An aerial view of the Cuniua river in the Amazon rainforest. Image: Russel Monk / Greenpeace

This week saw a historic moment in the campaign to save the Amazon rainforest: rates of deforestation there have fallen to a record low. On December 1st Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research reported that between August 2009 and July 2010 deforestation had dropped by 14% from the previous year.

This drop, combined with evidence of a continuing downward trend since 2005, is proof that halting deforestation is possible. More than that – protecting forests can accompany economic improvement, as the economy expanded during the same period in which deforestation slowed. Brazil has set an example that can be - and should be - replicated in other parts of the world.

2006: Seven-foot-tall Greenpeace chickens invade McDonald's outlets after a report revealed the role played by the fast food giant in the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. Image: Jiri Rezak / Greenpeace

We can celebrate this record low rate of deforestation today thanks in part to the creation of the Soya and Cattle Moratoria – agreements to halt deforestation from Brazil’s massively expanding soya plantations and cattle ranches in the Amazon.

Greenpeace supporters played an important role in establishing these moratoria by successfully pressuring McDonald’s and other fast food producers to stop buying soy from newly deforested lands.  McDonald’s then went one better and joined us in pressuring the powerful soy industry and the government in Brazil, resulting in the historic agreement to temporarily halt deforesting the Amazon for more soy.  That halt has held for two years now.

In 2009 the Cattle Moratorium was created after our report ‘Slaughtering the Amazon’ established links between top consumer brands such as Adidas, Timberland, Clarks and Prinses – and beef and leather products coming from forest destroying cattle ranches, the largest drivers of deforestation in the Amazon.  Pressure from these companies led  cattle giants in Brazil – JBS and Marfrig  – to support the moratorium.

This week, as if to underline the crucial role of these two moratoriums in moving us toward a Zero Deforestation future, another major player added its support. Brazil’s largest public bank – Banco de Brasil – announced it won’t give rural credit to soya farmers who plant in newly deforested areas.

With the likes of Banco de Brasil showing support for halting Amazon deforestation, the new Brazilian government has no excuse to fail in maintaining the amazing momentum that has been set by the announcement this week. Brazil can keep its ambitions high and aim for Zero Deforestation, but to do this it needs to ensure that the amendments to Brazil’s forest code, which are still working their way through Brazil’s legislative process, do not threaten the government’s ability to protect the forest.

Deforestation is the hot topic at the UN Climate negotiations in Cancun, where a deal to reduce emissions from deforestation (REDD – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is under discussion. If the results of those discussions are a strong REDD deal then we could see the same drops in deforestation happen in other parts of the world over the next few years. That would mean more record lows in deforestation rates and subsequently huge cuts in carbon emissions– and more to celebrate!