Category: Logging


Authorities want to loosen regulations to reverse the country’s worst economic slump in decades.

Signs of a rightward turn by Brazil’s new government have alarmed conservationists and climate change activists who fear a rollback of environmental laws that could accelerate deforestation in the Amazon basin.

With Brazil’s economy in its worst slump since the 1930s, new leader Michel Temer took power this month promising a more business-friendly agenda to spur growth. Temer named a ­conservative-leaning cabinet whose members include figures with close ties to powerful landowners and agribusiness companies.

Temer has taken control in South America’s largest nation — and the world’s biggest rain forest — at a time when Brazilian lawmakers are considering a major overhaul of environmental laws. This includes a controversial constitutional amendment known as PEC 65 that would reduce licensing requirements for development projects and limit judicial oversight of their impact.

The amendment has been stalled, but last month it won a key vote in a Senate commission, where it was sponsored by Sen. Blairo Maggi, a farming tycoon nicknamed the “King of Soy.” ­Temer has made Maggi the country’s agriculture minister, a powerful post in the world’s second-largest food exporter, giving him significant leverage to promote the amendment.

Temer’s centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party has responded to the economic crisis with a package of proposals that would ease licensing requirements for projects in protected areas, weaken mining regulations and allow “productive activities” in Brazil’s indigenous reserves. Now that Temer is president, conservationists worry he will push those measures through the ­National Congress. “Those who have taken power are backing
an explicitly regressive, anti-environmental agenda,” said Christian Poirier of U.S.-based Amazon Watch.

New foreign minister José Serra said last week that Brazil would assume its “special responsibility” for the Amazon and be “proactive and pioneering” in climate negotiations. But the new government has said little about its plans, and Temer comes to power at a time when Brazil’s regulatory controls and environmental laws are increasingly blamed for stifling investment and growth.

After a decade in which deforestation slowed significantly, it began rising again under President Dilma Rousseff, according to satellite data from the independent Brazilian monitoring group Imazon. Last year, 1,228 square miles of forest were cut down, according to the group — an area larger than Rhode Island.

Rousseff was suspended from office May 12 and faces an impeachment trial in Brazil’s Senate, leaving Temer — her vice president and former coalition partner — to form a new government.

Environmentalists and advocates of indigenous rights also worry that Temer will push forward with controversial hydroelectric projects in the Amazon basin, including the $10 billion Sao Luiz do Tapajo mega-dam. Plans for the project were put on hold last month by Brazil’s environmental agency, partly over concerns that it would destroy the ancestral forests of indigenous groups.

Temer, whose public-approval ratings are low, has assembled a broad political coalition by offering key cabinet posts to right-leaning lawmakers who were often marginalized during the 13 years that Rousseff’s Workers’ Party was in power. Among those who have gained leverage are “ruralistas” from Brazil’s vast interior with ties to powerful farming and ranching interests.

Halting the loss of tree cover in Brazil is viewed by climate activists as essential to slowing global warming, because tropical forests absorb and store large amounts of carbon. Since 1970, about 20 percent of the Amazon basin has been deforested — an area larger than France — but the rate of destruction fell sharply starting in 2005, under Rousseff’s predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Lula’s administration toughened enforcement of environmental laws and put millions of acres off-limits to development.

“Few people thought that Brazil could actually stop the wholesale destruction of the Amazon. Its success — partial but real — is one of the few hopeful achievements in the fight for a safe climate,” said climate change activist and author Bill McKibben, a professor of environmental studies at Middlebury College in Vermont.

“It makes the prospect of a return to business as usual in the rain forest especially sad,” he said.

As Brazil’s economy began to falter in recent years, deforestation picked up again, especially as farmers attempted to make up for falling revenue by clearing more land. Soy production in Brazil has quadrupled in the past 20 years, and this year’s harvest is projected to approach 100 million tons, a record.

