Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won last year’s close-run election on a bold climate agenda. But Lula’s climate actions have been lackluster, especially outside the Amazon.
A good example of this is the country’s Atlantic Forest, which stretches from Brazil’s Northeast down to the South. Despite its remarkable biodiversity and ecological importance, less than 10 percent of the Atlantic Forest’s original cover remains today.
Within this region lies Minas Gerais, a state with strong ties to the mining industry. While mining in this state has been profitable, its success has not come without significant environmental damage. Nor have local communities shared equally in the wealth and power generated.
The Brazilian government has contributed to the negative impacts on local communities by mismanaging mine licensing.
Brazil’s main mining regulator is the National Mining Agency (ANM). Its budget has been continually cut, leaving it unable to adequately perform its oversight functions. The problem of lax oversight stems from regulatory failures at both state and federal levels. Although state mining regulations in Minas Gerais are more stringent than federal regulations, pressure from the extractive industry led to the passage of several regulatory changes in 2016. These industry-backed changes made the permitting process faster, but also made it more vulnerable to socio-environmental abuses.
An examination of the area surrounding the Serra do Brigadeiro State Park in eastern Minas Gerais illustrates the environmental and social impacts of mining in the region.
While the park has not yet been mined, the near-complete deforestation of the surrounding area portends its future if the mining industry is allowed to encroach on this fragile asset. The threat of encroachment comes from the Brazilian Aluminum Company (CBA), which is interested in mining bauxite throughout the Atlantic Forest.
“If we let CBA take over Serra do Brigadeiro, they will actually be removing an entire island, one of the few islands of environment and biodiversity, from the entire state of Minas Gerais,” says Lara Clemente, of the NGO Iracambi.