New regulations currently being discussed by the Brazilian legislature could have catastrophic results for the country’s environment and indigenous groups. Two initiatives would roll back environmental licensing laws, while the third would allow the building of several new industrial waterways without requiring assessment of potential environmental or social impacts.
The alarm around these potential laws is largely due to the recently announced 29% increase in Amazon deforestation, which comes on the heels of a rocky start for Brazilian president Michel Temer after the impeachment of his predecessor.
According to Mauricio Guetta, a lawyer for the Socio-Environmental Institute, a Brazilian NGO, these new laws would represent “the most worrying regressions of [Brazil’s] recent history.
“If approved, they will certainly make it impossible for Brazil to meet its commitments under the Paris agreement,” Guetta added.
Brazil has agreed to cut 37 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and end illegal deforestation by 2030.
However, if these new laws go into effect, Brazil’s standard environmental licensing procedures would change dramatically. Not only would the overall process speed up, but some companies would be allowed to supply their own licenses—or forgo them entirely. This could be particularly problematic when it comes to greenhouse gas, since 52 percent of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and the way land and forests are used.
About 250 organizations, including NGOs and environmental prosecutors have signed a bill denouncing the potential laws, noting previous environmental disasters like the dam burst in Mariana, which flooded the countryside with millions of liters of mining waste.
The trouble is, in many ways, political. President Temer’s cabinet has shown a tendency to cater to a powerful bloc of pro-agribusiness lawmakers called the ruralista, who advocate legislature that serves local business, often without regard for potential environmental fallout.
The ruralista are also increasingly pushing for changes in how indigenous lands are used and protected—or made unprotected. Another drafted law would transfer control over demarcation of indigenous lands from the executive to the legislative branch. This law would only allow land occupied by indigenous groups from 1988 on to be held as reserves. That means land where indigenous peoples were expelled would now be available for economic development.
“This is a clear violation of Brazilian and international law, which could result in the destruction of whole peoples,” said indigenous activist group Survival International. The organization also warned against increased deforestation in these areas.
Then there are the bills known as Decretos Legislativos, or PDCs. Their passage through the legislature has been stalled, but by no means stopped entirely. These bills would authorize the construction of three industrial waterways in major river basins on the Tapajós River, the Amazon, the Tocantins and Araguaia Rivers, and the Paraguai River. While the waterways would help expedite shipments of soy and other products, they would be built without any environmental oversight beyond whatever is supplied by the companies themselves.
The fight between Brazilian environmental activists and a government hoping to improve the economy at the expense of oversight is set to continue in February 2017 after the parliamentary recess.