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A first-of-its-kind study published Monday shows that tax havens don't just shelter the wealth of celebrities and large corporations—they also obscure the financial transactions behind environmental destruction.
By Jason Bittel
At last count, there were 505 nonhuman primate species living in the wilds of 90 countries across the globe. That might make you think of Earth as the Planet of the Apes (plus monkeys, lemurs, tarsiers and lorises), but according to a large study published last month, those statistics are a little misleading.
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Chief Raoni Metuktire, head of the Kayapò indigenous group from the Xingu region, deep in the Amazon rainforest, sits in a packed lecture hall in London. With his jutting lip plate and large feather headdress, the elderly, gently-spoken tribal leader is an imposing presence.
Photo credit: Sue Cunningham/ SCP
“When I’m gone I want my children and grandchildren to live in the forest as I have done,” he says. “I ask for your help. In the past, we didn’t knock down the trees, destroy the land and build dams, but now all that is happening.
“The climate in the forest is changing: it is a lot hotter than it used to be, and the pattern of the winds is altering.”
Lungs of the World
The Amazon rainforest—often referred to as the lungs of the world—has a major influence on the world’s climate. Its trees and vegetation act as a vital carbon sink, soaking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Megaron Txucarramãe, a long-time campaigner for land rights for indigenous tribes in the Amazon region, sits alongside Chief Raoni, his uncle.
“The logging in our region is increasing,” he says. “Our lands and those of other indigenous tribes should be properly demarcated, but the Brazilian government is seeking to alter the constitution and undermine our land rights, giving more power to loggers, dam builders and mining companies.
“We went to Brasilia [Brazil’s capital] to protest, but we were received with rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray. While the government worries about building stadiums for the World Cup, our land is being threatened. I would like to ask the world to pay attention to our problems and help us.”
In a tour of European capitals that coincided with the opening of the World Cup, the two tribal leaders met Prince Albert of Monaco and, in London, Prince Charles. They also took their message to the Norwegian royal family.
The Kayapò are by far the largest ethnic group in the Xingu region. After years of campaigning and sometimes violent struggle, the group succeeded in having 19,000 square miles of land demarcated as an indigenous reserve in 1992.
The tribal leaders say the government of President Dilma Rousseff—which faces an election in October—is now threatening the land rights of indigenous groups and the health of the whole Amazon by allowing mining and other projects to go ahead.
In recent years, Brazil has embarked on a wide-ranging dam building program in the Amazon. The Xingu river, a major tributary of the Amazon river, runs through the Kayapò’s lands. Despite various court judgements and continuing protests by the Kayapò and other groups, construction of the Belo Monte dam—which will be one of the world’s biggest when it is completed—began on the Xingu in 2011.
After years of decline in deforestation rates in the Amazon rainforest, they then increased dramatically by 28 percent over the 2012 to 2013 period, with many blaming controversial reforms to Brazil’s forest laws pushed through by a powerful and extremely wealthy land lobby.
In recent months, large parts of Brazil have been suffering a drought that is one of the worst on record. Environmentalists say deforestation in the Amazon has disturbed weather patterns and has resulted in less rainfall in many areas.
Patrick Cunningham, who has travelled extensively through the Xingu region, photographing and documenting the lives of the indigenous tribes, is a spokesman for Tribes Alive, a group that highlights indigenous peoples’ issues.
Cunningham said: “Chief Metuktire and Megaron are not only asking for an end to the destruction of their lands, they are also campaigning to stop what is a suicidal rush to develop their region.
“Such actions will not only be a setback for them but also for the whole of Brazil as rain patterns alter farther south, in what is the most agriculturally productive region of the country.”
Amazon Watch stands with Ecuadorian communities in rejecting a misguided judgment delaying justice for some 30,000 indigenous people and farmers who continue to suffer from the company's toxic legacy in the Amazon rainforest. The decision—handed down yesterday by New York District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan—also underscores the threat that well-financed corporations pose to justice and the rule of law with their ability to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on efforts to attack victims and their allies.
Since Chevron filed the bogus RICO action, Ecuadorians and their allies have been relentlessly attacked by the company's army of lawyers and PR agents. These actions were unrelated to real events in Ecuador, setting a dangerous precedent for corporate attacks on constitutional rights.
"This decision also effectively outlaws core activity protected by the First Amendment such as bringing lawsuits, holding protests, issuing press releases and engaging public officials," said Deepak Gupta, attorney for the appellate team in response to the verdict. "This is particularly appalling given that this case is about holding a corporation accountable for refusing to clean up decades of toxic pollution in the Amazon."
