Friday, March 29, 2019

Backward policies and environmental crimes in Brazil

The last few years have been calamitous for the Brazilian nature and environmentalism. In 2015, Brazil experienced one of its vilest environmental tragedies of all times. Due to the rupture of a large dam in Mariana (Minas Gerais State), some 60M m3 of toxic mud from an iron ore mine flowed downriver into the Atlantic, severely affecting the most important river basin of the densely inhabited southeastern region. Low oxygen concentrations and high levels of mercury, arsenic, copper and zinc make the muddy water toxic to both aquatic species and humans, sorely polluting some 760,000 ha of the Atlantic forest and its coast. This tragedy has been directly linked to hazard monitoring failures, amounting to immense management recklessness. To the current day, no one has been convicted for this crime and no fines have been paid, which is an open invitation to more wrongdoing and new attacks to nature.

It is not really surprising then that less than four years since the Mariana disaster, Brazil goes once again through the same tragedy in the same region, though even more catastrophic now. This time a larger dam broke in the town of Brumadinho, generating a mudslide avalanche, severely affecting the landscape and leaving hundreds of people dead and missing. In addition to corpses and environmental destruction, both disasters share the same mining company, which raises the question of how can a company get involved in two such tragedies in such a short time? The answer lies partially in the lenience of the Brazilian government in pointing and punishing the big players responsible for these environmental crimes. However, this is only part of the story…

In the Mariana case, behind the main perpetrating enterprise (Samarco) hides the world’s largest and Brazil’s largest mining parent companies, respectively: BHP Billiton and Vale (the same of Brumadinho case).  BHP Billiton’s profits reached almost US$2 billion in 2015 alone, while Vale’s gross income in the third quarter of 2015 was around US$6 billion. Conversely, fines likely to be levied to these companies by Brazil’s environmental agency (IBAMA) was around U$65M. These penalties can easily be assimilated by the companies’ annual profits and therefore are unlikely to promote any positive changes in their corporate behavior. Even so, these companies have paid less than 7% of the fines, while they have challenged them judicially.

Propelled by economic growth, emerging tropical economies such as Brazil are clearly embarking on a perverse development trap, whereby primary industries may generate thousands of jobs and a large amount tax base, but on the other hand carry high environmental and social costs. These conditions render these countries hostage to big enterprises. This has resulted in increasingly lax licensing laws and penalties, favoring conditions in which environmental crimes clearly pay off. In Brazil, for instance, fewer than 3% of all environmental fines are settled.

These mining ‘accidents’ deserve special consideration because capital-intensive development projects in Brazil are growing at an unprecedented scale. Mining activities in Brazil are expected to grow five-fold over the next 20 years (MME 2010) and there have been repeated political efforts to explicitly downgrade environmental licensing restrictions to favor large-scale mining enterprises. This is even more worrisome in the far-right Bolsonaro's era, whose myopic plans include a rollback of environmental protections and rights of traditional communities, a reorganization of federal science programs, and an aggressive agenda of agricultural, industrial and mineral expansion.

Figure. The town of Mariana after the mining environmental crime.

The project of law PL #3729/200 is a carte blanche for new infrastructure projects and other economic activities, as it considerable reduces their environmental licenses requirements. If implemented, the Brazilian society will not have enough time to analyze the social and environmental costs (or even benefits) of implementing such large projects. To make matters worse, many other bills severely threaten indigenous and traditional communities, preventing new demarcation of Indigenous Lands (IL) and Protected Areas (PA), and allowing mining activities within IL frontiers, without the consent of the indigenous people themselves. These policy setbacks are a clear attack on the sustainable development agenda and social rights of traditional communities, going against many of the agreements that Brazil have signed in the past. There is no sign that the federal government will review and back up on its own conduct even in the aftermath of the shocking crimes of Mariana and Brumadinho.

The civil society and sustainable-development friendly policy makers are in urgent need of rethinking their pillars of development pathways, while they still have to face the herculean task of ensuring that the government base its decision on science instead of ideology and short-term profit Unfortunately, in Bolsonaro's government the future seems muddier and muddier.

By João Vitor Campos-Silva

Further readings
Dr. João Vitor Campos-Silva is a post doc in the "Programa de Pós-Graduação em Diversidade Biológica e Conservação nos Trópicos", Instituto de Ciências Biológicas e da Saúde, Universidade Federal de Alagoas, Av. Lourival Melo Mota, s/n, Tabuleiro dos Martins, CEP:57072-900, Maceió, Alagoas, Brasil.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Brazilian fisheries management: a musical chair game with no winners

The responsibility for fisheries management in Brazil was never a priority agenda of any government, a fact that culminated in this responsibility being assigned to different organs, secretaries and ministries several times in the federal autarchy, a real musical chair game of fisheries.

