A Future for Forests

Publication - March 17, 2008
Amazon case study: Action that must be taken to halt deforestation and illegal logging, preserving both forests and climate.

Cover of the 'A Future for Forests' report

Executive summary: Tropical deforestation is responsible for about one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the emissions of the world’s entire transport sector. Although tropical forests cover only 7% of the Earth’s land surface, they store vast amounts of carbon. This makes them a crucial buffer against climate change - the more of this carbon lost into the atmosphere, the more severe the impact on the global climate; the loss of even a small fraction could be devastating. In addition, forests, especially those in the tropics, provide habitat for half or more of the world's known terrestrial plant and animal species.

The Amazon is home to the world’s largest tropical forest, and so is a key battleground in the fight against climate change and manmade mass extinction. In Brazil alone, the ‘Legal Amazon’ has lost some 700,000 square kilometres of its original forest cover in the last four decades, an area bigger than France. Deforestation is the main source of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it the most important contributing factor to the country’s position as the world’s fourth-largest climate polluter.

There are a number of drivers of deforestation in the Amazon, but the starting point in most cases is illegal logging. Loggers open up areas of ancient forest in search of high-value timber, degrading the forest. A network of illegal roads is left behind, allowing access to land-grabbers and farmers who then burn the remaining trees to clear the land. In other cases, farmers arrive first, demarcate land, and then finance their new farms by selling the standing timber to loggers who clear-fell it; in these cases, it is the financial rewards of illegal logging that drive deforestation by enabling the settlers to establish their new farms.

Just as illegal logging drives Amazon deforestation, so in turn global demand for timber, and the lack of national and international controls on its market and trade, drive illegal logging. As the importer of almost half of the Brazilian Amazon’s timber output, the European Union bears an especially heavy responsibility. To stop fuelling the ongoing devastation of the Amazon, the EU must adopt legislation to ensure that all timber placed on its market is from legal sources and well-managed forests. This legislation should contribute to halting deforestation and ensuring sustainable and fair use of forest resources globally.

Other than attempts at voluntary measures, which at best have had only a modest impact, the EU has done little to halt the flow of illegal timber into its territory and reduce its ecological footprint on the forests of Brazil and elsewhere.

In this report, Greenpeace highlights the extent of this scandal. We show how the EU and its Member States, in collaboration with the Brazilian authorities, could work to turn the situation around by means of tough legislation and improved governance and enforcement, and international financing for reducing deforestation. It is a matter of the greatest urgency that they do so – not just for the sake of the Amazon, but also for the world’s climate.

Num. pages: 30

ISBN: JN 115