PRESS RELEASE – JULY 24th 2017
Brazil faces “Agrocalypse” as President fights for survival
NGOs call on government to break the alliance with the rural lobby and stop the serial attack on the environment and indigenous peoples
Brazil’s President Michel Temer has accelerated the process of dismantling the country’s hard-won social and environmental safeguards as the day approaches when Congress will judge whether to allow him to be prosecuted for corruption. The Brazilian Climate Observatory (OC), a network of 41 civil society organizations, calls on the national and global society to help put an end to government-sponsored attacks on the country’s peoples and nature.
Last month, Temer was charged with corruption by the Attorney General, thus becoming the first sitting President in Brazilian history to face such charges. In August, the Chamber will vote if he should be tried by the Supreme Court, and suspended from office.
In an attempt to win the vote, Temer has been trying to appease the rural caucus (“bancada ruralista”), the most numerous group in the Brazilian Chamber. Over the last few days, he has used his power to deliver on several demands from the agricultural lobby – which spell doom for environmental protection, indigenous peoples, climate commitments, and, ultimately, the very competitiveness of Brazilian agriculture.
The latest blow was dealt to indigenous lands: on Wednesday (19th), by request of “ruralista” representatives, Temer issued an order to the whole federal administration formalizing the understanding that only indigenous lands that were already occupied by 1988 can be recognized as such. The measure is controversial, since several nations were expelled from their traditional lands by ranchers, farmers or governments before that date. According to ISA (Instituto Socioambiental), hundreds of indigenous settlement claims can be frozen by the presidential order.
“President Temer has given in to an old request from the rural sector to block indigenous lands demarcation under the argument that they are following Supreme Court decision, but it is not true that the Supreme Court has decided on it. In fact, the Court already said that these are issues yet being debated, without consensus”, said Adriana Ramos, from ISA.
Last week, another old wish of the agricultural lobby was granted, as the President sanctioned a bill allowing property titles to be given to people who occupied public land until 2011. That equals to an amnesty to land grabbing, which in turn is the main driver of deforestation in the Amazon. According to Brenda Brito, an associate researcher at Brazilian think-tank Imazon, the new legislation will make it harder for Brazil to meet its climate change commitments. “It signals that invading public land is a crime that pays, which is a powerful incentive to more land grabbing”, she says. According to Imazon, in the Amazon alone the bill will mean at least US$ 6 billion in lost revenues by the federal government.
Two days later, also under “ruralista” pressure, the Brazilian government sent another bill proposal to Congress unprotecting 350 thousand hectares from the Jamanxim National Forest, a big protected area in the Amazon. The forest had been subject of a controversial executive order whereby squatters, most of who occupied the area after it was declared a conservation unit, would be granted 486 thousand hectares. Responding to calls by civil society, the Norwegian government, and supermodel Gisele Bündchen, the President vetoed the original proposal – only to submit a tweaked version of it afterwards. Modelling by Ipam (Amazon Institute for Environmental Research), estimates the new bill will cause emissions of 67 million tons of CO2 by 2030 on the Jamanxim area alone, not considering a possible knock-on effect on other protected areas.
“There is also a moral dimension to those acts: signaling that impunity is the rule of the land. In Brazil, forest loss and the current increase in land-related crime bear the fingerprint of this government and its allies in the rural caucus”, says Márcio Astrini, from Greenpeace. He recalls that Brazil is the most dangerous country in the world for environmental activists: 49 were killed last year and this year, to the date, the figure stands at 33.
Temer’s anti-environment escalade has obvious climate impacts: last year alone, Amazon deforestation grew 29 percent, driving Brazilian emissions up even during the worst recession in the country’s history. The attack on indigenous lands and other protected areas draws Brazil away from its domestic and international climate commitments, at a time when the world needs to do more in order to make up for the American withdrawal.
“Brazil was once fêted as a rare good example in the global climate agenda. Now it risks becoming a Trump-sized hurdle for the fight against global warming and global biodiversity loss, besides stimulating an unacceptable rise on land-related violence”, says Carlos Rittl, from OC.
Therefore, the Brazilian Climate Observatory calls on Mr. Temer to stop: cancel the order on indigenous settlements and stand by environmental legislation. By sacrificing the future of a whole country for the sake of his political survival, the President is doing the opposite of what a Statesman is expected to do. Furthermore, he’s jeopardizing the very agricultural sector that “ruralistas” claim to represent: the French market is already being closed to commodities produced through deforestation, and other countries may follow suit.