How will environmental issues fare in post-election Brazil?
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How will environmental issues fare in post-election Brazil?

In the leadup to the hard-fought second round of presidential elections, the Brazilian government had to contend with some mixed news regarding the state of the country’s environment.

Despite falling rates of deforestation since the Worker’s Party (PT) took control of the presidency under the popular Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2003, the months prior to the election saw a contrastingly sharp increase in forest destruction. Perhaps in response, the government announced the creation of a new 6,680-square-km Amazon reserve just days before the election.

Back in August, federal police also arrested several major players in illegal deforestation, giving the impression that progress was being made in the fight against Brazil’s insidious and difficult-to-police environmental crime.

Fast-forward to present-day, post-election Brazil, the start of Dilma Rousseff’s second term and the fourth consecutive term of control by the Worker’s Party. The government’s environmental credentials have already come under fire due to the aforementioned recent uptick in deforestation and the construction of the controversial Belo Monte Dam project. Now the introduction of new laws threatens to plunge Rousseff and the Worker’s Party further into environmental ignominy.

According to a new report by Brazilian and British researchers, additional hydroelectric projects affecting river systems in forest reserves combined with proposals to open up 10 percent of the country’s most protected areas to mining projects could damage complex and valuable ecosystems and undermine Brazil’s reputation as an environmental leader.

Read more: Brazil says it will lead global effort to cut emissions

The lead author of the report warns that headlong economic development could exact too strong a price (via Environmental Research Web):

The purpose of this analysis is not to say that Brazil’s development should not benefit from its abundant natural resources, but that we should not squander our hard-won record of success and leadership in favor of fast-tracked and poorly planned development projects that leave a long legacy of environmental damage. It is possible to manage our development in a more sustainable way.

—Dr Joice Ferreira, Embrapa agricultural research institute

This kind of development flies in the face of what many consider to be one of the shining examples of successful environmental policy in the 21st century. Yet presidential action already opened up 44,100 square km to industrial development back in 2008, and a general amnesty was granted for landowners who engaged in illegal deforestation prior to 2012. Furthermore, if the 2006 moratorium on trade of soy grown in newly deforested sections of the Amazon is not renewed, the successes of the past 10 years could really start to unravel.

According to the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), Brazil is also a world leader — along with Saudi Arabia — in subsidizing state-owned fossil fuel companies. This underscores the importance of protecting the Amazon, as 75 percent of Brazil’s CO2 emissions come from deforestation and the immense capacity of the rainforest to absorb the greenhouse gas is the nation’s greatest asset in offsetting emissions.