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Please cite as:
Fearnside, P.M. 2002. Avança Brasil: Environmental and social consequences of Brazil’s planned infrastructure in Amazonia. Environmental Management 30(6): 748-763.
The original publication is available at www.springerlink.com
BRASIL: ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL CONSEQUENCES OF
Philip M. Fearnside
Department of Ecology
National Institute for Research
in the Amazon (INPA)
Av. André Araújo, 2936
69011-970 Manaus, Amazonas
Submitted to: Environmental Management
“Avança Brasil” (Forward Brazil) is a package of 338
The environmental and social costs of forest loss are high; among them is loss of opportunities for sustainable use of the forest, including loss of environmental services such as biodiversity maintenance, water cycling, and carbon storage. The benefits of export infrastructure are meager, especially from the point of view of generating employment. Much of the transportation infrastructure is for soybeans, while the hydroelectric dams contribute to processing aluminum. The example of Avança Brasil makes clear the need to rethink how major development decisions are made and to reconsider a number of the plan’s component projects.
INTRODUCTION: AVANÇA BRASIL
Brasil” (Forward Brazil) is a massive program of planned infrastructure
construction and other activities (Brazil, Ministério do Planejamento 1999).
The portion of the plan to be located in
[Figure 1 here]
The package of 338 projects throughout Brazil is
organized into “development
axes” (Consórcio Brasiliana 2000) that are designed to stimulate economic
activity in general, in addition to the activities financed directly under the
program (Table 1). Much of the funding
for the infrastructure and other activities is to come from private, largely
foreign, capital. Avança Brasil refers
to the country’s 2000-2003 Pluriannual Plan, and is the successor to the
1996-1999 plan known as “Brasil em Ação” (
[Table 1 here]
Brasil represents a new model for
The plans for Avança Brasil were conceived and written by the Ministry of Planning and by consulting firms hired by the Ministry. Once ready, the plan was presented to other ministries and to the public through a series of presentations in each state capital. These presentations gave the Ministry an opportunity to add or modify information on the basis of inputs from the audience at the presentations; the presentations were not structured as hearings to generate lists of required alterations in the plans. The same applied to presentation of the plan to other ministries. In the case of the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Planning prevailed in its claim that the country’s current licensing system adequately covers any environmental impacts of the projects without any additional studies or hearings. The Ministry of the Environment did secure agreement of the Ministry of Planning to undertake a review of potential overall or synergistic impacts from the suite of projects proposed for each region (as distinct from the impacts of each individual project). The study is not a precondition for initiation of any of the proposed projects, which are proceeding as planned. With the 2000-2003 pluriannual plan half over, the general review still remains in the planning stage. In 2001 the plans were broadened to include selected NGOs, especially the Institute for Environmental Research in Amazonia (IPAM).
article discusses likely consequences of these plans and identifies aspects of
the decision-making process that impede its ability to avoid damaging projects.
The article concludes that the environmental and social costs of many Avança
Brasil projects are high and that
IMPACTS OF AVANÇA BRASIL
diverse array of infrastructure projects under Avança Brasil implies a wide
range of impacts. Particularly important
is the provision of access to undisturbed areas, especially by paving the
BR-163 (Cuiabá-Santarém) and BR-319 (Manaus-Porto Velho) highways (Figure
2). Gas pipelines planned in the heart
of the undisturbed block of forest in western
[Figure 2 here]
Two modeling groups have recently used geographical information systems (GIS) to make projections of the impacts of Avança Brasil and other planned projects in Brazilian Amazonia (Table 2). One group (Nepstad and others 2000, 2001, Carvalho and others 2001) considered only highway projects, while the other (Laurance and others 2001a,b) also considered other types of infrastructure. The first group restricted itself to deforestation, while the second group also modeled forest degradation by transfers among four classes of degradation. Both groups arrived at broadly similar conclusions, indicating massive increases in deforestation over the next two decades.
[Table 2 here]
in the models do not simply extrapolate from past trends, but rather specify a
buffer around each infrastructure project, representing the distance over which
the project leads to transformations among the various degradation classes,
including the process of deforestation.
