RIO DE JANEIRO — Peru has entered one of the worst political crises in its history, and the protection of the Amazon rainforest is failing, according to a report published today. Peru is home to the second largest portion of the Amazon rainforest after Brazil. The country had promised to end deforestation by 2021.
The South American country has been immersed in political turbulence since 2016. Corruption scandals and disputes between the government’s executive and legislatures have resulted in intense attrition: four presidents in five years. Peru’s current president, left-wing outsider Pedro Castillo, has survived two impeachment attempts since he took office in July 2021.
The Peruvian Amazon is bigger than Ukraine, with some 68 million hectares (168 million acres). It is a transition area between the Andes Mountains and the rainforest lowlands, rich in microclimates and ecology. It contains the headwaters of the Amazon River and the Manú National Park, one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world.
But the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), an initiative of the nonprofit Amazon Conservation Association, reports that deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon has reached six historic highs in the past decade. The analysis is based on data from the University of Maryland, which has been tracking data since 2002.
The worst year on record was 2020 when Peru lost about 170,000 hectares (420,000 acres) of the Amazon rainforest. Last year, that number dropped but was still in sixth place on record. Peruvian official data, which only goes up to 2020, agrees.
The report said that cThe Igarapé Institute commissioned the report from InSight Crime, a non-profit organization that focuses on crime investigation in Latin America. orrupt actors taking advantage of environmental crime and the political crisis have left the government unable to fight environmental crime. “The Peruvian government continues to prioritize economic development over protecting the Amazon rainforest.”
As in the Amazon region of Brazil, livestock and agriculture are the main causes of deforestation. Farmers and poor migrants from other parts of Peru illegally seize land. Other illegal activities that harm the forest are gold mining, logging, and coca plantations.
“Agriculture is now firmly established,” said MAAP Director Matt Finer, as the main driver of deforestation concentrated in the central and southern Peruvian Amazon. “This includes widespread small-scale farming as well as recent large-scale activities of new Mennonite colonies.”
The report, entitled The Roots of Environmental Crime in the Peruvian Amazon, identifies three actors behind deforestation: large corporations, such as palm oil companies; criminal entrepreneurial networks, which profit from the trade in timber, land, or drugs; and cheap labor – poorly paid workers who cut trees and plant coca crops.
About 28 percent of Peru’s gold production is illegal, according to the InsightCrime research, which also estimates that most timber mining is done without permits. The products of these illegal activities end up in other parts of the world. Most gold exports go to Switzerland, the United States, India, and Canada. Peru’s domestic market absorbs most of the timber; what is exported mainly goes to China.
“The political crisis has distracted us a lot from environmental problems,” said former Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal in an interview with The Associated Press in Rio de Janeiro on the sidelines of a meeting on climate change organized by Brazil’s Center for International Relations. a think tank The pandemic and the war in Ukraine have compounded these problems, he said.
He said that the current government is also promoting activities such as illegal mining and logging. The former minister linked this to the unprosecuted deaths of many environmentalists.
The Peruvian Ministry of the Environment, which was contacted by phone and email on Monday, did not respond to requests for comment about the current situation in the Amazon.
The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest and a huge carbon sink. There is widespread concern that its destruction will release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, further hampering hopes of slowing climate change, and push it past a tipping point, leaving much of the forest in an irreversible state. Process of degradation will begin to tropical savanna.
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