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As the COVID-19 virus was spreading around the world, deforestation in the world's rainforests rose at an alarming rate, the German arm of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said in a study published on Thursday.
Indonesia Forests Hit Hardest<p>The forests most heavily hit by deforestation in March were in Indonesia, with more than 1,300 square kilometers lost. </p><p>The Democratic Republic of Congo saw the second-largest forest loss with 1,000 square kilometers followed by Brazil with 950 square kilometers.</p><p>The Brazilian non-profit research institute Imazon told news agency DPA that deforestation was up in April as well. The institute recorded a loss of 529 square kilometers in the Amazon in April, a rise of 171% compared to last year.</p>
Tied to COVID-19<p>The WWF says there's ample evidence to suggest the boom in rainforest deforestation is being fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p>With stay-at-home orders and strict lockdowns in place in countries around the world, authorities haven't been able to patrol nature preserves and indigenous territories as often — a situation that criminal organizations and illegal loggers have been using to their advantage.</p><p>The virus has also prompted massive job losses in many countries, leaving many newly-unemployed people increasingly desperate for sources of income.</p>
By Lamfu Fabrice Yengong and Sylvie Djacbou Deugoue
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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By Peter Yeung
From the skies above Creporizao, a remote town in the south of the Brazilian Amazon, the surrounding area looks like a vast blanket of dark green rainforest. But along the dirt roads and rivers that run through it like arteries are telling patches of muddy brown: illegal gold mines.
'Full-scale gold rush'<p>About 13% of Brazil's territory is classified as indigenous land, spread across more than 400 reserves. But <a href="https://www.amazoniasocioambiental.org/en/" target="_blank">according to the Amazon Geo-Referenced Socio-Environmental Information Network</a>, there are more than 450 illegal mining sites in the Brazilian Amazon, where most of those reserves are located.</p><p>The proposed law would likely lead to a dramatic rise in the level of mining activity.</p><p>"Once you open the door, it will become a flood," Glenn Shepard, an American anthropologist who works with indigenous populations affected by illegal mining, told DW. "The law will create a precedent for miners to go in. It's already a full-scale gold rush going on, and these indigenous groups are losing control."</p><p>Greenpeace's journalism team, Unearthed, has reported that <a href="https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2020/04/03/coronavirus-brazil-amazon-gold-rush-indigenous-groups-deforestation/" target="_blank">gold miners planned to continue working through the coronavirus pandemic</a>, increasing fears of spreading the disease to indigenous groups. </p>
The deforestation issue<p>Environmentally, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/amazon-sees-alarming-rise-in-deforestation/a-51668498" target="_blank">one of the biggest impacts of mining is logging.</a> A 2017 report published in the journal Nature Communications found that mining accounted for 9% of all forest loss in the Amazon between 2005 and 2015.</p><p>Satellite <a href="https://maaproject.org/2020/gold_brazil/" target="_blank">analysis </a>published by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project revealed that 2,000 hectares of gold mining-related deforestation occurred in 2019 across the Munduruku indigenous reserve, more than double the amount recorded the year before.</p><p>Last November dozens of tribal leaders from the Amazon met with officials in Brasilia to file claims and report serious threats to their territories.</p><p>Alessandra Korap Munduruku, a leader from Para state who attended the meeting, says the legalization of mining would "be the death of our people."</p><p>Besides bringing "disease and prostitution to our people, drug addiction to our children, and violent conflict to the Munduruku men," she said gold mining activity is also killing fish through mercury poisoning.</p>
Problematic legal trade<p>Even the legal gold trade in Brazil is largely unregulated, which facilitates illegal business and plays a significant role in the destruction of the Amazon. Prosecutors in Para state say the lack of regulation in the legal trade and the fact that receipts are paper-based carbon copies make it easy for criminals to thrive and illegal gold to enter the legal system.</p><p>"The practice of fraud in the sector is quite easy, and the investigation of illegalities becomes an almost insurmountable obstacle," Luis de Camoes Lima Boaventura, public prosecutor in the Amazonian city of Santarem said.</p><p>"Until a computerized system is installed, the authorities cannot check, in real time, the legality of the transactions. To make a transaction of illegal gold, all you currently need is a pen and paper."</p><p>According to National Mining Agency estimates, around 30 tons of gold worth some 4.5 billion reals ($1.1 billion, €900 million) are illegally traded in the state of Para annually. That is around six times more than the amount legally declared.</p><p>When miners like Jose Maria return to Creporizao at the end of what can be days away, they come to one of a dozen gold shops that line the main drag to melt what they have mined into standardized bars. Once that is done, illegally-mined gold, which is responsible for widespread deforestation, pollution and violence in the Amazon, has entered the system and can no longer be traced.</p>
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A new company has begun clearing rainforest in an area of Indonesia's easternmost Papua province earmarked to become the world's largest oil palm plantation, in a vast project that has been mired in allegations of lawbreaking.
