and socially — a boon not just for local communities but the global climate, as well. - According to the report, between 2000 and 2012 the annual deforestation rates in tenure-secure indigenous forests were significantly lower than outside those areas. - “The estimated economic benefits for a 20-year period are: $54–119 billion for Bolivia; $523–1,165 billion for Brazil; and $123–277 billion for Colombia,” the report states.
Brazil pledges to cut carbon, but government policies say otherwise [10/06/2016]
- Brazil's Paris Agreement target calls for a carbon emissions reduction of 37 percent by 2025, and 43 percent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. These reductions are dependent on the nation’s ability to meet its forestry goals. Brazil’s vast forests are vital for carbon storage and for curbing the worst impacts of climate change. - However, Brazil’s government is moving to relax environmental licensing regulations in order to fast track large-scale infrastructure projects, including industrial waterways, dams, highways and railways; and is pursuing a major agribusiness expansion — all of which could work to increase carbon emissions. - In addition, new studies show that Brazil will likely fall well short of the billions in funding needed to meet the country’s ambitious forestry goals which were declared in 2015, just before the Paris Climate Summit. - The continued curbing of Amazon deforestation is key to Brazil’s achievement of its Paris carbon cut targets, but recent news from the Amazon is bad: after years of decreased deforestation rates, forest loss in the Amazon is again on the upswing.
Brazil revises Amazon deforestation 6% upward [10/04/2016]
- The Brazilian government has revised upward its estimate for the extent of Amazon rainforest destroyed last year. - Figures released last week by Brazil's National Space Research Agency (INPE) put Amazon deforestation at 6,207 square kilometers for the year ended July 31, 2015. - The upward revision in the prior year's deforestation rate is not unusual.
U.S. imports of Amazon crude oil driving expansion of oil operations [09/30/2016]
- Oakland, California-based non-profit Amazon Watch released the report this week to highlight the impacts of oil operations on Amazonian biodiversity and indigenous peoples, as well as on refinery communities in the U.S. and the global climate. - U.S. crude imports are in overall decline, the report notes. But imports from the Amazon are on the rise, so much so that the U.S. is now importing more crude oil from the Amazon than from any single foreign country. - “Existing and proposed oil and gas blocks in the Amazon cover 283,172 square miles, an area larger than the state of Texas,” per the report.
Amazon radio network unites regional opposition to Tapajós basin dams [09/26/2016]
- The Amazon News Network has been in operation for nearly a decade, with the mission of providing news and information to unify people living all across the Amazon region of Brazil. - The Network is especially involved in providing news about the massive infrastructure projects planned for the Amazon, including more than 40 dams slated for the Tapajós River basin. - Late in August 2016, Amazon News Network founder Father Edilberto Sena, and Executive Producer Joelma Viana helped organize an environmental and social caravan that traveled from Santarém to Itaituba in Brazil’s Pará state at the heart of the Amazon. In Itaituba around 1,000 activists and concerned citizens gathered for a summit to develop sustainable economic strategies for the Tapajós region. - The Itaituba summit called for the reinstatement of the Ministry of Agricultural Development (established in 1999 to oversee land reform in Brazil and promote sustainable practices, but abolished under the new Temer government). The participants also organized around their opposition to Tapajós dam construction plans.
Scientists say Amazon biodiversity could help fuel Fourth Industrial Revolution [09/20/2016]
- A team of researchers led by climatologist Carlos Nobre of Brazil’s National Center for Monitoring and Early Warning of Natural Disasters published an article today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) arguing for “a new development paradigm” in the Amazon. - Nobre and his co-authors write that the dominant economic paradigm of today, which entails intensive use of the Amazon’s natural resources, has led to “significant basin-wide environmental alterations” over the past half-century. - Nobre is leading a multidisciplinary group comprised of science and technology experts who aim to set up public-private partnerships among key actors in Brazil and other Amazonian countries in order to bring together research and development centers, universities, and businesses to make economic use of the Amazon’s diversity of living plants, animals, and insects.
Interpol issues notice about illegal timber trading operation in Brazil [09/15/2016]
- The notice, issued on August 30, stems from an investigation by the Brazilian Federal Police that uncovered a technique employed by illegal timber traders in the country. - The method in question involves obtaining fraudulent forest management plans that declare a higher density of a high-value timber species within a timber concession than actually exists on the ground, allowing criminals to harvest timber from unauthorized areas and report it as if it was legal — in other words, to launder their illegal timber. - The Brazilian environmental agency IBAMA first notified the country’s federal police of suspected illegal logging activities carried out by a sustainable forest management project called JOVINO VILHENA - Fazenda Esmeralda, based in Santarém, Para State, Brazil, on February 6 of last year.
Beef consumers’ role in causing deforestation in South America (commentary) [09/13/2016]
- Beef production has proven to be a top driver of tropical deforestation in South America and globally. - In South America, land ultimately used for cattle ranches frequently replaces tropical forests. - Although many companies spin their deforestation-free beef commitments and practices as robust and comprehensive, we found all 13 of the companies that we scored in our recent report have gaps in their commitments and practices that can allow for continued deforestation. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Operation license for Amazon’s Belo Monte mega-dam suspended [09/13/2016]
- A Brazilian judge has suspended the operating license of the controversial Belo Monte dam in the Amazon because the Norte Energia consortium, the dam’s builder and operator, failed to meet a key compensation commitment required by the federal government. - In exchange for the right to build and run the dam, Norte Energia originally agreed to install drinking water and sewage systems for the city of Altamira, with completion due in July 2014. The court allowed an extension to September 1, 2016, but the system is still not complete. - Norte Energia had argued that its commitment only extended to constructing water and sewer lines, not to connecting those lines to residences — a contention which the court has rejected. - The city currently dumps its sewage directly into the Xingu River, and waste is now building up behind the new dam. If the sanitation system isn’t quickly installed, officials worry that Altamira runs the risk of a collapse in sanitation due to the contamination of the city’s groundwater from domestic sewage.
Belo Monte dam compensation inadequate, say traditional fisherfolk [09/09/2016]
- The Norte Energia Consortium — the group of companies that built the Belo Monte dam — signed an agreement with the Brazilian government in 2011 to pay US $1 billion to Altamira residents, including indigenous people, in compensation for the impacts of the dam. But traditional fisherfolk complain they have not been adequately compensated. - The traditional fisherfolk say that the Amazon dam negatively impacted water quality and fish spawning in the Xingu River, and drastically reduced the area in which they could fish. Belo Monte also deprived them of the markets where they sold their fish — communities razed by the dam. - Belo Monte’s construction also forced them to move from rural villages to a gritty urban resettlement community in the city of Altamira with few amenities. The fisherfolk also no longer live on the river, and so must commute to the waterway to pursue their fishing livelihood. - Fisherfolk protests resulted in the creation of a new condition for Belo Monte’s operating license at the end of 2015. Norte Energia has been obliged to start a technical assistance project focused on improving fishing conditions on the Xingu River. IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, is also studying the loss of income, along with the loss of identity and traditional practices to draft a compensation plan.
