Environmental degradation

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Since the 1970's, environmental degradation has brought grave concerns to the fore with regard to the Amazon Rainforest (Amazonia). The international community - particularly the United States - has staunchly advocated for global management of Amazonia as a means of effectively preserving this vital resource. The central belief propelling this position is the sentiment that Amazonian countries are steadily eradicating part of the world's last remaining tropical forest  through deforestation and poor forestry management policies. In light of the growing importance attached to environmental issues on the international stage, the Brazilian Federal Government's pursuit of development has been deemed uncompromisingly aggressive.  The international community contends that this is adversely affecting mankind.

Brazil, however, is not pleased with this stance. Through its security and foreign policy, the Federal Republic of Brazil under the helm of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has endeavoured to assert sovereignty over the Amazon Rainforest located within its borders in response to the potential ‘internationalisation of Amazonia.'

This essay will examine the nature of internationalisation, consider other instances where the concept has been deliberated upon or applied and analyse the debate surrounding the internationalisation of Amazonia. In turn, this essay will detail how the threat of internationalisation has affected policy-making of President Lula, with specific focus on security, development and environmental policies.

Internationalisation Of Amazonia

Importance Of Amazonia

Amazonia is the term used to describe the belt of the Amazon Rainforest located in South America.  At present, it is situated within the territories of 9 countries and Brazil has approximately 60% of the Amazon within its borders. This area is known as the Legal Amazon.

Over the years, the region has assumed enormous international and regional importance. In terms of biodiversity, Amazonia constitutes the largest collection of flora and fauna in the world. Cultivation of the land is not only central to the livelihoods of the locals, but the Amazon Rainforest is a vast reserve of natural resources that includes genetic material, materials that are key ingredients for pharmaceuticals and timber.

It also plays a vital role in regulating global climate patterns, earning the title of the “lungs of the earth” due to its function of reducing global warming. Deforestation in Amazonia has been a pressing concern in recent times, as forest clearing has meant there is less vegetation to absorb carbon emissions. Therefore, the protection of the Amazon Rainforest has been determined as an urgent concern on an international level.

Two Sides Of The Debate

The current contention over Amazonia turns on two points: the conflict between development and to what degree the ‘internationalisation of Amazonia' would interfere with Brazil's right to sovereignty. Both the international community and Brazil have strong arguments making the issue a complicated one to resolve.

The Case For International Management

Intense development of the Legal Amazon has resulted in detrimental environmental effects such as the diminishing quality of fresh water and air and rapid clearing of vegetation. Subsequently, this has had social repercussions such as food insecurity. The international community - comprised of States and NGOs - argues that to ignore such significant changes would be negligent and therefore the world has an interest in preserving the Amazon Rainforest. As of late, States have exerted pressure on the World Bank to refuse payment to Brazil if it fails to acquiesce to international conservation norms.

Furthermore, the international community contends that as the Amazon Rainforest is shared by 9 States, it becomes more than a mere domestic presence. Coordination of conservation and sustainable development efforts would be cumbersome if Amazonia were viewed as fragments dealt with purely by internal policy. Rather, it should be viewed as a whole for the purposes of management and therefore an international body may be better suited to this role. Ecological problems, it has been alleged, surpass traditional concepts of State sovereignty.

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The Case Against The ‘Internationalisation Of Amazonia'

The Brazilian government has regarded the prospect of international management of The Legal Amazon as illegitimate interference into Brazil's national process. The refrain of “Amazonia is ours” is a common in Brazilian circles.

Brazil has also deemed the cessation of financial aid from the World Bank as unconscionable, as it coerces the development of Brazil to be shaped by external actors. Brazil claims that industrialised countries are fostering a double standard, by compelling developing nations to preserve their remaining natural resources even though environmental concerns were not a factor of their own growth.

An interesting argument raised by Brazil is the fact that other ecosystems under Brazilian control - such as the Atlantic Rainforest - are largely being ignored by the international community, despite the fact that they have been almost completely destroyed. Opponents of internationalisation have proposed that this may be because such areas do not have the same level of natural wealth. This alludes to the notion that Brazil is also deeply suspicious that the conservation dimension is just a disguise for other nations to exploit the Amazon Rainforest's tremendous resources and use it for their own interests. There has been controversy over the role of NGOs in the region as it has been continually suggested that NGOs were merely disguised instruments of countries of Northern Hemisphere attempting to circumvent the sovereignty of Brazil “without damaging international rights.”


Policy-Making In The Lula Administration

As far as the part of the Amazon Rainforest that is located within Brazil's borders is concerned, Brazil asserts that the international community is not justified in their stance that an international body will better manage the Amazon Rainforest. Brazil has perceived this global conservation effort as an indirect attempt to circumvent its sovereignty over Amazonia.