Tighter government budgets have also meant less money to keep illegal loggers, gold miners and others out of protected areas and indigenous reserves.

Rousseff was not viewed with any special sympathy by environmental activists and Amazon conservation groups. In 2014, she named agribusiness executive Kátia Abreu, dubbed the “Chainsaw Queen” by her critics, as agriculture minister.

But with her presidency on the ropes in recent weeks, Rousseff attempted to win back the support of environmentalists by issuing executive orders to protect more than 5 million acres of the Amazon and create three new indigenous reserves. Officials in the new government say Rousseff’s 11th-hour decrees will be subject to review.

Temer’s new minister of mines and energy, another powerful cabinet post, is 32-year-old Fernando Coelho Filho, a member of the National Congress who said his priority will be to attract new foreign investment by overhauling mining laws. Critics say the proposed changes fail to protect communities affected by mining. Last year, 19 people were killed when a dam collapsed at a large reservoir for mining waste, an accident that became a symbol of lax Brazilian oversight.

But officials in Temer’s new government say environmental controls remain too rigid. Maggi, the new agriculture minister, said the point of proposed amendment PEC 65 is to give companies a guarantee that once a project is approved by regulators, it won’t be halted by lawsuits or judicial interference.

Brazil’s problem, he said in an interview, is that “if some nongovernment group or prosecutor or person is opposed to a project, even for ideological reasons, they use their power to delay construction.”

Maggi was given a “Golden Chainsaw” award in 2005 by Greenpeace while governor of the Amazon state of Mato Grosso. He said it forced him to be more agile in fighting deforestation, which fell dramatically in the state during subsequent years. But his support for the new regulations has eroded the grudging respect he won from some environmentalists.

A group of prosecutors has launched a social-media campaign against his constitutional amendment. “The risk is enormous,” said Sandra Curea, one of the attorneys.

Maggi said he also supports allowing indigenous Brazilians to farm commercially on their reserves, as opposed to the subsistence farming they are currently permitted to practice. This is another sensitive proposal, because the country’s indigenous reserve system also has been used to make large tracts of Amazon forest off-limits to commercial exploitation and development. Maggi rejected the idea that farmers are anti-environmental.

“The biggest friend of the environment has to be the producer, because he depends on the environment to receive the rain,” he said.

José Carlos Carvalho, who served as environment minister in 2002 under the business-friendly administration of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, said the new anti-regulatory push in Brazilian politics amounted to “the biggest regression in environmental management in Brazil since re-democratization,” referring to the end of military rule in 1985.

He said the Temer government wouldn’t be the first to view environmental protections as a luxury the country can’t afford. “This has been the reality in Brazilian politics since forever,” he said.

Source: Brazil’s new government may be less likely to protect the Amazon, critics say – The Washington Post

Advertisements

Thailand is among the world’s most dangerous countries in which to oppose powerful interests that profit from coal plants, toxic waste dumping, land grabs or illegal logging. Some 60 people who spoke out on these issues have been killed over the past 20 years, although few perpetrators have been prosecuted in a culture in which powerful people have the last word and professional killers are easy to find.

A 2014 report by the environmental watchdog group Global Witness ranked Thailand as the eighth most dangerous country in which to defend land and environmental rights. It is the second most dangerous country in Asia, after the Philippines.

The killings often involve small-scale conflicts in remote areas, and issues that might seem too narrow to carry assassination as a penalty. Few of them have received national coverage, and few of the names of those killed are widely known.

Portraits of 37 of these largely obscure victims comprise a new project by the Bangkok-based photographer Luke Duggleby and were exhibited this month in Geneva, timed to coincide with a United Nations Human Rights Council review of Thailand’s human rights record.

“It is vital, for the victims and the families, that their fight and their death should not be forgotten and left unrecognized,” Mr. Duggleby said in a statement accompanying his portfolio.

The question was how to present them. The victims were dead, or in a few cases had been abducted and disappeared. The only records in some cases were in the memories of families and in the portraits they kept of their relatives, sometimes in a frame on the wall, sometimes at a Buddhist altar.

