Cattle ranching biggest driver of Amazon deforestation

Feature story - January 29, 2009
Between 1990 and 2003, Brazil’s cattle herd more than doubled from 26.6 million to 64 million head of cattle. © GreenpeaceAt the World Social Forum in Belém, in the heart of the Amazon, we’ve released evidence confirming cattle ranching to be the biggest driver of Amazon deforestation. Greenpeace Brazil has produced a series of maps that show in greater detail than ever before the direct links between cattle ranching and forest destruction in the Amazon state of Mato Grosso.

The maps have been released as part of our "Save the Planet - Now!" Brazilian ship tour.  

Brazil is the world's fourth biggest climate polluter, and 75 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions are the result of deforestation. The Brazilian government has made promises to tackle destruction of the Amazon as part of its commitment to combat global warming, but its plans to expand the cattle industry are at odds with this commitment.

Maps produced using innovative techniques

Our Amazon team used specialized techniques to analyze and compare satellite images of vegetation (or lack thereof) on the ground, and data showing the growth of infrastructure, such as roads and agribusiness. It is the first time that these two types of data have been put together in this way. Our maps in the report Amazon cattle footprint, clearly show how much former rainforest is now used for cattle pastures in Mato Grosso. 

Click here to download the full Google Earth layer (8mb KMZ file)

We focused on Mato Grosso because it is area of the Amazon with the highest rates of deforestation. It is also where the cattle industry is largest - there are well over 25 million cows in the region, and 7 of the 10 biggest cities in the Amazon producing cattle and cattle products are found there.

Plans to expand cattle industry undermines Brazil's commitment to tackle deforestation.

Forests are carbon sinks. When they are logged the stored carbon is released into the atmosphere. Tropical forest destruction is responsible for a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions - more than the entire international transport sector. Deforestation in Brazil makes the country the world's fourth biggest climate polluter.

Billions urgently needed to protect rainforests and save the climate

The European Commission estimates that halving deforestation will cost anywhere from €15-25 billion annually. It is not just the Brazilian government's responsibility to protect our climate by protecting our rainforests. As world leaders prepare for the most important climate negotiations ever, taking place in Copenhagen, Denmark at the end of the year, we need to see commitments from industrialized countries that pay as much attention to saving the world's rainforests as they have done to bailing out fat cat bankers.

Brazil has promised to tackle deforestation as part of its climate commitments. But, as our maps clearly show, unless it stops expansion of the cattle industry in the Amazon, there is no chance that it can live up to this promise.

Zero deforestation by 2015: we've got the solution

If we are to have a fighting chance against climate change, global greenhouse gas emissions have to peak by 2015, and then start to fall dramatically. That means halting deforestation completely by 2015 in the Amazon. But, even without its plans to expand the cattle industry, the Brazilian government's promises to tackle Amazon deforestation are not strong enough. The plan aims to reduce deforestation by 72 percent by 2017. This is a good start but it's not enough. It misses the 2015 deadline, and will not halt deforestion. Luckily we've got the solution - working together with Brazilian NGOs we produced a "zero-deforestation" plan that shows how it can be done. 

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