Brazilian environmental protection needn't cost the Earth

When it comes to environment vs the economy, it seems Brazil can have its cake and eat it too. That was the conclusion of a new study from the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) entitled "Production and Protection: A First Look at Key Challenges in Brazil".

"Brazil's natural resources are the foundation for our country's future," said Izabella Teixeira, the Minister for the Environment of Brazil. "[This study's] analysis identifies challenges to, and opportunities for, increased productivity of existing agricultural land and protection of native vegetation. It shows that if Brazil pursues the right strategy, we can both grow our economy and protect our natural resources."

The CPI, a group of analysts working to improve energy and land use policies globally, is widely supportive of much of Brazil's progress.

In discussing protection of the environment, the CPI points out that 10 times as much land was legally protected in 2006 than in 1985. It also describes the system with broader government action, praising what it calls a "consolidated regulatory framework and well-established instruments for the protection of natural resources in public lands".

However, there is still much room for improvement, as the CPI says that much of the variation in farming production that is seen across Brazil's five regions has less to do with climate and more to do with non-geographical issues like "finance, technology, rental markets, cooperatives, and infrastructure".

Credit availability is a large issue, as many farmers in more rural parts of Brazil are unable to receive the loans and other sources of financial support that could be used to enhance production. The CPI says this lack of access to proper banking is causing approximately 20 per cent of the regional variation seen across Brazil.

Data from the latest Agricultural Census shows that about 75 per cent of large-scale crop farmers and less than 20 per cent of small-scale agricultural producers have accessed regular reliable credit.

Infrastructure is also a major concern, with storage systems currently only able to hold 80 per cent of the present levels of harvest, far lower than the advised 120 per cent. And transport is also a problem, notably poor quality roads, meaning that the transportation of crops is more expensive in Brazil than in other countries.

There is also criticism that although the amount of protection for publically held areas of profound natural value has increased, protection has not been properly developed in relation to native vegetation among smaller-scale deforesters, on private property, and with Brazil's ecosystems beyond the Amazon.

Sustainable forestry is emphasised in the report, but as yet such protections have not sufficiently grown.

  • The two main policy recommendations to come out of the report are:
    the introduction of systematic monitoring of selected areas with vital land uses, for identification and assessment of efficiency gains.
  • the integration of action across government agencies and private firms to structure and develop a production and protection strategy

"The case for action is clear," said Juliano Assunção, director of CPI's Brazil operations and professor at the Department of Economics at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. "We look forward to working with stakeholders in Brazil over the next years to implement a land use strategy that helps Brazil achieve both its economic and environmental goals."

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