It was these photographs that inspired the concept of his project: to place and photograph a portrait of the victim at the site of the murder or abduction. The result is a surprisingly moving set of photographs, mostly expressionless faces in formal photographs looking out from a field, a forest or rubber plantation or a roadside. In one case, the family had only an identification card picture, so Mr. Duggleby photographed and printed it to place at the scene.

The silent portraits, looking small and vulnerable in their settings, seem like tiny, passive missives from the victims, looking back at the viewer from the scene of their last terrifying moments.

In this way, in a very different context and with a very different aesthetic, they share a hollow resonance with the well-known black-and-white portraits of the dead that cover the walls of Tuol Sleng in Cambodia, the former prison where thousands of people were photographed before being tortured and killed.

Tallying the disparate, barely reported killings in Thailand has been difficult, and the first comprehensive list has only recently been compiled by Protection International, a human rights nongovernmental organization. One of its members, Pranom Somwong, worked with Mr. Duggleby in researching many of the cases.

For more than a year, Mr. Duggleby, who speaks fluent Thai, traveled with a Thai assistant throughout the country, covering by his calculation 10,000 kilometers, or more than 6,000 miles. He said he took great care not to endanger people or to make a situation worse.

Some of the disputes and threats remained real; in some cases other people had stepped forward to continue the resistance. One victim, for example, Chai Boonthonglek, 61, who was shot dead on Feb. 11, 2015, was the fourth member of his community to be murdered in five years during a dispute over land rights with a palm-oil company.

“The most important thing was the safety of the villagers,” Mr. Duggleby said. “We made our presence very quiet and very quick. I’d talk to them, spend a few hours with them, finish and drive on to the next place.”

Source: Murdered After Defending Thailand’s Environment – The New York Times

Europe’s last primeval forest is facing what campaigners call its last stand as loggers prepare to start clear-cutting trees, following the dismissal of dozens of scientists and conservation experts opposed to the plan.

Poland’s new far right government says logging is needed because more than 10% of spruce trees in the Unesco world heritage site of Białowieża are suffering from a bark beetle outbreak. But nearly half the logging will be of other species, according to its only published inventory.

Oak trees as high as 150 feet that have grown for 450 years could be reduced to stumps under the planned threefold increase in tree fells. Białowieża hosts Europe’s largest bison population and wolves and lynx still roam freely across its sun-mottled interior. Its foliage stretches for nearly 1,000 square miles across the border between Poland and Belarus.

Beneath its green canopy, sunlight filters down on to a panorama of skyscraper trees soaring as much as 180 feet into the air, swampy water pools dammed by beavers, and psychedelic fungi that sprout from tree trunks.

But a recently-passed logging law to allow work to begin on the old-growth forest has divided families, and led to death threats against campaigners and allegations of an “environmental coup” by state interests linked to the timber trade. The logging in Białowieża is expected to raise about 700m złotys (£124m), and pave the way for extensive and more lucrative tree clearances.

Sources say that internal government discussions have already begun on extending the new timber regime to the national park, which covers 17% of the forest and has been untouched by humans since the ice age.

Mirosław Stepaniuk says he was sacked as director of Białowieża’s national park shortly after Polish elections six months ago because of his support for turning the whole forest into a protected conservation area.

He told the Guardian: “An environmental coup is being staged here not just by the government, but by the national forestry authority. If they are successful, it could trigger a cascade, an avalanche of similar cases in other places.”

Last week, another 32 members were dismissed from the state council for nature conservation, an advisory body which had opposed the logging plan and has been accused of “inefficiency”.

“We were sacked because the new government needs scientists who will applaud increased logging, to convince public opinion that this insane idea is okay,” said Przemysław Chylarecki, one of the dismissed scientists.

Most of the new council member are foresters, or colleagues of the environment minister, he added.

