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Brazil's Laws Threaten Ecosystems With the 'Three Apocalyptic D's'

Nov 10, 2014 04:32 PM EST

Brazil's beautiful, diverse, and globally significant ecosystems could face downsizing, downgrading, and delisting - the "three apocalyptic D's" - if a set of new proposed mining laws go into effect.

That's at least according to a report recently published in the journal Science, which details how Brazilian policymakers may be willing to let much of the hard work of conservationists over the last five decades be undone in the next 10 years as new mining and dam proposals are approved by their Congress.

"Our analysis shows that at least a fifth of Brazil´s most strictly protected areas and reserves for indigenous lands overlap with areas claimed by the mining sector," study co-author Carlos Peres, from the University of East Anglia (UAE), announced in a recent release. "In addition, many of the river systems associated with protected areas will be drastically affected by large hydroelectric dams. This is a huge U-turn in Brazilian environmental policy and a threat to Brazil's ecosystems."

According to the report, an area about the size of Switzerland (34,117 km2), which is currently home to parks, reserves, and wildlife refuges, could be lost to mining intended to stimulate the Brazilian economy.

"And the situation is worse for indigenous lands - 28 percent of which (281,443 km2 - an area larger than the whole of the United Kingdom) overlaps with areas of registered mining interest," Peres reports.

Still, it's important to note that as things stand, the Brazilian government remains extremely indecisive about its mining actions. According to Reuters, the country could ditch its new mining codes entirely, a policy decision first proposed in 2009. Even as things stand, the implementation of these codes, which could give large explorative mining companies precedence, could be delayed until late 2015.

That's good news for conservationists, as prospective mining of new regions has essentially grinded to a halt until Congress makes a decision. In the meantime, wildlife experts have time to propose changes in how new mining is approved.

Peres and his colleagues have proposed that not only should the ecological consequence of each mining project be closely considered before final approval, but that the "burden of these assessments" be shared with local communities and experts from the public sector.

"If development progresses without appropriate planning, mitigation and safeguard measures," he said, "Brazil stands to undermine its hard-earned environmental achievements."

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