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The Indonesian government has backed down from a decision to scrap its timber legality verification process for wood export, amid criticism from activists and the prospect of being shut out of the lucrative European market.
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Biodiversity loss is a global crisis. In May last year, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) warned that over 1,000,000 species are threatened with extinction worldwide. On May 22, the International Day of Biodiversity, it is important to recall the silent victims of our country's obsession for industrial growth at the expense of our forests.
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Australia's unprecedented wildfires that raged for months and destroyed millions of acres were likely made worse by industrial logging of native forests, according to a new commentary from five scientists published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
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Brazil's divisive President Jair Bolsonaro has taken another step in his bold plans to develop the Amazon rainforest.
Riches Now in Reach<p>The Amazon possesses a wealth of minerals including <a href="https://www.cell.com/one-earth/pdf/S2590-3322(19)30081-8.pdf" target="_blank">gold, diamonds, iron ore, manganese, copper, zinc and tin</a>. But the region is so remote, with its southern edge lying 1,000 miles from Rio de Janeiro, that resource extraction was <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1467-8306.2007.00564.x" target="_blank">long limited by transportation costs</a>.</p><p>This began to change in the 1970s, when Brazil's military government <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/btp.12610" target="_blank">built several new highways</a> through the Amazon. It paid little heed to the desires or safety of the <a href="http://www.precog.com.br/bc-texto/obras/pagliaro-9788575412541.pdf" target="_blank">140,000 Native people</a> living there.</p><p>Terrible abuses occurred, including the military's systematic killing from 1967 to 1977 of up to 2,000 <a href="https://apnews.com/9b7372ee4abc4b0aa659bdfb82492851" target="_blank">Waimiri-Atroari people</a> to make way for <a href="https://lab.org.uk/brazil-waimiri-atroari-indigenous-massacre/" target="_blank">a road to the Amazonian capital of Manaus</a>.</p><p>The territorial aggressions culminated in the 1980s, when <a href="https://pib.socioambiental.org/en/Povo:Yanomami#The_gold_rush" target="_blank">up to 40,000 wildcat miners invaded the Yanomami homeland</a> looking for gold. An estimated <a href="https://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/yanomami" target="_blank">20% of the resident indigenous population perished</a> from disease and violence over a seven-year period. Today there are about 900,000 indigenous people in Brazil.</p>
A World in Peril<p>At the turn of the millennium, Brazil was generally <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/106/26/10582.full.pdf" target="_blank">considered a good steward of the Amazon</a>.</p><p>About a decade into the 21st century, however, environmental policy <a href="https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cobi.12298" target="_blank">began to weaken</a> to allow <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-018-0179-9?proof=trueMay" target="_blank">more infrastructure development</a> in the Amazon. By 2016, some 34,000 square miles of the Brazilian Amazon had <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320716300386" target="_blank">lost its previously protected status or seen protections reduced</a>.</p><p>Indigenous sovereignty, however, was never called into question — until now. Since taking office in January 2019, Bolsonaro has also <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2020/01/brazils-bolsonaro-creates-amazon-council-and-environmental-police-force/" target="_blank">cut funds for the enforcement of Brazil's strict environmental laws</a>, leading Amazon <a href="https://theconversation.com/amazon-deforestation-already-rising-may-spike-under-bolsonaro-109940" target="_blank">deforestation to spike</a>.</p>
