Celebrating 10 years of saving the Amazon Rainforest

Feature story - May 7, 2009
Ten years ago, we set up an office in Manaus, a city inaccessible except by boat or plane, in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest, and began exposing illegal logging. Just three years later our campaign heralded the end of the illegal mahogany trade in Brazil.

Twenty percent of all carbon dioxide emissions come from the destruction of tropical forests, more than all the world's cars, planes and ships put together!

Since then we have been uncovering further forest crimes and persuading the Brazilian government and corporations like McDonald's to take action against forest destruction - and in so doing, protect our planet from runaway climate change. As we celebrate our 10th year working in the Amazon it is more important than ever before to end deforestation.

It is estimated that 80 percent of logs from the Amazon are cut down illegally. But even the majority of logging considered to be 'legal' is highly destructive and has poor processing technology, which leads to enormous wastage. On average it is estimated that only around one third of wood logged in the forest actually ends up in the final product.

Cattle ranching in the Amazon is responsible for the majority of Amazon destruction, and is now the biggest occupier of deforested land, with 79.5 percent of deforested land used for cattle pasture. Since 2003 Brazil has become one of the world's largest meat and leather exporter. But agricultural use for soya production has also been a major threat. 

Big Mac 'n' trees!

In 2006, we exposed the seemingly unstoppable expansion of soya farming into the world´s largest rainforest to satisfy spiraling demand for animal feed in Europe and China. Once we linked leading international companies using soya to the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest, we were able to form an alliance of food producers, supermarkets and fast-food chains and other civil society organisations to call for a change.

In response to this pressure, all the major soya traders operating in Brazil announced a moratorium on trading soya from newly deforested land in the Amazon, effective as of July 2006. In June 2008, the moratorium was extended by another year.

Our report 'Eating up the Amazon' exposed how McDonald's was feeding its chickens soya products grown in the ashes of newly deforested land. After a global campaign, thousands of supporters wrote to McDonald's European headquarters demanding they stop. McDonald's not only agreed, but in an unlikely partnership they now work with us and other big food retailers to help end deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.

The soya moratorium provides a window of time in which the necessary economic, environmental, and political framework can be established to guarantee that soya cultivation doesn't contribute to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. We continue to pressure the industries involved in soya planting and trading in calling for a further extension of the moratorium until there are permanent forest protection measures in place.

 

Dead forests, dead planet

While the issues surrounding the Amazon are complex, they boil down to a very simple economic principle. Today, it is worth more to a logging company or a farmer to clear rainforest than to let it stand. There is currently no economic value in saving the forest. Essentially, the market views trees as worth more dead than alive. Yet when it comes to stopping climate change, the value of the Earth's rainforests is beyond measure. To reverse this, we're fighting for a 'Forest for Climate' fund.

The battle to save the Amazon is also about the battle to protect ourselves. Forest destruction fuels climate change and ultimately climate change threatens our ability to survive. Scientists are telling us that we are almost out of time to prevent catastrophic climate change.

They also tell us that protecting the Amazon is critical to stabilising our climate and that we have no time to lose. So while government negotiators hammer out a deal for forests at the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen this year, they are in effect negotiating a deal not just for the trees but for the protection of everyone on the planet! It's that important and it's that urgent.

Bailing out the Amazon

We have been working on the ground for a decade to protect the Amazon. This year's climate summit in Copenhagen is our best chance ever to save our forests. Tree huggers who have been fighting for 40 years to save our forests will tell you that this is it. This is the best chance we have to save them. We either get a historical deal that protects our forests or we'll descend into rampant forest destruction because there will be no mechanism in place strong enough to stop it.

The 'Forests for Climate' fund would pay countries like Brazil to preserve the Amazon and provide better monitoring and enforcement. This fund would be paid for by industralised countries around the world and needs to be agreed upon in Copenhagen. The climate emergency requires urgent action and the 'Forests for Climate' funding mechanism would provide it.

A royal welcome

We're supporting the efforts made by the Prince of Wales and his Prince's Rainforest Project to highlight and fill the funding gap that severely limits forest protection from now until the proposals negotiated in Copenhagen are implemented.At the earliest, a mechanism agreed in Copenhagen will start providing resources to halt deforestation in 2013, but our forests are disappearing right now, and making a huge contribution to climate change.

In order to avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate change, global emissions need to be on a downward trajectory by 2016, and this will be impossible without coordinated, well-resourced international action to halt deforestation; that action needs to start now.

The Prince's Rainforest Project recently gave an award to Daniel Beltra for his outstanding photography of the world's most important and threatened rainforests. Daniel has spent years working with our Amazon campaign. In a video message at the awards night, in Cannes, France - HRH The Prince of Wales, said "Photographic imagery can tell a compelling story about the truth of the situation and, the truth is, if we lose the fight against tropical deforestation, then we lose the fight against climate change."

Take Action

At this year's UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen world leaders need to agree on the funding required to end deforestation. Tell them to personally attend the Summit and ensure that deforestation is halted.

Support Us

We rely on donations from individuals like you in order to continue saving the world's great rainforests. We do not accept any money from governments or corporations. Please give what you can.

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