Ten years on
from the 1992 Environment Summit in Rio, the news from the
Amazon is not good. With 20 years' knowledge of the
rainforest, Adrian Cowell journeys back to find out if the
"progress" that is consuming one of the world's greatest
natural resources can be halted.
Chico Mendes campaigned to protect
decade of the 1980s, I spent three years filming with the
trade union leader, Chico Mendes, as he campaigned to
protect the Amazon forest from the ranchers who were cutting
was to defend the forest by fighting for the rights of the
rubber tappers who lived within it, and in 1987, this won
him a UN Global 500 award.
When he was
assassinated a year later, his friends and colleagues swore
to keep his ideas alive.
Chico's ex-aides and associates are the Mayor of his
hometown of Xapuri, the Governor of his state of Acre, the
leader of the opposition in the Brazilian Senate. And his
closest associate, Mary Allegretti, is the Federal
Government's Secretary for Amazonia.
underdogs of Amazonia have come to power.
Reserves are now protected
like Chico's, is to defend the forest. In Fires of the
Amazon I went back to Amazonia to see whether they had a
realistic chance of succeeding.
with Mary Allegretti around the rubber tapper reserves which
she and Chico had set up.
legislation, the reserves now cannot be challenged. And
every year, somewhere in Amazonia, a handful of new reserves
are set up.
factories for rubber and Brazil nuts have begun to provide
higher prices for forest products, and Duda Mendes, Chico's
brother, says his income - from the sustainable logging of
timber - has increased fourfold.
of Cachoeira has won a Forest Stewardship Council
certificate for its environmental care of the forest, and
the local furniture factory pays a higher price for their
31% of Amazonia is protected, today, in some form of park or
situation would appear rosy if there was not a schizophrenia
in Amazonian policy which - at the same time as it
encourages the preservation of the forest - also finances
New roads have high costs
government's huge "Avanca Brasil" development programme will
fund, amongst other projects, the paving of half a dozen
It has been
calculated from satellite photographs recording the
deforestation caused by previous Amazonian highways, that
paving causes 40% deforestation within 50 km of a road in a
period of 20 to 25 years, whilst another 40% of the forest
is degraded by logging.
report in the American journal Science estimates that
this will leave Amazonia 28-42% deforested by 2020, with
vast additional areas of forest degraded.
For the last
three years, the Amazonian branch of Greenpeace has been
researching the mahogany trade in Amazonia and, last
December, the government agreed with Greenpeace that 70% of
the trade was illegal.
suspended it for a year, but the damage had already been
logging inside a reserve leaves most of the trees standing,
but thins out the density of the forest and punches holes in
the canopy. This helps to dry out the forest making it
vulnerable to fire.
The forest is now more vulnerable to
In the past,
standing Amazonian forest was too damp to be flammable.
But now, Dan
Nepstad of the Institute for Amazonian Environmental
Research estimates that in periods of drought induced by the
regular weather event, El Nino, 30% of the forest is
vulnerable to "a really mega fire event".
worse, the British Meteorological Office's Hadley Centre for
Climate Prediction estimates that global warming will raise
the surface temperature of the oceans so much, that they
will increase the El Nino effect of bringing drought to
have killed off most of the forest before the end of the
Chico Mendes became a sort of patron saint to the United
Nations Environmental Summit in Rio de Janeiro - his policy
of protecting the forest by helping the people who live
within it was seen as the best way forward.
later, it still is.
outlook from the summit in Johannesburg is much bleaker,
both for Amazonia and for the rest of the environment.
Reporter/Producer: Adrian Cowell
Deputy Editor: David Belton
Editor: Karen O'Connor