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Trees, cattle and leather footballs: Brazil

July 13, 2010

Their football team may not have been in carnival mood as they flew back from South Africa, but Brazil’s colourful palette of culture – from samba to circus to literature – is being celebrated in a series of events at London’s Southbank Centre this summer.

Brazil’s contribution to the world’s sustainability problems makes for rather less cause for cheer, according to many environmental groups. 

Despite the Government’s efforts to halt illegal logging, deforestation of the Amazon continues apace.   Cattle ranching shoulders much of the blame, with leading footwear brands (and football manufacturers) facing accusations that their leather is sourced from deforested areas.  In a lack of joined-up government, it seems that while the authorities are stepping up efforts to restrain ranchers and enforce environmental laws, the Brazilian National Development Bank funds companies that are expanding cattle farms on illegally-acquired areas of pristine rainforest. 

Meanwhile, the soybean industry is growing (it’s the world’s second largest, after the USA’s), catering for the huge market that is China, with similar environmental implications.

Biofuels are powering Brazil’s motor transport (or, mixed with gasoline, its light vehicles at least) while providing a major boost to the country’s export revenues.

These fuels are blamed for raising global food prices by competing with food crops for the available land.  They are also believed to be pushing cattle ranchers and farmers towards previously-untouched forest areas, thus leading to its destruction.

However, Brazil can claim to lead the way in sustainable biofuel production.  New technology allows it to process plant cellulose, which allows a greater range of plant waste to be used with improved efficiency.

And what do the people of Brazil make of all this?  Well, studies suggest that Brazil as a nation has made rapid strides in recent years regarding its environmental awareness – when judged alongside developed countries as well as its fellow fast-growing ‘developing’ economies.  One survey of attitudes, from 1997, suggests that 97% of Brazilians thought their Government should do more to tackle climate change.  And a BBC report from summer 2008 has the President acknowledging the link between deforestation and global warming: that was only two years ago, so there must be huge potential for the word’s fifth biggest country (geographically and in population terms) to work with the EU in driving forward the next generation of environmental agreements.

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