The alarming number of fires in the Brazilian Amazon [09/08/2016]
- The sharp decrease in the annual rates of forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon is celebrated worldwide. The trend started in 2005 after a peak in deforestation the year before. - However, the figures are not so bright when it comes to forest fires, and few people are talking about that. - The number of fires in the Brazilian Amazon is alarming, and that was especially true in 2015, when a sharp increase in forest fires occurred.
Rainforest destruction rises in the Brazilian Amazon [09/03/2016]
- Newly released data suggest that rainforest destruction in the Brazilian Amazon has reached the highest level since 2009. - In the past week, Brazil's National Space Research Institute (INPE) and Imazon, a Brazilian NGO, have independently released data from their near-real-time deforestation monitoring programs. - The revelations raise concern that Brazil’s historic progress in reducing deforestation in the Amazon rainforest may be waning.
Planned Tapajós industrial waterway a potential environmental disaster [08/26/2016]
- The recent Brazilian government decision to cancel the São Luiz do Tapajós mega-dam was hailed as a victory by indigenous groups and environmentalists. But a new book describes the serious threats still facing the Tapajós basin. - Brazil’s Tapajós is one of the most biodiverse and culturally rich regions in Amazonia. But it is also an area being aggressively eyed by agribusiness and the mining industry for extensive infrastructure development — to include a vast industrial waterway and major hydropower projects. - The book, called Ocekadi (meaning “the river of our place” in the Munduruku indigenous language), includes 25 articles by academic researchers, and offers the most comprehensive analysis yet available of Tapajós environmental and social assets, and the threats facing them. - Ocekadi is being published in Portuguese by International Rivers and Brazil’s Universidade Federal do Oeste do Pará (UFOPA).
Raging Amazon forest fires threaten uncontacted indigenous tribe [08/23/2016]
- Small groups of Guajajara Indians, the Awá’s neighbors in the Amazon, reportedly battled the blaze for days without the assistance of government agents until Brazil’s Environment Ministry launched a fire-fighting operation two weeks ago. - Some 50 percent of the forest cover in the territory was destroyed by forest fires started by loggers in late 2015, and the Environment Ministry has warned that the situation is “even worse this year.” - Despite illegal loggers having destroyed more than 30 percent of the forest in Awá territory, the land contains some of the eastern Amazon’s last remaining patches of rainforest.
Why is Brazil regressing in its fight against deforestation? [08/12/2016]
- Last July, the Brazilian Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, Blairo Maggi presented in Washington D.C. investment opportunities to expand Brazilian agribusiness. - Before deciding, investors are required to assess the risks of the investments. Given that the investments involve the Brazilian Amazon, investors certainly would focus special attention to environmental and social risks. - What analysts would find in the Amazon? - This post is a commentary — the views expressed are those of the author.
Promised US$1 billion in Belo Monte dam compensation largely unpaid? [08/12/2016]
- In a 2011 binding agreement with Brazil’s federal government, the Norte Energia Consortium agreed to pay US$1 billion to Altamira residents, including 9 indigenous groups, in compensation for the Belo Monte dam. Little has been paid to date, says the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), an NGO watchdog group, while the consortium responds that it is meeting its obligations. - Belo Monte significantly impacted Altamira’s environment and people, requiring the diversion of 20 kilometers of the Xingu River, reducing the stream’s flow by 80 percent over a 100 kilometer stretch, and dislocating indigenous people and other area residents; 8,000 families were displaced by the dam. - According to critics, only 15 percent of required compensation to protect indigenous lands has been spent, while Norte Energia has failed to sufficiently secure entry points to indigenous lands, per their agreement, a failure that facilitated the entrance of illegal loggers who cut significant amounts of timber on Indian lands. - Promised Altamira garbage collection infrastructure has yet to be put in place. While an underground sewage system and water distribution system have both been completed by the consortium, no houses have been connected to the system. Norte Energia argues that it is the city’s responsibility to make the connections.
In Latin America, environmentalists are an endangered species [08/11/2016]
- At least 185 environmental activists were murdered worldwide in 2015, nearly two-thirds of them in Latin America, according to a June report from the U.K.-based NGO Global Witness. - The reasons for the killings vary, but many are related to a surge in development in remote parts of the region. There, governments have been granting concessions for hydroelectric dams, mines, and other projects, often without consulting indigenous or farming communities already occupying the land. - With little government assistance, some members of these communities are opposing environmental destruction on their own and paying the ultimate price.
Using Big Data to combat the illegal timber trade in Brazil [08/10/2016]
- BVRio’s analysis found that more than 40 percent of the forest management operations in the Brazilian states of Pará and Mato Grosso between 2007 and 2015 were at medium to high risk of having involved severe breaches of the law. - Only 10 percent of the cases examined by BVRio showed no indications of irregularities. - BVRio is already looking to expand its Big Data tracking system to tropical forest countries in West Africa and Southeast Asia, starting with Ghana and Indonesia.
Olympics to begin amid rising violence against Brazil’s indigenous people [08/04/2016]
- Indigenous leaders and human rights advocates held a press briefing on August 4, the day before the Olympic Games’ opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro. - They highlighted new data showing that 33 indigenous people and 23 environmental activists had been killed in Brazil this year. - They pointed to government turmoil and the erosion of protections for activists and indigenous communities as factors in the violence.
Environmental licence for São Luiz do Tapajós hydroelectric dam denied [08/04/2016]
- Ibama, Brazil’s environmental agency has denied an environmental license for the proposed 8,000-megawatt São Luiz do Tapajós dam on the Tapajós River in the Amazon — a decision seen as a victory by the Munduruku Indians and environmentalists. - The Amazon mega-dam would have required the flooding of Munduruku territory known as the Sawré Muybu — a land claim first recognized by Funai, the federal indigenous affairs agency, in April of this year. The Brazilian constitution forbids such uses of indigenous lands. - The decision will not likely end controversy in the region. The Brazilian government has major development plans for the Tapajós river basin, including 43 dams on the Tapajós River and its tributaries, ten of which are considered priority, to be completed by 2022.
Tapajós dams may bring fish kills, species loss, mercury contamination [08/02/2016]
- Brazil plans to construct seven hydroelectric dams on the Tapajós River and its tributaries — a part of the Amazon known for its exceptional aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity. The São Luiz do Tapajós hydropower plant is the largest and first proposed dam. - An Environmental Impact Study (EIS) commissioned by the federal energy agency Eletrobrás in conjunction with the companies hoping to build the São Luiz do Tapajós dam says the project will cause a quick disappearance of habitat, loss of animals and reduction of their populations. Still, the EIS concludes the dam will cause little environmental impact. - In an independent analysis of the EIS commissioned by Greenpeace, scientists criticized the methodology and results of the document, noting that it failed to identify or misidentified - Because so little is known about Tapajós aquatic ecology, there is an urgent need for more studies before building begins, say experts. The hydroelectric project could jeopardize commercial fish species, the pink river dolphin, giant otter and black caiman. One fear is that the reservoir will concentrate dangerous levels of toxic mercury, poisoning fish and people.
