USA attempts to crack down on the environmental criminals behind the growing deforestation on the brazilian amazonusing sanctions like those of Magnitsky to address the climate change more aggressively, US sources and officials told Reuters.
The plan represents a major shift in Washington’s strategy to combat global warming, adding direct sanctions to tools such as tax incentives, diplomatic pressure and complex and time-consuming multilateral agreements.
Deforestation in Brazil reached its highest level in 15 years during the tenure of outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro, who reduced environmental protections and pushed for more mining and commercial agriculture in the Amazon, a region crucial in the fight against climate change.
President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will take office on January 1 and has already pledged to end deforestation at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt last week. In talks with US officials, Lula and his allies have stressed their interest in tackling climate change.
However, there are still questions about his take on the plan, which is in its early stages. Lula believes Washington helped Brazilian prosecutors jail him on corruption charges and has often complained about the long arm of US law.
The Magnitsky sanctions are intended to punish those accused of corruption or enabling human rights abuses. They would freeze all US assets and prohibit all Americans and US companies from dealing with the sanctioned individuals or entities.
The US Treasury Department, which is responsible for the Magnitsky sanctions, declined to comment. Neither Bolsonaro’s office nor the Brazilian Justice Ministry responded to requests for comment. Lula’s transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The US plan began to take shape in June, at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, when the United States and Brazil announced a joint working group to combat illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, said a US source working on the plan. .
One of the objectives of the working group is to “discourage the use of the international financial system in association with illegal activities with forest products”according to a statement from the US State Department at the time.
In more precise terms, a US official with knowledge of the plan told Reuters that Washington intends to penalize major deforesters and perpetrators of other environmental crimes, such as illegal gold mining.
US officials in Brazil and the United States have already begun the process of identifying and investigating specific targets, the source said, with potential punishments ranging from visa blacklisting to Global Magnitski Act sanctions.
It is unclear when or if the United States might sanction specific targets, as investigations may take time.
Targeting environmental criminals with Magnitsky sanctions is unusual, but not unprecedented.
In 2019, the Treasury designated Try Pheap, a Cambodian tycoon and ruling party official, for building a large-scale illegal logging consortium in collusion with officials.
The Treasury Department is working on the plan with the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs and the Office of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, the source said.
On a visit to Brazil in August, Brian Nelson, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said the June Summit of the Americas meeting led to further discussions with Brazil about how to “managing the challenge we are all facing around climate change”.
“Certainly environmental crime is a significant feature of that in our perspective”Nelson said in a meeting with journalists, mentioning “the deforestation of the Amazon”.
During his August visit, Nelson also met with civil society groups in Sao Paulo to discuss environmental crimes. “and its nexus with both organized crime and public corruption”according to a Treasury statement at the time.