Gupta, formerly of Public Citizen, has argued on behalf of plaintiffs in several recent Supreme Court cases, including the high-profile arbitration challenge AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion.
For well over a decade, Amazon Watch has stood with those affected by Chevron's deliberate dumping of 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the Amazon rainforest. Despite admitting to the crime, Chevron has refused to take responsibility for its actions, its "clean-up" efforts proven to be a sham by its own evidence. The company's role as sole operator and designer of the extraction system in Ecuador makes it solely liable for its actions, which is why the communities in Ecuador sued Chevron themselves. Despite these facts Chevron has continued to vilify the communities who continue to suffer and die from pollution.
Chevron's RICO suit and its attack on the victims has been condemned by some of the largest environmental and social justice organizations in the U.S., including the Sierra Club, and more than 100,000 U.S. citizens have written to the U.S. Senate asking for an investigation of Chevron's tactics to suppress free speech.
Yesterday's verdict is an example of Chevron buying and bullying its way to a verdict with 60 law firms and thousands of legal professionals hell-bent on exhausting the Ecuadorians and their allies. Such a verdict will ultimately prove useless in Chevron's efforts to evade justice.
Chevron fought for years to have the case moved from a U.S. court to Ecuador and Judge Kaplan—who first recommended that Chevron file the case—holds no authority over Ecuadorian courts. Nor can he issue a ruling preventing the Ecuadorian plaintiffs from collecting on an enforceable verdict outside of the U.S. Furthermore, Kaplan's current order is effectively indistinguishable from an injunction issued by Kaplan in the case two years ago, which was struck down on appeal.
Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.
By Paul Brown
The continued destruction of the Amazon to exploit its resources for mining, agriculture and hydro-power is threatening the future of the South American continent, according to a report by campaigning groups using the latest scientific data.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Five countries—Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru—share the Amazon, and for all of them the forest area occupies more than 40 percent of their territory. All face threats to their water supply, energy production, food and health.
In addition, the report says, because of the over-exploitation of the region, rainfall will fall by 20 percent over a heavily-populated area far to the south of Amazonia known as the La Plata basin, covering parts of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Last month it was reported that deforestation in Amazonia had increased by almost one-third in the past year, with an area equal to 50 football fields destroyed every minute since 2000.
The report, the Amazonia Security Agenda, authored by the Global Canopy Programme and CIAT, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, says the prosperity of the region is based on the abundance of water.
There always seemed to be an endless supply of water, but the combination of industrial and agricultural pollution and droughts is creating a once unthinkable vulnerability for the five countries of Amazonia.
Profits Syphoned Off
The huge wealth being generated from the forests comes with large-scale environmental and social costs. Local people do not benefit, and the profits from minerals, mining and agriculture are syphoned out of the region.
The large-scale economic development of the region causes deforestation. That in turn is threatening not only the wellbeing of the local people but the economic stability of the industries themselves.
Climate change is adding to both the uncertainty and the instability. Increasing temperatures, as much as 3.5 degrees Celsius in the near future, changing rainfall patterns and more intense and frequent extreme weather events will have further impacts on the health and well-being of the population. Energy supply from hydro-electric dams will decline.
Big Bill Coming
Among those welcoming the report is Manuel Pulgar, Peru's environment minister. He will play a leading part when the country’s capital, Lima, hosts the twentieth summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Dec. 2014.
“Climate change is a global problem, but one that will multiply local and regional problems in unforeseeable ways," said Pulgar. "In Latin America, we have taken Amazonia and its seemingly limitless water and forests as a given. But recent unprecedented droughts have shown us just what happens when that water security falters ... ”
The report says the impacts of environmental degradation that have so far been felt in other parts of the world are now likely to be felt in Amazonia, threatening economic development and security.
Governments in the region, it says, need to recognize that development cannot continue without recognizing the damage caused to the water supply and the climate both globally and locally. Policy makers need scientists to monitor changes to conditions and the economic risks they pose.
Trillions of Tons of Water
These findings must be shared between academic institutions and governments so that they can decide how to remedy the problem. Annual reviews of dangerous hotspots are also needed, and cross-border groups of experts who could help both national and regional development plans to be worked out.
Carlos Klink, Brazil’s national secretary for climate change and environmental quality, endorsed these findings. “We are understanding more and more how interdependent water, food, energy and health security are across our continent."
“There is also interdependence between the countries that share the Amazon, which recycles trillions of tons of water that all our people and economies rely on," Klink continued. “The challenge that we are just beginning to recognize and act upon is one of transitioning to a more sustainable economy—one that values the role of a healthy Amazonia in underpinning long-term security and prosperity.”
