Environmental crimes in the Amazon are rapidly expanding. Activities such as the illegal invasion of public lands for agriculture, ranching and land speculation, fires caused by human action, illegal logging, and illegal mining, among others, cause significant environmental, climate and socioeconomic damage.
In addition to contributing to an increase in deforestation and greenhouse gases emissions, these crimes cause soil, water and air pollution and disrupt the livelihoods of indigenous and traditional communities. They open up space for other types of illegal activities, such as arms and human trafficking, slave work and sexual exploitation. Environmental crimes also fuel corruption and money laundering and contribute to a significant increase in violence and conflicts over natural resources. In many cases, the actors behind these illicit activities also benefit from the omission or even the collusion or encouragement of government officials in relation to environmental crimes.
Against this backdrop, combating and preventing crimes against the environment requires a collaborative approach, led by government agencies, that prioritizes sustainable development and the protection of forests. At the same time, it is also necessary enhance a coordinated action between civil society and private sector actors, with the support of international organizations and the international community. A joint effort would allow a better understanding of the causes, dynamics and impacts of environmental crimes, in addition to favoring the development, implementation and monitoring of effective responses.
In the Brazilian context, a collaborative approach requires an understanding of the capacities and gaps faced by national actors. To that end, CIPÓ developed the strategic report “Beyond the ‘Scorched Earth’: Paths to prevent and respond to environmental crimes in Brazil”, which seeks to identify the main structural challenges faced by environmental agencies, in particular those dedicated to environmental monitoring and policing and the enforcement of environmental legislation. The report, which is accompanied by a database on the main environmental actors involved in combating environmental crimes in Brazil, also analyzes the impacts of the current environmental policies promoted by the Brazilian federal government, marked by the dismantling of institutions in charge of environmental protection and the reduction of civil society participation in environmental matters.
The central argument is that the combination of three main factors produced a “perfect storm”, during which environmental crimes and illegal deforestation are rapidly proliferating. These are: the regional inequalities historically present in State institutions involved in the fight against environmental crimes; the ongoing dismantling of federal environmental agencies; and a historical vision of development and national integration, reinforced by the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, which considers the forest as an obstacle to infrastructure, and /or as a vast space that must be exploited at the expense of the protection of the environment. These factors poses serious challenges to the Brazilian state’s capacity to tackle environmental crimes and advance a new sustainable approach to the Amazon.
The strategic report is divided into four sections. Sections 1 and 2 provide a brief background on environmental crimes in the Amazon region, in addition to presenting the main categories and attributions of state actors dedicated to combating them, with a focus on monitoring and policing; environmental crime investigation; and civil and criminal prosecution of perpetrators. The report also presents key historical weaknesses of Brazil’s environmental agencies, as well as examines the impact of the current attempts to dismantle environmental institutions at the federal level. Finally, the report offers recommendations on how civil society can work to help enhance Brazil’s capacity to prevent and respond to environmental crimes in the Amazon region.
The English version of the Strategic Report will be published soon.