Amazon deforestation slows as Brazil tightens prevention

Deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon dropped 45.7 percent from August 2008 to July 2009, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced yesterday during a meeting with state governors and mayors in Brasília.

Data based on analysis of satellite imagery by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) suggests that 2,700 square miles (7,000 square kilometers) of forest were cleared in Brazil during the 12-month period, the lowest rate since the government started monitoring deforestation in 1988.


Photo of Amazon forest courtesy of Brazil’s Ministry of Environment

“The new deforestation data represents an extraordinary and significant reduction for Brazil. Climate change is the most challenging issue that we face today,” Lula said.


Photo of Brazil’s President Lula at yesterday’s event by Ricardo Stuckert/PR

The slowing deforestation levels are primarily a result of the Action Plan for Deforestation Control and Prevention in the Amazon, a set of cross-government policies and measures launched in 2004 to improve monitoring, strengthen enforcement, define conservation areas and foster sustainable activities in the region, said a statement from Brazil’s Secretariat for Social Communication (SECOM).

“With the support of 13 government agencies, the plan played a major role in helping reduce deforestation in the Amazon by 74.8 percent from 2004 to 2009.”

amazon deforestation chart.jpg

Deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon 

Surveillance and enforcement

The INPE data indicates that the projected 32 percent increase in government inspections over the last year inhibited illegal deforestation in the Amazon, the statement added.

“Satellite images from INPE’s near real-time deforestation detection system enabled government inspectors to focus their efforts where deforestation is most critical and act quickly to prevent new areas from being cleared.

“As a result of this surveillance, the Brazilian Environment Institute apprehended around 230,000 cubic meters of wood, 414 trucks and tractors, and embargoed 502,000 hectares [1,240,000 acres] of land linked to illegal deforestation activities in the region over the period from August 2008 to July 2009, leading the government to issue over R$ 2.8 billion reais [U.S.$ 1.6 billion] in fines.

“In addition to fines, the government used other tools to financially constrain those whose activities contribute to the destruction of the forest. This includes a resolution enacted by the National Monetary Council in mid-2008 that requires farmers and ranchers in the Amazon to meet environmental criteria in order to obtain loans from public and private banks.”


Brazil is home to 60 percent of the Amazon. The “Legal Brazilian Amazon” (“Amazonia Legal Brasileira”) is an administrative region that spreads across the states of Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Mato Grosso, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima and portions of Tocantins, Maranhão and Goiás. It represents 53 percent of Brazil’s total land area (about 2 million square miles or 5 million square kilometers), has a population of 25 million people, and generates just under 8 percent of Brazil’s total GDP.

Around 43 percent (800,000 square miles or 2.1 million square kilometers) of the Amazon land falls within Protected Areas or Indigenous Lands Around 21 percent of the Amazon are federal or state public lands outside Protected Areas and Indigenous Lands. There are about 400 identified and demarcated indigenous lands in the region, home to between 170,000 and 200,000 indigenous people.

Image and caption courtesy of Brazil’s Ministry of Environment

Conservation and sustainable activities

Federal and state governments also worked to create around 50 million hectares [123 million acres] in new conservation units in the Amazon from 2004 to 2008, while another 10 million hectares [25 million acres] in indigenous lands were granted recognition in the same period, SECOM said. “Today, 43 percent of the Legal Amazon is federally protected.”

The government also initiated a concession scheme for sustainable management in public forests. The first concessions were granted in August 2008, enabling three private groups to carry sustainable logging and extraction activities in 237,000 acres (96,000 hectares) of the Jamari Public Forest, in the state of Rondônia.

Deforestation and climate change

Deforestation in the Amazon region is the main source of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions, SECOM said. According to the first National Inventory of Greenhouse Gases, up to 75 percent of Brazil’s emissions come from deforestation and land-use change.

“For this reason, tackling deforestation is at the center of Brazil’s strategy to combat global warming. Launched in December 2008, the National Plan on Climate Change sets targets to cut deforestation rates by 80 percent by 2020, which would avoid 4.8 billion tons in CO2 emissions during this period.

“To meet these goals, the plan sets out a number of actions and programs to combat illegal logging and provide sustainable economic alternatives to the people living in the Amazon, among other measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in different sectors,” SECOM said.


Photo of Amazon forest courtesy of Brazil’s Ministry of Environment

Further action required, conservationists say

Although it is essential to recognize the efforts made by the federal and state governments as well as Brazilian society in general, further action is required, said WWF-Brazil CEO Denise Hamú.

“Deforestation needs to continue falling in a sustainable manner and must take place in other Brazilian biomes in addition to the Amazon, such as the Cerrado,” she said in a statement issued by the conservation organization in response to President Lula’s announcement.

Hamú also said that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to be held in Copenhagen in December, will be a good opportunity for Brazil to defend the adoption of clear and ambitious emission reduction commitments by the participant countries.

“Deforestation numbers such as the ones showed today by President Lula strengthen Brazil’s credentials to lead the climate negotiations and take the forefront in building a new development model for the world that respects the environment and the people.”

“Deforestation numbers such as the ones showed today by President Lula strengthen Brazil’s credentials to lead the climate negotiations and take the forefront in building a new development model for the world that respects the environment and the people”, Hamú said.

“Among the other biomes, the most critical situation is found in the Cerrado,” WWF-Brazil said. “While deforestation in the Amazon has finally fallen below 10,000 square kilometers, in the Cerrado it surpasses 20,000 square kilometers.” The Cerrado is a vast tropical savanna region southeast of the Amazon.


36 football fields a minute

Despite conservation efforts, global deforestation continues at an alarming rate–13 million hectares per year, or 36 football fields a minute, WWF added. “It generates almost 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and halting forest loss has been identified as one of the most cost-effective ways to keep the world out of the danger zone of runaway climate change.”

Apart from decreasing emissions caused by deforestation in the Amazon, Brazil needs to work on achieving reductions in the industry and transport sectors, and especially in energy generation and transmission processes, added Cláudio Maretti, WWF-Brazil’s conservation director.

“After all, the planet urgently needs expressive greenhouse gas emission reductions”, he said. 

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