Resistance as Conservation<p>Accelerating deforestation under Bolsonaro has sparked violence in the Amazon.</p><p>Seven indigenous land activists <a href="https://g1.globo.com/natureza/noticia/2019/12/10/mortes-de-liderancas-indigenas-batem-recorde-em-2019-diz-pastoral-da-terra.ghtml" target="_blank">were killed in 2019</a>, according to the Brazilian not-for-profit Pastoral Land Commission, the most in over a decade. Indigenous environmental leaders in the <a href="https://sostenibilidad.semana.com/impacto/articulo/amenazas-a-lideres-indigenas-y-sociales-no-cesan-en-colombia/42919" target="_blank">Colombian</a> and <a href="https://es.mongabay.com/2018/07/amenazas-lideres-indigenas-de-ecuador-medio-ambiente/" target="_blank">Ecuadorian</a> Amazon have also been murdered.</p><p>Such killings mostly go unsolved. But Brazil's Indigenous Peoples Association says one indigenous activist killed in 2019, Paulo Guajajara, was gunned down by illegal loggers in November for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/02/brazilian-forest-guardian-killed-by-illegal-loggers-in-ambush" target="_blank">defending Guajajara territory</a> as part of an armed group called Guardians of the Forest.</p><p>"We are protecting our land and the life on it," Guajajara told <a href="https://fr.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSKBN1XC0GR" target="_blank">Reuters</a> shortly before his murder. "We have to preserve this life for our children's future."</p><p>Indigenous Brazilians have also defended their land in court.</p><p>In 2012, the Munduruku sued to <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/dec/22/amazon-munduruku-indians-brazil-tapajos" target="_blank">stop the construction of mega-dams and waterways</a> in the Tapajós River Valley — projects that would have ended life as they know it. Federal prosecutors agreed, filing in support of the Munduruku and calling for the suspension of the largest dam's environmental license.</p><p><span></span>Under legal pressure, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources in their <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2016/04/amazon-mega-dam-suspended-hope-indigenous-people-biodiversity/" target="_blank">April 2016 decision</a> curtailed the entire infrastructure plan, conserving <a href="https://www.cell.com/one-earth/pdf/S2590-3322(19)30081-8.pdf" target="_blank">7 percent of the Amazon Basin</a>.</p>
Amazon’s Last Hope<p>Not every indigenous Brazilian is a born environmentalist. Many mix traditional livelihoods like hunting, fishing and gathering with <a href="https://pib.socioambiental.org/en/Povo:Xavante#Economy_and_environment" target="_blank">agriculture and ranching</a>.</p><p>Like other <a href="https://theconversation.com/for-cattle-farmers-in-the-brazilian-amazon-money-cant-buy-happiness-85349" target="_blank">farmers who clear forest to plant more crops</a>, indigenous farmers stand to benefit from Bolsonaro's environmental deregulation. The president recently announced his administration would offer <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazl-indigenous/brazils-bolsonaro-offers-credit-for-indigenous-farmers-as-he-pushes-to-open-their-lands-idUSKBN20C2PQ" target="_blank">credit to indigenous soybean farmers who want to expand their operations</a>.</p><p>In Roraima state, the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/04/we-are-fighting-brazils-indigenous-groups-unite-to-protect-their-land" target="_blank">Raposa Serra do Sol people</a> live on land rich with gold, diamonds, copper and a slew of lesser-known metals that <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-election-china-niobium/hands-off-brazils-niobium-bolsonaro-sees-china-as-threat-to-utopian-vision-idUSKCN1MZ1JN" target="_blank">Bolsonaro regards as strategic to Brazil's metallurgical economy</a>. Royalty payments to Native peoples who open their land to miners could be substantial.</p><p>So far, however, indigenous <a href="https://www.ecosystemmarketplace.com/articles/indigenous-leader-aims-to-build-global-defense-against-brazils-tropical-trump" target="_blank">groups are united in their resistance to federal and corporate</a> interference. They may be the Brazilian Amazon's last hope.</p>
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Pope Francis, in an effort to reignite his influence as a global environmental leader, released an impassioned document Feb. 12 entitled Dear Amazon — a response to the historic Vatican meeting last autumn regarding the fate of the Amazon biome and its indigenous people.
