The Brazilian Amazon faces its worst spate of forest fires since 2010 with deforestation tripling. According to reports by Reuters and EURACTIV news, combatting forest fires, and slash and burn practices in Brazil should become one of the priorities of the new European Parliament. Also, legislation to ensure that companies’ supply chains and investments are not linked to deforestation, environmental harm, and human rights abuses.

As the destruction of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil turned deadly, it prompted a global outcry from NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Global Witness.

Rainforest Alliance, the international non-profit and sustainable agriculture certification organization said that last August’s horrifying surge of humanmade fires in the Amazon shined a powerful light on the destruction of rainforests around the world.

“According to Global Forest Watch, we lost 15.8 million hectares of tropical forests in 2017 alone. Rainforest loss continues at a rapid rate—threatening the millions of people who live in them and destroying one of nature’s powerful solutions to the climate crisis,” Rainforest Alliance said.

Reuters and Human Rights Watch have highlighted that since President Bolsanaro took office in Brazil in January, fires raging since August 2019 have turned deadly not only for the “lungs of the world,” but also for the indigenous people. The execution-style death of indigenous rights investigator Maxciel Pereira dos Santos, is just the latest attack on environmentalists, tribespeople and small landholders who stand up for their patch of the forest or who report loggers to authorities.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is mainly driven by criminal networks that use violence and intimidation against those who try to stop them, according to a new 165-page report from Human Rights Watch, Rainforest Mafias: How Violence and Impunity Fuel Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon. 

“Brazilians who defend the Amazon are facing threats and attacks from criminal networks engaged in illegal logging,” said Daniel Wilkinson, acting environment and human rights director at Human Right Watch. “The situation is only getting worse under President Bolsonaro, whose assault on the country’s environmental agencies is putting the rainforest and the people who live there at much greater risk.”

Some environmental enforcement officials call these groups “ipe mafias,” referring to the ipê tree whose wood is among the most valuable and sought-after by loggers. These loggers’ quarry includes many other tree species — and their ultimate goal is often to clear the forest entirely to make room for cattle or (corn and soy) crops.

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 170 people, including 60 members of Indigenous communities, and other residents in the states of Maranon, Pará, and Rondônia.

News of the destruction of the world’s largest rainforest in August also led to worries by Brazil’s producers that it could hurt demand for Brazil’s exports, according to Reuters World News on September 4.

“In the eight months through August, Amazon deforestation rose 92 percent to 6,404.8 square kilometers (2,472.91 square miles), an area larger than the US state of Delaware, according to preliminary data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). In August alone, deforestation more than tripled to 1,700.8 square kilometers (657 square miles),” Reuters said.

With large areas of forest being cleared worldwide for the agricultural industry, environmentalists and the European Parliament see an urgent need for action.

Sixty percent of the Amazon is located within Brazil, and deforestation accounts for nearly half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to government data. Brazil is the world’s largest beef exporter and has overtaken the US as the world’s largest soya beans producer.

Calls for European Parliament to act on the destruction of the Amazon

On September 12, EURACTIV Germany reported that the protection of forests such as in Brazil should become one of the priorities of the European Parliament in the coming months. Conservative MEP Peter Lies (EPP) confirmed that the Environment Committee (ENVI) was planning a hearing on the issue. The European Commission will also launch a legislative proposal.

“Our forests, not only in other parts of the world but also in Europe, are an essential contributor to climate protection. And on top of that, they are an economic factor,” Liese said.

The production of soya and beef requires much free space, the demand for which is likely to increase with the EU-Mercosur trade deal coming into force, EURACTIV said.

A UK petition to the Parliament in London that demanded that the EU and UN sanction Brazil to halt increased deforestation of the Amazon, said: “The government of Brazil favor the development of the Amazon rainforest over conservation, escalating deforestation. Deforestation threatens indigenous populations who live in the forest, loss of a precious and complex ecosystem and a vital carbon store that slows global warming.”

Giulia Bondi, an EU campaigner for NGO Global Witness, writing in EURACTIV on September 20, 2019, said the stakes are high for the new European Parliament and the team of Commissioners. “Not only do they face issues on EU borders, protecting European democracy from disinformation and interference, and digital security, they also face pressing global questions on the future of our planet. USA-based Global Witness Foundation supports research and investigations into the causes and effects of the exploitation of natural resources by public and private entities.

“And now more than ever, the world looks to the EU to take global leadership, as its citizens are faced with a climate-change-denying President in the US; a Brazilian President letting the Amazon slip away through his powerful fingers; and political paralysis in the UK,” Bondi said.

“The climate strikes triggered by Swedish 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg and this summer’s Amazon fires, and stronger storms affecting the Caribbean and other parts of the world have pushed climate change and deforestation to the top of the public and political agenda. Extreme temperatures hitting European capitals this summer have shown that Europe is no exception to the effect of climate breakdown. NGOs and scientists have issued frequent warnings for decades about the rate of deforestation and its impact on the climate. Earlier this year, even before the recent escalation of deforestation in Brazil, we heard that primary tropical rainforests the size of Belgium were lost in 2018.”

Bondi said that forests are crucial to regulating our global climate. Stopping and reversing tropical deforestation could avoid and remove up to a third of total greenhouse gas emissions – so taking action to tackle deforestation is crucial if we are to avert climate disaster. Planting new trees can never replace the multiple functions of centuries-old tropical rainforests.

“Just as we know that this tropical deforestation will have a global impact on our climate and weather patterns, we also know that this destruction is fueled by a global market for the goods produced on deforested land and global finance funding the companies involved,” she said.

“The time has come for the EU to take action to require companies and investors to ensure their supply chains and investments are not linked to deforestation, environmental harm, and human rights abuses. We hope that MEPs will make this one of their political priorities and ensure that they secure a commitment from the Commissioner candidates to bring forward legislation.”

In the case of Brazil, the EU is its second-biggest trading partner, with 19 percent of all the EU’s soy coming from Brazil and 10 percent of all Brazilian beef for export destined for the EU. And now China is an even bigger trading partner for Brazil.

Moreover, it’s not just the demand driving this commodity-based deforestation, but also companies and investors planning large scale projects with little regard for the impact on the environment and human rights.

“Guidelines and voluntary approaches are failing to prevent environmental destruction associated with industrial agriculture. Certification and labeling are not the answer and have shown to be fraught with problems of weak enforcement,” Giulia Bondi added.

“The most effective policy tool is for companies and investors to be required to undertake rigorous checks on the entire supply chain and investments. Companies are going to miss the 2020 deadline to eliminate commodity-driven deforestation from supply chains, so it now falls to the EU to act.”

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The Amazon destruction affects other parts of the world too