Amazon deforestation on the rise again

Feature story - 25 January, 2008
After three years of declining Amazon deforestation, rates of loss have now doubled to new record levels. Increased demand for products like soya and beef is driving the destruction.

1,645 hectares of the Amazon that has been illegally deforested.

New figures released by the Brazilian authorities, show deforestation rates of 3235km2 from August-December 2007. However, as the tracking system used only shows preliminary deforestation rates, the real figure is likely to be much higher. When more detailed satellite images are analysed they are expected to reveal that some 7,000 km2 of rainforest has been destroyed in just 5 months.

For the last three years the Brazilian Government has been claiming credit for decreasing rates of Amazon deforestation. However the falling price of soya and beef meant less pressure to clear land for cattle ranching and soya plantations. Once demand for these products rose again, many experts, including our own Amazon team, warned that without decisive action from the Brazilian government increased deforestation was inevitable.

Our Amazon Coordinator, Paulo Adario, saw warnings go largely unheeded: "The Brazilian government can not claim to be caught by surprise. Greenpeace warned throughout last year that increases in the price of soya and beef meant that unless urgent counter measures were taken deforestation would rise."

"If President Lula is serious about Brazil being a world leader in the fight against deforestation then he must implement long-term solid measures to ensure the Amazon cannot fall victim to deforestation as a result of rising commodity prices."

Unfortunately it appears the Brazilian Government missed the chance to effectively deal with the root causes of deforestation over the last three years. It has just release a response to the figures, announcing a mixture of new and repackaged old protection measures. To date the Governments track record of enforcing protection measures in the Amazon has been woeful.

Eating up the Amazon

In 2006 we exposed the role of soya in the destruction of the Amazon, along with the local community of Santarém, Brazil. in July 2006, this lead to the soy industry announcing a landmark moratorium on forest clearing. It is vital that the moratorium is now extended, as it is key to protecting the Amazon.

Much of the soya is exported to feed cattle and chickens for meat production.

Amazon - vital for biodiversity and the climate

Deforestation is a major contributor to climate change, causing about 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Brazil is the world's 4th largest contributor to global warming, mainly due to deforestation and land clearing in the Amazon.

Behind that alarming fact lie further drivers of Amazon destruction. The US has launched huge, misguided subsidies for biofuels from maize. This has lead US farmers to swap soya crops for maize hence helping drive up the global price of soya. So a false climate solution in one part of the world could be harming the global climate by helping encourage new Amazon deforestation.

The Amazon needs the Brazilian Government to take decisive action on the ground to halt deforestation. Globally tropical forests are being felled for timber, and provide land for food and most recently to make way for biofuels.

That's why we aim to ensure that deforestation is included in the next phase of the Kyoto climate agreement extending beyond 2012. The decisions that governments make in the near future are critical for securing the financing and capacity needed by countries to safeguard their tropical forests and to allow them to make a serious contribution to global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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