Defending Nature — Again<p><em>Dear Amazon</em> stands as an emphatic complement to <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2016/02/top-vatican-official-climate-change-action-is-a-moral-imperative/" target="_blank"><em>Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home</em></a>, a papal encyclical released in June 2015 with the express purpose of spurring a positive outcome to the United Nations negotiations that resulted in the landmark Paris Agreement that December. An encyclical is a Catholic teaching document of the highest order, possessing "moral authority."</p><p><em>Laudato Si</em> established Francis on the world stage as an ecumenical leader and advocate for environmental protection. He bluntly blamed human activity for global warming and castigated rampant consumerism and unbridled capitalism as hastening the destruction of the earth.</p><p>Myriad faith communities around the globe were inspired to organize and act on the pope's urgings. However, the controversial manifesto met with <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2015/08/popes-environmental-encyclical-arrives-in-peru-to-mixed-reviews/" target="_blank">mixed reviews</a> in Latin America where some see conservation as a hindrance to economic growth and the relief of the poor in developing nations. Vatican officials have since touted climate action as a "<a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2016/02/top-vatican-official-climate-change-action-is-a-moral-imperative/" target="_blank">moral imperative</a>."</p><p>The message of<em> Dear Amazon</em> seems even more urgent than the 2015 encyclical<em>, </em>coming in response to the rapidly worsening Amazon emergency: "We are water, air, earth and life of the environment created by God," Francis writes. "For this reason, we demand an end to the mistreatment and destruction of mother Earth. The land has blood, and it is bleeding; the multinationals have cut the veins of our mother Earth."</p><p><em>Laudauto Si </em>was released when the progressive pope was at the height of global popularity, and it was heralded and cited for months by international media. But the urgent call of <em>Dear Amazon</em> has so far been largely ignored. Mainstream media accounts in the past week instead focused almost exclusively on Francis' decision to not allow the marriage of priests serving in the Amazon as a way of boosting their dramatically diminished numbers.</p><p><a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/12/world/europe/pope-married-priests.html?searchResultPosition=1" target="_blank">The New York Times</a> — which like other accounts stressed the Catholic church's progressive and conservative political divide — went so far as to report that "his closest advisers have acknowledged that the pope's impact has waned on the global stage, especially on core issues like immigration and the environment."</p>
People of Faith Respond<p>Francis won't likely be standing down without a fight. He calls on Latin American governments to enforce their environmental protection laws, return land rights to indigenous peoples, and recognize that Amazonian rainforests are more than an economic resource to be monetized for "extraction, energy, timber and other industries that destroy and pollute."</p><p>"The equilibrium of our planet depends on the health of the Amazon region," Francis writes. "Together with the biome of the Congo and Borneo, it contains a dazzling diversity of woodlands on which rain cycles, climate balance and a great variety of living beings also depend."</p><p>Faith leaders contacted by Mongabay looked past Vatican politics and cheered the pope's message in <em>Dear Amazon, </em>saying that it is invigorating their conservation work and strategies.</p><p>"Protecting rainforests is fundamentally an ethical issue, where care for creation and the realization of social justice for indigenous peoples and forest communities are part of one moral fabric," said Joe Corcoran, the UN project manager for the <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/09/interfaith-leaders-step-up-to-protect-the-worlds-sacred-rainforests/" target="_blank">Interfaith Rainforest Initiative</a> (IRI), an NGO which lobbies for governmental climate action in six rainforest countries.</p><p>"Through IRI, we are seeing that not only is the leadership of Pope Francis rallying Catholics to act, but [it is] also inspiring religious leaders from other faiths to protect rainforests around the world," Corcoran said.</p>
Seeing the Amazon gravely at risk, the Vatican has called on governments and the people of the world to protect the world's largest remaining rainforest. Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay<p>Laura Vargas leads IRI's <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/12/cop25-laura-vargas-inspires-with-power-of-faith-in-defense-of-forests/" target="_blank">initiatives in Peru</a>: "I believe <em>Dear Amazon</em> marks a turning point for the whole life of the church in the Amazon and beyond its borders. If we believe everything is interconnected, we realize that what happens to the largest tropical forest in the world affects the entire planet."</p><p>Meanwhile, at London-based Christian Aid, a global environmental activism organization, spokesman Joe Ware said, "The pope remains one of the most popular and loved pope's with significant influence not just over one billion Catholics, but of many others, too."</p><p>Ware stressed that 2020 is a crucial year, the year the Paris Agreement <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">goes into force</a>. The agreement remains dangerously <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/12/cop25-self-serving-g20-spites-youth-humanity-world-at-climate-talks/" target="_blank">incomplete</a> as leaders of the industrialized world continue dragging their feet to establish aggressive carbon emission-reduction policies, even as time runs short to dramatically begin decarbonizing the global economy — the UN itself <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-governments/" target="_blank">warned</a> in 2018 that the world's nations have just 12 years to act to avoid climate catastrophe.</p><p>"It's vital," Ware said, "that we have the voice of the Catholic Church and people of faith around the world pushing political leaders this year to make the boldest decisions possible."</p>
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The UK government is looking to take charge of a major crackdown on the illegal and largely unregulated plundering of forests in developing nations. The UK plans to form a coalition of developing countries to combat the practice as part of its duties as host of the UN's COP26 climate summit in November, as The Guardian reported.
