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Fighting Climate Change Means Fighting Organized Crime

While almost every government in the world has recognized the need to move to a carbon-free economy, another front in the climate crisis has gone largely ignored. Without a concerted effort to crack down on the criminal activities that are threatening natural carbon sinks such as the Amazon basin, emissions reductions could be for naught.

RIO DE JANEIRO – As the world’s largest terrestrial carbon sink, the Amazon is a key front in the fight against climate change. But it is also host to a thriving criminal underworld that could undermine efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. In fact, reversing climate change is not just about regulating polluters; it is also about fighting organized crime. 

Deforestation in the Amazon has accelerated rapidly in recent years, resulting in a dramatic loss of tree cover. Since the 1970s, around one-fifth of the area has been razed for agro-industry, logging, and mining; 50-80% of that deforestation is due to illegal activities, including gold mining. If the current trend continues, another 20% of existing tree cover will be gone by 2030.

Among the many threats to the Amazon, mining is especially destructive, because it also strips away earth, prevents regrowth, and pollutes rivers. Nonetheless, large mining corporations such as Anglo American and Vale have spent tens of billions of dollars to build access roads into some of the Amazon’s – and the world’s – most environmentally vulnerable regions. They have been abetted by politicians, who issue generous tax incentives to scale up extraction of bauxite, copper, iron ore, manganese, nickel, tin, and especially gold.

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