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Brazil Rainforest Deforestation Jumps 67% in First Seven Months as Government Attacks Data

Brazil contains roughly 60% of the rainforest

In the Atlantic Forest in Bahia, fire and deforestation of hill slopes are forbidden by Brazilian law, but law enforcement is ineffective. (Credit: IESB archive). VOA

Deforestation in Brazil’s rainforest has jumped around 67% in the first seven months of the year, according to preliminary data from Brazil’s space research agency, which the government has attacked as misleading and harmful to the national interest.

The National Institute for Space Research (INPE) monitoring system registered destruction of 4,699 square kilometers (1,814 square miles) this year compared to 2,810 square kilometers in the previous period monitored, data on the agency’s website showed.

In July alone, 2,255 square kilometers of Amazon forest were lost, more than triple July 2018’s 597 square kilometers, according to INPE. That is the largest monthly deforestation registered by the agency in years and nearly the land mass of Luxembourg.

The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, a bulwark against global warming often called the “lungs of the earth” because of the vast amounts of carbon dioxide it soaks up and recycles into oxygen.

Brazil contains roughly 60% of the rainforest. Environmentalists and researchers blame President Jair Bolsonaro’s rhetoric in favor of economic development in the Amazon for emboldening loggers, ranchers and informal miners since he assumed office in January.

The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest. Wikimedia Commons

Bolsonaro has vehemently criticized the data from INPE and fired the head of the agency on Friday over what he called “lies” that hurt the country’s trade talks. “News like this that does not match the truth causes great damage to the image of Brazil,” Bolsonaro said in a press conference last week.

The country’s space research agency, independent scientists and environmentalists, however, have all defended the data as accurate. Fired INPE director Ricardo Galvao told Reuters on Saturday that he continued to defend the figures as showing an “undeniable” spike in deforestation.

A retired Air Force colonel, Darcton Policarpo Damiao, will head the agency for now, the government said on Monday. Damiao has a doctorate in sustainable development and his thesis was on deforestation in the Amazon, according to the announcement.

Due to cloud cover and other factors, deforestation registered in a certain month may have happened in a prior month, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said last week. At a news conference with Bolsonaro, the minister suggested that discrepancies of that kind made it impossible to trust the data.

Salles said deforestation should only be measured with more exact annual figures, published in the so-called PRODES data series, instead of the rapid-response DETER data, which is updated almost daily.

The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest. Wikimedia Commons

Yet comparing longer periods of time – the first seven months of the year, for example – virtually eliminates concerns over when the deforestation actually took place, according to Tasso Azevedo, coordinator of geographic initiative MapBiomas. MapBiomas is a collaboration between universities, non-profit groups and technology companies to monitor deforestation, drawing from several different sources including INPE data.

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Tasso called the government criticism of the DETER data baseless, estimating its accuracy at more than 90%. Sharp rises in the rapid-response data have consistently corresponded with an increase in the year-end figure, he added. In fact, the annual PRODES figures have always shown even worse deforestation than detected by the faster DETER data over the past decade.

“Why does (Salles) spend so much time trying to say that the alerts happened earlier or later, when he could use the same time to take some action,” Azevedo said. “Instead of indicating what they’re doing to reduce deforestation, they’re criticizing the deforestation data.” (VOA)

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Deforestation Rate In 2019 The Third-Largest in This Century

Satellite data shows nearly 4 million hectares of tree cover disappeared, an increase from last year and the third-largest loss this century

Brazil Amazon Crossroads
A burned area of the Amazon rainforest is seen in Prainha, Para state, Brazil. VOA

WASHINGTON – A soccer field every 6 seconds. That’s the rate at which the world lost mature tropical forests last year, according to new data from the Global Forest Watch monitoring program. Satellite data shows nearly 4 million hectares of tree cover disappeared, an increase from last year and the third-largest loss this century. Some experts find hopeful notes among the bad news, however. While Brazil’s forest losses have increased under right-wing President Jair Bolosonaro, policies to curb deforestation appear to be working in Indonesia, Colombia and West Africa.

