in Brazil

Is Brazil’s reduced deforestation a result of REDD? Yes, says the Union of Concerned Scientists, but the evidence contradicts this claim

In recent years, Brazil has massively reduced its rate of deforestation. Understanding how these reductions came about is important if similar successes are to be achieved elsewhere.

In its recent report about “Deforestation Success Stories”, the Union of Concerned Scientists argues that REDD played a role in these reductions.

UCS points out that the Brazil-Norway agreement is the largest REDD programme in the world. Norway hands over the money for reductions in deforestation, regardless of how the reduction was achieved. The importance of REDD is “political and symbolic, not just financial”, UCS writes. REDD agreements, “help reinforce the political changes that led to increased action against deforestation in the first place,” UCS argues.

But is that statement upheld by the evidence? No. UCS provides plenty of evidence in its chapter on Brazil that the reduction of deforestation in Brazil had little or nothing to do with REDD.

UCS traces the beginnings of Brazil’s reduction in deforestation rates back to the establishment of new protected areas during the administration of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002). That’s well before REDD discussions started.

After the election of President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva in 2002 the Plan for the Prevention and Combating of Deforestation in the Amazon was launched. Again, that’s nothing to do with REDD.

More than 50% of the Brazilian Amazon is now under legally recognised protection. Almost half of this area is reserved for indigenous peoples. That’s good news. But it’s not REDD.

Since 2004, deforestation in the Amazon has fallen. Dramatically. UCS outlines some of the explanations for the decrease, none of which have anything to do with REDD:

  • In 2006, following a Greenpeace report titled, “Eating up the Amazon”, the soy industry agreed not to buy soybeans from land that was deforested after 24 June 2006.
  • In 2008, social and environmental movements, supported by international NGOs such as Greenpeace, Amigos da Terra – Amazônia Brasileira and WWF, started a Zero Deforestation campaign.[*]
  • In 2009, under a Cattle Agreement with Greenpeace, the four largest slaughterhouses in Brazil’s beef industry agreed on a moratorium on deforestation in the Amazon.

The UCS report omits one of the reasons for Brazil’s reduction in deforestation. Since 2005, Brazil has enforced its Forest Code. Credit was only made available to farmers if they were in compliance with the Forest Code. And farmers were required to geo-reference forest areas on their land in a national registry.

Then, in 2013, Brazil amended its Forest Code, providing amnesty for past forest destruction and reducing large areas of protected land.

If REDD was really influencing Brazil’s policies on deforestation, would the government have weakened the Forest Code?

In 2013, Brazil’s rate of deforestation increased – by 28% compared to 2012. UCS notes that “it is simply too soon to tell” whether this is the end of Brazil’s progress in reducing deforestation. That’s probably true. But Greenpeace comments that, “it won’t be a surprise if deforestation continues to rise in the Amazon”.

The UCS report does not discuss in any detail whether reducing deforestation in the Amazon has come at the expense of other ecosystems, such as the cerrado. Leakage was not considered when UCS selected its deforestation success stories.

The word cerrado appears just once in the report – UCS argues that soy production has not expanded into the cerrado, at least in the state of Mato Grosso:

Although soy prices had risen to record highs since 2007, tropical forest clearing for soybeans had declined to very low levels in Mato Grosso. What’s more, the feared leakage of deforestation into the adjacent cerrado biome (a high-diversity landscape of forest and savanna) had not taken place; deforestation there had also been substantially reduced.

UCS’s source for this statement is a 2012 paper titled, “Decoupling of deforestation and soy production in the southern Amazon during the late 2000s”, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. The paper looks at deforestation and soy production in the state of Mato Grosso and includes the statement: “We found little evidence of direct leakage of soy expansion into cerrado in Mato Grosso during the late 2000s”. So far, so good. But, the authors add, “indirect land-use changes and leakage to more distant regions are possible”. The authors write,

The information presented here does not preclude lagged effects, whereby recent land-use dynamics result in future leakage, nor does it eliminate the possibility that leakage may be under way at finer scales or in more distant regions. Establishing that leakage is occurring from MT [Mato Grosso] would require more in-depth analysis of the political context, migration patterns, and socioeconomic motivation of producers in those regions.

So the source that UCS uses to state that leakage “had not taken place” actually says that leakage may well be happening or will happen in the future.

UK-based journalist Fred Pearce visited the cerrado in western Bahia in March 2011 and found a land grab in progress. He argues that Brazil’s success in reducing deforestation in the Amazon has been achieved, at least in part, “by invading a new ecological frontier of equal importance”. Pearce writes that,

In recent years, the rate of ecological destruction in the cerrado has been twice that in the Amazon. And while the majority of the Amazon rainforest survives, more than 60 percent of the cerrado’s former 200 million hectares has disappeared under the plow, mostly within the last two decades.

And as Pearce reports in his book “The Landgrabbers”, the situation in the Paraguayan Chaco is even worse. Brazilian cattle ranchers are moving in, “now that expansion in the Amazon is frowned on and they are being priced out of the cerrado by the soya boom”. The rate of deforestation in the Paraguayan Chaco is now the highest in the world. The Ayoreo, Paraguay’s only uncontacted tribe, are forced to live on the run from the bulldozers clearing the forest.

UCS makes no mention of Paraguay in its report.

UPDATE – 10 July 2014: On the Zero Deforestation campaign, UCS writes the following:

In 2008 the broad movement led by social and environmental organizations, rural and urban alike, came together in the Zero Deforestation campaign… The social and environmental movement — supported by international NGOs with a strong base in Brazilian society, such as Greenpeace International, Friends of the Earth, and the World Wildlife Fund — not only supported government efforts but also pressured politicians to go further.

A colleague wrote today pointing out that Friends of the Earth was not involved in the Zero Deforestation campaign. The organisation Amigos da Terra – Amazônia Brasileira, that is involved in the campaign, is run by Roberto Smeraldi and is not a member of Friends of the Earth International.

The nine organisations involved in the Zero Deforestation campaign are Conservation International-Brazil, Amigos da Terra – Amazônia Brasileira, Greenpeace, Instituto Centro de Vida, Instituto do Homem e Meio Ambiente da Amazônia, Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazonia, Instituto Socioambiental, The Nature Conservancy and WWF-Brazil.

A press release (dated October 2007) states,

It is estimated that 1 billion Brazilian reais (US$547.2 million) would be required from national and international sources to financially compensate those who promote reduction in deforestation, and to pay for environmental services carried out by the forest.

The Zero Deforestation pact could be described as a REDD initiative. It produced a document titled, “Agreement on Acknowledging the Value of the Forest and Ending Amazon Deforestation”, which called for combining strong public policies with market strategies. Whether any of this actually reduced deforestation is a moot point.

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