By Alex Kirby
Peru is the country chosen to host the 2014 United Nations (UN) climate conference, a key meeting for trying to advance an ambitious plan to rein in greenhouse emissions which is planned for agreement in 2015.
But the country has recently earned a rather more dubious distinction. In 2012, for the first time, the Peruvian Amazon became a net emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2) rather than oxygen, according to the latest human development country report of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
The Amazon rainforest usually acts as a carbon sink, absorbing atmospheric CO2 rather than releasing it. Scientists think this reversal of its normal behavior results from the droughts in the western Amazon in 2005 and 2010 and say it shows Peru's vulnerability to climate change.
Peru has more than halved its poverty rate in the last decade, from 48.5 percent in 2004 to 25.8 percent in 2012. But the 2013 UNDP report said its vulnerability to a warming climate could cancel the progress it has made in directing economic growth into sustained poverty reduction.
One of the UNDP report's authors, Maria Eugenia Mujica, said: "If we disregard [environmental] sustainability, whatever progress we have made in poverty reduction or improvement of human development will just be erased due to climate change."
With a temperature rise in the Andes of 0.7 degrees Celsius between 1939 and 2006, Peru has already lost 39 percent of its tropical glaciers. Temperature rises of up to 6 degrees Celsius are expected in many parts of the Andes by the end of this century.
Peru's economic success is in some cases directly linked to activities which contribute to climate change, for example illegal gold mining and logging, and the cocaine trade—all of them environmentally destructive, but lucrative.
"The growth does not come from education or health, but from predatory activities, like [resource] extraction and mining," said Francisco Santa Cruz, another of the report's authors.
Peru is trying to protect itself against the ravages of a warmer world, but the odds are against it. It recently announced plans to invest $6 billion USD in renewable energy projects: around the same time came predictions that climate change could cost between 8 percent and 34 percent of its GDP. A report by the Inter-American Development Bank has said the entire Latin American and Caribbean region will face annual damages from global warming of about $100 billion USD by 2050.
Taken for Granted
The Global Canopy Programme and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, describing climate change as "a threat multiplier," called in a report this month for a new security agenda for Amazonia and the countries of the region.
Manuel Pulgar, Peru's environment minister, said at the report's launch: “Climate change is a global problem, but one that will multiply local and regional problems in unforeseeable ways."
"In Latin America, we have taken Amazonia and its seemingly limitless water and forests as a given," Pulgar continued. "But recent unprecedented droughts have shown us just what happens when that water security falters.
"It impacts food and energy production, it affects the wellbeing of entire populations, and it leaves governments and businesses with a big bill to pay," Pulgar concluded. "The science is clear, so we cannot afford to miss the opportunity for positive action now.”
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
Last week, the Brazilian government released annual figures for deforestation in the Amazon and the news is not good. A total of 5,843 square kilometres are estimated lost between August 2012 and July 2013, an increase in deforestation of 28 percent compared to the previous year.
This sharp increase in deforestation in the Amazon is no surprise—all deforestation estimates released over the last year have shown we were headed in this direction. Last year, the government passed a new Forest Code, dramatically changing the environmental law that governs forest use in Brazil, including the Amazon.
A strong agribusiness influence in the Brazilian Congress lead to a massive weakening of the Forest Code—a law that once helped protect the Amazon. Those who believed the empty promises that the new Forest Code would bring governance to the Amazon, that amnesty granted to environmental criminals would not have consequences and that farmers in the Amazon would be moved by the spirit of Brazilian citizenship and legal compliance, can now see the reality of the impact of the new law in the forest. The ‘growth-at-all-costs’ model, based on the expansion of the agricultural frontier and the establishment of large infrastructure projects in the Amazon provides a sharp contrast to the image the government wants to sell.
Brazil can no longer hide behind the celebrated decrease in deforestation made in past years or the thinly veiled promises around the Forest Code. Brazil can hardly continue to claim leadership in sustainability and new models of development as all eyes turn to Brazil as hosts of the upcoming World Cup.
In 2009, the three largest slaughterhouses in Brazil signed the Cattle Agreement and pledged not to buy cattle from farms that were involved in new deforestation, slave labor or invasions into Indigenous land and protected areas in the Amazon. In 2006, the soy and cattle sector made commitments to move away from deforestation. The Soy Moratorium was signed by soy traders to stop the trade of soy coming from newly deforested land.
The Soy Moratorium is still in place today but it is set to expire in January 2014. If the industry fails to renew the moratorium without the proper safeguards and next steps in place, this could mean more bad news for the Amazon. We could see another dramatic increase in forest destruction as Soy expansion runs rampant through the forest.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
More and more of the world’s farmlands are being used to grow soybeans. It’s not to meet the needs of tofu, tempeh and miso lovers (though consumption of these has been on the rise) but of meat eaters.
