“Instead of thick jungle… The smoke is so thick. The trees were burning all around us. We had to turn around because it was too hot to continue. We stopped next to a huge swathe of land that was scorched black. The trees had been cut and stacked up in piles like a dozen funeral pyres.”
This might sound like a story about Indonesia, where fires this year have resulted in Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions exceeding those of the entire U.S. economy.
But it’s not a story about Indonesia. It’s from a report by Lourdes Garcia-Navarro for NPR from the state of Rondônia in Brazil:
The report includes this short statement from Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, during a visit by Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel:
We have made a huge effort and we have reduced by 83% illegal deforestation in the Amazon.
And Merkel said,
“We are very satisfied that there have been very ambitious developments concerning the stopping of deforestation.”
We know this story. Brazil has reduced deforestation over the past decade by something like 80%. It’s received US$1 billion from Norway in results-based payments.
“But that’s not the whole story,” Garcia-Navarro says. Although the rate of deforestation has gone down, Brazil still lost about 5,000 square kilometres of forest in 2014. And this year it’s higher than last year. Over the past 20 years, the Amazon has lost 763,000 square kilometres of forest.
Garcia-Navarro spoke to Antonio Nobre. He’s a visiting scientist at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and a senior researcher at the National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA). Last year, he published a report titled “The Future Climate of Amazonia“, in which he argued for “a war effort” to reverse past and expected future damage to the rainforests in the Amazon. He says that slowing deforestation is not enough. It has to be reversed.
Nobre points out that even areas that appear forested in satellite images have often been degraded by illegal loggers.
Rondônia’s environmental police recently lost their only helicopter in budget cuts. The people trying to stop deforestation in Rondônia tell NPR that deforestation is “out of control”.