Before 1989, the management of Brazilian fisheries resources was under the supervision of the Superintendence of Fisheries Development (Sudepe, created in 1962), which was part of the Ministry of Agriculture. The main regulation during this period was the Decree-Law n° 221/67, which aimed to protect and, at the same time, provide incentives to fisheries. In 1998, fisheries management became the responsibility of the newly created Brazilian Institute of Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA). Later, between 1998 and 2003, IBAMA was in charge of the management of overexploited or almost overexploited resources, while the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, under the Ministry of Agriculture, Supply and Livestock was responsible for the unexploited or underexploited resources.

In 2003, the attributions of the Ministry of Agriculture, Supply and Livestock were transferred to the Special Secretary of Aquaculture and Fisheries (SEAP/PR; Law n° 10,683/03), until the creation of the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture in June 2009 (Law n° 11,958/09). One of the main changes of this new arrangement was the establishment of a joint management between this ministry and the Ministry of the Environment especially regarding the establishment of fisheries management norms.

In 2011, a new law (Complementary Law n° 140/11) changed again the attributions among the Union, States and Municipalities. Specifically states were in charge of controlling fishing within the limits of their jurisdictions.

In 2015, as a result of a new ministerial reform of the government, the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture was extinct and all of its competences were fully transferred back to the Ministry of Agriculture, Supply and Livestock, maintaining in the meantime the joint management arrangement with the Ministry of the Environment, which has IBAMA and Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio, for fisheries done within the limits of protected areas) as the executors.

After that, a presidential Decree-Law n° 9,004/17 withdrew fishing powers from the Ministry of Agriculture, Supply and Livestock and transferred them to the Ministry of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade. However, the decree informs that it will also be the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture to dialogue with the Ministry of the Environment to ensure the sustainable use of fishery resources, based on statistical data (which is basically non-existent since 2011). The Ministry of Agriculture was also supposed to be responsible for articulating with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to defend national interests in the sector. This change was criticized by the fishing sector, which called for the creation of an exclusive secretariat to deal with fisheries issues. In 2018, the Fisheries and Aquaculture sector was again part of the Special Secretary of Aquaculture and Fisheries, integrating the Presidency of the Republic, under Law n° 9,330/18, later confirmed by Law n° 13,502/17, which establishes the basic organization of the organs of the Presidency of the Republic and of the ministries. According to the law, Aquaculture and Fisheries was a Special Secretariat, which has again ministry status.

This last change assigns the new secretariat's competence: to subsidize the formulation of the national policy for fisheries and aquaculture; propose guidelines for the development and promotion of fishery and aquaculture production; present guidelines for the development of the fisheries and aquaculture action plan; and propose measures to ensure the sustainability of fishing and aquaculture. It is important to note that some competencies continue with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply, such as the Fisheries and Aquaculture Health Control (Law n° 13,502/17).

The last change in this musical chair happened in the very first day of 2019, as the first measure of the new government of the far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. He issued the Provisional Measure n° 870/19, which establishes the basic organization of the organs of the Presidency of the Republic and of the Ministries, bringing again the Special Secretariat of Aquaculture and Fisheries of the Presidency of the Republic to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply, renamed as Aquaculture and Fisheries Secretariat. In this new arrangement, IBAMA is no longer part of the management of species that can be exploited, with decisions being entirely in the hands of the productive sector. The measure was highly praised by the sector, dominated by powerful industrial fisher.

In the opinion of the new head of the Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries, Jorge Seif Júnior, fishing and aquaculture have returned home from where they should have never left because they are food production and should be treated as the other proteins. According to him, “We now have a strong base to strengthen fishing and aquaculture throughout Brazil. Our people can consume more fish. We have to boost not only the catch, but much more fish farming. We have a lot to grow!".

It remains to be seen whether fisheries management in Brazil will be treated with the seriousness it deserves, but so far there are no signs that there will be any sort of management regarding control and protection of vulnerable stocks. The latest myopic measures only aim to boost exploitation and production in the short term, disregarding the future of fish and of fishers themselves, especially of those that can not afford to build capital for future stock collapses. Not a word has been said about reestablishing regular landing monitoring, a unified system for tracking fishing vessels, independent oversight and policing of fishing limits, and the establishment of permanent and independent management scientific committees. The future is gloomier than ever for our stocks and our fishers and initiatives that aim to reach sustainability will have to come from grassroots movements and other societal initiatives. From the current government we should only expect larger nets, smaller mesh sizes and bad subsidies.

By Ana Helena Bevilacqua