By Jan Rocha
President Jair Bolsonaro pressed forward with a "dream" initiative sending a bill to the Brazilian Congress on Wednesday that would open indigenous reserves in the Amazon and elsewhere to development, including commercial mining, oil and gas exploration, cattle ranching and agribusiness, new hydroelectric dam projects, and tourism — projects that have been legally blocked under the country's 1988 Constitution.
A map showing indigenous reserves and conservation units in the Amazon, as well as deforestation. Mauricio Torres / Mongabay<p>Onyx Lorenzoni, Bolsonaro's chief of staff, praised the bill, claiming it was a "Lei Aurea" for indigenous people — a reference to the 1888 royal decree which freed the slaves in Brazil. From the government's point of view, the legislation is freeing indigenous people, allowing their lands to be invaded by <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/mining" rel="noopener noreferrer">mining</a>, <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/oil-and-gas" rel="noopener noreferrer">oil and gas</a> companies; <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/cattle" rel="noopener noreferrer">cattle</a> ranchers; soy farmers and dam builders, while compensating indigenous communities monetarily.</p><p>Under the Brazilian constitution, demarcated indigenous territories belong to the state, and are for the permanent possession and exclusive use of the indigenous people who have always lived there. Only they can decide what activities are allowed on their lands.</p><p>Bolsonaro's new law is therefore an attempt to override the Constitution, say legal experts. It is almost certain to be greatly modified in Congress, if it passes at all. But, say analysts, the message contained in the bill — that indigenous lands are up for grabs — is what matters.</p><p>Since Bolsonaro's election, conflicts between ruralists and indigenous people have soared. The latest report from CIMI, the Indigenous Missionary Council, shows a steady growth in the number of invasions of indigenous areas, up from 111 in 2018 to 160 in 2019; indigenous leaders say Bolsonaro's speeches and comments have contributed to the increase. <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2020/01/five-murdered-in-2020-brazilian-amazon-land-conflicts-adding-to-2019-surge/" target="_blank">Five murders</a> due to indigenous and traditional land conflicts occurred in the first weeks of 2020.</p>
Uncontacted indigenous group in the Brazilian state of Acre. Gleilson Miranda / Governo do Acre / Mongabay
Uncontacted Indigenous Groups at Risk<p>The new bill as written would allow economic projects even in areas where there are known to be uncontacted Indians. The existence of 28 such groups in the Amazon region has been confirmed, out of 115 believed to exist.</p><p>But the bill isn't the only potential threat to uncontacted tribes. The day before Bolsonaro announced his legislation, FUNAI appointed an evangelical preacher and agency outsider to head the Department for Isolated and Recently Contacted Indigenous Peoples (CGIIRC). To accomplish this, FUNAI had to revoke its own long-established rule that only a qualified staff member could be chosen to head such a sensitive bureau.</p><p>The new head, Ricardo Lopes Dias, has <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/05/brazil-indigenous-tribes-missionary-agency-ricardo-lopes-dias-christianity-disease" target="_blank">strong views</a> regarding the conversion of indigenous people to Christianity. He is a former missionary for the controversial New Tribes Mission, a Florida-based evangelical organization, and worked from 1997 to 2007 in the Vale do Javari indigenous reserve, in Amazonas state. There, according to Matsés indigenous leaders — who protested his presence — he "manipulated part of the Matsés population to found a new village" where an evangelical church would be built. The New Tribes Mission has been accused of causing death and disease among the tribes it worked with in the 1970s, subjecting them to enforced conversion to evangelical Christianity. Lopes Dias has a degree in anthropology.</p><p>Isolated or uncontacted indigenous peoples are usually survivors of larger groups which were decimated by disease or violence when the military dictatorship (ruling from 1964-1985) forced roads through ancestral lands in the Amazon during the 1960s and 70s. In some cases up to 90 percent of local populations died. This led FUNAIi, in the 1980s, after the dictatorship ended, to introduce a policy of non-contact, designating a "no go" zone protecting the survivors, who became known as "isolated Indians."</p>
Evidence photo of Jair Bolsonaro upon his 2012 arrest for illegal fishing in a conservation area; he never paid the fine and after becoming president had the IBAMA employee who arrested him sacked. IBAMA / Mongabay
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"We see ourselves not as an owner of wild rice but a symbiotic partner and a parallel entity from the Creator," says Frank Bibeau, a lawyer from the Anishinaabe indigenous group in the U.S. and Canada.