The destruction of mature tropical forests is a massive hit to biodiversity and is responsible for about 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the World Resources Institute, the research and advocacy group that oversees Global Forest Watch. Since forests are massive sponges of carbon dioxide, reversing their loss would play an outsize role in fighting climate change. The United Nations set a goal of ending deforestation by 2020, “but we seem to be going in the wrong direction,” WRI Distinguished Senior Fellow Frances Seymour said.

Brazil’s reversal

According to satellite imagery analyzed by the University of Maryland and WRI, Brazil alone lost 1.4 million hectares of mature forest in 2019, more than one-third of the world total and nearly three times more than the country with the next-largest loss, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Not counting record-breaking forest fires in 2016 and 2017, it’s the largest loss since 2006.

Brazil had been a source of optimism until recently. Conservation policies under former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva curbed deforestation rates from 2004 to 2015. It was “one of the great conservation successes of this millennium,” said Robert Heilmayr, a University of California, Santa Barbara environmental economics assistant professor, who was not involved with the WRI research.

“I think that gave rise to this hope that if we can harness the policies that worked in one place and just deploy them around the world, we’re going to see an end to deforestation globally,” Heilmayr said. But the latest data shows “we still have a long ways to go,” he said. President Bolsonaro has encouraged development in the Amazon rainforest and loosened enforcement of environmental laws. His administration is backing a law that would increase access to protected indigenous lands for mining and supports legislation that environmental groups say would legalize land grabs.

Satellite data shows nearly 4 million hectares of tree cover disappeared, an increase from last year and the third-largest loss this century. Pixabay

“You’re starting to see the enforcement of the laws that are on the books back off,” Heilmayr said, “and I think that’s creating an opening for more aggressive deforestation.”

Indonesia’s surprise

On the other hand, the loss of mature forests in Indonesia declined in 2019 for the third straight year. “I’m continuing to be pleasantly surprised that there’s a decrease” in Indonesia, said Greg Asner, director of the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science at Arizona State University, who was not involved with the research.

While Indonesia lost the third-largest area of mature forest after Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo, it’s the smallest loss since the early 2000s. The country has made permanent a 2011 moratorium on logging and land-clearing for oil palm plantations, which had been a major driver of deforestation. The government has stepped up fire prevention and enforcement of existing forest laws.

Colombia also saw a steep drop in the loss of primary forest last year, after two years of increases. Deforestation had spiked after a peace agreement ended decades of civil war and freed up land previously occupied by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The country has set deforestation and reforestation goals and has sent the police and military to fight deforestation in its national parks. It’s not clear if the trend will hold. Global Forest Watch’s early-warning system has logged an increase in alerts this year.

Chocolate cuts its losses

More tentative good news comes from West Africa. Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, the two countries with the largest increase in mature forest loss in 2018, both cut those losses in half last year. The chocolate industry has pledged to reduce deforestation for cocoa cultivation, a major crop in West Africa, and the governments have signed forest carbon deals with the World Bank.

forest cover
The chocolate industry has pledged to reduce deforestation for cocoa cultivation, a major crop in West Africa. Pixabay

These programs may be responsible, but WRI says it’s too soon to tell if the impact will last. The cooperation of palm oil companies has been a big part of Indonesia’s decline in deforestation, UCSB’s Heilmayr said.

“When we see those two components, government and the international markets that provide the strongest incentive for deforestation, working together and in harmony with each other to disincentivize further deforestation, that’s where we generally see the biggest success,” he noted.

“The 2019 data corroborates what we already know,” WRI’s Seymour added. “If governments put into place good policies and enforce the law, forest loss goes down. But if governments relax restrictions … forest loss goes up.” Seymour is concerned that fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic could push global forest losses up this year.