Deficient water systems, poor sanitation driving Zika in Brazil [07/29/2016]
- Public health experts have found a strong link between inadequate water and sanitation systems among the poor of the developing world, and major outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika, dengue, and chikungunya. - Recife, a city of 3.7 million, is the epicenter of Brazil’s Zika virus outbreak. One factor driving the disease is that the city — built on a mangrove swamp — has deficient sanitation infrastructure, making the urban center a perfect breeding ground for mosquitos. - Half of Brazil´s population has inadequate sewage services, and 10 percent have none at all. While Brazil has repeatedly proposed enhancing its water and sanitation systems, lack of funds, bureaucratic red tape and corruption have combined to stall improvements. - Brazil has confirmed over 1,600 microcephaly cases linked to Zika. Whether the incidence of Zika, dengue, chikungunya and other mosquito-borne diseases rises or falls, partly depends on how well Brazil addresses basic public health infrastructure problems.
Rio Olympic organizers fail to meet all environmental goals [07/28/2016]
- Rio de Janeiro, host of the 2016 Olympic Games, is plagued by waterways polluted with garbage, raw sewage and untreated hospital waste. - In 2009, as part of its Olympics Legacy commitment, Brazil’s government dedicated itself to cleaning up Rio’s rivers and estuary in time for the Games. That initiative — conducted by federal, state and city government, as well as private companies, has been a near total failure. - As a result, participants in Olympic sailing and swimming events may be exposed to dangerous levels of unhealthy viruses and bacteria. - Of particular concern: scientists have found superbugs — antibiotic resistant bacteria — in the waters at several locations where aquatic events are being held.
Samarco chief faces criminal investigation over collapsed Brazil dam [07/27/2016]
- On November 5, 2015, an iron mining tailings dam, owned by the Samarco company, a joint venture of Vale and Austro-British BHP Billiton, collapsed, killing 19 people and sending a toxic sludge flood into Brazil’s Rio Doce, polluting its 530-mile length to the Atlantic Ocean. - Brazilian prosecutors have now announced a criminal investigation of Samarco CEO Roberto Carvalho in connection with the disaster, its aftermath, and the company’s response. IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, has issued a technical report stating that Samarco has, so far, fulfilled none of the 11 emergency recovery measures the agency had ordered. - The mining accident — the largest environmental disaster in Brazil’s history — affected a watershed inhabited by 1.6 million people, disrupting its economy, polluting drinking water supplies, contaminating crops and irrigation water, ruining the livelihoods of commercial fishermen, and destroying outdoor recreation opportunities for families and children.
On eve of Olympics, Amazon deforestation surges in Brazil [07/25/2016]
- Nearly two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest is located in Brazil, making it the biggest component in the region's deforestation rate. - New data from Imazon, indicates that deforestation in June 2016 hit the highest level in nearly 8 years. - Dry conditions and Brazil's weak currency may be factors in the rising deforestation rate after years of declining forest loss.
NASA images show the Amazon could be facing an intense wildfire season this year [07/15/2016]
- Conditions created by the strong El Niño event that warmed up Pacific waters in 2015 and early 2016 altered rainfall patterns around the world. - In the Amazon basin, that meant reduced rainfall during the wet season, plunging some parts of the region into severe drought. - Per NASA’s Amazon fire forecast, the wildfire risk for July to October now exceeds the risk in 2005 and 2010 — the last time the region experienced severe drought and wildfires raged across large swaths of the rainforest.
Scientists compile list of all known Amazon tree species, say it could take three centuries to find the rest [07/14/2016]
- After sifting through more than half a million museum specimens collected in the Amazon between the years 1707 and 2015 (530,025 specimens, to be precise), the researchers were left with a list of 11,676 known tree species in 1,225 genera and 140 families. - Nigel Pitman, the Senior Conservation Ecologist at Chicago’s Field Museum and a member of the team, said in a statement that that number — 11,676 known species — suggests the 2013 estimate of 16,000 total species is most likely accurate, which would leave about 4,000 of the rarest Amazonian trees still to be discovered and described to science. - The scientists hope that the checklist they’ve compiled of Amazonian tree species will become a valuable resource for ecologists studying the rainforest.
Fish kills at Amazon’s Belo Monte dam point up builder’s failures [07/13/2016]
- In April, the Norte Energia consortium — builder of the now operational Belo Monte dam — was fined US$10.8 million for the death of 16.2 million tons of fish. Another flurry of fish deaths has occurred since then, and fishermen fear more to come. - Critics say the dam’s construction has had negative impacts on the Tabuleiro do Embaubal, one of the most important turtle breeding sites in the Amazon basin; 20,000 Giant Amazon River Turtles (Podocnemis expansa) lay their eggs there annually. - The dam’s builder and scientists agree Belo Monte will drastically curtail the annual floods that force the Xingu River over its banks and into the rainforests, harming aquatic connectivity and likely impacting genetic diversity and ecosystem health. Extreme drought due to climate change adds to that risk. - Indigenous and traditional fisheries suffered steep declines during the building of the dam, with fishermen and scientists noting the disappearance of important commercial fish species such as the piraíba. Those losses could continue in future.
Even reduced-impact logging in the Amazon may be unsustainable [07/13/2016]
- Brazil accounts for 85 percent of all native neotropical forest roundlog production, but the sustainability of timber harvests beyond the initial, typically selective rounds of logging, remains poorly understood, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE today. - A team of researchers with the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK studied 824 harvest areas in private and community-owned forests scattered throughout the 124-million-hectare (more than 306-million-acre) Brazilian state of Pará, which is the source of almost half of all timber production in the Brazilian Amazon. - They say their results show that managing yields of selectively-logged forests is crucial for the long-term health of forest biodiversity as well as the financial viability of local industries.
Amazon turtles imperilled by dams, mercury pollution and illegal trade [07/12/2016]
- The Brazilian Amazon is home to 17 turtle species, all of which are under pressure from overexploitation, the illegal wildlife trade, widespread hydropower dam construction, and mercury contamination. Deforestation, agricultural development and climate change are other looming threats. - The Brazilian government’s Amazon Turtle Program focuses its conservation efforts on the Giant Amazon River Turtle (Podocnemis expansa), plus the Yellow-spotted River Turtle (P. unifilis), and Six-tuberculed River Turtle (P. sextuberculata). The Wildlife Conservation Society works with these same species and is also conserving the Red-headed Amazon River Turtle (P. erythrocephala), and Big-headed Amazon River Turtle (Peltocephalus dumerilianus). - Amazon dams — especially mega-dams like the just built Belo Monte dam and the proposed Luiz do Tapajós dam — alter ecosystems and disrupt the annual flood cycles that inundate lowland Amazon forests, putting turtles and other species at risk. - Mercury contamination of Amazon rivers due to illegal gold mining is a major threat to turtles. Researchers say there is an urgent need for the Brazilian government to develop and implement guidelines for the assessment of mercury toxicity in Amazon reptiles, especially turtles.
