The government of Brazil has granted an initial permit that will allow a large highway to be paved through one of the most preserved areas of the Amazon rainforest.
The road, known as BR-319, is the only road connecting the largest Amazonian city of Manaus with the rest of Brazil.
Half of the 900-kilometer road is still unpaved and is usually impassable during the six-month rainy season.
Researchers say the move will lead to massive rainforest clearing, because most Amazonian deforestation it happens next to roads where access is easier and the land is worth more.
Clearcutters used to stay away from the area, but that is starting to change.
“Law enforcement actions are insufficient to curb illegal occupation, invasions, deforestation, land speculation and pressures that have increased exponentially in recent years,” said Fernanda Meirelles , executive secretary of the BR-319 Observatory, a control group.
The preliminary permit means the project has passed both economic and environmental criteria, and is a key part of the project’s final approval, but asphalt work cannot yet begin.
Conditions of approval include the creation of a conservation area as a buffer for an indigenous group, monitoring of nearby water quality and an archeology program.
Suely Araujo, former president of the environmental agency Ibama, said the government is ignoring “the main problem, the explosion of deforestation in the region”.
He said the conditions would not prevent an increase in clear-cutting and the license should not have been granted.
President Jair Bolsonaro, who is campaigning for re-election, praised the permit as an example of an infrastructure project moving forward under his leadership.
He said the paving will keep traffic moving along the road.
Agreement to help end deforestation misses first deadline just months after it was signed at COP26
Domestic banks have reportedly invested billions in companies involved in deforestation
“Brazilians have gotten used to cars and trucks sinking on the BR-319 highway,” he said on Twitter, along with a video showing deep mud on the road.
“This time, thankfully, it’s coming to an end.”
The road was originally built by Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1970s, but fell into disrepair.
Paving would lead to a fivefold increase in deforestation by 2030, according to a study.
Liquidations of the Brazilian Amazon affected a Maximum of 15 years in 2021fueled by the weakening of environmental protections of Mr. Bolsonaro