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Brazil adds deforestation monitoring for all biomes, so long as money lasts

  • Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has long monitored the Amazon rainforest biome for deforestation; in 2014 the agency gained funding from the World Bank to pay for similar monitoring in Brazil’s Cerrado savanna biome, which is fast seeing its native vegetation converted to crop and pasture by industrial agribusiness.
  • However, the government and others sources failed to fund monitoring in Brazil’s other four biomes — the Pantanal, Atlantic Forest, Caatinga and Pampa. Then, in 2018, the Amazon Fund (which is largely backed financially by Norway), allotted R$ 49.8 million (US$ 12.1 million) to perform deforestation monitoring in all Brazil’s biomes.
  • That appropriation is expected to last until 2022. After that, funding again becomes uncertain, because at present Norway has frozen all Amazon Fund financing for future projects in protest over Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental policies.
  • The first data sets for the four additional biomes (tracking forest loss between 2016 and 2019), are due to be released in December 2019. Annual reports will be published from 2020 forward.
Aerial view of the Pantanal with flooded grasslands. This biome, with its vast wetlands, saw major fires and native vegetation loss in October 2019. Image by Alicia Yo / Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.

Since 2012, INPE, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, has been trying to raise funds for systematic deforestation monitoring of all Brazilian biomes, extending its monitoring capacity beyond the Amazon.

Unable to gain funds through federal appropriations, the institute sought extra-governmental funding, and in 2014, obtained money from the World Bank to create a monitoring system for the Cerrado biome — considered the world’s most biodiverse savanna but under threat by Brazil’s rapidly encroaching agribusiness frontier — resources that will be forthcoming until 2020.

Last January, INPE made a breakthrough, and was finally able to get funding to map on-going deforestation using the PRODES satellite system for the four other Brazilian biomes — the Pantanal, Atlantic Forest, Caatinga and Pampa. The money, approved in 2018, came from the Amazon Fund, which was mostly allotted by Norway as a means of compensating for the carbon emissions that arise from the Nordic nation’s oil production.

The Caatinga, characterized by its dry, desert habitat is the only one of Brazil’s biomes found exclusively within the country; much of its biological heritage cannot be found anywhere else. Image by Arturalveees CC BY-SA 4.0.

“We consider important to have an integral picture of deforestation in the country, to know what is happening in all biomes, and not just one. Otherwise, Brazil is represented only by a single region. And as a signatory to climate conventions, the country needs to submit complete annual deforestation reports, if we are to obtain resources from the Green Climate Fund (GEF),” Cláudio Almeida told Mongabay; he is the INPE coordinator for the Amazon and Other Biomes Monitoring Program.

The need for deforestation monitoring in all Brazilian biomes can be seen in the example of the Pantanal biome. Last October, the Pantanal — encompassing the world’s biggest tropical wetland area — had the largest number of fire outbreaks for the month in 17 years, with 2,430 recorded in total, according to INPE data. From October 27 to November 9 alone, the fires consumed 1,730 square kilometers (667 square miles) of native vegetation. Collecting this forest loss data will be critical to tracking Brazil’s Paris Agreement carbon cut pledges.

The four-biome monitoring program is estimated to cost R$ 49.8 million (US$ 12.1 million) and will last until 2022. The funding will not be affected by Norway’s recent freezing of future Amazon Fund contributions as a means of demonstrating displeasure with Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental policies.

Deforestation in the Atlantic Forest. Image by Themium CC BY 1.0.

After 2022 “we will continue to insist to the Brazilian government that we cannot depend on external resources to carry out the [deforestation] monitoring for the [entire]country. Until now, INPE has only received funding from the Brazilian government to monitor the Amazon. It is the [nation], however, that must subsidize this [all biome monitoring] work on a regular basis,” said Almeida, who is, however, already considering a possible setback. “If we do not succeed by then, we will continue to seek climate and preservation funds” elsewhere.

According to the INPE researcher, the first data will be released next month, when it will be possible to see how much forest was lost in the four biomes between 2016 and 2019. From 2020 forward, annual reports will be published.

“We already have more than 90 percent of the total data on the Caatinga and the Atlantic Forest biomes,” said Almeida. “And in the case of the Pantanal and the Pampa, we can inform in advance that 15.5 percent and 43.8 percent of their native vegetation was suppressed between 2000 and 2016.

“There is still deforestation pressure in those four biomes, although not with the same intensity as in the Cerrado and the Amazon,” the INPE official concluded.

Banner image caption: A jaguar (Panthera onca) emerges from a Pantanal wetland. Image by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay.

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Pampa biome landscape in the municipality of Santana da Boa Vista, in Rio Grande do Sul state. Image by Paulotagliani CC BY-SA 4.0.
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