Paulo Nogueira Neto

Paulo Nogueira Neto (1922-2019)


Brazil and the world would be very different places without the passage through the 20th and 21st centuries of this extraordinary thinker

100 years ago, on April 18th, Professor Paulo Nogueira Neto (PNN) was born, a man who left an enormous legacy for world and Brazilian environmentalism. His academic training was built at the University of São Paulo, first at the Faculty of Law of Largo São Francisco (he graduated in 1945) and then at the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters (FFCL-USP), in the course of Natural History ( 1959). He became a professor at the Institute of Biosciences, where he retired.

The look at nature developed along with his humanistic training. Paulo Nogueira Neto identified with the landscape, with the animals and plants, since he was a child. He adopted early principles that prioritized human life and well-being. Observant and disciplined, in his adolescence he reflected on the enormous expanses of araucaria forests that he observed during his plane trips to Argentina, where his father was in exile. In a few years, he saw the forest dwindle to small patches as development reached southern Brazil. He then thought that the solution to maintain that natural heritage would be a program of preserved areas for future generations.

At the Faculty of Law, she understood the importance of representation organized by social groups [Associations, Governmental or Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), university associations, among many others], in order to enable participation in broader discussions that would allow them to be heard politically. In the Natural History course at USP, he acquired a new look at the planet, its climate, evolution and the biological bases of life. By uniting what he had learned in the Law course with what he was now learning in the Natural History course, he began to play an active role in the Brazilian environmental issue, which then began to be outlined.

In 1957, aged 35, he founded the Association for the Defense of Flora and Fauna, Adeflora (which later changed its name to Ademasp, Association for the Defense of the Environment of São Paulo). The objective was to represent its supporters in actions aimed at the preservation of natural areas, and other manifestations of an environmental nature, as well as to participate in government councils. For example, he sat on the National Council for the Environment, Conama.

Still in the 50s, Paulo Nogueira Neto published his first book, Breeding of indigenous stingless bees, and his first scientific work on stingless bees in coffee pollination. He completed his Natural History course in 1959 and began his doctoral thesis, presented to the Department of Zoology at FFCL-USP, in 1963. He was then hired as an assistant professor at the Department of Zoology at USP, in 1965. of students in the study of native stingless bees, without neglecting his work in conservation programs in Brazil and abroad.

It is notable how Paulo Nogueira Neto, still a student, built a polymath's vision, composing his career through a specialization to understand bees, his scientific passion, and at the same time developing a broad vision of the relationship between the environment and nature. society.


The global environmental movement and its consequences in Brazil

In 1972, the United Nations held in Stockholm, Sweden, the Conference on Human Development, which brought together 113 countries and more than 400 governmental and non-governmental institutions. The aftermath of that meeting included the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Environment, 1972, and the formation of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), which established the Global Environmental Agenda.

Brazil was one of the countries participating in this meeting. The statements by the Brazilian representative at the time alerted to the need for a broader environmental program, which could provide environmental guidelines for the nation's progress in line with global deliberations. It was then approved, in 1973, the creation in Brazil of a Special Secretariat for the Environment (Sema), which would be headquartered in the Ministry of the Interior.

This is how Nogueira Neto wrote about those events: “Every organization of the existing environmental action network in the Brazilian Federation began as a result of the Stockholm Conference [in 1972], in which I did not participate…On his return to Brazil, coming from Stockholm, Henrique [ Brandão Cavalcanti] managed to obtain a decree from the government creating the Special Secretariat for the Environment. At the end of 1973, he invited me to Brasília and gave me to read the newly published Decree, creating the new Secretariat. He asked my opinion. I gave it very frankly. The Decree was insufficient, but it served well for a start. So I didn't know that, but the Decree was the project that Henrique presented to Minister Leitão de Abreu, from the Civil House, with a wording that could be approved, at that time still difficult for the Environment. To my great surprise, when I finished speaking, Henrique asked me: “But would you accept to be Secretary of the Environment?”. I immediately saw the fascinating possibility of doing something new and very positive. It was an immense and wonderful challenge, one of those that we only receive once in a lifetime…” (Text by PNN, An Environmentalist Trajectory, diary by Paulo Nogueira Neto).