Indigenous Approaches Written Into Law<p>"Conventional environmental laws are really about regulating how we use nature," says Mari Margil of CELDF. "The consequences of that have been so devastating that people in different parts of the world are saying we need to make a fundamental shift in our relationship with nature."</p><p>With the idea that indigenous peoples are the most reliable custodians of our planet now repeated by politicians and environmental NGOs alike, giving nature rights suggests a way their approaches might be adopted by broader society.</p><p>It was in this spirit that Ecuador became the first country to enshrine the rights of nature — personified as Pachamama, the Andean earth goddess — in its constitution, in 2008.</p><p><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Bolivia">Bolivia</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Uganda" rel="noopener noreferrer">Uganda</a> have since enshrined the rights of nature in their constitutions, and <a href="https://celdf.org/2019/10/media-release-rights-of-nature-constitutional-amendment-introduced-in-swedens-parliament/" target="_blank">an amendment</a> was recently proposed for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Sweden" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sweden</a> to do the same.</p>
A Healthier Relationship With Nature?<p>Asserting that nature has intrinsic rights isn't just a legal tool to prosecute polluters. It also challenges the "ecosystem services" approach to environmental protection that costs up the economic value of clean air, water and biodiversity — and even the concept of conservation areas.</p><p>As a national park, land surrounding the Whanganui River in New Zealand was off limits to the Iwi Maori tribe who had hunted and fished there sustainably for generations. In 2017, the dispute was resolved by making the river a person in its own right, owned by neither the state nor the tribe.</p><p>Maori law professor Jacinta Ruru sees it as a major breakthrough that New Zealand law now reflects the relationship the country's indigenous people have with the environment — one that sees no division between what's good for people and the planet.</p><p>"My tribe — we'll talk about your veins in your arms as being like the riverways of the land," explains Ruru. "So you're seeing the health and wellbeing of who you are as a person, your health, your own happiness, as entirely connected with the health and wellbeing of the environment around us."</p>
Strategic Compromise<p>Ruru says it's too soon to judge the ecological impact of the Whanganui River's change of status. And it remains to be seen if the Rights of Manoomin will be any match for the interests invested in the pipeline.</p><p>In Ecuador's case, the new constitution has been used to block plantations and road-building that threatened forest, but it hasn't proved enough to transform an entire system geared toward economic development; cases brought by indigenous activists have ended in Pachamama's rights being trumped by those of <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55914fd1e4b01fb0b851a814/t/5748568c8259b5e5a34ae6bf/1464358541319/Kauffman++Martin+16+Testing+Ecuadors+RoN+Laws.pdf" target="_blank">businesses</a>.</p><p>Critics also <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2514848618763807" target="_blank">point out</a> that making rivers and forests honorary people owes less to any indigenous deification of nature than to the Western rights discourse.</p><p>"There is a strategic relationship between indigenous communities and the rights of nature," says Mihnea Tanasescu, a political scientist who authored a book on the subject in Ecuador, "but there is not necessarily an intrinsic philosophical affinity, because rights are a very Western legal category."</p>
Conversation-Changer<p>Last year, one such case made international headlines. Residents of Toledo, a city on the shores of heavily polluted Lake Erie in the U.S. state of Ohio, voted to give the lake rights. A local farm responded by filing a lawsuit claiming this violated the rights of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/agribusiness" rel="noopener noreferrer">agribusinesses</a>. </p><p>Since the bill was more or less quashed by Ohio state legislature, activists are fighting to revive it from legal limbo. But if nothing else, their struggle has drawn attention to the priorities of a legal system that treats nature as property but corporations as legal persons.</p><p>"Often people just don't think about these invisible systems that govern our world," Maloney says. "So as a starting point — and a conversation- and discourse-changer — the rights of nature is very powerful."</p>
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