Pre-Columbian Amazon settlement primarily ate fish — more sustainable? [07/08/2016]
- A study of the Central Amazon’s Hatahara settlement found that, circa 750-1230 AD, 76 percent of the animals people ate were fish and just 4 percent were mammal — very different from American / European prehistoric groups who ate more meat than fish. - Thirty-seven different fish taxa were identified in the Hatahara samples, indicating that the people of that time were exploiting a much more diverse spectrum of food species than today, perhaps making their fishing and dietary habits more sustainable. - One mystery: just one river turtle genus (Podocnemis) dominated the reptile diet, even though a diversity of turtle taxa can be found in the region. - While these results are intriguing, more study is needed at more locations (inland, interfluvial and wetland settlements) to arrive at a regional understanding of available animal resources and the diets of Pre-Columbian Amazon settlements over time.
Illegal gold mining causing mercury contamination in indigenous groups [07/07/2016]
- Conflict between gold miners and indigenous people in Brazil is common, with 134 Indians killed in 2015 in mining-related disputes. Mercury contamination of Amazon rivers is a less visible, but no less serious threat to the lives of Brazilian Indians. - A recent study looked at mercury contamination in the Yanomami and Ye’kuana peoples in northern Roraima — Brazil’s least populated state and part of the Amazon. The researchers found dangerous levels of mercury in the bodies of those living closest to illegal gold mining operations. - More than 92 percent of Yanomami Indians tested in Aracaçá (the closest community to illegal mining sites) had unsafe rates of mercury in their bodies, while in the Papiú region (located fartherest from illegal mining sites), just 6 percent were mercury contaminated. Researchers conclude that the variation in rates is due to the amount of exposure the various indigenous groups have had to illegal mining.
Small time land speculators profit in advance of Amazon dams [07/05/2016]
- Arlindo de Oliveira used to be a bricklayer for various Amazon dam construction consortiums. Over the years, he befriended company middle management and received inside information on dam site plans. - For the past eight years, he has made big money as a land speculator, buying property within the flood zone of a proposed dam, then getting compensated for the loss of the land when it is flooded by the hydroelectric project. - Oliveira lives within doomed riverside communities and lobbies actively for each dam, trying to convince locals its worthwhile to give up their properties. When the dam is built Oliveira moves on to the next big dam project. - He’s done this four times: on the Madeira River, where the Jirau and Santo Antonio dams were built, on the Xingu River, where the Belo Monte dam was constructed, and now in the path of the proposed São Luiz do Tapajós dam,
Forest degradation in Brazil can have just as drastic an impact on biodiversity as deforestation [06/29/2016]
- Though reducing deforestation is the chief objective of most conservation strategies in tropical rainforest countries — and rightly so — the condition of the remaining forest is rarely measured or controlled by policy initiatives. - A new study in Nature finds that in the state of Pará, which comprises 25 percent of the Brazilian Amazon, road building, selective logging, wildfires, and other disturbances have reduced biodiversity as much as clearing 92,000 to 139,000 square kilometers (about 35,500 to 53,700 square miles) of pristine forest. - Most alarmingly, it appears that those species that are under the greatest threat of extinction are suffering the most from human disturbances.
Amazonian catfish’s 5,000-mile migration endangered by dams [06/21/2016]
- Brachyplatystoma rousseauxii, a commercially valuable catfish species and an apex predator, grows to 3 meters long. Scientists have long suspected that it makes an extraordinary migration from the Amazon headwaters to the Amazon Basin and back. - Now researchers — using an innovative technique that examines the chemical composition of adult catfish ear bones — have found proof of the 8,000-kilometer journey. The fish can drift as far downstream as the Amazon estuary, then swim back to the headwaters stream where they began, or to other Amazon tributaries. - Unfortunately for the catfish, more than 400 dams have been built, are under construction, or are planned for the Amazon Basin and Andes feeder streams. Global research has shown that long homing migrations by fish are incompatible with dams. - The researchers are urging governments in six Amazon Basin countries to reconsider and redesign their Amazon dam plans, or risk losing this natural wonder — along with seeing negative impacts to the entire freshwater food chain.
The prosecutor who lassoed deforestation [06/15/2016]
- The reporters found local characters reminiscent of the period in the 70s and 80s when the federal government encouraged the occupation of the Amazon through deforestation. - They discovered firsthand the distinct culture of the immigrants who colonized the Southeast of Pará. - And they revealed how the actions of one particular prosecutor catalyzed the adoption of a program so effective that it has become a major tool for working towards the goal of zero deforestation in the Amazon.
“Species X:” The blue-eyed dove rediscovered in a global deforestation hotspot [06/09/2016]
- Even as scientists are still getting reacquainted with the species, they’re hoping to come up with a plan to save it from disappearing once again. - The researchers are not releasing the exact location where they found the species or even the recording of its song that was played at the Brazilian Birdwatching Festival until they have finished drawing up and implementing the conservation plan. - The Blue-eyed Ground-dove is found only in the Cerrado, a wooded savanna ecosystem in central and east Brazil that might be just as endangered as its newly rediscovered inhabitant.
Is Brazil’s threatened bird situation Latin America’s future? [06/08/2016]
- Brazil is the canary in the coal mine for the neotropics, indicating the potential future if the rest of the developing world follows the globally inherited pathway to success, Bennett writes. - Brazil has the highest number of threatened birds in the world with IUCN listing 164 threatened bird species divided between 24 Critically Endangered, 45 Endangered and 95 Vulnerable. - "In most countries, a Critically Endangered bird is instantly the top conservation priority. But in Brazil, with so many birds on the brink of extinction, conservationists must subdivided Critically Endangered into emergency, stable, and cannot find."
Rio Doce grassroots response arises out of Fundão mining disaster [06/08/2016]
- On November 5, 2015, an iron mining tailings dam, owned by the Samarco company, a joint venture of Vale and Austro-British BHP Billiton, collapsed in Brazil killing 19 people and sending a toxic sludge flood into the Rio Doce, polluting its length to the Atlantic Ocean. - The disaster contaminated the drinking water of thousands of people living in river communities, wrecked the livelihoods of fishermen and small scale gold miners, ruined recreational activities for the region’s children, and disrupted lives across the region. - Critics say the government and corporate responses have been slow and very uneven in their effectiveness, with aid coming for some who have been impacted, while the needs of others have largely been ignored. - A strong grassroots movement has arisen, with many existing and newly arising groups taking a wide variety of actions, including the founding of a radio station and newspaper to report on the crisis, acts of civil disobedience, informational workshops and protests, and even a group looking at long-term sustainable solutions.