Since the 1960s, soybeans have been cultivated predominantly to produce soybean meal, one part of which can be mixed with four parts of another grain (most often corn) to produce feed for livestock and chickens. This demand for high-quality protein to mix into animal feed is endangering ecosystems like Brazil’s Amazon Basin, home to some of the richest biodiversity of wildlife and fauna in the world and the cerrado, 1.2 million square miles of savannah that is fast being converted into farmlands.
Soybeans originated in China. The country is the third biggest consumer of soybeans in the world, though—the result of the Chinese government’s 1995 decision to become self-sufficient in wheat production—it now produces far less than needed and relies heavily on imports from the top three soybean producers in the world, the U.S., Brazil and Argentina. As Lester R. Brown of the Earth Policy Institute writes, the U.S. now produces about 80 million tons of soybeans, Brazil, 70 million tons and Argentina, 45 million tons.
In 2011, China produced about 14 million tons of soybeans, the same as it did in 1995. But the country consumed 70 million tons, meaning it imported some 56 million tons from elsewhere. Only about 10 percent of all of these soybeans was eaten as tofu or some other food; the rest were crushed for animal feed and soybean oil.
Indeed, soybeans, as Brown notes, are “far more pervasive in the human diet than the visual evidence would indicate” as they are an ingredient in many processed foods.
The U.S. is the biggest producer and the biggest consumer of soybeans. More land in the country is now devoted to soybean production than to wheat. Brazil and Argentina are at risk of becoming soybean monocultures, as the area they have planted in soybeans exceeds or doubles that used to plant other grains.
In Brazil, the cerrado has been increasingly used for agriculture following the discovery that adding phosphorus and lime could make its soil fertile. The cerrado also now provides more than 70 percent of the country’s beef cattle production. The cerrado remains a key ecological site; besides the Amazon, it feeds into two other major water basins, the Paraguay and São Francisco Rivers. Clearing the cerrado for agricultural and other uses has certainly been detrimental for its ecosystems, Brown writes:
Since 1970, the forested area in the Amazon Basin has shrunk some 19 percent from its 400 million hectares. For the cerrado, it is estimated that roughly half of its original 200 million hectares has been lost. In both cases, soybean expansion has played a significant role.
In Brazil, government initiatives to improve monitoring of deforestation have helped to slow the clearing of land. Environmental groups are also putting the pressure on major soybean buyers to agree to a moratorium in buying soybeans produced on deforested land.
But the rapid rate at which soybean consumption has grown around the world seems likely to continue as demand for meat, milk and eggs continues. In Brazil, Argentina and elsewhere, economic pressure to clear land and convert more of the cerrado for agricultural uses will continue.
The next stage of voting on Brazil’s new Forest Code—which could have devastating impacts on the Amazon—has been once again postponed before going to President Dilma Rousseff, who can either approve or veto it. The new code, which has been labelled a ‘forest protection measure,' has been so badly altered that it has become nothing more than an invitation for bulldozers and chainsaws to come to the forests.
The new forest proposal was passed by the Senate last week, and was set to be voted on this week by the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Brazil’s National Congress. However, at the Chamber meeting, the vote that was meant to happen was postponed until March 2012. While this means more time for the agribusiness sector to make even more damaging changes to the Forest Code, it also means more time to make sure President Rousseff hears the worldwide demand to protect the Amazon.
In the past week alone, 50,000 of you sent emails directly to President Rousseff urging her to use her veto power to protect the Amazon. This same demand was made by people all over the world and a wide spectrum of civil society groups, including World Wildlife Fund, Avaaz.org, and Floresta Faz a Diferença, a Brazilian coalition.
The discussions on changes to Brazil’s Forest Code have lasted more than a decade in total, including a two-year long messy legislative process in the National Congress. There have been multiple delays along the way and a last minute effort from scientists, environmentalists, religious leaders and social movements to restore sanity to the Forest Code with amendments designed to make the Code an effective measure for forest protection. Despite this, the Senate, under intense pressure from the agribusiness sector, voted to pass the new Forest Code last week and open the Amazon up for widespread destruction. The final result threatens to turn back the clock on several years of struggle against deforestation and grant amnesty to past crimes of illegal deforestation.
Inside Brazil, more than 1.5 million people have already called for action against the new Forest Code, but the fight to save the Amazon is not over. President Rousseff is still the only real chance to stop this regressive Forest Code in its tracks, before it is delivered on a silver platter to the agribusiness sector. The delay means there is more time to stop this destructive new code. We will continue to stand up for the Amazon against this threat, but we will still need your support.
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