At the age of 51, Paulo Nogueira Neto organized the new Secretariat with a small group of collaborators. The initial planning included the participation of the States in the environmental construction of pollution control, and the structuring of a new model of conservation unit. They were the Ecological Stations, which could have part of their area for research and education, according to the respective management plans, and which would be coordinated by local universities. By the end of his activities as Special Secretary for the Environment, 3,2 million hectares of areas were preserved in the form of Ecological Stations. Sema also planned and legalized another type of conservation unit, the Environmental Protection Areas (APAs), which totaled over 1,5 million hectares preserved. APAs are extensive protected areas that organize human activities compatible with the preservation of flora, fauna and landscape. They can be established on public or private land. Areas of Relevant Ecological Interest (Aries) were also created, aimed at owners of smaller areas (generally less than five thousand hectares) who wanted to protect regional ecosystems and regulate their use.

Acting at Sema also provided many opportunities to increase the active participation of the various government sectors in regional issues. Special attention was paid by the PNN to the environmental issue in the formulation of the 1988 Constitution, which allowed Brazil to have very modern environmental legislation.

On the international scene, Paulo Nogueira Neto was highly regarded, and, thanks to his work at the head of Sema, Brazil had already become an example of management of preservation areas. He participated in important programs such as Man and Biosphere, by Unesco (Man and Biosphere), of which he was vice-president for two terms. This intergovernmental scientific program laid the groundwork for encouraging relationships between local inhabitants and their environment, also through Biosphere Stations. Today there are 727 in 141 countries.

The great opportunity for reflection on the global environmental issue came with the invitation from the UN to represent Latin America (together with the Colombian Margarita M. de Brotero) in the World Commission on Development and Environment. Gro Brundtland, at the time Prime Minister of Norway (she had previously been Minister for the Environment), was appointed coordinator. “This Commission should work with the threats to the environment, population growth, poverty, around the world, and propose a model of development that is as important as the environment”, said Gro Brundtland. They worked from 1983 to 1986, and from these activities emerged the concept of Sustainable Development as a proposal for global development.

In that commission of experienced global leaders, the innovation was to include in the group of 23 participants those from developing countries, which was unusual in UN commissions at that time. Important topics such as energy sources and climate change were also discussed. A global agenda for the environment was established, which crystallized as a guideline after Eco 92. This meeting, held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, was called the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. In what was also called the Earth Summit, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Climate Convention, the Wetlands Convention and Agenda 21 were created.

Publishing your book An Environmentalist Trajectory, Diary of Paulo Nogueira Neto, in 2010, was a personal account of the Brazilian environmental movement, in more than 800 pages. In it, one can vibrantly follow the evolution of Brazilian environmentalism, which largely emerged from his ideas. In the diary, one can clearly see the civic spirit and the example of an honest and efficient leader, who built bridges between sectors of society and drew attention to the importance of sustainability. Over time, other types of conservation units were established in the country, available in the recently published Panel of Brazilian Conservation Units. This one, produced by the Ministry of the Environment, mentions the 2.598 conservation units existing in Brazil at the moment.

We highlight here in this Panel the data from the current Ecological Stations in the Country (91), from APAS (401), from Aries (63), in addition to other types of established reserves. However, there is still no management plan for 80,37% of the units, and 70,25% do not have a management council. There is still much to know about the biodiversity of these representative areas of Brazilian biomes, as they are fundamental for life in the climate of the future. It is worth mentioning the inclusion of the third sector in this scenario and the ESG (environmental, sustainable and governance) initiatives, which are increasingly present in the current successful businesses in the country.

When recalling a few aspects of Paulo Nogueira Neto's trajectory, we remember several opportunities in which he mentioned the title that most honored him – that of professor. At USP, he was Emeritus Professor at the Biosciences Institute and Honorary Professor at the Advanced Studies Institute. In his activities as an environmentalist, he contributed a lot to raising awareness of the importance of sustainability, good governance, the developments and applications of the great conventions created in 1992 (at Eco 92) and periodically updated. At WWF-Brasil, he was one of the founders and President Emeritus. He was a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and other NGOs linked to environmental problems, including SOS Mata Atlântica (where he also served as vice-president), Fundação Florestal do Estado de S. Paulo, Associação dos Christian Business Leaders, among other organizations.

Certainly, Brazil and the world would be very different places without the passage through the 20th and 21st centuries of this extraordinary thinker, who managed to transform that vision of araucaria forests on the way to Argentina into a monumental torrent of public policies that still place Brazil in the spotlight. vanguard of what is most important in the existence of the Homo sapiens, the environment.

*Vera Lucia Imperatriz Fonseca is a professor at the Institute of Biosciences at USP.

* Marcos Silveira Buckeridge is director of the Institute of Biosciences at USP.

Originally published on Journal of USP.


See this link for all articles