Arara Indians in Brazilian Amazon finally given right to their land [06/06/2016]
- Before the 1970’s, groups of Arara Indians lived a nomadic life in the Amazon rainforest along the Iriri River and had little contact with the modern industrialized world. - Brazil’s military government pushed a highway through the heart of Arara territory and invited in settlers from northeastern Brazil who violently colonized what had been the Indians’ homeland. - The Arara people were decimated by the road and by the invasion, and impacted yet again with the building of the Belo Monte mega-dam. - This Spring, Brazil established the Indigenous Territory of Cachoeira Seca, covering 733,688 hectares (2,833 square miles) as a safe haven for the remaining Arara to rebuild their lives and culture. But illegal loggers still threaten their existence, and it remains to be seen if the new government of Michel Temer will actively protect the territory.
Dams threaten future of Amazonian biodiversity major new study warns [06/06/2016]
- An international team of biologists has studied the past and current impacts on biodiversity of 191 existing Amazon dams, and the potential impacts of 246 dams planned or under construction. - Researchers identified negative interactions between dam construction, mining, industrial agriculture, commerce and transportation, climate change, and human migration that would likely seriously impact biodiversity and ecosystem services. - Aquatic and terrestrial species that especially rely on fast-flowing river segments for habitat are greatly at risk, because such sites are the most targeted for hydropower projects. - Solutions that could better protect biodiversity include a move away from mega-dams and other big infrastructure projects toward smaller dams; more careful hydro project siting; more wind and solar projects; and a more rigorous planning process that carefully considers environmental, indigenous, social and financial costs.
10 reasons to be optimistic for forests [06/05/2016]
- It's easy to be pessimistic about the state of the world's forests. - Yet all hope is not lost. There are remain good reasons for optimism when it comes to saving the world's forests. - On the occasion of World Environment Day 2016 (June 5), the United Nations’ "day" for raising awareness and encouraging action to protect the planet, here are 10 forest-friendly trends to watch.
1.6 million Brazilians struggle to recover from Fundão toxic waste spill [06/03/2016]
- On November 5, 2015, the Fundão iron mine tailings dam failed, pouring 50 million tons of ore and toxic waste into Brazil’s Rio Doce, polluting the river and croplands, killing fish and wildlife, and contaminating drinking water with toxic sludge for its 853 kilometer (530 mile) length. - Access to water has remained critically difficult in Rio Doce communities since the industrial mining accident, and a regional drought is worsening the crisis. - Rio Doce valley inhabitants are frustrated by what they see as a slow response to the environmental disaster by the dam’s owner, Samarco, a joint venture of Vale and BHP Billiton, two of the world’s largest mining companies, and also by the Brazilian government. - Roughly 1.6 million people continue struggling not only with the health risks associated with heavy metals in their water, but also with a growing lack of faith in the public institutions that are supposed to keep them safe, and in the large industrial corporations that share their communities.
New Rio Olympic golf course harmed environment, say critics [05/31/2016]
- Environmentalists unsuccessfully fought a new Rio golf course that the city claimed was required to put on the 2016 Olympics. - The R$ 60 million golf course, which includes a 22-story high rise infringed on the sandbank habitat of the Marapendi Environmental Protection Area (EPA). - Rio officials countered critics by commissioning a report that denied habitat damage, noting that Brazil’s EPA designation legally allows for human development within this type of protected area. - The golf course controversy is just one of many swirling around the Rio Olympics, including concern over the sewage polluted bay where sailing events are to be held. Federal investigators recently expanded a probe into possible corruption involving staging of the event, set for August.
Zika: from obscure virus to global health emergency [05/25/2016]
- Cutting edge scientific sleuthing is underway to determine the Zika virus’ environmental, biological and genetic background, to detect the current scope of the epidemic, and to develop new diagnostics and vaccines. - Scientists have found wild Brazilian monkeys infected with Zika, so the animals (often kept as pets) may act as a disease reservoir. Also, Zika’s vector, the Aedes aegypti mosquito (eradicated in the 1950s), is back in big numbers and has evolved to be tougher and more adaptable. - Zika research is being hampered by difficult conditions at the heart of the epidemic in Brazil — conditions ranging from an unresponsive bureaucracy, a presidential impeachment, a huge national corruption scandal, and a seriously faltering economy. - There are concerns that if Zika — which took the world by surprise in 2015 — is not rapidly contained, it could be spread globally by athletes and spectators arriving to attend Rio’s summer Olympics this August.
First-ever photos of long-lost blue-eyed bird from Brazil [05/24/2016]
- A long lost bird has been sighted in Brazil after a 75-year absence - The Blue-eyed Ground-dove's (Columbina cyanopis) is found only in Brazil's cerrado. - Conservationists are now scrambling to save the species.
Five technologies help thwart illegal logging by tracing wood’s origin [05/23/2016]
- The illegal timber trade costs legal forest products industry actors billions of dollars in lost revenue, so governments and businesses are developing various tools to more effectively track timber. - Tools that use smartphones, big data, and even high-tech pixie dust help institutions collect and share data, manage wood inventories, track timber movements through the supply chain, evaluate the traceability and compliance of timber sellers, and promote transparency at all levels. - These technologies and systems help governments and businesses better track timber supplies and prevent illegally sourced timber from entering supply chains, though they must also translate data into action.
Dams flood 36,000 hectares of Brazilian rainforest [05/23/2016]
- The flooding is linked to two hydropower projects on the Madeira River in the western state of Rondônia. - Much of the flooding occurred in primary rainforest that was once part of a national park. - The deforestation has released millions of tons carbon dioxide. - Biologists say that the dams could be harming species of catfish that migrate long distances to breeding grounds, as well as changing nutrient flows in the river.
The top 10 most biodiverse countries [05/22/2016]
- Today (May 22) is World Biodiversity Day. - In celebration, below is a look at the world's ten most biodiverse countries as measured by species richness. - This list takes a simplified approach, created a weighted index using five groups of animals — amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles — and one group of plants — vascular plants.
Proposed Amazon dam attracts illegal loggers, threatens local farmers [05/19/2016]
- Dam construction in remote parts of the Amazon is historically proceeded by increased lawlessness as illegal loggers and squatters flock to the project site to cut timber and make land grabs from longtime farmers and other settlers. - The proposed São Luiz do Tapajós hydropower plant on the Tapajós River has seen a rapid uptick in criminal activity, as loggers and squatters try to force residents from their lands, and make homesteaders take part in illegal logging schemes. - Federal and state law enforcement is overstretched in the region, with just 60 personnel to cover an area three times the size of Florida. So the homesteaders are poorly protected from threats and violence. - Rapid development of dams, canals, roads, railways and ports is aimed at turning the Tapajós basin into a major soy and grain transportation hub — a transformation likely to uproot the region’s long time small landholders.
Conservation’s people problem [05/17/2016]
- Since its beginnings, conservation has had a people problem. An ugly history of marginalizing indigenous and local communities living in ecosystems designated for protection has made re-gaining trust and building relationships with these groups one of the toughest aspects of conservation today. - In Part 4 of Conservation, Divided, veteran Mongabay reporter Jeremy Hance explores how the field has shifted to embrace local communities as partners in conservation — and the work that remains to be done. - Conservation, Divided is an in-depth four-part series investigating how the field of conservation has changed over the last 30 years — and the challenges it faces moving into an uncertain future. Hance completed the series over the course of eight months. Stories are running weekly between April 26 and May 17.
