Despite Dragging Its Feet, Brazil Makes Progress to Combat Global Warming

Article excerpt

Various states in Brazil are in total chaos in the early days of 2011, because of the torrential rains that have caused a series of tragedies. In Rio de Janeiro state, as of Jan. 13, 360 people had died in landslides, especially in the mountain towns of Nova Friburgo, Petropolis, and Teresopolis. In Sao Paulo, the capital of Sao Paulo state and the nation's largest city, major rivers overflowed their banks wreaking havoc on public services and the general public. A state of emergency has been declared in more than 70 cities in Minas Gerais state. Conversely, in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, people are suffering the effects of a prolonged drought.

This situation, which is taking a tremendous toll on the image of state and county governments in the most affected areas, invites reflection on the impact of global warming on cities. And it increases the debate on whether the country is really adopting concrete and effective measures to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions and adapt to inevitable climate change.

In former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's eight-year administration, deforestation in the Amazonia, the largest rain forest on the planet, was reduced significantly. In 2003, the first year of Lula's administration, the deforestation rate in the region was 25,300 sq km. In 2010, the rate was 6,451 sq km, the lowest during the 23 years that the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (INPE) has been monitoring deforestation in the Amazonia.

Various measures contributed to this reduction, many implemented while Marina Silva was environment minister, before she left the Lula administration to join the Partido Verde (PV) and run for president in October 2010, garnering a surprising 20 million votes NotiSur, Sept. 24, 2010. Marina Silva left Lula's Cabinet following disagreements with other ministers regarding issues such as the proposed hydroelectric plants in the Amazonia, including Belo Monte on the Rio Xingu NotiSur, May 28, 2010.

Creating protected areas, in theory free of deforestation, was one of the Lula administration's environmental accomplishments, again implemented while Marina Silva was environment minister. A UN Environment Programme (UNEP) study showed that, since 2003, 700,000 sq km of protected area has been set aside globally, and 75% of the total is in Brazil.

New forestry law worries environmentalists

But environmentalists cite various measures, including dam construction in the Amazonia, as contradictory to the official discourse that Brazil is doing everything possible to combat global warming. A major threat at the moment, according to ecologists and scientists, is the revision of the 1965 Codigo Florestal Brasileiro.

The bill for the new law is under debate in Congress and could be submitted for a vote at any time in the lower house before going to the Senate. The proposed change in the code significantly reduces property owners' obligation to maintain protected areas on their lands. And the major reduction would be in the Amazonia, home to the largest biodiversity reserve.

Scientists and environmentalists find these proposals troubling. The July 16, 2010, issue of Science published a letter from scientists associated with BIOTA-SP, with a warning about the effects of the proposed changes to the Codigo Florestal. "If approved," said the scientists, "CO2 emissions may increase substantially, instead of being reduced as was recently pledged in Copenhagen."

"Simple species-area relationship analyses also project the extinction of more than 100,000 species, a massive loss that will invalidate any commitment to biodiversity conservation," said the letter, signed by Jean Paul Metzger, the Instituto de Biociencias da Universidade de Sao Paulo (USP); Lewinsohn Thomas, Departamento de Biologia Animal da Universidade de Campinas (UNICAMP); Luciano Verdad and Luiz Antonio Martinelli, of the Centro de Energia Nuclear na Agricultura (CENA), of USP; Ricardo Ribeiro Rodrigues, Departamento de Ciencias Biologicas, Escola Superior de Agricultura Luiz de Queiroz (ESALQ), USP; and Carlos Alfredo Joly, of the Instituto de Biologia, UNICAMP. …