Brazil: Environmental Issues, Policies and Clean Technology

Welcome to Brazil

With a population of more than 180 million and covering almost half of South America, Brazil is the world’s fifth largest country in terms of both area and population. Brazil currently has a high urbanization rate, with around 80 percent of Brazilians living in urban areas. This creates significant social and environmental issues in and around these cities. São Paulo is one of the world's largest urban areas and known for pollution, overcrowding, and poverty.

Brazil is also home to the Amazon River Basin – the largest rain forest on Earth. Hot and humid both day and night, the Amazon River Basin is home to thousands of known plant and animal species – as well as countless undiscovered species. The rain forest is also a major carbon sink, meaning it sequesters vast amounts of global carbon dioxide.

Environmental Issues of Brazil

Brazil’s rainforest areas are the country’s crown jewel and unfortunately deforestation of these regions was rampart over previous decades as a result of expanding agriculture. Soy and cocoa are two of Brazil’s biggest cash crops and the proliferation of farmlands for these products has wiped out large swaths of rain forest. According to the World Wildlife Fund, 90 percent the Atlantic Forest ecosystem in southern Brazil has been wiped out due to the cocoa boom of the 1970s.

20 January 2010: A destroyed section of the tropical rainforest, Amazonia, Brazil
Image credit: guentermanaus / Shutterstock.com

In addition to deforestation, illegal poaching has put further strain on many of Brazil’s native species. The country currently has hundreds of its species classified as endangered, including the jaguar, sea turtle, and ring-tail monkey.

Waste disposal, particularly in urban centers, is another major environmental problem in Brazil. The problem had gotten so bad; it spurred major protests in 2013. A study by a Brazilian sanitation trade organization found that Rio de Janeiro generates half a billion tons of garbage each year. That is equivalent to the same amount of waste produced in Shanghai, China, which is facing a waste disposal crisis of its own.

Environmental Policies of Brazil

In the 1990s, Brazil was cutting down large tracts of trees, taking down enough Brazilian rainforest to cover Belgium each year, according to The Economist. However, public sentiment has shifted significantly more toward conservation since and recent government data show that deforestation dropped 70 percent in the Brazilian Amazon during the past ten years.

The government has been trying to balance the needs of its agricultural sector with limiting deforestation and a series of incentives has been quite effective in halting the unsustainable expansion of agriculture.

Climate Change: Lessons from Brazil's Forest Policy
Video Credit: Yale University / YouTube

Brazil has come under significant criticism for its Forest Code, which was passed in 2012. The law gave amnesty to landowners who illegally cleared lands before 2008 and reduced the area to be reforested from 500,000 to 210,000 square kilometers. Many people called that reduction a big win for Brazilian agriculture and a big defeat for conservationists.

The Forest Code also introduced two measures that were popular with conservationists. First, it created a market for landowners to trade surplus forests that might be legally deforested on one property, to offset restoration of forests on a different property. A 2014 study revealed this market could reduce the areas requiring restoration to as small as 5,500 square kilometers of arable land.

Second, the new law also set up an online land registry system that simplifies the process for landowners to register their property boundaries and ecological data. More advanced tracking and documentation of more than 5 million rural properties will significantly enhance enforcement, the study found.

Clean Technology in Brazil

According to reports, Brazil is currently a mixed bag when it comes to investments in clean technology. However, there are a few promising signs of an emerging clean tech industry.

Brazil has taken in more than $10 billion in wind power investments since 2009, according to greenbiz.com. Government incentives have spurred producers of wind energy to partner with local suppliers.

Wind power plant, Tramandai, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
Image credit: Lisandro Luis Trarbach / Shutterstock.com

The Brazilian government has also been a big proponent of international green building standards. Many local governments in Brazil are also pushing for clean tech legislation, including providing land charge discounts for water recycling, waste reduction or renewable energy use.

A Clean Future for Brazil?

With an emerging economy said to be rip for foreign investment, a clean future for Brazil will largely depend on how the government manages to shape its clean technology policies. The country is said to have a labyrinth of regulations that are hostile to innovation and foreign investment. However, visionary companies and perseverance appear to be paying off lately, based on evidence reported by Accenture.

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References

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