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Brazil’s Bid to Outsource Amazon Conservation Finds Few Takers

This article was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center’s Rainforest Investigations Network.

RIO DE JANEIRO — Facing strong international condemnation over the destruction of the Amazon, President Jair Bolsonaro’s government came up with a strategy: It offered companies the chance to “adopt” a patch of rainforest.

But the plan — which invites companies to contribute money to help preserve the forest — has been marred by disorganization and met with skepticism by critics, who see it as an effort to “green wash” the Bolsonaro administration’s poor record on the environment.

It also hasn’t found many takers.

The program was announced in February, as the Biden administration made clear that it expected Brazil to reverse some of the forest loss and dismantling of environmental protections that marked Mr. Bolsonaro’s first two years in office.

the Adopt-a-Park program would accomplish two of the Bolsonaro administration’s goals: redeem Brazil’s tarnished environmental image, which industry leaders have feared could shut them out of international markets, and outsource the costs of conservation at a time of tightening budgets.

“Many of these companies, investment funds that signed letters demonstrating their concern about the Amazon,” said Ricardo Salles, the minister of the environment, “now have in Adopt a Park a concrete, very simple and efficient possibility of transforming their statements into action.”

The government offered 132 federal reserves in the Amazon for sponsorship. So far, only three foreign companies — the grocery chain Carrefour, Coca-Cola and Heineken — and five Brazilian corporations have enrolled. Their donations total just over $1 million — a tiny fraction of the $600 million that Mr. Salles aspires to raise.

Protected Areas of the Amazon program has raised tens of millions of dollars from governments and companies for protected areas in the Amazon.

Through the Adopt-a-Park program, sponsoring companies pay at least $9.5 per hectare of the reserve’s area per year. To sponsor the biggest park costs almost $35 million annually, while the smallest go for $23,000 a year.

Once sponsorship deals are finalized, companies donate goods and services — which could include vehicles or a fire brigade — to the Chico Mendes Institute office in each reserve.

July to share responsibility for protecting the Amazon with nongovernment actors. As protests over fires in the Amazon rainforest intensified, he challenged the actor Leonardo DiCaprio, one of the government’s most prominent critics, to sponsor a reserve.

“Are you going to put your money where your mouth is?” Mr. Salles wrote on Twitter in September.

Beyond proposing the park-adoption program before the climate change summit convened by the Biden administration last month, Brazil’s government seems to have done little to improve its environmental policies.

At the summit, Mr. Bolsonaro vowed to allocate more money to environmental protection agencies. But the very next day the government did the opposite, signing into law a budget that further slashed funding for the agencies.

And federal lawmakers are considering a bill that would make it easier for companies to get environmental permits for new farming, mining and infrastructure ventures.

“Is receiving donations as they are proposing going to compensate for all that?” asked Natalie Unterstell, a climate policy expert who has been tracking the program. “No. It’s a palliative measure.”

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Mozambique Mints a New National Park — and Surveys Its Riches

When you stand in the Chimanimani Mountains, it’s difficult to reconcile their present serenity with their beleaguered past. From the valleys below, enormous walls of gray stone rise above dense deciduous forests. Hidden among various crevices are ancient rock paintings, made in the late Stone Age by the San people, also known as Bushmen; they depict dancing men and women, and hunting parties chasing after elephants. There’s even a painting of a crocodile so enormous that it may forever deter you from the riverbank.

As you climb higher, toward Mount Binga, Mozambique’s highest peak, the forests flatten into expanses of montane grasslands. Wild, isolated, lost in time, it’s a place where rich local traditions live on, where people still talk about ancestral spirits and sacred rituals. A local guide there once told me about a sacred mountain, Nhamabombe, where rainmakers still go to make rain.

Gorongosa, Mozambique’s most famous national park, Chimanimani National Park marks the latest triumph in an environmental renaissance for a country where, just 30 years ago, armies were still funding wars with the blood of poached wildlife.

BIOFUND, a nonprofit dedicated to conservation, and Fauna & Flora International, an international wildlife conservation organization. The expeditions involved scientists from seven countries, including several from Mozambique.

As a doctoral student completing my field research in Gorongosa, I participated as the mammal expert on the annual biodiversity surveys. After finishing my Ph.D. in 2018, I shifted to a career in photojournalism. I went on my last two biodiversity surveys in 2018 and 2019 — first in Chimanimani’s buffer zone, then in the heart of Chimanimani — as the photographer.

These surveys are like biological treasure hunts. Scientists, each with a different specialty, are let loose in the landscape to unearth as many species as they can.

The mammalogists set camera traps for large mammals like antelope, live traps for small mammals like rodents, and mist nets for bats. The ornithologists arm themselves primarily with binoculars, their ears and an astonishing memory for bird songs. By day, the entomologists sweep their butterfly nets in the grassland and, by night, often stand at a light surrounded by clouds of insects, picking them out of their hair and waiting for something interesting to land.

The herpetologists, or reptile and amphibian specialists, shoot rubber bands to temporarily stun lizards, dive into knee-high water after agile frogs, and generally avoid being bitten by venomous snakes while far away from medical care.