Accordingly, the so-called threat of the ‘internationalisation of Amazonia' coupled with international pressure has shaped Brazilian security and foreign policy.

Security Policy

Lula received a considerable amount of opposition from the military sector and conservative factions of Brazilian society whilst campaigning for election. In spite of this, Lula has acknowledged that military presence in the Legal Amazon is a seminal aspect of Brazil's defence and security. He has displaced the expectation that he would scale down military programs and instead, has harnessed the military's support of development to further his overall strategy of economic, social and regional growth.

International assessment of the Amazon Rainforest has influenced the generation of Brazilian security policy. Lula, like previous presidents, has endorsed the ‘militarisation of the Amazonian frontier.' The military's objective in the Legal Amazon is to protect the region from illegal logging, deforestation and drug trafficking. However, another ancillary motive for the military is to reaffirm Brazil's territorial integrity over Amazonia.

Military's Historical Role In Amazonia

Historically, the military's role in Amazonia has been significant and successive Brazilian governments have utilised the military to respond to external interference. In 1964, the then military regime felt it was imperative to protect the Legal Amazon from external conquest by nations who were presumed to ‘covet the region and its putative riches' The rationale behind this was that though Brazil had acquired sovereignty over a great deal of the Amazon basin through diplomacy, the area could never be ‘Brazilian' unless completely secured.

The Sarney administration devised the Calha Norte (Northern Trough Project) which entailed increased military presence in the Legal Amazon, spawned out of fear of a possible invasion. Likewise, the Cardoso regime constructed the National Defense Policy in 1996 which stipulated that the Legal Amazon was of strategic precedence to Brazil.

It is also interesting to note that during the Forest Fire Crisis in Roraima - a state of the Legal Amazon - Brazilian authorities rebuffed foreign assistance. This reaction is indicative that assistance may have been regarded “as external forces attempting to claim international control over Amazonia.”

In his term, Lula has reinstated Calha Norte and also embraced Cardoso's National Defense Policy by decree in 2005. To supplement this, in 2008 he adopted the Strategic Defense Plan which ensured that the amount of military personnel in the Legal Amazon would rise from 17,000 to 30,000 over the next decade. This project is a means of modernising the military to reflect Brazil's emerging role in the international sphere.

Lula's current Amazonian strategy is twofold: protecting the vulnerable Legal Amazon by garrisoning the frontier with military settlements and employing the Amazon Vigilence System better known as SIVAM.

Lula is a fierce proponent of SIVAM which became operational during his first term. The $1.4 billion radar and surveillance system commandeered by the Brazilian airforce, complemented with SIPAM (the Amazon Protection System) allows for strategic responses to threats and suspicious activity without physical military presence.

Even through the lens of democracy, Lula has demonstrated that the military still has a key role to play in asserting Brazil's sovereignty over Amazonia. This stance is suggestive of Brazil's view that the Legal Amazon should not be managed by an international body.

Human Security

Of course, notions of security do not merely encompass traditional military concepts. The concept of human security also suggests that the scope of security should be widened to include developmental and environmental security, with particular focus on the welfare of the individual as opposed to the state. Therefore, viewed from this vantage point, Brazil's development and environmental policies have also been shaped by the internationalisation debate.

Development Policy

Economic Stability

Brazil's current foreign policy is directed heavily towards ensuring that Brazil does not stray from its path as an emerging superpower on the regional and global stage. Brazil's stability during the recent global financial recession proves that it is flexing its regional muscle and steadily growing in international importance.

Development of the Amazon has been a key feature of previous Brazilian administrations, stemming from the intense period of expansion with Operation Amazonia in 1966, wherein roads were built, foreign investment was encouraged and settlement of the Legal Amazon with agrarian colonies was promoted. The idea behind this was that if the area was cultivated and occupied, the prospect of international intervention would ebb. Development was also important in terms of establishing regional connections: countries sharing the Amazon basin became more integrated through commerce and pipelines.

Lula's affiliation with the Worker's Party has influenced his primary goal of social and economic development. Under Lula's rule, the Brazilian government has been successful in the diversification of the nation's already powerful industrial sector. Consequently, his emphasis on the development of the Legal Amazon arises from a desire to enable Brazil's ascent in the international sphere, as the Amazon Rainforest has an abundance of natural resources.  Therefore, securing Brazil's claim over the Legal Amazon has greatly coloured development policies.

Sustainable Development

The country's continued economic development requires more growth and in turn, more demand for energy which has raised environmental concerns. Government rhetoric affirms that this is unavoidable in order to realise Brazil's economy to its full potential. At present, much of the Legal Amazon is still in desperate need of further infrastructure and social development and the Brazilian government has stated that if Amazonia is not developed it cannot sustain a surging population and expand its prowess in the international market. Further, notions of conservation do not register on the spectrum of thinking for inhabitants of the Legal Amazon, as many live in poverty.

