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Peru’s worst political crises in history lead failing to protect its Amazon rainforest

"Peru's failing protect Amazon rainforest"
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Peru’s worst political crises in its history lead to failing to protect its Amazon rainforest.

According to a report published Thursday, Peru has descended into one of the worst political crises in its history, and the protection of its Amazon rainforest is failing. After Brazil, Peru has the second-largest portion of the Amazon rainforest. The country had committed to halting deforestation by 2021.

Since 2016, the South American country has been mired in political turmoil. Corruption scandals and disagreements between the executive and legislative branches of government have resulted in a high rate of turnover — four presidents in five years. Since taking office in July 2021, Peru’s current President, leftist outsider Pedro Castillo, has already survived two impeachment attempts.

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World’s most biologically diverse areas

The Peruvian Amazon is vast, covering an area larger than Ukraine (68 million hectares) (168 million acres). It is home to the Amazon River’s headwaters as well as Manu National Park, one of the world’s most biologically diverse areas. It’s a microclimate and ecology-rich transition zone between the Andes mountains and the rainforest lowlands.

However, the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), a non-profit Amazon Conservation Association initiative, reports that deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon has reached six historical highs in the last ten years. The analysis is based on records kept by the University of Maryland since 2002.

Actors who are corrupt

Peru lost approximately 1,70,000 hectares (4,20,000 acres) of Amazon rainforest in 2020, the worst year on record. Last year’s figure was lower, but it was still the sixth highest on record. Peruvian official data, which only extends until 2020, concurs.

According to the report, corrupt actors who benefit from environmental crime, combined with the political crisis, have resulted in a lack of government ability to combat environmental crime. ‘Additionally, the Peruvian government continues to prioritise economic development over Amazon rainforest protection.’

The report was commissioned by the Igarape Institute from InSight Crime, a non-profit organisation dedicated to investigating crime in Latin America. Cattle ranching and agriculture, as in Brazil’s Amazon, are the primary causes of deforestation. The land is illegally seized by agribusiness companies and poor migrants from other parts of Peru. Gold mining, logging, and coca plantations are other illegal activities that harm the forest.

According to MAAP director Matt Finer, ‘agriculture is now firmly established’ as the leading driver of deforestation in the central and southern Peruvian Amazon. ‘This includes both widespread small-scale agriculture and recent large-scale Mennonite colonial activities.’

The report, titled The Roots of Environmental Crime in the Peruvian Amazon, identifies three actors responsible for deforestation: large corporations such as palm oil companies; entrepreneurial criminal networks that profit from the trade in timber, land, or drugs; and cheap labour — low-wage workers who cut down trees and plant coca crops.

The byproducts of these illegal activities end up all over the world. The majority of gold exports are made to Switzerland, the United States, India, and Canada. The majority of the timber consumed in Peru is consumed domestically, with the remainder exported primarily to China.

According to the InsightCrime investigation, approximately 28% of Peruvian gold production is illegal, and the majority of timber extraction is also done without permits.

The covid effect

‘The political crisis has distracted us a lot from environmental problems,’ former Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a climate change conference hosted by the Brazilian Centre for International Relations. According to him, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have exacerbated these issues.

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According to him, the current government also encourages illegal mining and logging. The former minister linked this to the deaths of numerous environmental activists who went unpunished. Contacted by phone and email on Monday, Peru’s Ministry of Environment did not respond to requests for comment on the current state of Amazon.

The Amazon rainforest is the world’s largest tropical rainforest and a massive carbon sink. There is widespread concern that its destruction will not only release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, complicating efforts to slow climate change but will also push the forest past a tipping point, after which much of it will begin an irreversible process of degradation into tropical savannah.

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