In the Laurance and others (2001a,b) model, the transformations within
the buffers are modified by the existence of various categories of protected
and semiprotected areas, such as national parks, national forests (for timber
management), extractive reserves (for nontimber forest products), and
indigenous reserves. One group (Nepstad
and others 2000) based the deforestation rates within the buffers on the
history of deforestation along three major highways where clearing spread
rapidly, while the other group (Laurance and others 2001a,b) used observations
from all existing roads in
The model of Laurance and others (2001a,b) made
projections to 2020 indicating an additional 269,000 to 506,000 ha/year of
deforestation as a result of planned infrastructure, plus conversion of
1.53-2.37 million ha/year of forest from the two least degraded categories
(“pristine” or lightly degraded) to the two most degraded categories
(moderately or heavily degraded).1
The deforestation alone would result in increased carbon emissions of 52.2-98.2
million t C/year. Merely as an
illustration, at the US$20/t C expected carbon price that has been used in
ENVIRONMENTAL SAFEGUARDS AND AVANÇA BRASIL
Brasil proponents emphasize the existence of federal and state environmental
agencies, police, etc., giving the impression that the process of land
occupation and deforestation is orderly and controlled in
under the aegis of Avança Brasil of nondestructive projects, such as the PROBEM
program for bioprospecting, does not change the effect of the infrastructure
components. This infrastructure is
massive, including substantial increases in the impact of the road
network. The claim by Avança Brasil
proponents that the plan contains “no new highways” gives the misleading
impression that the highway network funded through Avança Brasil would not cause
deforestation. Unfortunately, the plan
to pave 7500 km
of highways greatly increases the accessibility of remote areas of
[Figure 3 here]
is important to understand that
[Table 3 here]
GENERIC PROBLEMS WITH THE LICENSING PROCESS
Lobby stimulated before decision
problem is that powerful interest groups in favor of project construction are
mobilized before the environmental impacts are assessed. Impact assessment only occurs shortly before
actual construction begins. In the case
of Avança Brasil, the program has an English-language webpage designed to
attract international financing for the projects, obviously in advance of the
environmental studies of each project.
In April 2001, a presentation in
“Dragging effect” of third parties
existence of environmental impact studies does not mean that damaging projects
would not be undertaken. The claim that if any project that involves
environmental damage, it must be reformulated or dropped (e.g.,
Brazilian Embassy, London 2001) does not fit with experience. One of the problems is that
The BR-163 (Santarém-Cuiabá) highway provides a dramatic example of the dragging effect. This highway opens access to vast areas of relatively intact forest that is particularly susceptible to degradation through fire due to the strong dry season in the area (Carvalho and others 2001, Nepstad and others 2000). Paving the BR-163 is a top priority under Avança Brasil, and sawmills are already migrating to the area (Schneider and others 2000, p. 19).
Brasil proponents often suggest that the program’s infrastructure in
Tendency for favorable reports
Consulting firms tend to prepare reports favorable to approval of the projects, since the firms are contracted by project proponents that have heavy financial stakes in securing approval (e.g., Fearnside and Barbosa 1996b). The Environmental Impact Study (EIA) and Report on Impact on the Environment (RIMA) are paid for by the project proponent, who thereby has influence in choosing the personnel who are hired, setting near-impossible deadlines that assure that only cursory attention is given to problems and that the proponent reviews a series of preliminary drafts of the reports (with opportunities to “suggest” deletions and other changes) prior to their being submitted to government authorities. Frequently the contracts stipulate that the last installment of the consulting firm’s payment is only made after the government environmental authorities have approved the report, thereby virtually guaranteeing that the report will be drafted to emphasize the proposed project’s positive aspects.
An example is provided by the Araguaia-Tocantins Waterway, a top priority under Avança Brasil. In this case, when statements regarding heavy impacts on indigenous populations along the route were included in the report, the outcome was to alter the report rather than to drop the project (Carvalho 1999, Switkes 1999). The waterway was temporarily embargoed by judicial order (Silveira 1999), but the company later obtained another order allowing continuation of the project (Radiobrás 1999).
The Teles-Pires—Tapajós Waterway has also been the subject of a scandal involving its environmental impact studies, which, in this case, were divided into two separate studies, one above and one below the Mundurucú indigenous area that is bisected by the waterway (Novaes 1998). The project has been barred since 1997 by a judicial order, but it continues to appear in the smorgasborg of potential Avança Brasil investments presented to prospective investors (e.g., Consórcio Brasiliana 2000).
