Data released by the Brazilian government last week reveals that deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon has reached its highest rate since 2008. In the period August 2017 to July 2018, an area of 7,900 square kilometres of forest was cleared. That’s an increase of 13.7% compared to the previous 12 months.
Edson Duarte, Brazil’s outgoing environment minister, said in a statement that illegal logging was behind the increase in deforestation. He blamed “an upsurge in organised crime”, and called for the government to increase its policing of the Amazon rainforest.
Between them, the states of Pará, Rondônia, and Mato Grosso accounted for almost three-quarters of the deforestation. The state of Acre, which since 2010 has been the site of the world’s first jurisdictional REDD programme, saw deforestation increase by 84% compared to the previous 12 months.
Norway’s US$1 billion REDD deal. For what, exactly?
Norway’s US$1 billion REDD deal with Brazil was announced in December 2008 (that’s the dotted line on the graphic below). Before that deal, deforestation came down dramatically. But between 2009 and 2014, when most of the Norwegian money flowed to the Amazon Fund, deforestation remained pretty much stable.
Since then, it’s been going back up:
One of the reasons for the increase was that in 2013 President Dilma Rousseff approved a new forest code, that gave small landholders amnesty for previous deforestation.
Deforestation in Brazil is likely to increase dramatically under the government of President-elect Jair Bolsonaro. During his election campaign, Bolsonaro committed to limiting fines for illegal logging, allowing mining in protected areas, weakening indigenous peoples’ rights, and weakening the environment agency.
BBC News reports one of Bolsonaro’s aide’s as saying that the agriculture and environment ministries will be merged under Bolsonaro’s government.
Marina Silva, a former environment minister, said,
“This disastrous decision will bring serious damage to Brazil and will pass on to consumers abroad the idea that all Brazilian agribusiness survives thanks to the destruction of forests.”
Deforestation is even worse than the government’s figures
The actual area of deforestation in Brazil is even worse than the figures released by the Brazilian government. Data released by the University of Maryland on Global Forest Watch shows far higher rates of tree loss than the official Brazilian government forest monitoring system, PRODES.
In 2017, for example, PRODES reported 690,000 hectares of forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon. Global Forest Watch’s figure for 2017 was 3.47 million hectares.
The differences in the deforestation figures are accounted for by several factors. Global Forest Watch measures forest loss from January to December. PRODES uses August to July.
PRODES only measures new deforestation in primary forest. Global Forest Watch includes forest loss in secondary forest, and forest degradation from fire.
PRODES only includes areas of forest lost that are larger than 6.5 hectares. Global Forest Watch records tree loss on an area as small as 0.1 hectares.
The discrepancy between the Brazilian government’s deforestation figures and those from Global Forest Watch is important. The figures for deforestation of secondary forests, forest degradation from fires, and areas of deforestation covering areas less than 6.5 hectares must be included in Brazil’s deforestation statistics.
Meanwhile, the increased rate of deforestation in Brazil is terrifying. As Marcio Astrini, Greenpeace Brasil’s public policy coordinator, points out the tipping point at which the Amazon rainforest will disappear is approaching rapidly. Astrini told The Guardian that,
“A moment will arrive in which the accumulation of this deforestation will cause an effect in which the forest will stop being a forest. The scientists calculate this is between 20-30%. We are very close to the 20%.”