Brazil Gets Tough to Stop Amazon Deforestation

The government of Brazil announced new measures designed to stop the accelerating loss of the  Amazon’s rain forests – on the same day as the nation’s space agency released figures showing that in August 2008, three times the area of rain forest was cleared as compared to August 2007.

While unveiling the new measures designed to fight Brazil’s staggering rate of deforestation, Brazil’s Minister of the Environment, Carlos Minc, named the top 100 culprits and announced that Brazil’s legal system will be focused on tackling a situation where only 10 percent of forest clearing offences go to trial and only one percent are convicted. Minc attributes the increase in deforestation to a number of factors including the pressure for land, increased agricultural production and the difficulties faced by environmental agencies in carrying out effective enforcement.

“The measures announced, if implemented, will address several needs, including better coordination among the various government offices, as well finding a solution to human settlements, which are often established illegally and in conflict with protected areas”, said Meg Symington, managing director of WWF’s Amazon program.

Highlights from the plan include:

  • Creation of a federal force to fight environmental crime – for which 3,000 new agents will be hired – and the training of 1,500 current staff in Brazil’s  environmental agencies
  • Assembly of a committee composed of six ministers with portfolios affecting deforestation, such as rural credit and land property policy
  • Inclusion of protected area costs in highway plans and budgets – a key measure as new and improved roads often cause greater deforestation

WWF has been at the forefront of protecting the Amazon for over 40 years and is working across several sectors of the Brazilian government and civil society to establish broad support for Amazon rainforest conservation. Our strategies to halt deforestation include minimizing the negative impacts from cattle ranching, agriculture, and infrastructure projects, promoting sustainable use of natural resources and expanding the existing network of protected areas.

The Amazon rain forests are a globally important ecosystem, and are intimately connected to the world’s climate. A WWF study reports the many ways climate change is speeding up the destruction of the Amazon while at the same time, deforestation in the Amazon influences climate change.  The study predicts that 55 percent of the Amazon's forests could be gone by 2030. This could release billions of tons of CO2 to the atmosphere, with major contributions to global warming. In turn, up to 75 percent of Brazilian greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation and forest fires - mainly in the Amazon. Because of this, Brazil is the fourth largest climate polluter in the world. Read WWF’s report “The Amazon's Vicious Cycles.

In Brazil, WWF jointly developed the world’s largest tropical rain forest conservation program with the government of Brazil and partners – the Amazon Region Protected Areas Program (ARPA). In addition to protecting the Amazon’s biodiversity, the WWF study concludes that ARPA’s system of well-managed and sustainably-financed protected areas is leading to reduced CO2 emissions from deforestation.

WWF is also urging the government of Brazil and other Amazon countries to protect their rainforests by formally recognizing their natural value. Because they help stabilize local and global climate, and provide a host of other goods and services to local residents, intact rainforests are more economically valuable than alternative land uses such as cattle ranching and agriculture.

Amazon Fast Facts:

  • The Amazon contains one-third of the Earth's remaining tropical rain forests. These forests are key to stabilizing local and global climate, as they contain vast stores of carbon.
  • Deforestation of tropical forest is responsible for up to 20 percent of global CO2 emissions, the main greenhouse gas.
  • Agriculture is the world's largest industry, and one of the main drivers of deforestation in the Amazon, employing over one billion people globally and generating over one trillion dollars' worth of food annually.
  • Pasture and cropland occupy 50 percent of the Earth's habitable land.

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