Tapajós dam puts newly discovered species, indigenous people at risk [05/17/2016]
- The proposed Sao Luiz do Tapajós mega-dam, in the state of Pará, will have a maximum generating capacity of 8,040 megawatts, and if it is ever built, will cost an estimated R$ 23 billion (US$ 5.8 billion). - The dam’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) identified eight mammals new to science and endemic to the region that will be flooded — these include a new monkey, marsupial, rodents and bats. - The EIA has been deeply criticized by conservationists and scientists, who loudly deny its conclusion that the dam will have no major environmental impacts. Critics also note the urgent need to evaluate not just the impacts of this single dam, but those of at least 6 others to be built in conjunction with it. - The fate of these new species, their habitat, and the indigenous and river people who rely on them for survival is unknown: Brazil’s economic crisis, president Rousseff’s impeachment, and a new conservative interim government has put infrastructure projects such as dams in limbo — for now.
Keeping Amazon fish connected is key to their conservation [05/13/2016]
- Amazon basin fish species living in lakes, floodplain forests and river systems need a high degree of connectivity to stay genetically diverse and healthy, but this connectivity is threatened by proposed dams and increased drought due to climate change — both of which threaten rainy season flood cycles. - A new study finds that understanding the dynamics of Amazon metapopulations —subgroups separated from other subgroups in lakes and river systems, which periodically mix during flood seasons or migrations — is critical to conservation. - Unless Brazil’s federal government and communities take freshwater conservation seriously — protecting interlinked lake, floodplain and river systems — commercial fisheries, and even forest diversity (due to fish seed dispersal) could be seriously at risk.
Brazilian soy industry extends moratorium on deforestation indefinitely [05/09/2016]
- The Brazilian soy industry has indefinitely extended a landmark moratorium on rainforest clearing for soybean production. - The agreement, first signed in 2006 after a Greenpeace campaign, had previously been renewed on an annual basis, regularly raising fears among environmentalists that it might not be renewed despite its success in helping curb deforestation for soy production in the Brazilian Amazon. - Brazilian soy exports were worth $31 billion in 2015.
Brazil is scaling back its protected area network and the short-term effect on forests might surprise you [05/05/2016]
- A team led by researchers at the University of Maryland created a comprehensive spatial database and documented all enacted and proposed PADDD events since 1900 to get a sense of how the program was impacting forests. - They identified 67 enacted PADDD events that affected 112,477 square kilometers (nearly 28 million acres) of land and eliminated 6 percent of Brazil's total protected areas. - “Contrary to previous research, we did not find a significant causal effect of enacted PADDD events on short-term deforestation rates,” the authors of the study write. “[R]ather, short-term deforestation rates in PADDDed forests appear correlated with broader patterns of deforestation.”
Brazil’s Congress moves ahead to end nation’s environmental safeguards [05/05/2016]
- A Brazilian Senate Commission is quickly, and surreptitiously, moving forward a constitutional amendment (PEC 65) that would end the need for environmental assessment approvals for public works projects in Brazil ranging from Amazon dams to roads and canals, and oil infrastructure. - PEC 65 would devastate Brazil’s environment and indigenous groups, taking away legal protections now guaranteed in the building of new infrastructure projects, say blindsided environmental groups who are mobilizing to stop the amendment’s passage. - Senator Blairo Maggi, who put forward the amendment, owns companies that produce and export soybeans, and that provide soy sector infrastructure (constructing terminals, highways and waterways). - Maggi would likely benefit financially from the building of a canal system able to transport soy products from Brazil’s interior along with dams proposed for the Tapajós basin — the first of which, the Sao Luiz do Tapajós dam, saw its environmental license cancelled in April by IBAMA, Brazil’s licensing agency.
How big donors and corporations shape conservation goals [05/03/2016]
- In Part 2 of Conservation, Divided, veteran Mongabay reporter Jeremy Hance explores how major donors at foundations, governments, and corporations are pushing conservation groups to adopt a human-centric approach known as “new conservation” that some critics say leaves wildlife and wild lands out in the cold. - Meanwhile, cozy relationships with environmentally destructive corporations have prompted long-running arguments that some of the world’s biggest conservation groups have lost sight of their environmental missions. Yet big conservation and corporations are closer than ever. - Conservation, Divided is an in-depth four-part series investigating how the field of conservation has changed over the last 30 years — and the challenges it faces moving into an uncertain future. Hance completed the series over the course of eight months. Stories are running weekly between April 26 and May 17.
Booming soy industry could threaten Brazil’s climate commitments, researchers warn [05/03/2016]
- Brazil was one of the 175 countries that signed the Paris Climate Change Agreement on April 22. - Brazil has become a major exporter of soy over the past decade, supplying as much as one-third of global trade in the commodity, and officials said last week that they expect a record soybean crop this year. - Thanks to increasing profits from soybeans, farmers not only have a greater incentive to expand their production and clear new areas, but they also have the investment capital they need to keep growing, researchers said — and at a time when the political will to enact new environmental protections is weakening.
Building roads for agricultural expansion in Brazil is aiding the spread of insects that harm crops [04/29/2016]
- Scientists studied an explosion in the population of leaf-cutter ants along roadsides in the Brazilian Cerrado. - Though it is an iconic and ecologically important species, leaf-cutter ants can cause millions of dollars in crop losses each year even when highly toxic pesticides are in use. - The researchers are warning of severe ecological and economic impacts as new roads in the Cerrado facilitate the expansion of leaf-cutters into more cropland.
Conventional survey techniques underestimate Amazon biodiversity: report [04/25/2016]
- A study led by Stanford University scientists found that conventional surveying techniques have not only led to some Amazon animal populations being underestimated, but have even missed entire species altogether. - The researchers tapped the expert knowledge of local Indigenous hunters while performing a conventional line transect survey as a control study in order to reach that conclusion. - The researchers say their results suggest that sign surveys may be the most efficient method for management-oriented studies conducted in large, remote areas, particularly for studies focused on community-based wildlife management.
Scientists just discovered an Amazon reef system in an area targeted for oil exploration [04/22/2016]
- Extending from the southern tip of French Guiana to the Maranhão State of Brazil, the extensive sponge and coral reef system is 1,000-km (600-mile) long and unlike any tropical reef that has ever been studied. - The scientists who made the discovery have published a study in the journal Science detailing their findings. - The authors say that the unique reef system could provide insights into how coral ecosystems might respond to accelerating global warming.
