Recent developments in Brazil and Indonesia may have important ramifications for efforts to support forest conservation as a strategy for fighting climate change in these places.
In Brazil, despite years of steadily declining deforestation rates, the government’s satellite data agency reported an increase in forest clearing of 27 percent for the period from August 2010 to April 2011, compared to the same months a year ago.
Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research showed 230 square miles of deforestation just in March and April, nearly six times more than in the same period last year.
The Brazilian environment agency IBAMA responded to the surge in deforestation by establishing a crisis-response team and dispatching about 700 agents and police to step up enforcement against illegal logging and clearing in regions such as Mato Grosso state, which produces more than a quarter of the country’s soybean crop.
Many observers have attributed some of the recent deforestation to the current political debate over changes to Brazil’s Forest Code, a 1965 law that requires property owners in the Amazon to keep 80 percent of their lands forested, and includes other protections for forests near rivers and on steep slopes.
In late May, Brazil’s equivalent to the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that would loosen some protections for forest areas under the Forest Code. For example, protected setback zones around smaller rivers would be reduced, cattle ranching could be expanded in some sloped areas previously not allowed, and a requirement to reforest areas that were illegally cleared and occupied before 2008 would be exempted.
The measure now goes to the Brazil Senate, as environmental organizations and agricultural interests are closely watching the debate and its impact on the nation’s goal to reduce its carbon pollution.
Meanwhile, in Indonesia, the president recently signed a two-year moratorium on conversion of primary forests for commercial activity, bringing an additional 20 to 30 million hectares (about 50 to 75 million acres) under protection as part of a 2010 $US 1 billion deal with Norway to fight climate change.
While halting new logging in areas largely untouched by people, the moratorium expands some forest protections for primary or old-growth forests, but it does not apply to second-growth forests or to lands where owners hold licenses for palm oil plantations or other uses like mining that would allow clearing of forests.
So what does all this news mean for the top prospect for fighting the 15 percent of climate change pollution that comes from deforestation: a program called REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation)?
The goal of REDD is to reduce the carbon emissions released when forests are cut down by placing an economic value on the carbon stored in forests, while maintaining clean water, clean air, and other benefits vital to long-term national prosperity. In Brazil, a significant benefit is the Amazon’s ability to produce rainfall for its powerhouse agricultural regions.
Brazil and Indonesia are two countries where The Nature Conservancy has a long history of working on the ground with communities and all levels of government to balance the goals of conserving tropical forests while pursuing sustainable economic development that will bring benefits to people who live in and around the forests.
Greg Fishbein, managing director of forest carbon for the Conservancy’s Global Climate Change Program, says his team will continue to monitor developments in both countries while keeping REDD efforts on track.
“These developments in Brazil and Indonesia mean that working on REDD is more important than ever. Through REDD, developing nations have an opportunity to become leaders in low-carbon growth by adopting improved land-use planning and production practices, while maintaining access to markets that increasingly demand sustainable products,” Fishbein said.
“Rather than relying solely on enforcement of environmental laws and regulations, we must work to design incentives that make sense within each country for ranchers, farmers, companies and governments to adopt more sustainable land-use practices. And we must push forward with the important district-by-district, state-by-state work that needs to be done to create participatory and enduring solutions to these problems.”
Lisa Hayden is a blogger and feature writer for The Nature Conservancy
Photo by: Flickr user Banco de Imágenes Geológicas; Used under a Creative Commons license; (This September 2010 NASA Terra-Modis satellite image of the Rondonia region of Brazil shows the massive deforestation underway in the south-central Amazon Basin.)
Tags: Brazil, Brazil's Forest Code, deforestation, forest carbon, incentives for avoiding deforestation, Indonesia, Indonesia's moratorium on forest conversion, low-carbon growth, REDD, sustainable development
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