MATO GROSSO, Brazil _ With fines for illegal deforestation rarely paid, Brazil is using a novel approach to save the Amazon: block those who clear land illegally from accessing credit. And, refreshingly, the system seems to be working.
“If you can link someone who has been charged with an infraction with their accessibility to credit, that can be an effective deterrent,” said Peter May, a scientist working in Brazil in association with the Center for International Forestry Research. “That is one tool that the judiciary is now using fairly effectively, jointly with the national monetary council that those who are not in accordance with the environmental codes should not be allowed to take out (publicly approved) credit.”
He said that in Brazil only about 5 people in every 100 who are fined for environmental crimes ever pay up.
“Fines can go on for decades before you can actually force someone to pay a fine, if it ever happens. So fines have not been an effective deterrent. There are about US$4.3 billion (R$ 6.9 billion) of unpaid fines out there. The vast proportion is not effectively enforced,” he said.
May said that coupled with a weak judiciary unable to force wrongdoers to pay their fines, the police force and environmental agencies have been underequipped and unable to effectively crack down on illegal land clearing. He said they often “don’t have gasoline to get out there (into the forests) or don’t have a helicopter or don’t have bullets for their guns to chase after the criminals.” And most of all, he said, decision-makers lack the political will to do so.