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“We do have historical precedents,” WRI’s Seymour said. Poverty and a lack of enforcement drove up deforestation after the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, she noted. And with attention turned elsewhere, Heilmayr said, “I worry that this is a moment where the governments that want to enable additional land grabbing, that want to enable agricultural expansion, may turn away from enforcing the laws that already exist.” (VOA)

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Alarming Rate of Deforestation Threatens Biodiversity

Biodiversity at risk as forests cut down at alarming rates globally

As forests continue to be cut down at "alarming rates", the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says biodiversity in danger. Pixabay

The world’s forests continue to be cut down at “alarming rates”, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in its State of the World’s Forests 2020 report.

The 188-page report released on Friday, which caps a decade of studies on biodiversity under the oversight of the UN, examines the contributions of forests and of the populations that use and manage them, with an eye toward forest conservation, reports Xinhua news agency.

According to the report, forests occupy less than a third of the world’s land, but they account for 80 per cent of all amphibian species, 75 of bird species, 68 per cent of mammal species, and around 60 per cent of all vascular plant species. But that biodiversity is at risk, the report said.

“Deforestation and forest degradation continue to take place at alarming rates, which contributes significantly to the ongoing loss of biodiversity,” the FAO report said.

It added that over the last 30 years at least 420 million hectares of forests have been lost to land-use changes, mostly to agricultural development, or in some cases for the production of wood.

Deforestation at a massive rate poses a threat to biodiversity. Pixabay

The lost forest land is roughly the equivalent to the size of the north African country of Libya, FAO said.

The news is not all bad, however.

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The report said the rate of deforestation has slowed in recent years, from around 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s to 10 million hectares per year over the last five years. FAO headed the production of the report in collaboration with the UN Environment Program. (IANS)


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20% Malaria Risk in Deforestation Hot Spots: Study

Deforestation for coffee production ups malaria risk

Malaria deforestation
Researchers have estimated that 20 per cent of the malaria risk in deforestation hot spots is driven by the international trade of exports. Pixabay

Researchers, including one of an Indian-origin, have estimated that 20 per cent of the malaria risk in deforestation hot spots is driven by the international trade of exports including coffee, cocoa, palm oil, tobacco, beef and cotton.

Previous studies have shown deforestation and rainforest disturbances can increase the transmission of malaria by creating conditions where mosquitoes thrive: warmer habitats and fewer predators. “What does this mean for affluent consumers?” asks study senior author Professor Manfred Lenzen, from the University of Sydney in Australia.

“We need to be more mindful of our consumption and procurement, and avoid buying from sources implicated with deforestation, and support sustainable land ownership in developing countries,” Lenzen said.

According to the researchers, directing consumption away from deforestation has benefits beyond the malaria link; it will help reducing biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions as well. For the findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, the research team investigated links between the increasing risk of malaria in developing countries to products demanded by distant consumers.

Malaria deforestation
Deforestation and rainforest disturbances can increase the transmission of malaria by creating conditions where mosquitoes thrive. Pixabay

“This study is the first to assess the role of global consumption in increasing deforestation and, in turn, malaria risk. Unsustainable human consumption is clearly driving this trend,” said Indian-origin researcher and study co-author Dr Arunima Malik from the University of Sydney in Australia.

“We achieved this by quantitatively relating malaria incidence first with deforestation, then to primary commodity production, which we then connected to global supply-chain networks and ultimately to worldwide consumer demand,” Malik said. The final step was accomplished by coupling a highly detailed and large international database with an established and widely used analytical technique – multi-region input-output (MRIO) analysis, the study said.

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“This work goes beyond simple incidence mapping and correlations, in that it unveils a global supply-chain network that links malaria occurring in specific locations because of deforestation with globally dispersed consumption,” Malik said. The results of the study can be used for more demand-side approaches to mitigating malaria incidence by focusing on regulating malaria-impacted global supply chains, the researchers said.

Demand-side initiatives such as product labelling and certification, supply-chain dialogue and green procurement standards have been successful in addressing trade-related global problems such as threats to species and child labour. (IANS)