Brazilian rainforest under greater threat than ever

Brazil is suffering from serious political unrest. The current government might not be around for much longer. And the Brazilian Amazon is under greater threat than ever as a result of the turmoil. The forests provide a fifth of our planet’s oxygen but the country’s Congress is talking about removing existing legal protections in an area of forest extending to at least 600,000 hectares.

Deforestation is increasing again, wildfires are back

At the same time deforestation has increased by 30% in the past 12 months and as a result destructive wildfires are back again. It looks very much like the current situation could undo all the good Brazil has done over the last decade in record time. And it’s a tragedy in the making.

The American magazine Science has revealed how Brazil cut deforestation by 72% between 2004 and 2016. The latest reports say that between July 2015 and August 2016 loggers cleared almost 8000 square kilometres of Brazilian rainforest. At least half of Brazil’s CO2 emissions are as a result of deforestation. And many experts insist that Brazil must mend its wicked ways immediately before things get any worse.

The tipping point is closer than ever

There’s so much at stake. Figures reveal that if Amazonian deforestation tips over from 20% to 30% of the total forest, it could result in a horrific tipping point and lead to the whole forest turning into a dry savanna-like landscape in record time, which would have a profound impact on the world’s already-spiralling climate.

Not so long ago Brazil promised to cut its CO2 emissions by 43% by the year 2030. It just isn’t happening. In 2015 emissions grew by three and a half percent, say Brazil’s Climate Observatory NGO group. At the same time Brazilian politicians profess to be horrified by Donald Trump’s rejection of the Paris climate agreement on his country’s behalf. It just doesn’t make sense.

A world-scale tragedy in the making

This is clearly madness. It’s one of the biggest threats to South America’s vital rainforests and it seems highly unlikely, right now, that Brazil is going to protect the forests it and every other living being on the planet depends on. And it’s all down to short term thinking and greed. Shame on you, Brazil.

Brazil’s controversial soy crop moratorium bears fruit

According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, a new study has shown how the country’s eight year moratorium on soya has helped to “drastically reduce the amount of deforestation linked to soy production in the region and was much better at curbing it than governmental policy alone.” 

8 year soya moratorium – The Results

Under Brazil’s soy moratorium, major trading companies have not been buying soya beans from the Brazilian Amazon’s recently deforested areas. The decision came after a report from Greenpeace and an increase in consumer pressure, which led big brands like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart to stop buying soy grown on cleared Amazonian forestland. Their move put immediate pressure on commodity market traders, who in turn also agreed to stand by the moratorium.

It’s a classic case of money talking. It might sound cynical but let’s face it – what else but hard economics and financial gain would have persuaded the money markets to act for the planet’s common good?

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s study hows how the moratorium helped reduce the amount of deforestation linked to soy production in the region “drastically”, and was in fact much more effective than government policy. Before the moratorium 30% of soy crop expansion was facilitated by deforestation, now there’s only around 1% new deforestation undertaken to grow soya.

  • Pre-moratorium, from 2001 to ’06, Brazilian Amazon soy fields expanded by almost 4000 square miles
  • Eight years into the moratorium, almost no additional forest has been cleared to grow soya
  • The reduction took place despite an increasing demand for soya. Instead, farmers planted the cop on land that had already been cleared instead of clearing new land

Why do the results of the moratorium matter?

Why is it important? Because the results will help drive new, more effective deforestation prevention policies.

Brazil already enjoys some of the world’s most powerful environmental legislation. They’ve already gone a long way to slow the destruction of their precious rainforests. Now we know the actual, real-life effects a moratorium can have on the behaviour of farmers and investors, and how it compares with government conservation policies.

Article by The Rainforest Foundation

Brazil’s rainforest carbon losses are much greater than suspected

According to the Helmholtz Centre For Environmental Research deforestation in Brazil has led to “significantly more” carbon being lost than anyone assumed, proving that it simply isn’t good enough to make assumptions. We desperately need the facts.

The frightening facts about peripheral forest damage

The effects of deforestation and forest degradation have been seriously underestimated, simply because it was such a challenge to calculate biomass loss at the edges of the forests where CO2 emissions are highest.

The findings, reported in Nature Communications, reveal how forest fragmentation results in up to a fifth more carbon dioxide being emitted by the vegetation than anyone suspected. And it’s terrible news.

The scientists developed a new approach to integrate remote sensing results with forest and ecology modelling, first modelling the percentage loss of carbon in forest borders once the surrounding area had been after the deforested. Then the losses were compared to large areas of undamaged forest in the Amazon and the coastal Mata Atlântica.

Forest edges prone to more damage… and it’s cyclical

It appears that the local climate changes significantly at at the newly-created edges of the forest. The sun’s rays are more powerful, temperatures are higher and the damaged areas provide a target for strong winds. The stresses on trees in this peripheral area are considerable and, because larger specimens in particular die off as a re3sult, the stress on trees in peripheral areas increases even more. Stressed and damaged trees store less carbon that healthy trees in the forest centre, and the cycle of destruction continues.

While the news is wholly bad in this case, it’s a lot better than not having a clear picture of what’s actually happening. In rainforest conservation, as in the rest of life, knowledge really is power.

Posted by the Rainforest Foundation. Image from NASA’s Earth Observatory via Flickr

Brazil’s beautiful rainforest is leaking more CO2 than anyone thought

Deforestation of tropical rainforests in Brazil is already a huge problem. But it looks like its effects are more dramatic than anyone previously thought. It appears a lot more CO2 is being emitted than anyone realised, and the effects of the deforestation have been seriously underestimated.