A satellite view of Digoel Agri's forest clearance, seen in late November 2019.<p>Since it was first conceived in 2007, the rights to the project have changed hands several times, involving a string of investors who have deployed crude and complex corporate secrecy techniques to hide their identities.</p><p>The licensing process for the project has been plagued by irregularities. A cross-border <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2018/11/the-secret-deal-to-destroy-paradise/" target="_blank">investigation</a> by The Gecko Project, Mongabay, Malaysiakini and Tempo, published in November 2018, revealed that key permits were signed by an elected official who was simultaneously serving a prison sentence for embezzling state funds.</p><p>A subsequent <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/12/revealed-government-officials-say-permits-for-mega-plantation-in-papua-were-falsified/" target="_blank">report</a> found that officials believe other essential permits — for both the plantation and a giant sawmill to process the timber — were falsified.</p><p>Two companies, majority-owned by anonymous firms registered in the United Arab Emirates, began operating on the basis of these permits, to the north of the land now held by Digoel Agri. In response to written questions from The Gecko Project and Mongabay they have denied the allegation that the permits were falsified.</p><p>On paper, Digoel Agri's involvement in the project represents a clean break from those allegations. The firm arrived on the scene after the suspect permits held by earlier investors were revoked and reassigned to it.</p>
Enter the Rumangkangs<p>Digoel Agri was set up by members of the Rumangkang family, according to the Indonesian government's corporate registry. The late family patriarch, Ventje Rumangkang, who <a href="https://kumparan.com/kumparannews/pendiri-partai-demokrat-ventje-rumangkang-meninggal-dunia-1stwRMdnjsT" target="_blank">died</a> in February at the age of 74, was a founder of Indonesia's Democratic Party, the vehicle for Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's successful presidential run in 2004.</p><p>At their office in Jayapura, Jackson and his brother Jones Rumangkang, 44, said they had decided to invest in the Tanah Merah project after being encouraged to do so by bureaucrats in Boven Digoel, the district in which the project is located. They then formed several companies under the Digoel Agri brand and set about acquiring the permits.</p><p>The brothers said they were helped along by Fabianus Senfahagi, the head of a local indigenous people's association. He had played a role shepherding through the project in its early stages, <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2018/11/the-secret-deal-to-destroy-paradise/" target="_blank">accompanying</a> surveyors sent by other investors around 2012.</p><p>A paper trail of correspondence among Fabianus and government officials shows he subsequently agitated for the permits to be revoked and reassigned to the Digoel Agri Group.</p>
A road cuts through one of the Digoel Agri land concessions, seen in January. Pusaka
Competing Interests<p>The Rumangkangs insist that the project will benefit the Auyu people. Jones said the ones he met were overjoyed about the prospect of a plantation on their land.</p><p>"They didn't just ask, they cried," he said. "The Auyu tribe is the poorest in Boven Digoel, even though they're so rich [in natural resources]."</p><p>The Rumangkangs have enlisted foreign investors to help them develop the plantation. Their chief partner is a New Zealand property developer named Neville Mahon. In 2018, Mahon became the majority shareholder of the Digoel Agri subsidiaries with land concessions in the project. He could not be reached for comment.</p><p>Mahon associate Thirunavukarasu Selva Nithan, an Australian national, is the sole director of the three companies, corporate records show. Contacted by email, he said he had resigned his position and directed questions to Jackson.</p><p>The involvement of these investors adds to a growing list of actors from across the world with a stake in what could become the world's largest stretch of oil palm. Malaysian logging giant Shin Yang has constructed a sawmill to process timber from the project.</p><p>North of the Digoel Agri concessions, investors whose identities are hidden behind anonymously owned companies in the United Arab Emirates have also begun clearing land, with the Menara Group and the sister of a prominent politician from Indonesia's National Mandate Party as their minor partners. So far, they've bulldozed 8,300 hectares (20,500 acres) of forest, nearly 3% of the project's total area.</p><p>Yet another firm holds the rights to the northernmost block of the project. Corporate records show it is majority owned by two holding companies registered to a letterbox address in Malaysia. The minor shareholder in that venture is the Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau.</p><p>Many Auyu remain steadfastly opposed to the Tanah Merah project, according to Franky Samperante, the director of Pusaka, an Indonesian nonprofit that advocates for indigenous peoples' rights.</p>
Franky Samperante. Sandy Watt / The Gecko Project<p>On a recent trip to the area, he found that members of the Kemon clan, whose land has been targeted by Digoel Agri, did not want the plantation to go ahead on the grounds that it would destroy their food and water supplies.</p><p>He questioned the government's decision to allow the plantation to move ahead, without investigating the allegation that permits held by the earlier investors had been falsified.</p><p>"In light of the irregularities that have arisen, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry must review the decrees rezoning the land," he said. "The government must impose sanctions on the perpetrators."</p>
By Jessica Rawnsley
Antonio Donato Nobre is passionate about the Amazon region and despairs about the level of deforestation taking place in what is the world's biggest rainforest.