Amazon mega-dam suspended, providing hope for indigenous people and biodiversity [04/22/2016]
- Of the forty new dams proposed for the Tapajós watershed in the Amazon, the largest would be the São Luiz do Tapajós dam with an 8,040 megawatt generating capacity, which would flood almost 400 square kilometers (154 square miles) and deforest 2,200 square kilometers (849 square miles). - The vast Tapajós Basin dam complex would be a disaster to Amazon biodiversity, and wreck indigenous and river communities, but likely fail to meet its energy and investor goals due to escalating drought due to climate change, according to environmentalists. - This Wednesday, IBAMA, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Resources suspended the São Luiz do Tapajós dam’s license, citing its threat to the Indigenous lands of the Munduruku Indians, a land claim just recently recognized by FUNAI, Brazil’s National Indian Foundation. The decision could still be reversed by the Brazilian government — as has happened with other Amazon dams. - IBAMA’s decision comes a week after Greenpeace published an extensive report that enumerates the dam’s many threats to wildlife — including turtles, caimans, giant river otters, and Amazon dolphins — and to the lifestyles and livelihoods of indigenous groups and people living along the Tapajós River.
Iriri River families fight to keep their Amazonian homelands [04/21/2016]
- Brazilian officials are establishing new ecological stations and conserved lands all across the nation, preserves where all human habitation is banned, despite the fact that people may have settled these areas long ago. - One such place is the 3.4 million hectare ecological station, Estaçāo Ecológica da Terra do Meio (EsecTM) on the Iriri River, where 15 Amazon families settled long before the preserve was created. The government wants to expel the colonos (settlers) and beiradeiros (river people). But their sustainable lifestyles may not only be of benefit to the local forests, but also a boon to the rest of the world. - Importantly, the river settlers have developed new crops, including drought resistant types of manioc, plus varieties with different dietary properties, that can be harvested throughout the year at different times. - Some of these new crops are not known to Brazil’s primary agricultural research institute, and could, if cultivated on a large-scale, help feed a hungry world under pressure from climate change and other stressors.
Major Brazilian supermarket chain will stop stocking Amazon-destroying beef [04/14/2016]
- Pão de Açúcar, which operates 832 stores across Brazil, has pledged to stop stocking its shelves with beef linked to Amazon deforestation or produced by enslaved workers by June 30. - Of the deforestation that occurred between 2008 and 2012, more than 60 percent is used as pastureland, according to the Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. - Environmental activists hailed Pão de Açúcar’s decision as a major victory for the Amazon, but cautioned that the hard work still must be done.
Brazil’s Cerrado region: A new tropical deforestation hotspot [04/08/2016]
- A vast tropical savannah comprised of interspersed grasslands and forests, Brazil's Cerrado is being converted for agricultural purposes at an alarming rate, researchers have found. - The researchers used satellite data to determine that cropland within a 45 million-hectare study area has doubled over the past decade, increasing from 1.3 million hectares in 2003 to 2.5 million hectares in 2013. - Crops are replacing the Cerrado’s natural vegetation so quickly, in fact, that the scientists say it could impact the region’s water cycle.
BNDES Speaks Out: giant Brazilian bank offers rare in-depth interview [04/06/2016]
- Founded in the 1950s, BNDES today is the largest development bank in the Americas. Through the decades, serving both the military dictatorship and elected governments, the bank helped elevate Brazil into the world’s top ten economies. - BNDES has predominantly focused its energy and investments on massive public works — dams, the power grid, highways, ports, canals, and other infrastructure construction projects, in both Brazil and across South America. - Criticisms of the bank are many: that it focuses on infrastructure at the expense of the environment, indigenous people and the poor, that it backs huge companies and mega-projects, while smaller programs could do more good for the people of Brazil. - A common critique is that BNDES lacks transparency, and is unwilling to open a productive dialogue with environmental and social NGOs. Here in a Mongabay exclusive, BNDES offers an in-depth interview, laying out its record and point of view.
Indigenous Brazilians under threat from killings and resource projects: UN Rapporteur [04/04/2016]
- United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz visited Brazil in March. - In an end-of-mission statement released on March 17, she concluded that indigenous peoples in Brazil are at risk from an alarming uptick in violence as well as from natural-resource development projects that threaten their existence. - For instance, in 2014, the Catholic Church-affiliated Indigenist Missionary Council documented the killings of 138 indigenous leaders in Brazil, compared to 92 in 2007, according to Tauli-Corpuz. Gunmen opened fire on one indigenous village just hours after Tauli-Corpuz departed. - Noting the government's failure to uphold legal protections enshrined in the Brazilian constitution as well as other factors, such as attempts in Congress to weaken legal protections for indigenous rights and the environment, Tauli-Corpuz warned that “The risk of ethnocidal effects in such contexts cannot be overlooked nor underestimated.”
Report from the Amazon #5: Iriri River folk may be forced from their homes to protect the environment they love [04/04/2016]
- In the early 2000s, the Brazilian government set up a 3.4 million hectare (13,000 square mile) ecological station, the Estaçāo Ecológica da Terra do Meio (EsecTM) along the Iriri River in the Amazon. - The colonos (settlers) and beiradeiros (river people) already living along the river aren’t part of the plan. So the government wants to expel them, even though the people live sustainably, and in harmony with the land. - If scientists study the ways of the colonos and beiradeiros, they may discover elements within their simple lifestyles that could not only aid people living across Amazonia, but tropical farmers around the world. - For example, the scientific team was fascinated by terra preta, rich black earth laid down by indigenous people long ago. It stays fertile, without enrichment, a valued trait where most tropical soils are thin and infertile.
Portable scanners that identify timber species could detect illegal logging [04/04/2016]
- Scientists have harnessed near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) in a portable device to efficiently distinguish among structurally similar wood species. - NIRS could help environmental and trade agents in forests, on roads and at control posts, ports and borders detect unlawful timber in real time, strengthening forest law enforcement around the globe. - With continued testing of the scanners and associated identification model over time, combined with developments such as procedures for offsetting wood humidity, NIRS could facilitate future wood identification.
Amazon journalist endures, despite decades of threats and harassment [03/31/2016]
- Since 1987 Lúcio Flávio Pinto has published his own one-man bimonthly newspaper in the Brazilian state of Pará, Jornal Pessoal. - His independent coverage of the plunder of the Amazon, shady dealings by prominent families, and government corruption earned him national and international accolades over the years, as well as many prominent enemies. - Pinto has continued his work in spite of numerous death threats, a beating, and dozens of lawsuits that have left him in precarious circumstances.
BNDES: a bank loans billions to tame South America’s wild waters [03/29/2016]
- BNDES is funding Brazilian construction companies to build large Amazon basin hydroelectric projects. Critics argue these dams lack sufficient safeguards for the environment, local people and indigenous groups. - More controversial are the bank’s loans for international projects, part of a grand scheme known as IIRSA (Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America). Nearly 600 projects are under the IIRSA umbrella. - IIRSA is exploiting remote natural resources by linking them into the global economy via a vast energy, transportation and communication grid — a plan some say is aimed at making Brazil a major regional power. - BNDES is a key IIRSA funder and has made massive loans to Brazilian construction firms for international projects that some say could do irreparable harm to the continent’s biodiversity.
