Brazilian Police Doing Little to Combat Destruction of Amazon’s Unprotected Lands

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Miguel Pinheiro / CIFOR

In the past six years, Brazil’s Federal Police have undertaken just a handful of operations to stem the destruction of unprotected lands in the Amazon Rainforest, according to a new report.

Some 224,000 square miles of forest, an area larger than France, is undesignated, meaning it does not belong to a national park, Indigenous territory, or other protected area. From 2016 to 2021, the Federal Police carried out 302 environmental crime raids in the Amazon, but just seven targeted incursions on undesignated lands, according to an analysis from the Igarapé Institute, a Brazilian think tank. Over that period, invaders destroyed an area of forest roughly the size of Wales.

Report authors say that weak legal protections on these lands are the cause of such weak enforcement. Undesignated lands cover just 14 percent of the Amazon, but last year they accounted for 36 percent of illegal deforestation in the region.

“Less vegetation cover has been lost in the patchwork of designated protected areas than in other areas,” the report said. “This is true both historically as well as in recent years, when rates of deforestation in the Amazon have accelerated.”

The Amazon saw record-high deforestation in the first half of 2022, and destruction is expected to ramp up heading into late summer, when wildfires typically peak. Deforestation accounts for roughly half of Brazil’s carbon emissions.

The new report underscores “that the proper designation of public lands is critical to protecting the forest,” the authors wrote. To combat the destruction of unprotected lands, they called for “speeding up the designation of pending public lands as a means to combat and control deforestation in the Amazon.”


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