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Attempt to Greenwash Bolsonaro’s Environmental Record Backfires at OECD

Human Rights Watch Letter Detailed Disastrous Policies Fueling Brazil’s Amazon Crisis

© 2020 Agencia Estado via AP Images

On January 27, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) detailing the disastrous impacts of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s environmental policies. The intervention has now helped thwart his administration’s attempt to use the OECD to greenwash its record.

In September 2019, Bolsonaro’s Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles, traveled to OECD headquarters in Paris to advocate for an upgrade to Brazil’s status in the organization’s environment committee. His intervention was part of a broader effort to counter international criticism of Bolsonaro’s response to devastating fires in the Amazon, while advancing Brazil’s campaign to gain permanent membership at the OECD, an organization that unites the world’s largest economies.

Salles was unable to persuade all member states, and a decision on the matter was postponed until February 9, 2021.

Since taking office in January 2019, the Bolsonaro administration has sabotaged Brazil’s environmental law enforcement agencies, falsely accused civil society organizations of environmental crimes, and sought to undermine Indigenous rights. These policies have contributed to soaring deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon, an ecosystem vital for containing climate change, while jeopardizing the rights of forest defenders and local residents. These policies also run counter to the mandate of the OECD’s environment committee.

Human Rights Watch’s 14-page letter to OECD members described how rewarding Brazil with a status upgrade now would compromise the credibility of the organization’s environment committee and be a slap in the face to forest defenders facing retaliation for their work to protect the world’s largest rainforest.

Following our letter, on February 2, the OECD Secretariat abruptly removed the issue of Brazil’s status upgrade from the committee’s agenda. Shortly after, one of Brazil’s most influential newspapers reported that this extraordinary decision showed that concern about Bolsonaro’s environmental record is increasingly viewed as an obstacle to Brazil obtaining an invitation to become a member of the OECD.

Going forward, OECD member states should send a clear signal to the Bolsonaro government that they will not promote Brazil’s bid to become a permanent member unless its current policies radically change to protect the environment and support its defenders, and until Brazil demonstrates concrete results in reducing deforestation and lawlessness in the Amazon.

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