Report points to the negative impacts of infrastructure development in Amazonia

14 July 2019

On 8 July, Anthony Bebbington, Denise Humphreys Bebbington (Clark University) and César Gamboa (director of Derecho Ambiente and Recursos Naturales, DAR) presented in Lima a recent study that explores the impact of extractive industries and infrastructure projects (EII) on deforestation in Amazonia. The report is part of a larger study commissioned by the Climate and Land Use Alliance to explore the impacts of EII on forest loss in the Amazon, Mexico, Central America and Indonesia.

The study analyses how mining and hydrocarbon industries in the Amazon have driven investment in major infrastructure projects, as the need for hydropower development and the construction of roads, pipelines, railways and port facilities increase. Such investment is designed to facilitate the transportation of commodities, mainly to China, the biggest market for mineral, grain and beef exports. The report acknowledges other historical drivers of deforestation, such as logging, cattle-raising and agricultural activities. However, the main aim of the study is to see the extent to which extractive industries and large-scale infrastructure are impacting on forest loss.

Driven by powerful economic actors lobbying national governments to attract international investment, governments in the Andean-Amazonia region (Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and Brazil) have all taken measures to promote investment in the EII sectors. They are rolling back environmental protections which, according to the authors, “threatens to undermine decades of work to protect forests and secure the rights and livelihoods of indigenous and traditional peoples and other forest-based communities”.

According to the report, the Amazon region contains large deposits of copper, tin, nickel, iron ore, bauxite, manganese and gold as well as oil and natural gas. The Amazonian Network for Georeferenced Socio-environmental Information (RAISG) argues that nearly all protected areas and indigenous territories are being affected by mining and hydrocarbon extraction, as well as investment in infrastructure such as roads and waterways.

In Peru, in 2014, there were over 50,000 mining concessions, covering about 18% of national territory. This does not include illegal mining activity, which continues to grow rapidly in parts of the Peruvian rainforest. The study shows how investment in roads facilitates the movement of illegal miners into the Amazon. The construction of the southern Oceanic Highway connecting Brazil with Peru is a case in point. It caused massive movement of migrant workers into Madre de Díos leading to devastating environmental degradation from gold extraction.

Between 2004 and 2009, hydrocarbon investment increased substantially following the extension of concessions for exploration; these jumped from less than 13% to over 72% (p.23).

The surge in investment in hydrocarbons and mining, along with the need to facilitate transport of grains and beef to Asia, is directly correlated with the drive for more investment in infrastructure projects, the report says. Along with dams and hydroelectric plants, highways and waterways are priority investments in the Amazon region. The authors of the study argue that although individually EII projects may not appear to pose significant threats, “the combined effects of EII investments have the potential to catalyse significant human settlement and forest clearance”. They further argue that “the expansion of infrastructure into remote areas is of particular concern because it can lead to secondary roads, logging, land speculation and chaotic settlement, as exemplified by the Madre de Dios case”.

Finally, the authors point to the human rights consequences of these activities. The expansion of economic activities in the Amazon has already eroded the rights of people living in the forest, as EII investments overlap with Indigenous territories. The lack of consultation and real participation of Indigenous people only aggravate the situation. The study shows how, among global ecoregions, Amazonia has seen by far the most killings of environmental defenders.

See full report here.

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