It’s all down to lost biomass at the edges of forests, and the fact that until recently CO2 emissions in peripheral areas was impossible to calculate.

Forest periphery under serious threat

Scientists of the Hemholtz Centre for Environmental Research have only recently figured out how to measure the losses, and they’ve calculated that fragmentation of forests’ edges means as much as a fifth more CO2 is emitted by the stressed vegetation in such areas.

The scientists developed a new approach, integrating data from remote sensing, ecology and forest modelling projects and modelling the loss of CO2 in forest border areas after the surrounding areas had already been deforested. Then they compared the losses with those calculated in large, unchanged tropical forests in the Amazon basin and on the coast of Brazil.

Sun and wind take a toll on mature trees

The peripheral areas, defined as chunks of forest 100m wide running between the forest proper and the edge, suffer dramatically as climate conditions change. Because the sun’s rays are stronger in peripheral areas, temperatures are higher. Lost forest means the wind has more of an effect. As a result trees are more stressed and the larger trees tend to die off. Stressed trees around the edges of forests can’t capture as much carbon as trees protected inside the forest either, so CO2 emissions rise.

The bigger the forest, the more CO2 it absorbs

It turns out the percentage loss of stored biomass goes up in inverse proportion to the amount of remaining forest. Only when the forest area reaches 10,000 hectares does the % loss reduce to almost none. All of which means the constant eating away of peripheral forest is much more dangerous than anyone expected. Yet another reason – as if we needed one – to stop all types of deforestation in their tracks as quickly as possible.

Post on behalf of the Rainforest Foundation. Image by CIFOR.

Consumers of beef and soy blamed for Brazilian deforestation

Brazilian RainforestThe world’s insatiable and increasing appetite for beef and soya products is driving rainforest deforestation in Brazil, according to a report released in the Environmental Research Letters journal, and it’s a serious threat which appears to be undermining international efforts to protect rainforests.

It’s a worldwide issue

The study connected CO2 emissions from Brazilian Amazon deforestation between 1990 to 2010 with the cultivation of soybeans and cattle grazing, then allocated emissions to various countries based on the amount of Brazilian soybeans and beef they consume. The results share the responsibility for the country’s deforestation between a number of global consumers, making it a worldwide issue rather than one faced exclusively by Brazil.

Brazil’s share of the responsibility

The research reveal 2.7 billion tonnes of CO2 was exported by Brazil, 29% of which relates to Soya production and 71% to cattle ranches. However Brazilian consumption is responsible for the largest share of emissions driven by domestic deforestation. Brazil’s own demand for the products has led to 85% of the emissions from their beef and 50% of those generated by their soya bean industry.

Why have the country’s CO2 emissions rocketed?

The past decade has seen an increase in in emerging markets and industrialised nations buying even more Brazilian beef and soy, which ultimately means more of the responsibility for the country’s deforestation can be allocated to consumers outside Brazil itself.

Russian and Chinese consumers figure large in the picture

Russia has fast become one of the world’s largest importers of Brazilian beef and related CO2 emissions, buying a massive 15% of the country’s exported beef in 2010. And China has been tipped as responsible for 22% of Brazil’s total soybean-linked emissions, up from just 7% in the year 2000. In fact Asia now consumes more Brazilian soybeans and beef than Europe.

Things were looking better. But the irony is that countries who demand more of Brazil’s agricultural products are undermining their own efforts to conserve Brazilian Amazon rainforests. As the co-author of the report, Robbie Andrew, says, “with increasing global pressure on Brazilian agriculture to increase production and changes to the Brazilian Forest Code, it seems unlikely that Brazilian deforestation rates will continue to decrease at the current rate without strengthening measures to protect the forests.” 

Brazilian Survey Set to ‘Know the Rainforest from Within’

Brazilian RainforestHow can you preserve something when you don’t really know what you’re preserving? Back in 2009 the Brazilian government promised to cut their 2004 deforestation rates 80% by 2020. And last week saw excellent news from the country’s Forestry Ministry, which is planning an incredibly detailed survey of the unique and seriously threatened Amazon rainforest.

According to the Brazilian Forestry Minister, Antonio Carlos Hummel, they are going to “come to know the rainforest from within” during the first detailed survey for more than 30 years.

Brazil’s 3,288,000 square miles of rainforest – about half the remaining tropical forest on earth – will be sampled by expert teams who will log 20,000 points at 20km intervals, looking at the number, height, diameter and species of trees as well as identifying how local people interact with the rainforest at each site.

The survey is set to cost Brazil a cool 33 million dollars but it’s a drop in the ocean when you consider what it actually means: the survey will help the country’s government bring their plans to decrease deforestation to fruition at long last. A detailed inventory of the forest will give them the information and insight they need to monitor tree numbers and species, which in turn will drive sustainable goals.

When will we see the results? The survey is due to take 3-4 years and will eventually deliver invaluable information about the soils, biomass, carbon content, outstanding biodiversity and amazing variety of tree species, all of which will improve human understanding of the rainforest’s characteristics and help  drive the Brazilian government’s plans to reduce deforestation.

There’s just one warning sign in the shape of a comment by Brazil’s Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira. As well as knowing how much forest is left and what condition it’s in, the survey will provide information about, “its potential economic use.”

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