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BRAZIL: Deforestation Down 45 Percent

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 13 2009 (IPS) - Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon jungle was reduced more than expected between August 2008 and July 2009 – 45 percent compared to the previous 12 months, the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) reported.

During that period, 7,008 square kilometres of forest were cleared, according to the Deforestation Monitoring Project, which uses satellite images. In the previous 12-month period, 12,911 square kilometres of jungle were lost.

The results announced Thursday, which reflected the biggest annual decline since the government started monitoring deforestation in 1988, are a positive development that Brazil will present at the December global climate change summit in Copenhagen, said President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff.

At the summit, the government will present ambitious voluntary targets for curbing greenhouse gas emissions. With respect to deforestation, which is responsible for over half of Brazil’s emissions, the rate will be cut by 80 percent by 2020, compared to the 1996-2005 average of 19,500 square kilometres.

The figures presented Thursday reflect exemplary compliance with the government’s targets for fighting deforestation, which has steadily declined since 2004, the year after Lula first took office.

If this rate is maintained, deforestation in Brazil could be reduced to insignificant levels by 2020, said Adalberto Veríssimo, a researcher at the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment (Imazon), which is also developing a rapid monitoring system to help guide deforestation prevention activities.

Veríssimo said the greatest credit for the reduction in deforestation goes to the Environment Ministry, which adopted “tough measures” under former minister Marina Silva from 2003 to 2008, that were kept in place by her successor Carlos Minc.

The three most effective measures were a ban on the sale of farm products from illegally deforested areas in the Amazon, with buyers also being held legally responsible; restrictions in rural credit for producers who have broken the country’s strict environmental laws or who cannot prove that they legally own their land; and a stepped-up crackdown on deforestation in the 43 municipalities that are the biggest culprits, Veríssimo told IPS.

But the global economic crisis has been another factor in the slowdown in the deforestation rate, due to the drop in demand for beef and soy, the main products driving the clearing of land in the jungle, said the researcher.

However, “it would be unfair” to overestimate the importance of that factor and downplay the impact of the government’s measures, Veríssimo added.

The global market, which increasingly rejects products from producers involved in illegal deforestation of the rainforest, and the media, which have intensified coverage of Amazon-related issues in response to the climate change emergency, are other elements that have had an influence, he said.

Deforestation was responsible for 75 percent of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to an inventory based on 1994 data. But a more recent estimate, updated using 2007 data, corrected that proportion downwards to 52 percent, thanks to the curbing of deforestation in the Amazon.

From 1994 to 2007, Brazil’s carbon dioxide emissions grew 40 percent, despite the decline in deforestation, because industrial emissions rose 56 percent, energy industry emissions 54 percent, and agricultural emissions 30 percent.

Livestock and agriculture are the main sources of greenhouse gases in Brazil, due to the emissions they produce as well as their effect on driving deforestation, in both the Amazon jungle and other ecosystems, like the Cerrado, a vast tropical savannah or grassland that covers nearly one-quarter of Brazil’s surface area in the central part of the country, and which will have its own forest monitoring system next year.

The success in fighting destruction of the rainforest is not only due to law enforcement measures and legal action, but also to demonstrations that it is possible to develop the region “while leaving the forest standing,” said Rousseff, who will head the Brazilian delegation to the Dec. 7-18 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) in the capital of Denmark.

At the presentation of the latest INPE figures on deforestation, in Brasilia, Minister Minc said there is no divide in the government between officials in favour of development and those in favour of the environment, because everyone is in favour of sustainable development, including Agriculture Minister Reinhold Stephanes, with whom Minc has clashed on several occasions.

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