Has Brazil turned against its progressive environmental policies?

Jeremy Hance
September 30, 2013

Last year, Brazil rolled back crucial parts of its landmark Forestry Code, potentially opening vast tracts of forest for destruction; it is also moving ahead on a number of Amazon dams, including the infamous Belo Monte, despite international condemnation and conflict with indigenous people. Meanwhile, a new law under consideration proposes allowing large-scale mining in protected areas. Given this a new paper in mongabay.com's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science argues that Brazil has thrown off its once admired mantle of environmental legislation, imperiling hundreds of thousands of species in the most biodiverse country on Earth.

According to the paper, by the 1980s, Brazil had "the broadest environmental legislation in the world." Since then the country successfully cut its deforestation rate.

"Over recent decades, the establishment of fully protected areas, the development of national and state's Red Book of Endangered Species, the rise of NGOs, and the advancement of conservation science made Brazil a global example of conservation success," the researchers write.

However, things have changed in the last few years.

"Today Brazil is no longer a good example of environmental stewardship," the paper's authors write, arguing that the loss of progressive legislation and new laws now represents the greatest threat to the country's biodiversity. These changes threaten species, soil health, freshwater sources, medicine, and agriculture, according to the paper.

"Even more alarming are the statements by members of the Brazilian government, which display a total lack of interest in biodiversity and natural resources," the authors write. They argue that the current government is more influenced by corporate lobbyists than the public good."

"This power relationship is a chronic problem in Brazil and is reflected in every sphere of society, including biodiversity conservation," the researchers write.

The recent swing by the government has led to a number of resignations including Marina Silva, former Minister of Environment in 2008.

"Both the government and various society sectors are now divided into two camps: the so-called 'ruralista' composed of large agribusiness producers allied with the majority of deputies and senators, who are opponents of the environmental agenda; and the 'environmentalist' bench, composed of NGOs for environmental protection, the scientific academy, and a small number of politicians," the researchers write.

Amazon rainforest meets cattle pasture. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Amazon rainforest meets cattle pasture. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

  • Novaes, R. L. M. and Souza, R. F. 2013. Legalizing environmental exploitation in Brazil: the retreat of public policies for biodiversity protection. Tropical Conservation Science. Vol. 6(4):477-483.

AUTHOR: Jeremy Hance joined Mongabay full-time in 2009. He currently serves as senior writer and editor. He has also authored a book.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (September 30, 2013).

Has Brazil turned against its progressive environmental policies?.