Dramatic Increase<p>Then the law on land use was relaxed, and deforestation increased dramatically — by as much as 200 percent between 2017 and 2018.</p><p>It's all become much worse since Jair Bolsonaro became Brazilian president at the beginning of last year, Nobre says.</p><p>"There are some dangerous people in office," he says. "The Minister of Environment is a <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-brazil-politics-minister/brazils-incoming-environment-minister-found-guilty-of-improper-conduct-idUKKCN1OJ2U1" target="_blank">convicted criminal.</a> The Minister of Foreign Affairs is a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/15/brazil-foreign-minister-ernesto-araujo-climate-change-marxist-plot" target="_blank">climate sceptic</a>."</p><p>Nobre argues that Bolsonaro doesn't care about the Amazon and has contempt for environmentalists.</p><p>His administration is encouraging the land grabbers who illegally take over protected or indigenous tribal land, which they then sell on to cattle ranchers and soybean conglomerates.</p><p>For indigenous tribes, life has become more dangerous. "They are being murdered, their land is being invaded," Nobre says.</p><p>In August last year, the world watched as large areas of the Amazon region — a <a href="https://climatenewsnetwork.net/tropical-forests-may-be-heating-earth-by-2035/" target="_blank">vital carbon sink</a> sucking up and recycling global greenhouse gases — went up in flames.</p><p>Nobre says the land grabbers had organised what they called a "day of fires" in August last year to honour Bolsonaro.</p>
Time Running Out<p>"We used to say the Amazon had two seasons: the wet season and the wetter season," Nobre says. "Now, you have many months without a drop of water."</p><p>Nobre spent many years living and carrying out research in the rainforest and is now attached to <a href="http://www3.inpe.br/50anos/english/presentation.php" target="_blank">Brazil's National Institute for Space Research</a> (INPE).</p><p>The vast majority of Brazilians, he says, are against deforestation and are concerned about climate change — but while he believes that there is still hope for the rainforest, he says that time is fast running out.</p><p>Many leading figures in Brazil, including a group of powerful generals, have been shocked by the international reaction to the recent spate of fires in the Amazon and fear that the country is becoming a pariah on the global stage.</p><p>Nobre is angry with his own government, but also with what he describes as the massive conspiracy on climate change perpetrated over the years by the oil, gas and coal lobbies.</p><p>Ever since the late 1970s, the fossil fuel companies' scientists have known about the consequences of the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.</p><p>"They brought us to this situation knowingly," Nobre says. "It's not something they did out of irresponsible ignorance. They paid to bash the science."<em></em></p><p><em>Jessica Rawnsley is a UK-based environmental journalist. She has written stories on the Extinction Rebellion movement and police tactics connected with demonstrations. She has a particular interest in campaigning groups and their influence on government climate policies.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://climatenewsnetwork.net/rainforest/" target="_blank">Climate News Network</a>.</em></p>
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Mexico's president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador ordered state-owned oil company, Pemex, to build an $8 billion oil refinery. So, the company has followed orders and razed protected mangrove trees to clear way for the controversial project, according to Quartz. Satellite images posted on Quartz show the cleared land to accommodate the construction.
Pemex's Dos Bocas refinery site. Planet Labs / Quartz<p>Lopez Obrador approved the project in Tabasco, his home state, to revive the state-owned oil giant, which has suffered from dysfunction recently. Shortly after the president approved the project, a third party uprooted large swatches of mangroves, even though they are protected and vital to Mexico's economy, according to Quartz. </p> <p>The complex ecosystems the trees create provide almost 6 percent of Mexico's GDP, according to the University of California, San Diego, as Quartz reported. While the mangroves are supposed to be protected, the satellite imagery shows that they continue to be felled to make way for roads. Pemex, or a third-party, defied a <a href="https://www.gob.mx/asea/prensa/asea-expide-autorizacion-condicionada-del-proyecto-de-construccion-de-la-refineria-dos-bocas-tabasco" target="_blank">government order</a> by cutting down the mangroves and is now asking for permission to raze more so it can build a bridge. </p> <p>The actions have environmental advocates worried about Mexico's commitment to a sustainable future, especially since the government canceled a $700,000 fine for a company accused of destroying thousands of acres of mangroves. </p> <p>"The administration promotes an oil refinery, and to build it destroys threatened mangroves even though Mexico is part of the Paris accords," Alejandra Rabasa, an environmental lawyer in Mexico City, <a href="https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/scenes-crime-mexico-monarch-butterfly-defenders-murder" target="_blank">said to Sierra Club</a>.</p>
The world's tropical forests are rapidly losing their ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere, worrying scientists that a major carbon dump will transform them into a carbon source, according to research published Wednesday.
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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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Talk is cheap, says the acting executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, who begged governments around the world to make sure that 2020 is not another year of conferences and empty promises, but instead is the year to take decisive action to stop the mass extinction of wildlife and the destruction of habitat-sustaining ecosystems, as The Guardian reported.
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Right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has found a new person to blame for the record number of wildfires that have ravaged the Amazon rainforest this year: actor and environmental advocate Leonardo DiCaprio.
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