Brazil cuts red tape stifling biodiversity studies

Herton Escobar – SCIENCE Magazine, 5/29/2015

When Carlos Jared tried to ship a jar of dead velvet worms collected in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest to a colleague in Germany in 2006, he had no plans to derive a drug or other product from the creatures. He just wanted to probe the reproductive system of a rare invertebrate that gives birth to live young. But Brazilian authorities denounced him as a “biopirate.”

The evolutionary biologist at the Instituto Butantan in São Paulo had run afoul of a law aiming to clamp down on what Brazil perceived as rampant pillaging of its biological resources. Jared hadn’t filled out all the paperwork required under law MP 2186, so the worms were confiscated. Worse was yet to come. “They dragged my name through the mud. It was a psychological massacre,” he says. It took him 6 years to get another permit for fieldwork, and he is still fighting in court thousands of dollars in fines.

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Preserve to Explore

Interview with Thomas Lovejoy – Veja, 5/20/2015

In an interview with the Brazilian publication Veja, Thomas Lovejoy, Senior Fellow at the UN Foundation, Professor at George Mason University and member of the Brazil Institute Advisory Board , argues that infrastructural development and environmental conservation can – and should – coexist in Brazil. Lovejoy elaborates on two fundamental pillars necessary for sustainable development:  research and development as well as political will. According to his extensive research in the Amazon over the last fifty years, Brazilian scientists  have gained credibility and prominence for their research worldwide. However it is essential for that ‘know-how’ to be implemented in projects locally, such as hydroelectric dams, enabling their construction and maintenance to  become as environmentally friendly as possible. Yet, Lovejoy argues that science is not enough. Rather, a “triple-bottom line” approach – focusing on the effects to people, planet and politics/profits of a project – is a way to preserve biodiversity in the Amazon. Thomas Lovejoy stresses that, although politicians have passed important environmental protection legislation in recent years, new energy project initiatives by the public and private sector need to recognize the value of the flora, fauna and indigenous populations surrounding rivers, instead of solely focusing on the energy-generating capacity of hydroelectric dams. Furthermore, Lovejoy argues that the lack of sustainable development – both locally and globally – have contributed to climate change, deforestation and loss of biodiversity in Brazil and worldwide.

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Brazil plans to ‘nationalise’ rainforest in pioneering plan to protect Amazon

Donna Bowater – The Independent, 5/10/2015

The Brazilian rainforest could be effectively nationalised under a draft bill being considered by the country’s MPs.

The proposed legislation would recognise the sovereignty of Brazil over the Amazon’s natural resources and set up a national Amazonian policy council with the aim of enshrining environmental protection and regulating economic activities in the rainforest.

Should the law be passed, companies wanting to operate in the area would require approval from the new state entity in return for shares of the proceeds – in a similar way to that which oil exploration concessions are granted through state-controlled company Petrobras in return for royalties.

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‘We’re going to resist': Brazil’s indigenous groups fight to keep their land in face of new law

Claire Rigby – The Guardian, 4/23/2015

From downtown São Paulo, the Pico do Jaraguá – the crest of a mountain ridge on the city’s north-western horizon – looks like a broken tooth, crowned by a towering TV antenna. Just beyond the rocky peak and down a steep, deeply rutted, unmade road, lies the nascent village of Tekoa Itakupe, one of the newest fronts in Brazil’s indigenous people’s struggle for land to call their own.

Once part of a coffee plantation, the idyllic 72-hectare plot is currently occupied by three families from the Guarani community who moved onto the land in July 2014 after it was recognised as traditional Guarani territory by Funai, the federal agency for Indian affairs.

The group had hoped that would be a first step on the road to its eventual official demarcation as indigenous territory, but they now face eviction after a judge granted a court order to the landowner, Antônio ‘Tito’ Costa, a lawyer and former local politician.

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Why Brazil has a big appetite for risky pesticides

Paulo Prada – Reuters, 4/2/2015

LIMOEIRO DO NORTE, Brazil – The farmers of Brazil have become the world’s top exporters of sugar, orange juice, coffee, beef, poultry and soybeans. They’ve also earned a more dubious distinction: In 2012, Brazil passed the United States as the largest buyer of pesticides.

This rapid growth has made Brazil an enticing market for pesticides banned or phased out in richer nations because of health or environmental risks.

At least four major pesticide makers – U.S.-based FMC Corp., Denmark’s Cheminova A/S, Helm AG of Germany and Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta AG – sell products here that are no longer allowed in their domestic markets, a Reuters review of registered pesticides found.

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Brazil’s foreign policy is in the dark

Robert Muggah – Open Democracy, 2/20/2015

If ever there was a good time for Brazil to assume more global responsibility in foreign affairs now would be it. Dangerous armed conflicts, health pandemics and climate change warrant assertive engagement from the world´s major players, including South America´s powerhouse. Brazil could play a critical role in promoting stability in an uncertain world. Worryingly, the country is nowhere to be seen.

Brazilian foreign policy is in the dark. Part of the problem is that its leaders are distracted. This is maybe not altogether surprising: the country’s economy is in the doldrums. Brazil’ new finance minister, Joaquim Levy, described Brazil´s economic prospects in 2015 as “almost flat”. Brazil is now one of the Fragile Five, alongside Indonesia, Russia, South Africa and Turkey. Unprecedented bribery scandals involving the national oil company, Petrobras, and a host of construction firms, will likely tip the already damaged economy into a recession.

Some Brazilian commentators resist a more activist foreign policy. They are understandably preoccupied with making critical reforms at home to increase productivity and competitiveness rather than promoting Brazilian interests abroad. But this is a false choice: domestic reform should not come at the expense of foreign policy. On the contrary. Brazil urgently needs to bolster its strategic interests in its own neighborhood and beyond.

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Brazil climate change plan backfires, doubling steel emissions

Chris Arsenault – Reuters, 2/10/2015

A plan to reduce climate-changing emissions from Brazil’s steel industry has failed, causing the amount of carbon pollution produced by the sector to double in less than a decade, researchers said.

Brazilian steel producers switched their energy source from coal to charcoal from forests, causing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to rise to 182 million tonnes in 2007 from 91 million tonnes in 2000, according to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“Increased global demand for steel, and a lack of available plantation forest in Brazil, increased the industry’s use of charcoal sourced from native forests, which is not carbon neutral and emits up to nine times more CO2 per tonne of steel than coal,” Laura Sonter, a University of Vermont scientist and the study’s lead author, said in a statement.

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