Emphasis on the existence of steps
More common than scandals such as those surrounding the Tocantins-Araguaia and Teles-Pires--Tapajós Waterways is the more subtle effect of the licensing system requiring only that each step in the process be completed (report submission, public hearing, etc.), with little regard, in practice, to the content of the information. In effect, the consultants writing the reports and the witnesses at the hearings can say whatever they like, even pointing out major impacts, and the project approval process simply moves ahead based on the fact that the reports have been duly submitted and the population has been “consulted” (Eve and others 2000, Fearnside and Barbosa 1996a).
Unleashing chains of events
of the inherent problems of the current environmental impact assessment system
The impacts of hydroelectric dams are severe in many ways that go beyond land-use transformations (World Commission on Dams 2000). Little evidence exists that a fundamental change in project selection has occurred, since the most damaging project of all is now scheduled for completion in 2013, beyond the time horizon of Avança Brasil. This is the 6000-km2 Altamira Dam, formerly called Babaquara (Brazil, ELETROBRÁS 1998). The planned Belo Monte Dam (known as “Kararaô” prior to 1992), a top priority under Avança Brasil, is closely linked to this much more damaging project, which would regulate the flow of the Xingu River to compensate for the small reservoir at the Belo Monte Dam (Santos and de Andrade 1990, Fearnside 2001b).
1989, an Amerindian woman threatened Antônio Muniz (director of ELETRONORTE,
the electrical power authority in
The reappearance of plans for the Babaquara Dam is indicative of a basic problem: the lack of a legal mechanism by which the government can make irrevocable commitments not to build specific projects that are known to be damaging. When projects are judged to be politically unpromising due to criticisms of their expected impacts, they can simply lie dormant for decades, only to re-emerge at a more politically favorable moment. Such projects are known as “vampire projects.”
example is provided by the Paraguay-Paraná waterway, or “Pantanal Hidrovia.” The Brazilian government announced in March 1998
that it was dropping plans for the Paraguay-Paraná Waterway (e.g.,
Associated Press 1998). Now, the Mourinhos
barge port, 80 km from
in the Luis Carlos Magalhães (Lajeado) Dam provide another example of the
danger of a piecemeal approval process.
Construction of the locks, an Avança Brasil project, would have no
conceivable purpose were the rest of the
Deforestation inevitably leads to loss of opportunity for sustainable use of standing forest, including tapping the value of environmental services (Fearnside 1997). Environmental services include biodiversity (Fearnside 1999b), water cycling (Fearnside 2000b), and avoided emissions of greenhouse gases. Carbon storage is the environmental service that is nearest to yielding substantial monetary returns, even despite the March 2001 withdrawal of the United States from negotiations over the Kyoto Protocol and the July 2001 Bonn Agreement ruling out credit for avoided deforestation in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), defined in Article 12 of the Protocol, in the first commitment period (2008-2012).
Use of avoided deforestation in the CDM after 2012 would require definition of several critical points. The same applies to possible use of similar crediting outside of the Kyoto Protocol. How baselines would be defined remains an open question, with important implications both for the amount of credit obtainable and for the potential for perverse incentives (Watson and others 2000; Hardner and others 2000). Important among these considerations are requirements regarding certainty (Fearnside 2000c), permanence (the time over which carbon would be kept out of the atmosphere) (Fearnside and others 2000), and various forms of leakage (effects of the project, such as displaced population or deforestation activity, outside of the project’s physical or conceptual boundaries, often leading to negation of the intended mitigation results) (Brown and others 2000, Fearnside 1999c).
In the Brazilian context, if only historical deforestation rates are allowed as a baseline then credit would be given to (figuratively) “fence off” remnants of remaining forest in parts of Brazil that had already experienced heavy deforestation by 1990, whereas avoiding the future opening of currently untouched areas would not gain credit. The example of Avança Brasil illustrates why it is worthwhile to find ways to make crediting for avoided deforestation apply to new frontiers as well. What makes Avança Brasil so damaging to the environment, including its role as a source of carbon emissions, is precisely that it opens vast new “virgin” areas to deforestation, logging, and fire. The likely price of not devising regulations that give credit for avoiding these impacts would be the transformation of the computer-generated scenarios into reality. Clearly the stakes are high.