By contrast, the botanists have a tranquil task: there’s something relaxing and almost elegant about strolling across the mountainside, inspecting beautiful flowers and pressing some in paper for posterity.

Biodiversity surveys are not for the faint of heart, and they cast more than a little doubt on the idea that scientists are all boring nerds in lab coats.

Through the years, I myself have been bitten by a tarantula, several bats, a mouse, countless insects and even a (nonvenomous) snake. Once, back in New Jersey after a survey, a doctor flushed my ears when I complained of muffled hearing. Out poured dozens of tiny, wax-entombed insects in various shapes and sizes. (The experts often wear plugs in their ears while standing at the insect light for this exact reason.)

There’s something about this change of pace that I’ve always found immensely appealing. In the cool Chimanimani mornings, the scientists who didn’t have to be up before dawn chasing their species would lounge, sipping instant coffee from plastic mugs and watching the clouds cast shadows onto the giant rock dome.

Featuring a diverse set of rare and endemic avian species, Chimanimani is a bird-watcher’s paradise. At Rio Nyahedzi, a camp some 4,000 feet above sea level, the survey’s ornithologists found the bokmakierie, a bird that was last seen in Mozambique in the 1970s. (Nyahedzi is close to Mount Binga, which lies directly on the border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe.)

As the park gets more attention, it will also attract hikers and rock climbers. Some of the park’s most beautiful waterfalls are 15 miles from the nearest road, and you can hike for days without seeing another human being. The park vibrates with solitude, adventure and discovery.

At the end of the two surveys, scientists in Chimanimani had found more than 1,400 species: 475 plants, 43 mammals, 260 birds, 67 amphibians and reptiles, and at least 582 species of insects. Some are new to science.

“It was amazingly productive as a rapid survey,” said Rob Harris, of Fauna & Flora International’s Mozambique program, emphasizing that the discoveries took place in a relatively short period of time.

The incredible diversity uncovered by the surveys is only a part of what’s known. As a whole, the Chimanimani Mountains are known to contain almost 1,000 plant species alone. Seventy-six plant and animal species are endemic to the Chimanimani Mountains, meaning they exist nowhere else on Earth.

Like all wild places, Chimanimani’s future is anything but certain. Endemic species are particularly threatened by climate change; because of their restricted range, they don’t have anywhere else to go as conditions become unsuitable. And human population growth will continue to jeopardize the fringes of the park. “The deforestation outside the park and in the buffer zone was alarming,” said Zak Pohlen, an ornithologist.

But as I reflect on these surveys and my time in Mozambique, I can’t help but feel full of hope. I am inspired every day by the passion of young Mozambican conservationists to safeguard their country’s disappearing wilderness. And most of all, I’m inspired by their optimism.

One of the goals of these surveys is to train young Mozambicans to take over leadership roles in conservation. Ana Gledis da Conceição, a Mozambican mammalogist, for example, spent several years assisting me in surveying mammals; by 2019, she was co-leading the mammal team with Mnqobi Mamba, a master’s student at the University of Eswatini.

Ms. da Conceição says she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be — a young scientist who fights for the conservation of biodiversity. “I want to invite young people like me to embrace this cause for the good of all of us,” she said.

“In spite of everything,” she added, “Mozambique has much to contribute to the future of conservation.”

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Your Thursday Morning

President Biden will pledge today to cut U.S. emissions nearly in half by the end of the decade, a target that would require transformative change to the American economy and way of life.

The target is timed to a closely watched two-day summit meeting, beginning on Earth Day, that Mr. Biden is hosting to show that the U.S. is rejoining international efforts to combat climate change.

The leaders of nearly 40 other countries will also attend, including those of Brazil, China, India and Canada, the only Group of 7 nation whose greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the Paris agreement. Brazil is seeking billions from the international community to support its promise to end illegal deforestation by 2030, a pledge that has been met with skepticism.

Challenges: To meet the goal, which nearly doubles a prior pledge made by the Obama administration, significant actions across the U.S. economy would be required, particularly involving cars and power plants, the two biggest sources of emissions.

world’s fastest-growing Covid-19 crisis, with new daily coronavirus cases nearing 300,000 on Wednesday and surpassing even the records from the height of the U.S. surge.

The country’s health care system is buckling under the strain, with one of the most alarming aspects of India’s second wave being a dwindling oxygen supply. Many hospital officials said they were just hours away from running out, and 22 people died from loss of oxygen in one hospital after an accident.

Britain has also imposed such restrictions, and the U.S. is advising against travel to India.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:


warned the West not to cross what he called a “red line” or risk provoking a powerful “asymmetric” response from Russia. He reminded Western leaders once again of the fearsomeness of his country’s modernized nuclear arsenal. And he asserted Russia’s moral superiority over the West.

But on the country’s streets, thousands of citizens defied a heavy police presence to challenge his rule, as rallies organized to protest the prison treatment of the prominent opposition leader Aleksei Navalny seemed to mushroom into something more. Before the rallies, the authorities had arrested dozens of protest leaders in 20 cities.