The internationalisation debate, however, has coerced Brazil to shift from theories of pure neo-liberalism and add ideas of sustainable development to the ‘Brazilian lexicon.' During his campaign for presidency, Lula promised to foreground environmental and social issues whilst assuring the conservative faction of Brazilian society that he planned to preserve with the previous government's neo-liberal economic policies. He readily supported sustainable development in Amazonia as it encouraged the possibility of longevity in terms of production, permanent economic growth and also demonstrated that Brazil had administrative capacity over the Legal Amazon.

Lula set in motion the Sustainable Amazon Plan, alleging that 70-80% of the forest could potentially be preserved in conjunction with economic development. The Brazilian Fire Control Program for Amazonia has sanctions on burning during the peak dry season and IBAMA - the Brazilian Environmental Protection Agency - has the capacity to levy fines and impose custodial sentences for illegal deforestation and logging and burning. Deforestation permits have also been revoked from landholders who exceed the 20% deforestation limit on their property.

However, the effectiveness of sustainable development ventures in Brazil has been called into question as there is growing resentment that the Avanca Brasil (Brasil Advances) plan  shows Lula's bias for socialised development, permitting the construction of roads and  development projects which are at odds with conservation projects.

And though Brazil is a key figure in ACTO (the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization) which calls for sustainable development within the Amazonian countries but respects the sovereignty of these nations, critics argue that the treaty has been largely ineffective in their strategic plan.

Despite Lula's staunch position on developing the Legal Amazon, it is clear that the internationalisation debate has influenced Brazil to moderate its development policies from purely traditional economy-building to encouraging the implementation of sustainable development, which now occupies a key strategic position in Brazilian foreign policy.

Environmental Policy

Lula's predecessors have been willing to consider the environmental concerns raised by the international community. President Cardoso, for instance, hosted the United Nations Conference on the Environment in 1992.  The Lula administration has also continued to factor the environment as a pillar of policy-making and prides itself on being the “greenest” Brazilian government, with many new policies aimed at sustainability.

The internationalisation debate has impelled Brazil to evaluate its internal conservation policies and the role the nation has to play on the global stage. The Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Itamaraty, affirms that the environment is a key strategic line of Brazilian foreign policy. The Lula administration is far more aware of Brazil's responsibilities in terms of honouring international environmental standards with regard to conservation, deforestation and climate change.

However, these environmental policies have consistently been framed from the standpoint of defending domestic sovereignty over the Legal Amazon.


While it is important for Brazil to develop Amazonia, it still has considerable interest in conserving the region. This is not only to ensure economic and environmental longevity but many loans from international institutions, such as the World Bank, and developed nations favour initiatives and projects that promote conservation and/or sustainability.

Lula's election into office heralded the potential for Brazil to shift from neo-liberalism and propel itself more persistently towards conservation efforts. During his presidency, Lula has reformed the Forestry Code of 1934 and continued to run the Nossa Natureza (Our Nature) program instituted by President Sarney: a $100 million project designed to undertake forest protection through an education process. The Public Forest Management Law also provides that corporations are entitled to 3% of the Amazon Rainforest if they engage in sustainable development.

The intense scrutiny of the Amazon Rainforest has encouraged the Brazilian government to drum up support for conservation projects: the Lula administration has argued that the cost of preserving Amazonia is a burden that should be borne by all stakeholders. However, Lula has been quick to clarify that this protection should not be achieved by the international community administering the region. Furthermore, at the launch of the Amazon Protection Fund in August 2008 - an aid-based program premised on amassing $21 billion worth of donations over a period of 13 years - Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Brazil's Minister for Strategic Affairs stated that: “The fund is a vehicle by which foreign governments can help support our initiatives without exerting any influence over our national policy. We are not going to trade sovereignty for money."

Despite being responsive to conservation criticisms, Lula has been accused of acting in a reactionary, rather than proactive, manner. This stance of adopting environmental policies tailored in response to mounting international pressure over deforestation rates and crises has been deemed a shortcoming of the current administration. For instance, in 2003 Lula ordered the formation of a number of conservation areas in the Legal Amazon subsequent to the murders of prominent environmentalists and conservationists in the region.

Although Lula regularly appoints renowned environmental activists to the environmental posts, two have resigned in spectacular fashion. Mary Allegretti, the Secretary of Coordination of the Amazonas in Ministry of Environment, resigned after finding that: “On the rescue of the Amazon, the government is clearly still of two minds.” And Marina Silva, former Environmental Minister, left her position in 2008 after Lula made comments complaining about the arduous process involved in obtaining environmental permits for development projects: “Brazil's economic development is being held up for the sake of a few fish.”

These circumstances seem to indicate that while conservation is on the agenda for Brazil, at present the goal of development is favoured over it.


The pursuit of developing Brazil's economy has entailed mass deforestation at an alarming rate. However, Brazil has taken great strides in attempting to address the environmental consequences of deforestation.

In 2008, Lula announced a plan to reduce the rate of deforestation by 50% by 2017, although this has been branded as vague, as the mechanisms for enforcement are unclear. In March 2010, Brazil and the United States signed a Memorandum of Understanding in which both countries would work jointly to reduce deforestation in a bid to curb climate change. This move is significant, as it demonstrates camaraderie between two nations that have historically been at loggerheads over how to decrease deforestation.

Slash-and-burn systems involve clearing large areas of forest for agricultural purposes and has devastating effects on the soil of rainforests which essentially changes the nature of the rainforest ecosystem. Brazil's National Policy on Forests has been reformed to discourage and penalise slash-and-burn techniques.

The previously mentioned SIVAM also operates on an environmental level, as its examination of Amazonian topography is instructive in evaluating which areas are appropriate to be designated for eco-zoning and also detects illegal logging and deforestation. Many critics, however, suggest that SIVAM's primary military agenda will overshadow any other purpose unless further funding is given to scientific research.

Lula has also established the National System for Nature Conservation Units, which protects approximately 37% of the Legal Amazon and has created the Protected Areas Fund. Lula has managed to show substantial results in curbing deforestation: from July 2008-August 2009 the Brazilian government was able to display a 45% drop in the deforestation rate from the previous year.

However, despite this decline, deforestation in Brazil is now reportedly on the increase. Brazil has laws against deforestation but they are difficult to enforce, particularly in rural areas with little to no ministerial presence. Furthermore, much of Amazonia is still freely available under Brazilian law, which does not present much incentive for land-users to cultivate the region sustainably. IBAMA - Brazil's Environment Protection Agency - is allegedly replete with corruption, dreadfully underfunded and does not have enough resources at its disposal. Only 6.5% of the fines imposed for illegal deforestation are actually collected and nearly 80% of the logging in Amazonia is illegal.

It is clear that the internationalisation debate has contributed to the implementation of forestry regulation within Brazil. However, it is arguable whether or not the theoretical safeguards in place are realised to their full effect in practice.

Climate Change

Brazil has been instrumental in climate change negotiations in global forums, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It is a key player in negotiations as it is responsible for 3% of global emissions due to deforestation. One relevant threat from climate change is desertification, which may transform Amazonia from a lush region rich with natural resources, to a drought-stricken wasteland. Brazil is increasingly interested in avoiding shifts in the environment that will render the Amazon Basin unsustainable.

Brazil has a National Plan on Climate Change which premises sustainable development and a staggered reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.   Moreover, Brazil's interest in climate change negotiations is to seek an agreement that will not hinder its development. So far, Brazil has benefited from the negotiation process as it has remained largely focused on energy emissions, and the majority of Brazil's emissions are emitted from the forestry sector.

The Lula administration has seen climate change negotiations as opportunity to create partnerships that will involve the transfer of technologies between developed and developing nations. The Brazilian government is also opportunistic, in that it uses climate change negotiations as a platform to express its path towards economic growth and social development, leadership amongst developing countries and its emerging role in the South America region and in the international sphere.

Indirectly, Lula has used international forums on climate change to showcase to the world that Brazil is firmly in control of issues that affect Amazonia.


The situation in the Legal Amazon has been described as President Lula's final great confrontation whilst in office and an examination of his security, development and environmental policies demonstrates that the region has been a crucial element of his grand strategy.

Although the Brazilian Federal Government has tailored much of its recent security and foreign policy to incorporate more conservation and sustainable development strategies, the effectiveness of these has often been called into question. In order to ensure long-term progress and satisfy the international community's environmental qualms, Brazil must endeavour to balance the development of its economy and matters of conservation.

Faced with the prospect of the ‘internationalisation of Amazonia' a succession of Brazilian regimes has exhibited an intention of protecting against the encroachment of Brazilian sovereignty over the Legal Amazon. Even with a shift in leadership later this year with the upcoming elections, it is highly likely that this stance will prevail and that Amazonia will occupy a key role in geopolitics for Brazil as it is not only significantly rich in natural resources which is crucial to development, but also subsists as a strong symbol of nationalism.

Alexander Lopez, ‘Environmental Change, Security and Social Conflicts in the Brazilian Amazon' (1999) 5 Environmental Change & Security Project Report 26, 27.

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