is worth noting that the CDM is not the only means by which
BENEFITS OF EXPORT INFRASTRUCTURE
basic question to be answered with respect to export infrastructure, as for any
planned project, is “Are the benefits worth the cost?” Unfortunately, the benefits of export
infrastructure are meager, especially in terms of social benefits for
processing, which is a major beneficiary of planned hydroelectric dam
construction, provides another extreme example. Albrás, which uses power from
the grid supplied by Tucuruí and other dams, consumes more electricity than the
Serra Quebrada Dam, to be built on the
power is to be used for aluminum, then there is virtually no limit to the
amount of generating capacity “needed.”
notion that projects such as highways and waterways will improve the plight of
the Amazonian poor is quite farfetched.
These projects are primarily designed for transporting commodities such
as soybeans, which are grown by wealthy agribusiness operations and generate
little employment (Fearnside 2001a). For
example, in Maranhão an average of 167 ha of soybeans are needed to create one
job according to a survey by EMBRAPA, the Brazilian Enterprise for Agriculture
and Ranching Research (Carvalho 1999). Soybeans are often being produced in former
savannas, and are transported on highways, waterways, and railways through the
forest areas. In the forest areas
themselves cattle ranching is the major land use that quickly dominates the
landscape in areas that have been opened to transportation. Ranching benefits a wealthy elite and
provides minimal employment (Fearnside 2001c).
In the case of logging, the employment generated is likely to be
temporary because most logging in
Much of the infrastructure is justified by export of soybeans, a crop with minimal social benefits (Fearnside 2001a). Constructing a massive infrastructure network to support soybean growing is difficult to imagine as coming under the rubric of “sustainable development.”
IMPROVING THE ENVIRONMENTAL LICENSING SYSTEM
Brasil offers multiple lessons for improvement of
The studies themselves could be improved in various ways. Broadening them to include the “dragging effect” of economic activity stimulated by the infrastructure is essential. It is impressive that no estimates of the deforestation impact of the proposed infrastructure were generated either as a part of the planning process for Avança Brasil or as a part of the environmental impact assessment process for the individual projects. The two available studies (Nepstad and others 2000, Laurance and others 2001a) were produced independent of these processes and after Avança Brasil was underway.
Studies are needed that assess the impact of interrelated sets of projects, as in river basin development, before individual projects are approved. The Xingu Dams illustrate the danger of unleashing chains of events that are much more damaging than the initial projects. For each project, a full suite of alternatives needs to be analyzed—broadly interpreted to include other forms of addressing the social objectives of the projects. The debate over the Urucu-Porto Velho gas pipeline, mentioned earlier, makes this clear.
Guaranteeing the objectivity of impact studies will require addressing the proponent-pays arrangement that is specified in the regulations governing the system (CONAMA resolution 001 of 23 January 1986). Replacing this with public funding would not be viable, as funds would not be available in practice in adequate amounts and with sufficient speed and efficiency to make the system work. A better solution would be for proponents to be required to contribute money to a fund that would be administered independently under government oversight; the fund would then contract out the studies without involvement of the proponent. This would remove the biases inherent in the proponent’s current right to select consulting firms and the subsequent influence enjoyed by proponents over contracting within firms, establishment of impossible deadlines and other limitations that prevent an adequate evaluation of impacts, and review of report drafts by the proponent prior to submission to authorities. Public participation could be increased by better choice of locations and times of hearings, and by efforts to facilitate the availability of relevant project documentation. This should always include public availability of the full Environmental Impact Study (EIA), not just the shorter Report on Impact on the Environment (RIMA). Availability should include release of the full documents through the internet, as opposed to the current form of “access” that is restricted to the opportunity to consult bound volumes in the library of the state environmental agency.
Judicial procedures are an important part of the licensing process. An important need is creation of a mechanism by which commitments can be made not to implement certain projects that are identified as especially damaging. In the absence of such a mechanism, major problems that may be identified in studies of interlinked projects, such as river-basin development plans, would have little potential effect other than possible denial of licensing for the initial project in each project set.