Tensions: Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, warned on Tuesday of a possible war with Russia. In a national address, he said Moscow’s buildup of troops on the border had created “all the preconditions for escalation.” (See pictures from the front line.)

“a skeleton walking.” He is insisting that he be allowed to be seen by doctors of his choosing.

killed by another Black model, George Koh.

From prison, Koh still sounds bewildered by what he has done. “I kind of thought, OK, let me just show Harry that I’m a big man — and that’s how it escalated.”

Here’s an excerpt from our climate team’s definitive answers to big questions about our warming world — and how we know what we know.

How bad are the effects of climate change going to be?

It depends on how aggressively we act to address climate change. If we continue with business as usual, by the end of the century, it will be too hot to go outside during heat waves in the Middle East and South Asia. Droughts will grip Central America, the Mediterranean and southern Africa. And many island nations and low-lying areas, from Texas to Bangladesh, will be overtaken by rising seas.

Conversely, climate change could bring welcome warming and extended growing seasons to the upper Midwest, Canada, the Nordic countries and Russia. Farther north, however, the loss of snow, ice and permafrost will upend the traditions of Indigenous peoples and threaten infrastructure.

kill jobs and cripple the economy. But that implies that there’s an alternative in which we pay nothing for climate change. And unfortunately, there isn’t.

In reality, not tackling climate change will cost a lot and will cause enormous human suffering and ecological damage, while transitioning to a greener economy would benefit many people and ecosystems around the world.

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Bolsonaro Seeks International Funding for Amazon Protection

This story was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center’s Rainforest Investigations Network.

RIO DE JANEIRO — As the Biden administration rallies the international community to curb global warming in a climate change summit this week, Brazil is pledging to play a critical role, going as far as promising to end illegal deforestation by 2030.

There’s a catch: Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, wants the international community to pledge billions of dollars to pay for the conservation initiatives.

And donors are reluctant to provide the money, since Brazil under the Bolsonaro administration has been busy doing the opposite of conservation, gutting the country’s environmental protection system, undermining Indigenous rights and championing industries driving the destruction of the rainforest.

Mr. Bolsonaro’s watch, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, by far the largest in the world, has risen to the highest level in over a decade. The destruction, which has been driven by loggers clearing land for cattle grazing and for illegal mining operations, sparked global outrage in 2019 as huge wildfires raged for weeks.

European Union, Norway and others in warning that its worsening reputation hampers the country’s economic potential.

that Norway and Germany froze in 2019 after Mr. Bolsonaro’s government criticized some of the projects and dismantled safeguards to ensure the money was used effectively.

“The shamelessness of the government to ask for resources abroad is striking,” Ms. Araújo said. “Why won’t he use the money that’s there?”

Environmental and Indigenous organizations have expressed deep skepticism about Mr. Bolsonaro’s professed willingness to fight deforestation and they have warned international donors to refrain from giving the Brazilian government money they fear could be used to undermine environmental protection.

In recent weeks, environmentalists have raised the alarm, and celebrities — including the Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso and the American actor Leonardo DiCaprio — signed a letter that conveyed “profound concern” about the talks.

There is no sign that the Biden administration is considering offering to fund deforestation efforts on a significant scale, which would require support from Congress.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said last week that the United States does not expect to announce a bilateral agreement with Brazil at this week’s climate summit.

“We do want to see a clear commitment to ending illegal deforestation, tangible steps to increase effective enforcement of illegal deforestation, and a political signal that illegal deforestation and encroachment will not be tolerated,” she told reporters last week.

an analysis by Climate Observatory.

After the country’s vice president, Hamilton Mourão, announced the government’s first target for deforestation reduction earlier this month, experts pointed out that reaching the goal would leave Brazil by the end of 2022 with a level of deforestation 16 percent higher than the one Mr. Bolsonaro inherited in 2019.

The Bolsonaro administration is backing a bill that would give land grabbers amnesty, a move that would open up a swath of the Amazon at least the size of France to largely unregulated development. Another initiative it is pressing in Congress would make it easier for companies to get environmental licenses and would pave the way for legal mining operations in Indigenous territories.

And there is deep distrust toward Mr. Salles among environmentalists and public servants in the field. A senior federal police official in the Amazon recently accused the minister of obstructing a law enforcement operation against illegal loggers.

Private sector leaders are among the most concerned over the government’s record on the environment. Though China buys almost a third of Brazil’s exports, Americans are crucial investors in companies whose supply chains are vulnerable to deforestation.

In an open letter, the heads of dozens of major Brazilian companies, including the meatpacker JBS and the Itaú bank, urged the government to set more ambitious carbon emission reduction targets.

“Any work that reduces illegal deforestation benefits the private sector,” said Marcello Brito, the president of the Brazilian Agribusiness Association, which was among the signatories. “What I fear is a boycott by the market.”

That’s a prospect Mr. Chapman, the American ambassador, has underscored.

“If things don’t go well, it’s not about what happens with the American government, it’s about what happens with the world,” he said. “Many companies in the United States now, their shareholders are demanding an answer.”

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