Despite Vetoing Environmental Rollbacks, Temer Bears Brunt of Norway’s Cold Shoulder
After President Trump announced that the United States would leave the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement, several of Brazil’s former environment ministers wrote an open letter publicizing their frustration and disapproval of the American president’s decision. They also used the letter to criticize their own president, Michel Temer, on his lackluster performance dealing with environmental issues.
Whereas many international leaders have reaffirmed their support for the Paris Agreement and its goals of mitigating human contributions to climate change, Brazilian lawmakers have debated measures that would drastically reduce existing environmental protections. In recent years, these protections have not only conserved Brazil’s natural resources, but have also enabled Brazil to more sincerely fulfill its obligations under internationally recognized principles as set forth in the Paris Agreement and other forums. Unbridling Amazon exploration would set Brazil back.
Earlier this month, President Michel Temer vetoed legislation passed in the National Congress that would have removed critical safeguards from more than one million acres in the Amazon region. Backed by numerous foreign investors and much of the mining industry, the legislation would have terminated a forty-year ban on foreign-owned mining companies. The ban prohibits companies from operating within 150 kilometers of Brazil’s borders with other South American countries, placing more than an quarter of Brazil’s territory off-limits.
Environment Minister José Sarney Filho has continued to advocate for certain environment preservations and opposed the congressional proposals. He was joined by the likes of the World Wildlife Fund and supermodel Gisele Bündchen, who have voiced their concerns over environmental degradation, the rapid exploration and depletion of natural resources, and the expulsion of indigenous groups from their homes. Admittedly, deforestation rates have declined over the past few decades, but in recent years that trend has reversed: deforestation increased by 24 percent from 2014 to 2015 and by 29 percent from 2015 to 2016.
Coupled with the exploitative deforestation practices already in use, the addition of more mining companies would heighten unease over what some consider to be a half-hearted commitment by Brazil’s government to combatting climate change.
Analysts initially thought Temer would sign off on the measures, since he needs political support from lawmakers representing rural landowners, agribusiness officials, and ranchers. Instead, acting upon Sarney Filho’s recommendation, Temer adopted a less controversial stance and vetoed the proposals on the eve of his trip to Russia and Norway. He will likely now submit a less drastic version to Congress.
The shift appeared to be strategic, as it could have given Temer breathing room both domestically and abroad. In particular, Temer may have thought the move would help in negotiations with Norwegian state officials concerned with Brazil’s escalating rate of deforestation. Yet, he was unable to fully appease them.
The Norwegian’s threat to slash funds to Brazil surfaced in Brazilian media, although the deepening domestic political crisis largely overshadowed Temer’s meetings in Russia and Norway. Had Temer not vetoed the proposals, the consequences may have been even worse.
Should the Brazilian government fail to curb deforestation in the Amazon, it stands to lose billions of dollars in the coming years. Since 2008, Norway has provided over $1.1 billion in funds to assist in Amazon protection efforts. Yet, Norway’s assistance is conditional on a performance-based reward system where Brazil receives payments based on its preservation of the Amazon. This year, it will likely receive roughly $35 million, which is just half of what it received in 2016 and barely a third of what it typically receives per year.
Consequently, Brazil’s National Bank for Economic and Social Development, which oversees the Amazon Fund, will be forced to cope with less money and support going forward. Insufficient assistance will likely exacerbate problems for the Fund, which this year has only approved three projects and has nineteen others under review. To pass and implement all of them, the Fund would need an additional $175 million, which now appears unlikely to come from Norway despite the country’s $500 million extension in 2015 of the original $1 billion pledge from 2008.
In the agreement’s early years, Brazil significantly reduced deforestation in the area, but its recent presence has grown steeply, despite incentives otherwise. Norway’s funding has been crucial in helping Brazil meet its environmental goals of preserving the Amazon, reducing the rate of logging, protecting indigenous land, and cutting down on carbon emissions.
Yet, as the country grapples with its current political crisis and the aftermath of an economic recession, Brazil has overlooked many of its environmental obligations at an indefinite but unmistakable cost to its wallet and the world.