I wrote this article for Living Green Magazine. Scroll down to the bottom for a comprehensive infograph on deforestation and GHG emissions.
Forests are rich ecosystems and significant pools of biodiversity – important breeding grounds for millions of species of flora and fauna.
Their role in maintaining climate functions regionally and globally, and the regulation of regional climate patterns through hydrological cycles is of immense importance.
The trees which absorb carbon dioxide are a great tool to combat global warming: stopping deforestation could cut global carbon emissions by as much as three billion tonnes a year – the equivalent of more than 1/3 of all fossil fuel emissions.
And yet, deforestation is currently responsible for 20% of all emissions, contributing twice as much to global warming as was thought.
Our goal should be to prevent greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation by raising awareness and taking whatever action we can.
The Amazon is the single largest remaining tropical rainforest in the world, housing at least 10% of the world’s known biodiversity, including endemic and endangered flora and fauna. The world depends on this rainforest basin for carbon storage: it has the capacity to sponge 90-140 billion metric tons of carbon (source: BBC).
Brazil’s National Institute for Research reports that the pace of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell to its lowest level since regional authorities began monitoring the issue. A great instrument for carbon sequestration, the Amazon basin has lost significantly less acreage in the last 3 years, but preventable activities such as the fires, the advancement of agriculture, and illegal trafficking in timber and minerals still cost Brazil 7000 sq km of forest a year. This is down from historic peak of 27,700 square kilometers in 2003-2004 (source: AFP).
Main deforestation threats are: burning forests to create grasslands for cattle, mechanized agriculture expansion resulting in soil erosion, river siltation and aquatic contamination with agrochemicals, poorly planned transportation and energy infrastructure, oil and gas spills from hydrocarbon exploitation, and illegal logging.
Unfortunately, immediately after announcing that deforestation is down since conservation efforts began in 1988, the authorities in Brazil voted to approve a controversial legislation which will alleviate strict fines for some illegal forest clearance and ease overall rules on deforestation.
The reason is a necessity for arable land to feed the growing population and to meet the growing demand for food, stimulating economic development. Farmers are arguing that environmental protection harms their sector and the entire food production system.
They say all is not grim and that farmers who need land for agricultural development will, in turn, commit to a reforestation programme – but the rate of replacement is up to 20 years. Two decades! The so-called short term gain over long term security opens vast new areas of forest to agriculture and cattle ranching, a move that environmental agencies are devastated over.
Brazil hosted an international climate change summit in June 2012, at a 20-year anniversary of the 1992 Rio Conference, the first ever Earth Summit credited for putting forward carbon emission targets under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. It also succeeded in establishing Forest Principles: a global consensus on the management, conservation and sustainable development of forests, protecting their potential capacity to provide resources to satisfy human needs as well as environmental values (source: UN).
The previous Forest Code, known affectionately as the Law of the Jungle, required farmers to conserve up to 80% of Amazon in some parts. With the new allowance, an estimated 76.5 million hectares of land (the area equivalent to California and New Mexico combined) will be deforested or left unplanted (source: Bloomberg).
Leading environmental agencies are warning that the changes will spoil Brazil’s significant environmental achievements of recent years and dangerously impair global efforts to fight climate change, reduce carbon emissions, and speed up the loss of biodiversity.
The changes are also expected to expose native tribes and poorer regional settlements to larger risks from floods and droughts.