Involvement of the Public Ministry is an important safeguard in assuring the inclusion of relevant consideration in the reports and adherence to the procedures that have been specified for the licensing system (see Table 3). This provides the main means by which alternative written documentation can be included in the decision process. However, this kind of judicial involvement is not a substitute for a licensing system that works on its own. Efforts must be made to strengthen the licensing system, while maintaining the safeguard provided by the judiciary.
challenge presented by Avança Brasil makes clear the need to further strengthen
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Seminário
Nacional sobre o Desenvolvimento da Amazônia: Um debate sobre o Programa Avança
Brasil, Senado Federal, Brasília, 9-10 April 2001, and is expected to appear in
Portuguese in the proceedings of the seminar.
(1) “Pristine areas” have intact primary-forest cover but may have limited hunting, fishing, and shifting cultivation by traditional indigenous communities. “Light-impact areas” have >95% primary-forest cover but can experience illegal gold-mining, small-scale farming, hunting, hand-logging, and extraction of nontimber resources such as rubber. “Moderate-impact areas” have >85% intact primary-forest cover but contain localized forest clearings and some roads and may be affected by logging, mining, hunting, and oil and gas exploration. “Heavy-impact areas” have no or little primary-forest cover and are heavily fragmented; such areas experience edge effects, fires, and logging.
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Figure 1 –
Figure 2 – Major Avança Brasil projects.
Figure 3 – Locations mentioned in the text.
Table 1: Selected Avança Brasil infrastructure project types in the Legal Amazon region(a)
Project type Number Length or size Cost
Highway paving 30 7,560 km 2,794
Highway segment upgrading 3 46
Agricultural road upgrading 6 1,023 km 290
Railways 4 1,625 km 1,749
Gas pipelines 2 920 km 450
Industrial waterways 2 1,057 km 55
Locks in hydroelectric dams 2 254
Hydroelectric dams 10 20.4 MW 11,942
Transmission lines 12 4,830 km 651
(a) Information from Consórcio Brasiliana (2000).
Table 2: Comparison of modeling assumptions and results of GIS studies of infrastructure in Brazilian Amazonia
Laurance and Nepstad and
others 2001a,b others 2000, 2001
Width of buffer for deforestation 50 km 50 km
Width of buffer for degradation 200 km Not considered
Impacts considered Roads, railways, Roads only
Base for deforestation in buffers All existing PA-150, BR-010,
Effect of protected areas Inhibit Not considered
on type and distance
Deforestation rate 269-506 400-1350
(103 ha/year additional)
Degradation 1.53-2.37 Not considered
(106 ha/year additional)
Greenhouse gas emission 52.2-98.2 200-550
from additional deforestation
(106 t C/year)
Legal basis National Council of the Environment
(CONAMA) resolution 001 of 23 January
Reports required EIA (Environmental Impact Study)
for major projects RIMA (Report on Impacts on the Environment)
Report preparation A “multidisciplinary team” that is “not directly
or indirectly dependent on the project
proponent” (normally a consultancy firm)
Payment for reports Project proponent
Public access RIMA: publicly available at the state
environmental agency (OEMA) in the state
where the project is located
EIA: differing interpretations; in practice the
report is usually not available
Report approval Council of the Environment (Conselho do
Meio Ambiente)(a) if project is wholly located
in a single state; Brazilian Institute for the
Environment and Renewable Natural
Resources (IBAMA) if the project spans more
than one state. Operating license issued by OEMA.
Alternatives considered EIA and RIMA must consider “alternatives”.
This is interpreted by NGOs to mean
alternatives to achieve the project’s social
objectives, whereas project proponents
interpret this to mean alternative means of
exploiting the resource in question.(b) Judicial
interpretation is pending.
Public consultation Required for presentation of the RIMA in a location (or locations) “accessible to interested parties”.(c) Hearings are organized by the OEMA with participation of the Public Ministry.
Judicial participation The “Public Ministry” (Ministério Público)(d)
is an independent branch of the judiciary that
has considerable autonomy in initiating
inquiries, soliciting information and deciding
cases (see Eve and others 2000). Requests by the
Public Ministry for addition of information to
the RIMA, usually at the time of the public
hearings, are an important hurdle in the
(a) The “Council of the Environment” in each state is appointed by the state government. These councils are often dominated by local business interests that are favorable to infrastructure projects (see Carvalho and others 2002).
(b) For example, alternatives to the Urucú –
(c) CONAMA resolution 009 of
(d) Authorized by Law No 7347 of