As Environmental Crimes Destroy the Amazon, Brazil Fails to Act

Brazilian authorities are doing little to tackle the network of environmental crimes, largely to blame for the degradation and deforestation of the Amazon, a new report finds.

Amazon RainforestAbout 60% of the Amazon Basin is in Brazil. (Photo: lubasi, Flickr, License)“This analysis found that protected areas of the Amazon, including Indigenous Lands, Conservation Units and Permanent Protection Areas, have been increasingly impacted by the ecosystem of environmental crime, principally illegal logging and gold mining,” said the report by Brazilian think-tank Igarape Institute.

Last week’s study comes amid criticisms of the country’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, and the rising global concerns about the Amazon’s deforestation, which has risen to its highest levels in more than a decade since Bolsonaro took office in 2019 - pushing the planet’s largest tropical biome close to its tipping point.

Bolsonaro has had a questionable track record when it comes to the safeguarding of the Amazon. His administration has systematically undermined environmental protections and pushed Indigenous land to be open for business, according to the Council of Foreign Relations.

The Igarape Institute’s study depicting the collision of organized crime groups with public agencies found that systemic document fraud was an integral element of all environmental crimes. The report said, “uncovering this activity is a priority issue for public agencies responsible for environmental inspection and criminal investigation.”

“In the ecosystem of fraud, government corruption and tax and/or financial crime are interconnected,” it added.

By mapping the trajectories of natural resources and commodities “laundered” from the Amazon to Brazil and the rest of the world, the study found repetitive involvement in almost all illicit forest economies or related illegal activities from several states - primarily in the gold supply chain.

Furthermore, according to study, only two percent of the analyzed 302 environmental crime raids carried out by the Federal Police in the Amazon between 2016 and 2021 targeted the illegal seizures of undesignated public forest lands. However, the deforestation of undesignated public lands doubled between 2018 and 2021, reaching 367,000 hectares. It constituted one of the main vectors of loss of forest in the Brazilian Amazon.

“The lack of more systematic engagement on the part of the police is likely due, at least in part, to the lack of robust socio-environmental protections in place for these forest areas,” wrote the report, urging the proper designation of public lands for the forest’s protection.

According to a report by the environmental think tank Mapbiomas, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased by more than 20% in 2021. And according to data from Global Forest Watch, in 2021, Brazil lost 1.5 million hectares of primary tropical forest, more than any other country. Over 40% of tropical primary forest cleared worldwide was in Brazil.

“On one hand, government and public agencies have been paying closer attention and acting to combat environmental and converging crimes, mainly to reduce deforestation and illegal mining,” said the report by Igarape Institute.

“On the other, high ranking politicians and wealthy individuals cash in on – or fail to impede – attempts to weaken socio-environmental safeguards and regulations designed to protect the Amazon rainforest,” it continued.