Report from the Amazon #4: Indigenous and non-indigenous cultures, once hostile to each other, now mingle [03/24/2016]
- A small team of fact-finding researchers heads up the Iriri River, stopping at the village of Tukaya in time to enjoy a festival with the Xipaya Indians and their non-indigenous neighbors, the beiradeiros (river people). - The two cultures, which once loathed each other, are experiencing a slow, contradictory, mixing of traditions. Older Indians sometimes deny and downplay their indigenous heritage, while younger ones embrace and celebrate it. Of course, the younger Indians have also wholeheartedly adopted some modern conveniences, like disposable diapers. - Likewise the beiradeiros: they once enjoyed more privileges than the much abused Indians, but now complain that those living in the federally declared indigenous reserves have more advantages than their riverine counterparts. The day ends symbolically with a festival, as Indians and river people — antagonists long ago — join together in a community dance.
The tech-noses of the wildlife conservation world [03/23/2016]
- A field biologist sheds light on the use of scent dogs to study and conserve species, from armadillos to whales. - While breed doesn’t seem to matter, a key requirement for a conservation dog is its ability to want to work for reward, especially a chance to play. - Maintaining a conservation dog includes housing, feeding, care, and training handlers, but dogs’ success in detecting wildlife samples and the DNA, diet, and hormone information these provide can make them cost-effective.
Conservation giant puts $100M into Amazon protected areas [03/23/2016]
- The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has pledged another $100 million toward efforts to establish and support protected areas across the Andes-Amazon landscape. - The five-year commitment, announced yesterday, builds on the $358 million Moore has already invested in Amazon conservation areas and indigenous territories since 2001. - According to the foundation, the initiative will focus on three "priority strategies": creating and consolidating existing reserves and indigenous territories; supporting policy that incorporates forest protection into land-use planning; and securing funding mechanisms, management systems, and monitoring platforms for national parks.
BNDES funded Belo Monte dam — a mega-project with mega-problems [03/17/2016]
- Massive BNDES infusions of cash have made, and are making, gigantic hydroelectric projects and other major infrastructure possible in the Amazon Basin of Brazil, and in the Andes Amazon of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. - However, mounting evidence shows that some of these projects, while incredibly lucrative for the Brazilian companies that construct them, may be financially, environmentally and socially unsound. - A case in point is the just completed Belo Monte dam, a huge hydroelectric power station on the Xingu River, a major Amazon tributary. Belo Monte received one of the largest loans in BNDES history, but much about the project, from the way it was conceived to its implementation, to its environmental and social impacts, has been controversial — and critics say that the dam could end up being Brazil’s biggest BNDES-funded boondoggle.
Report from the Amazon #3: Iriri River offers up examples of sustainable and unsustainable business [03/16/2016]
- A fact-finding trip heads up the Iriri River and lands at the small river port of Maribel to talk with locals who are surprisingly willing to give up their homes for the establishment of a new indigenous reserve — provided the government follows through with resettlement and compensation promises. - At the confluence of the Nova River, a small family-run Brazil nut processing center operates legally and sustainably within the Iriri River Extractive Reserve — a conservation territory in which limited designated economic activity is allowed. Their 20-family business utilizes the forest without destroying it. - The research team stops to visit the ruins of Brazilian businessman Julio Vito Pentagna Guimarāes’s once vast cattle ranch, now returned to rainforest. He was notorious for his brutality and for committing one of the biggest Amazon land frauds ever. The government seized the ranch and turned it into an ecological station; he faces civil and criminal charges.
Toddler’s murder in Brazil unveils widespread violence against country’s indigenous [03/16/2016]
- What's remarkable about the attacks against the indigenous population, is the fact that the murder of an indigenous toddler has generated so little outrage within Brazilian society. - For many years in Brazil, a negative construct surrounded indigenous people: they were seen as lazy individuals, who didn't like to work. - Some critics argue that yet another type of violence faced by indigenous peoples is the failure of the government to act.
BNDES has long history of loans to gigantic construction companies [03/14/2016]
- Billions in BNDES loans fuelled the meteoric rise of the Four Sisters — a quartet of mega-construction companies that have dominated Brazilian politics for decades. These companies have been implicated in bribery, kickbacks, rigged bids, inflated contracts, social and environmental harm. This overwhelming Brazilian corruption led to a protest on March 13, 2016 in which more than a million people took to the street around the nation. - As the development bank experienced rapid growth, so too did the Four Sisters, into which it poured low interest subsidized loans for gigantic infrastructure projects both in Brazil and across South America — including Amazon dams, roads, railways, ports and more. - The Four Sisters — Odebrecht, OAS, Camargo Corrêa and Andrade Gutierrez — have long been accused of financial crimes, with former Odebrecht CEO Marcelo Odebrecht sentenced to 19-years for corruption last week. BNDES, though it has loaned billions to the firms, has not been charged with any offenses.
Report from the Amazon #2: Newly created conservation unit could push long-time residents from their lands [03/11/2016]
- The recently created Estaçāo Ecológica da Terra do Meio (EsecTM, Terra do Meio Ecological Station) covers 3.4 million hectares (over 13,000 square miles), between the Amazon basin’s Xingu and Iriri rivers, and was created to discourage land grabs and violence. But the preserve has accidentally threatened the livelihoods and homes of families living there. - The Altamira Public Prosecutor is working to protect the lands of this small group of beiradeiros. She sent a fact-finding team upriver to determine if the families’ small-scale economic activities are negatively impacting the ecosystem, or if, as some scientists suspect, their lifestyle has reshaped and even benefited the environment. - If the 15 families are doing negligible harm, the prosecutor will ask the local judge to allow them to stay. A favorable decision could reverberate throughout the Amazon. It would legally challenge environmental protection as the sole land use priority inside Brazil’s ecological stations and other preserves, and recognize value of low impact human use there.
Mato Grosso leading the fight against climate change and deforestation (commentary) [03/10/2016]
- If we slow tropical forest clearing and degradation while promoting their recovery, humanity could potentially reduce global carbon pollution by a quarter or more, buying precious time to wean our energy systems from fossil fuels. - Mato Grosso provides important lessons on how this opportunity could be seized. - This post is a commentary - the views expressed are those of the author.
Giant development bank’s social and environmental safeguards called into question by critics [03/09/2016]
- After a period of rapid growth, Brazil’s BNDES is today the largest development bank in the Americas. It has poured billions of dollars into big infrastructure projects, including immense hydroelectric dams across the Amazon basin, seen by many critics and indigenous groups as causing great harm to local riverine communities and the environment. - From 2003-2011, President Lula da Silva used BNDES to make large loans to “Brazilian champions,” big companies such as the Four Sisters (a quartet of giant Brazilian construction firms), and Petrobrás (the state-run oil company). Those firms developed close ties with political parties, setting the stage for the now ongoing Lava Jato (Car Wash) corruption scandal. - In recent weeks, former president Lula was detained by police over possible bribes and kickbacks channeled through inflated Petrobrás contracts, while the CEO of Odebrecht SA, Latin America’s largest construction firm, was given a 19-year sentence for bribery and money laundering. BNDES has loaned billions to Odebrecht, Petrobrás and other firms accused of wrongdoing, but investigators have made no accusations against the bank. Recently, BNDES responded to critics, making positive changes to improve transparency and responsiveness.