Last week Brazil’s National Space Agency INPE reported a 51 percent drop in Amazon deforestation in the six months ended February 2010 compared with the year earlier period. But the seemingly happy news for environmentalists may be premature.
Data from Imazon, an independent organization that aims to improve forest transparency through advanced analysis of satellite imagery and other tools, reveals a 23 percent increase during the period. Why does the data conflict?
Carlos Souza, a researcher with Imazon who was last week honored with the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship together with his colleague Beto Verissimo, attributes the discrepancy to “differences in estimates of deforestation in August and September last year when INPE’s results were much higher than ours.”
Deforestation in August 2008 to February 2010 and degradation of September 2008 to February 2010 in the Brazilian Amazon (Source: Imazon / SAD; modified by mongabay.com).
Souza told mongabay.com that INPE’s tracking system captured a lot of forest degradation as deforestation during the period, inflating its overall tally for forest loss. The agency’s estimates that nearly 1360 square kilometers of forest were cleared from August 2009 to February 2010, down from early 2,800 sq km a year earlier. By comparison, Imazon puts the total around 924 sq km, up from 749 sq km a year earlier.
Intra-year estimates for deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon are notoriously difficult to assess due to cloud cover, distinctions between degradation and deforestation, seasonal variations, and other variables. Figures are usually reconciled each August using a different methodology. INPE generally publishes these results towards the end of the year.
But an uptick in deforestation would not be unsurprising given a 14 percent rise in beef prices during the period. The Amazon is a major cattle-producing region and much of Brazil’s beef and leather is exported to Europe. The increase in beef prices during the period outpaced the appreciation of the Brazilian Real against the Euro, a development that would normally diminish beef exports from Brazil to Europe by making beef more expensive for European buyers.
Nevertheless deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon continues to trend downward since peaking in 2004. The decline is attributed to new interest among business leaders in reducing deforestation, new forestry policies and increased vigilance against illegal logging and agriculture, expansion of the country’s protected area network, and a stronger real. Confident in Brazil’s progress in controlling deforestation, in 2008 President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva announced a plan to reduce annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon 70 percent from a 1996-2005 baseline by 2018 as part of the country’s climate change commitment.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(02/16/2009) Nearly 80 percent of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon results from cattle ranching, according to a new report by Greenpeace. The finding confirms what Amazon researchers have long known – that Brazil’s rise to become the world’s largest exporter of beef has come at the expense of Earth’s biggest rainforest. More than 38,600 square miles has been cleared for pasture since 1996, bringing the total area occupied by cattle ranches in the Brazilian Amazon to 214,000 square miles, an area larger than France. The legal Amazon, an region consisting of rainforests and a biologically-rich grassland known as cerrado, is now home to more than 80 million head of cattle. For comparison, the entire U.S. herd was 96 million in 2008.
(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.
(08/05/2008) The major drivers of tropical deforestation have changed in recent decades. According to a forthcoming article, deforestation has shifted from poverty-driven subsistence farming to major corporations razing forests for large-scale projects in mining, logging, oil and gas development, and agriculture. While this change makes many scientists and conservationists uneasy, it may allow for more effective action against deforestation. Rhett A. Butler of Mongabay.com, a leading environmental science website focusing on tropical forests, and William F. Laurance of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama believe that the shift to deforestation by large corporations gives environmentalists and concerned governments a clear, identifiable target that may prove more responsive to environmental concerns.
(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.