Amazon deforestation surging due to oil, soy prices
January 17, 2008
A Brazilian scientist has confirmed that forest clearing in the Amazon rainforest has surged in recent months, according to Reuters.
Carlos Nobre, a scientist with Brazil's National Institute for Space Research, which tracks Amazon deforestation, told a seminar in Washington that deforestation "is going to be much higher than 2007."
Nobre said that 2,300 square miles of forest had been cleared in the past four months, compared with 3,700 square miles in the 12 months ended this past July 31. The Brazilian government had championed the 2006-2007 numbers — the lowest annual forest loss since the 1970s — as a sign that enforcement efforts were working in the region, but scientists said the decline was more likely a temporary one tied to slowing global commodity prices. As soy and cattle prices have risen in recent months, the number of fires and apparent forest clearing have also increased.
Brazilian satellite data show a marked increase in the number of fires and deforestation in the region. The states of Para and Mato Grosso -- the heart of Brazil's booming agricultural frontier -- both experienced a 50 percent or more increase in forest loss over the same period last year coupled with a large jump in burning: a 39-85 percent jump in the number of fires in Para during the July-September burning period and 100-127 percent rise in Mato Grosso, depending on the satellite. More broadly, the 50,729 fires recorded by the Terra satellite and 72,329 measured by the AQUA satellite across the Brazilian Amazon are the highest on record based on available data going back to 2003 (the NMODIS-01D satellite suggests 2005 burning was higher but still shows a 54 percent jump since last year). Reports from the ground indicated that burning was indeed very last fall.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell by more than 60 percent between 2004 and 2007.
U.S. biofuels policy drives deforestation in Indonesia, the Amazon
(01/14/2008) U.S. incentives for biofuel production are promoting deforestation in southeast Asia and the Amazon by driving up crop prices and displacing energy feedstock production, say researchers. The best hope for mitigating these damages may lie in the development of next generation of biofuels, specifically feed stocks derived from farm waste, weedy grasses (switchgrass, miscanthus), and fast-growing trees (poplar, sweet gum). Scientists say such "second generation" biofuels offer a higher net energy balance with lower greenhouse gas emissions. Further, such feed stocks can be grown with fewer fertilizer and pesticides, and are viable on marginal agricultural lands so they don't compete with food crops.
Brazil cracks down on illegal soy, cattle production in the Amazon
(12/24/2007) The Brazilian government launched a new initiative to slow deforestation in the Amazon, setting the stage for the country to potentially earn billions from carbon trading schemes set in motion two weeks ago at the U.N. climate meeting in Bali. Last Friday Brazil announced a ban on the sale of farm products from illegally deforested areas in the Amazon in an attempt to slow deforestation and forest fires that have increased in recent months due to surging commodity prices fueled by American corn ethanol subsidies and rising demand from China and other emerging markets for livestock feed. The presidential decree imposes fines and threatens credit access to landowners for buying or trading soy, beef, and other products produced on illegally deforested lands.
2007 Amazon fires among worst ever
(10/22/2007) By some measures, forest fires in the Amazon are at near-record levels, according to analysis Brazilian satellite data by mongabay.com. A surge in soy and cattle prices may be contributing to an increase in deforestation since last year. Last year environmentalists and the Brazilian government heralded a sharp fall in deforestation rates, the third consecutive annual decline after a peak in 2004. Forest loss in the 2006-2007 season was the lowest since record-keeping began in the late in 1970s. While the government tried to claim credit for the drop, analysts at the time said that commodity prices were a more likely driver of slow down: both cattle and soy prices had declined significantly over the previous months.
"I have never seen fires this bad," John Cain Carter, a rancher who runs the NGO Aliança da Terra, told mongabay.com. "The fires are even worse than in 1998´s El Niño event... A huge area of the Xingu National Park was on fire, truly sickening as it is a sign of things to come."
Satellite imagery from NASA indicates that much of the burning late last year was concentrated around two major Amazon roads: Trans-Amazon highway in the state of Amazonas, and the unpaved portion of the BR-163 Highway in the state of Pará. Scientists have long warned that the roads would drive deforestation in the area by encouraging settlement and development.
"Infrastructure is associated with aggressive and progressive land use change," said Nobre, noting that 90 percent of Amazon deforestation occurred within 30 miles of roads, according to Reuters.
Nobre also said that high oil prices would create further pressure on the Amazon for biofuel production.
"If oil prices keep increasing there will be an explosion of biofuel production in the Amazon," he said.
Nobre's comments come shortly after Brazilian Agriculture Minister Reinhold Stephanes told Reuters that Brazil would need at least a decade before it could stop deforestation resulting from its fast-growing agriculture business.
"Today Brazil has the conscience not to cut down trees to increase its production," he was quoted as saying. "The government has decided -- no more deforestation. Now, it will be at least a decade before the policies are in place and working."
Stephanes told Reuters that Brazilian agriculture would grow by recovering 50 million hectares (124 million acres) of degraded pasture land as well as converting 50 million hectares of cerrado, a grassland ecosystem bordering the Amazon rainforest. Critics say that landowners often bribe officials to classify forest land as cerrado so they can clear it for pasture and soy farms.
Amazon deforestation surging due to oil, soy prices.