The rate of deforestation in the Amazon increased by 22% between August 2017 and May 2018 compared to the same period the previous year, according to figures published by IMAZON, a non-profit research institute. Forest degradation is up by 218%. In June 2018, deforestation reached an area of 1,168 square kilometres – the highest monthly area since Imazon started monthly deforestation reports in April 2007.
The rate of deforestation in the Amazon fell from 2004 to 2007. For the next eight years forest loss hovered at around the same level. Then, in 2016 it shot up, before falling slightly in 2017. This graphic produced by Mongabay based on data from Global Forest Watch shows annual forest loss in the Amazon from 2001 to 2017:
There are several reasons for the increase in deforestation – which is dominated by the deforestation in Brazil. The country’s agribusiness lobby, the bancada ruralista has become increasingly powerful, now holding almost 40 per cent of the seats in Brazil’s Congress.
Trump’s trade war
Another contributing factor to the accelerating deforestation in Brazil could be Donald Trump’s trade war with China. After the Trump administration imposed tariffs on Chinese imports to the US, China retaliated by imposing a 25% tariff on US soybeans.
As a result, the price of soybeans in the US has fallen by 20% since April 2018. And as buyers in China look for other countries to supply soybeans, the price of soybeans exported from Brazil has increased.
Grant Kimberley from the Iowa Soybean Association told the South China Morning Post that,
“Our Chinese partners have told us they are hopeful that this gets resolved in a reasonable period of time, and that they want to resume normal trading, but their hands are tied too.
“This is a government-to-government, and a political issue, that is out of everyone’s hands.”
Higher soybean prices encourage more deforestation, as agribusiness clears more forest to grow soybeans. The deforestation is being driven by a government in Brazil that seems determined to strip the country’s forests as quickly as possible, and the trade policies of the USA’s insane clown president.
Can Brazil meet its Paris targets?
A recent paper in Nature Climate Change argues that,
The abandonment of deforestation control policies and the political support for predatory agricultural practices make it impossible to meet targets consistent with Brazil’s contribution to a 2°C world.
But yesterday, Reuters reported Brazil’s Environment Ministry as saying that, “Brazil cut its greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation in 2017 to levels below its internationally agreed 2020 climate change targets.”
Thiago Mendes, secretary of climate change in the Environment Ministry, told Reuters that,
“The policy message is that we can and should remain in the Paris Agreement (because) it is possible to effectively implement the commitments that have been made.”
Of course, the pledges made under the Paris Agreement do not add up to a 2°C warmer world. Even if the current pledges were met, the warming would be much more than 2°C.
The current situation in Brazil is one of soaring deforestation. At the same time, we have the Brazilian government announcing that the country has met its cuts in emissions from deforestation targets under the Paris Agreement – two years ahead of schedule.