Amazon deforestation falls significantly in 2010, according to preliminary data

Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
August 31, 2010

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is down significantly since last year, according to preliminary estimates released by Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and Imazon, a Brazil-based NGO that tracks forest loss and degradation across the Amazon.

Analysis of NASA MODIS data by Imazon found some 1,488 square kilometers of forest were cleared during the 12 months ended July 31, 2010, down 16 percent from the same period last year, when 1,766 square kilometers were deforested. Nearly half (47 percent) of forest loss occurred in the state of Para, where agricultural expansion is fast-expanding. Mato Grosso, the Amazon's major cattle- and soy-producing state accounted for 23 percent of deforestation during the period.

Deforestation analysis from Imazon for the previous two one-year periods, with red representing August 2009-July 2010. Imazon was originally established to ensure transparency around Brazil's reporting of deforestation statistics, which since 2003 have been posted on INPE's web site. Imazon's system is part of Google's forest monitoring platform known as the Earth Engine.

Forest loss during the most recent period contributed 95.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, nearly the annual emissions from energy use in Greece. Emissions for the year earlier period were estimated at 121 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to Imazon.

Degradation—where forest is logged or burned but not entirely cleared of converted for agriculture—was nearly equivalent to deforestation for the 2009-2010 period.

Meanwhile analysis by INPE shows an even steeper drop from 4,375 square kilometers in August 2008 through July 2009 to 2,296 square kilometers in the current period, a decline of 48 percent. The discrepancy between INPE's and Imazon's estimates results from differences in how deforestation is tracked using MODIS data—Imazon uses an automatic deforestation detection method. while INPE uses mainly visual interpretation by analysts. Both use July 31, when cloud cover is minimal, as the end of the "deforestation year."

Click to enlarge
While both sets of the figures suggest a continuing decline in deforestation rates from the 2004 peak, INPE and Imazon caution the results are still preliminary based on their respective "alert" systems, which track deforestation in near real-time but at a relatively "coarser" scale that only detects areas of deforestation of greater than 25 hectares. Final data, based on analysis of higher resolution data (ares of deforestation of 6.5 hectares), will be published later this year.

Gilberto Camara, Director General of INPE, says recent trends suggest small-scale deforestation that falls below detection by INPE's DETER alert system will be an important contributor to overall over loss in 2010.

Smallholder deforestation is rising as a percentage of total deforestation suggesting that forest clearing is occurring around already established farms and ranchers, rather than expanding across a frontier, according to INPE's Gilberto Camara.
"The attached figure shows the evolution of clear-cut areas in Amazonia," he told mongabay.com via email. "Each bar graph indicates what percentage of the total deforestation was associated to clearings of a size class. So, for example, in 2002, 20% of the total deforestation area was associated with clearings less than 25 ha."

"Clearings less than 50 ha were 30% of the total in 2002, and jumped to 75% in 2009. This shows a trend towards local expansion of existing areas and a reduction on new frontier. In general terms, we see a consolidation of existing areas."

Imazon's report is available in Portuguese at Boletim TransparĂȘncia Florestal Julho de 2010 [PDF]. INPE's report can be found at here.

Related articles

Ending deforestation could boost Brazilian agriculture

(06/26/2010) Ending Amazon deforestation could boost the fortunes of the Brazilian agricultural sector by $145-306 billion, estimates a new analysis issued by Avoided Deforestation Partners, a group pushing for U.S. climate legislation that includes a strong role for forest conservation. The analysis, which follows on the heels of a report that forecast large gains for U.S. farmers from progress in gradually stopping overseas deforestation by 2030, estimates that existing Brazilian farmers could see around $100 billion from higher commodity prices and improved access to markets. Meanwhile landholders in the Brazilian Amazon—including ranchers and farmers—could see $50-202 billion from carbon payments for forest protection.

Brazil: king of conservation, deforestation for the 2000s

(12/21/2009) Brazil set aside more land in protected areas than any other country during the 2000s, accounting for nearly 60 percent of total terrestrial conservation during the decade, according to mongabay.com's analysis of data from the U.N Environment Program and the World Conservation Monitoring Center. Paradoxically, Brazil also lost the most forest of any country during the decade.

Brazil could halt Amazon deforestation within a decade

(12/03/2009) Funds generated under a U.S. cap-and-trade or a broader U.N.-supported scheme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation ("REDD") could play a critical role in bringing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon to a halt, reports a team writing in the journal Science. But the window of opportunity is short — Brazil has a two to three year window to take actions that would end Amazon deforestation within a decade.

Brazil's plan to save the Amazon rainforest

(06/02/2009) Accounting for roughly half of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2005, Brazil is the most important supply-side player when it comes to developing a climate framework that includes reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD). But Brazil's position on REDD contrasts with proposals put forth by other tropical forest countries, including the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, a negotiating block of 15 countries. Instead of advocating a market-based approach to REDD, where credits generated from forest conservation would be traded between countries, Brazil is calling for a giant fund financed with donations from industrialized nations. Contributors would not be eligible for carbon credits that could be used to meet emission reduction obligations under a binding climate treaty.

How to save the Amazon rainforest

(01/04/2009) Environmentalists have long voiced concern over the vanishing Amazon rainforest, but they haven't been particularly effective at slowing forest loss. In fact, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars in donor funds that have flowed into the region since 2000 and the establishment of more than 100 million hectares of protected areas since 2002, average annual deforestation rates have increased since the 1990s, peaking at 73,785 square kilometers (28,488 square miles) of forest loss between 2002 and 2004. With land prices fast appreciating, cattle ranching and industrial soy farms expanding, and billions of dollars' worth of new infrastructure projects in the works, development pressure on the Amazon is expected to accelerate. Given these trends, it is apparent that conservation efforts alone will not determine the fate of the Amazon or other rainforests. Some argue that market measures, which value forests for the ecosystem services they provide as well as reward developers for environmental performance, will be the key to saving the Amazon from large-scale destruction. In the end it may be the very markets currently driving deforestation that save forests.

Future threats to the Amazon rainforest

(07/31/2008) Between June 2000 and June 2008, more than 150,000 square kilometers of rainforest were cleared in the Brazilian Amazon. While deforestation rates have slowed since 2004, forest loss is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. This is a look at past, current and potential future drivers of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.

Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com (August 31, 2010).

Amazon deforestation falls significantly in 2010, according to preliminary data.