Amazon destruction not such a good look

Feature story - 16 June, 2009
Just two weeks after our exposé 'Slaughtering the Amazon' showed how the Brazilian cattle industry is decimating the Amazon rainforest, we are seeing a stampede as companies and the World Bank start to sever their links with the slaughterhouses and farms involved.

Cattle ranching is the primary driver of forest destruction in the Brazilian Amazon, with 79.5 percent of deforested land used for cattle pastures.

News is just out that the World Bank has cancelled its loan to Brazilian cattle giant, Bertin. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private lending arm of the World Bank, withdrew a USD 90 million loan to Bertin. The loan - intended for the company to further expand into the Amazon region - would only lead to more rainforest destruction and fuel global climate change. The last USD 30 million hand-out from the IFC will no longer be given and it is anticipated that the IFC will ask for the USD 60 million it has already invested to be returned earlier than previously agreed.

"It is good news that the World Bank is withdrawing these funds, yet scandalous that it was feeding a company that causes Amazon deforestation and climate change in the first place," said Paulo Adario, Greenpeace Brazil's Amazon campaign director. "For a bank that portrays itself as the 'knowledge bank', this was a very ill-conceived and thoroughly destructive use of its resources. It must now guarantee that it will not invest in such damaging projects in the future."

So what about the brands?

Brazilian retailers have also reacted to our investigation. The three biggest supermarket chains in Brazil - Carrefour, Wal-Mart and Pão de Açúcar - said they will suspend all trade in cattle products from farms involved in deforestation in a key area of the Amazon. We have yet to see such a positive reaction from the big brands in the US and Europe, which were also implicated in our report - among them, Nike, Adidas, Clarks and Geox and several well-known supermarkets.

Back in Brazil, there have also been some legal moves. Prior to the release of our report, a federal prosecutor in Pará State filed a billion dollar lawsuit against 20 farms and 10 cattle companies, as well as Bertin. Under the law suit, offending farms will be fined for environmental damage and their operations suspended in areas of forest that have been destroyed illegally.

Watch this space

Things are moving fast - and not all the news is good news. The Brazilian government still refuses to get out of bed with the powerful agribusiness industry. Environment Minister Carlos Minc, who has praised our report and said he agrees with our recommendations, is under fire from the agribusiness bosses, who are circulating a petition calling for his removal.

And, while President Lula talks the talk at the international climate negotiations, he has yet to prove he will take the leadership required to help protect us from climate change by protecting the Amazon.

In early June, the Brazilian Congress passed legislation which wasoriginally intended to legalise the land-holdings of small settlers, butthey changed it to include provisions that benefited medium-to-large landgrabbers and business interests. The law will privatise ownership of up to67 million hectares of the Amazon rainforest, land that has been occupiedillegally. This is an area bigger than Norway and Germany combined, and putsAmazon protection in jeopardy.

Lula can still stop the worst parts of this bad legislation going through. Whether or not he does so will indicate whether history will remember him as one of the leaders who averted runaway climate change or one of the losers that brought it on. Forests are a vital defence against global climate change. Any effective deal to save the climate must include a deal to protect forests.

President Lula needs to veto the worst articles of this law and commit to zero deforestation. In return, rich countries must dig deep and fund forest protection in Brazil, Indonesia and other forested countries. We also need Lula and all other Heads of State to take personal responsibility for securing an effective climate deal by attending the Climate Summit in Copenhagen in December and taking immediate action to guarantee a positive outcome.

Take Action

Tell President Lula to veto the worst articles of this law, commit to zero deforestation and to personally attend the UN Climate Summit and ensure that deforestation is halted.

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