Since taking office, the government has set up a new Scientific Council of Forestry but it may not be minded to challenge the logging plan. Its president, Prof Janusz Sowa, said in February: “There is [only] one method for managing forests: an axe.”

The Polish environment ministry declined requests for comment.

The new Law and Justice party government is already in conflict with the EU over issues ranging from climate change policy to constitutional interference in the country’s courts and media, which is widely seen as undemocratic.

Now, Brussels is weighing a separate court case over the law allowing 188,000 cubic metres of trees to be felled by 2021. The axe could fall on trees dotted around at least a quarter of the Białowieża forest area, excluding the national park, and possibly as much as two-thirds of it.

Katarzyna Jagiełło, a spokeswoman for Greenpeace, told the Guardian: “The struggle to protect Białowieża and make it a national park is our Alamo. This place should be like our Serengeti or Great Barrier Reef. What happens to the forest here will define the future direction of nature conservation in our country.”

Significantly, Greenpeace refuses to rule out direct action if the foresters move in. “Right now we are present in the forest,” Jagiełło said, “and whatever needs to be done to protect it, will be done.”

With the logging law now passed, the battle for its future could begin at any time.

The forest occupies a symbolic and almost mystical place in Poland’s national consciousness, and its fate stokes dangerous emotions, according to Joanna Lapinska, a 37-year-old librarian in a Białowieża group opposing the clearances.

“Friends and families have fallen out over this,” she said. “When we were out petitioning recently, a sympathetic woman said ‘I can’t let you in because I don’t want a fight with my husband’.”

“People connected with the foresters are very aggressive. They told us that we are eco-terrorists, paid by the Germans – it’s usually the Germans, Jews or Russians – and they even said that somebody should have killed some eco-activists.”

At a conference organised by the national forestry authority in December, a former forester and beekeeper close to Jan Szyszko, the environment minister, received loud applause when he said that environmental experts “should be beheaded or put in jail for 25 years. They should be deported for what they did against the forest”.

At the same meeting, Mikołaj Janowski, a councillor from Podlaskie, told environmentalists: “You are parasites. You get money for your incomprehensible, hostile scientific papers … You should be sent to Putin’s gulag for 10 years or more.”

Source: Last stand for Europe’s remaining ancient forest as loggers prepare to move in | Environment | The Guardian

An activist’s undercover work to shed light the extent of illegal logging in Cambodia’s forests has been recognised by the Goldman Environmental Prize.

Leng Ouch gathered evidence to highlight how land concessions (ELCs) were being abused and forcing communities from their homes.

His outspoken criticism of the government led to fears for his safety, forcing Mr Ouch into hiding.

In 2014, the government cancelled ELCs that covered 89,000 hectares of forest.

Despite this, Mr Ouch said he felt the plight of the nation’s forests was not improving.

“The situation is getting worse year after year,” he told BBC News.

“There is no improvement, there is more destruction. There is more deforestation and more demand from overseas.

“We have lost millions of hectares of land through the land concessions.”

It is reported that Cambodia has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, and just 20-30% of its original forest cover remains.

One of the driving forces is the demand from nations like China for high-value hardwoods, such as Siamese rosewood that can fetch US $50,000 (£35,000) for a cubic metre.

Another cause for the high deforestation rate is the introduction of Economic Land Concessions (ELCs) in 2001, which were designed to support economy-boosting large-scale agriculture, such as rubber and sugar plantations.

However, the issuing of the ELCs has affected many communities that depended on the land for their livelihoods.

Campaigners say that more than 700,000 people have been driven from their homes as a result of ELCs.

Leng Ouch’s work has taken him undercover and placed him in extreme danger as he attempted to gather evidence of the impact of the ELCs on forests and forest people.

Posing as a labourer, he was able to shed light how the land concessions were being used to provide cover for illegal operations.

Source: Global prize honours Cambodian illegal logging activist – BBC News

%d bloggers like this: