Researchers found that a projected urban expansion of up to 1.53 million square kilometers over the next three decades threatens the survival of more than 800 species — but also that a focus on urban planning that protects habitats can mitigate the impact.
Financial institutions around the world can now measure the positive impact of their investments into biodiversity conservation, adaptation, mitigation, forest protection and sustainable livelihoods with the help of a new indicator directory and resources platform, launched today.
The Land Use Finance Impact Hub and its Positive Impact Indicators Directory – launched today by UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Climate Finance Unit and the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) – has been developed with and for impact funds and sustainably focused financial institutions, and aims to support the rollout of effective industry frameworks to track the environmental and social impacts of land-use investments.
From the U.S. West to Mongolia, fences are going up rapidly as border barriers and livestock farming increase. Now, a growing number of studies are showing the impact of these fences, from impeding wildlife migrations to increasing the genetic isolation of threatened species.
As the United States enters a “critical decade” in the fight against climate change, the need for rapid renewable energy deployment requires reassessing existing laws governing electricity generation and transmission projects, argues Uma Outka in a recent article. Siting laws and regulations govern where energy infrastructure can be located. Outka, a professor at the University of Kansas School of Law, contends that siting failures, such as the Maine transmission line, show the need for reforms that “anticipate the challenges” in siting renewable energy projects.
Many countries have set carbon neutrality as a policy goal, but according to a new study, there are various risks associated with the reduction of greenhouse gases, especially in the agriculture, forestry, and land use sectors, that need to be considered when formulating mitigation strategies.
Imagine that a group of politicians decide that Yellowstone National Park is too big, so they downsize the park by a million acres, then sell that land in a private auction.
Outrageous? Yes. Unheard of? No. It’s happening with increasing frequency in the Brazilian Amazon.
The most widely publicized threat to the Amazonian rainforest is deforestation. A new study by European scientists released March 7, 2022, finds that tree clearing and less rainfall over the past 20 years have left over 75% of the region increasingly less resilient to disturbances, suggesting the rainforest may be nearing a tipping point for dieback. Fewer trees mean less moisture evaporating into the atmosphere to fall again as rain.
While the rise in deforestation is clear, less well understood are the sources driving it – particularly the way public lands are being converted to private holdings in a land grab we’vebeenstudying for the past decade.
We looked at Amazonia’s most active deforestation frontier, southern Amazonas State, starting in 2012 as rates of deforestation began to increase because of loosened regulatory oversight. Our research shows how land grabs are tied to accelerating deforestation spearheaded by wealthy interests, and how Brazil’s National Congress, by changing laws, is legitimizing these land grabs.
How the Amazon land grab began
Brazil’s modern land grab started in the 1970s, when the military government began offering free land to encourage mining industries and farmers to move in, arguing that national security depended on developing the region. It took lands that had been under state jurisdictions since colonial times and allocated them to rural settlement, granting 150- to 250-acre holdings to poor farmers.
Federal and state governments ultimately designated over 65% of Amazonia to several public interests, including rural settlement. For biodiversity, they created conservation units, some allowing traditional resource use and subsistence agriculture. Leftover government lands are generally referred to as “vacant or undesignated public lands.”
Tracking the land grab
Studies have estimated that by 2020, 32% of “undesignated public forests” had been grabbed for private use. But this is only part of the story, because land grabbing is now affecting many types of public land.
Importantly, land grabs now impact conservation areas and indigenous territories, where private holdings are forbidden.
We compared the boundaries of self-declared private holdings in the government’s Rural Environmental Registry database, known as CAR, with the boundaries of all public lands in southern Amazonas State. The region has 50,309 square miles in conservation units. Of these, we found that 10,425 square miles, 21%, have been “grabbed,” or declared in the CAR register as private between 2014 and 2020.
In the United States, this would be like having 21% of the national parks disappear into private property.
In Pará State, Amazonas State’s neighbor, deforestation in the 1990s was dominated by poor family farms in rural settlements. On average, these households accumulated 120 acres of farmland after several decades by opening 4-6 acres of forest every few years in clearings visible on satellite images as deforestation patches.
Land grabbers benefit by selling the on-site timber and by subdividing what they’ve grabbed for sale in small parcels. Arrest records and research by groups such as Transparency International Brasil show that many of them are involved in criminal enterprises that use the land for money laundering, tax evasion and illegal mining and logging.
In the 10-year period before President Jair Bolsonaro took office, satellite data showed two deforestation patches exceeding 3,707 acres in Southern Amazonas. Since his election in 2019, we can identify nine massive clearings with an average size of 5,105 acres. The clearance and preparation cost for each Bolsonaro-era deforestation patch, legal or illicit, would be about US$353,000.
Legitimizing land grabbing
Brazil’s National Congress has been making it easier to grab public land.
A 2017 change in the law expanded the legally allowed size of private holdings in undesignated public lands and in rural settlements. This has reclassified over 1,000 square miles of land that had been considered illegal in 2014 as legal in southern Amazonas. Of all illegal CAR claims in undesignated public lands and rural settlements in 2014, we found that 94% became legal in 2017.