Brazil tells rich countries to pay up to protect Amazon
Rich countries should pay billions of dollars to help Brazil protect the Amazon, says the country’s environment minister, who called for more investment and development in the rainforest area.
“We want to attract investment . . . it is necessary to maintain the forest,” Ricardo Salles told the Financial Times. “The opportunity cost [of preserving the forest] must be paid by someone, and when we say someone, means those who have the funds or the necessary sources of finance for that.”
He estimated that $120 per hectare a year would be sufficient to pay farmers and other locals not to develop their land — equivalent to $12bn annually if applied across one-fifth of the Amazon, the area that could be legally developed.
The Brazilian government has been on a campaign to restore its image after fires ravaged the Amazon this summer, prompting international condemnation and a threat of boycotts from European governments and asset managers.
This summer Germany and Norway both halted their payments to the Brazilian government’s Amazon Fund, while European investment funds with $16tn in assets threatened to divest from Brazilian bonds and equities if action was not taken by the Brazilian government to prevent deforestation.
But Mr Salles condemned rich countries for attacking Brazil’s environmental record while failing to pay the country an amount commensurate with the value of protecting the rainforest.
“Any sort of boycott will only have one consequence, to make things worse,” he said, speaking in London during a European tour.
Since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January, he has encouraged economic development in the Amazon.
“Development is not contrary to the diminishment of deforestation, quite the opposite,” said Mr Salles. “We saw the lack of development with the rise of deforestation.”
He said the government was preparing an economic zoning master plan for the Amazon, and he hoped pharmaceutical, cosmetics and food companies would invest more there.
Marcio Astrini, head of public policy at Greenpeace Brazil, questioned the sincerity of Mr Salles’s request for forest protection finance from the international community.
“In Brazil, the forest is facing a big challenge and is being attacked by several enemies, but no doubt the worst of them is the Bolsonaro government,” he said.
“Salles is sending the message that to keep the Amazon intact, you guys will need to give us an impossibly large amount of money,” he added. “In other words, ‘you all destroyed your forests, now it’s our time to manage ours as we want, so don’t trouble me’.”
Mr Bolsonaro last week invited miners to the presidential palace and his government on Thursday then announced that a bill would be brought forward to allow mining on indigenous lands.
Brazil’s mining secretary Alexandre Vidigal de Oliveira told the Financial Times that mining in the Amazon would be done “responsibly”, according to updated regulations and respecting the will of indigenous communities.
New data from the Brazilian space agency (INPE) show fires increased at a much faster rate in indigenous and conserved areas than across the Amazon as a whole, suggesting that deforesters have been emboldened to target these areas at a time when the agencies that protect them are suffering from staff and funding shortages.
In July and August this year, Brazil’s environment agency sanctioned fewer environmental crimes than it had at any point in the past five years.
Mr Salles said the Bolsonaro government inherited serious financial problems and had to make big cuts to public spending. He declined to comment on whether the ministry would invest more on environmental agencies, emphasising instead the need for economic development in the Amazon region.
He pointed to the $100bn in annual climate funding that rich countries promised to poor countries, alongside the 2015 Paris climate pact.
“We need to have a sign that these funds are coming,” Mr Salles said, complaining that foreign contributions to protect the Amazon had so far been “very small”.
Raoni Rajão, a professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, agreed that “the international community needs to step up climate funding” but argued that Salles’s calculations are problematic.
“The minister fails to acknowledge that more than 90 per cent of all deforestation in the Amazon is illegal so paying farmers for conservation will only be effective if Brazil decides to step up law enforcement,” he said.
Analysts say the Amazon has become a key battleground for Mr Bolsonaro’s cultural war against the left and liberalism in general.
Mr Bolsonaro has attacked what he sees as the excessive legal protection afforded to Brazil’s 305 ethnic groups and the “enormity” of their constitutionally mandated reserves in the Amazon. However, environmentalists and anthropologists see them as a bulwark against further deforestation.