In 2013, after eight years of dramatic reductions in deforestation, the rate of deforestation in Brazil increased by 29%. The following year, it dropped by 18%. Unfortunately, deforestation is rising again, and is unlikely to stop – especially with the latest appointments to Brazil’s cabinet.
Here are the figures for August to December 2014 from the Brazilian NGO Imazon’s website. (Deforestation is measured from August to July – the time period starts in the middle of the dry season.) The percentage increases are compared to the same month a year previously:
- August 2014: 43,700 hectares were deforested, an increase of 136%. 31,900 hectares were degraded, an increase of 246%.
- September 2014: 40,200 hectares were deforested, an increase of 290%. 62,400 hectares were degraded, an increase of 3,797%.
- October 2014: 24,400 hectares were deforested, an increase of 467%. 46,800 hectares were degraded, an increase of 1,070%.
- November 2014: 19,500 hectares were deforested, an increase of 427%. 8,600 hectares were degraded, an increase of 855%.
- December 2014: 9,500 hectares were deforested, an increase of 70%. 11,000 hectares were degraded, an increase of 244%.
If REDD helped reduce deforestation in the past, why is it now soaring?
While deforestation rates in Brazil were falling, REDD proponents were keen to explain that the reduced deforestation was a result of REDD. For example, in a report published last year, the Union of Concerned Scientists told us that REDD agreements, “help reinforce the political changes that led to increased action against deforestation in the first place.”
But the Union of Concerned Scientists’ evidence for the claim that REDD helped reduce deforestation in Brazil is based on little more than wishful thinking. The UCS report highlights a series of political decisions and NGO campaigns, several of which took place before discussions about REDD started.
Also last year, Per Fredrik Pharo, Director of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative, argued that REDD helps weaken the agribusiness lobby in Brazil:
But consider what could have happened if Brazil had not received any international financial support, after delivering what is probably the largest single reduction in greenhouse gas emissions the world has seen in recent years. The forces that want large-scale conversion of the Amazon for agricultural purposes would have had a better hand; those wanting to protect it would be weakened.
REDD-Monitor looks forward to hearing Pharo’s explanation of why the rate of deforestation in Brazil is now increasing. Did something happen to weaken REDD in 2013, thus giving the agribusiness lobby a “better hand” and allowing deforestation to start increasing again?
The main strategies that Brazil used to lower its rate of deforestation were creating new protected areas, and enforcing laws, particularly the Forest Code. The increase in deforestation in 2013 followed a weakening of the Forest Code, allowing amnesty for destruction of forests in the past, and reducing the area of protected forest.
The “Chainsaw Queen” and a climate denier join Brazil’s cabinet
In December 2014, Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s President, appointed Kátia Abreu as minster of agriculture. It’s difficult to imagine a more controversial appointment. Greenpeace put out a statement after Abreu’s appointment under the headline “Miss Deforestation is the new Minister of Agriculture”.
Abreu is in favour of more ports for exports of agricultural commodities, as well as more hydropower dams and roads to be built in the Amazon. This may be good for agribusiness, but it would be a disaster for forests. A 2014 paper in Biological Conservation found that 94.5% of deforestation takes place within 5.5 kilometres of roads or 1 kilometre of rivers.
Abreu is also in favour of amending the constitution to give Congress control over demarcation of indigenous reserves and conservation areas in Brazil. In December 2014, the Proposed Constitutional Amendment (PEC 215) was shelved, following months of protests by Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples. But the danger remains that the agribusiness lobby will again push for an amendment to the constitution in 2015.
And Abreu is in favour of more “efficient” monoculture plantations, including the use of genetically modified “terminator seeds”.
Another alarming appointment is that of Aldo Rebelo as minister of science, technology and innovation. In addition to working on the weakening of the Forest Code as a Congressman, Rebelo has some very strange views – especially for a minister of science.
“Calling Aldo Rebelo a climate-change skeptic would be putting it mildly,” writes Simon Romero in the New York Times. In July 2010, Rebelo described “the doctrine of global warming” as “a theory which is incompatible with contemporary knowledge”.
PHOTO Credit: NASA.