A Partial Victory for the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil

rainforest-destruction-Brazil-AmazonIn April, the Brazilian Congress passed a dangerous forestry bill that would give loggers and farmers the right to unconditionally demolish large areas of the rainforest. The future prosperity and existence of the rainforest lay in the hands of President Dilma Rousseff, who could veto the bill. Thankfully on May 25th, 2012 the president vetoed the bill and rightfully so, because 79 percent of Brazilians did not support the bill.  It was a wise move to ax the bill and not the rainforest, not only because of the obvious environmental implications, but politically. President Dilma and Brazil will host the world’s biggest environmental summit and if she were to open to summit as the president who allowed for the destruction of the remaining rainforest, resentment for her administration would erupt not only in Brazil, but on a global scale.  

The Amazonian rainforest is key to life on earth. People get 20 percent of our oxygen from the rainforest and the rainforest is essential to lessening the effects of global climate change. Over the last few decades the rainforest has been significantly reduced, because of farming, development, and industry. Although in the last ten years the rate of deforestation has declined significantly.  The rainforest experienced a 78 percent decline of deforestation between 2004 and 2011. The global community, including Brazil, has worked on forestry law and enforcement and satellite monitoring to ensure the continued recuperation and sustainability of the rainforest and its many inhabitants.

If the president passed the bill it would allow for massive clear-cutting and amnesty for loggers for all past deforestation crimes. The Amazon rainforest would be entirely destroyed in Brazil, which would in turn set a precedent for other countries to allow for rainforest destruction. Thanks to the rejection of bills like this, the rainforest can continue to exist and flourish.

While the vetoing of this bill is a victory for the rainforest, the challenges the Amazonian rainforest will face in the coming years are far from over. Even with support of Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira, President Rousseff allowed for some parts of the bill to pass. Because Brazil is a rapidly developing country, President Rousseff faces continual pressure to exploit resources in order to lift millions out of devastating poverty. Yet, there is no proof that economic growth requires deforestation. If anything, the destruction of the rainforest will cause more problems for not only Brazilians, but also the world community as a whole.

Not only that, the agricultural lobby is very powerful, as it is in most countries. Dilma, like many world leaders, was elected with help and support from the agricultural industry. Today, they put ever-increasing pressure on her to cut down the rainforest for their profit.  In Brazil the battle has gotten so intense and ugly that activists have been murdered, intimidated, and silenced.

The need for public pressure is still crucial to the continued survival and health of the rainforest. The battle is far from won and requires continuous support and efforts to protect and preserve the environment. Avaaz is hosting a petition that not only helped prompt President Dilma’s veto, but will continue to gather support in order to promote support for the issues as hand, namely protecting the rainforest in Brazil. The exact details of President Dilma’s revised bill has not yet been made public, but Environmental Minister says that the government wanted to avoid diminishing protected areas and other ecosystems. Loopholes could still make it into the final bill, allowing for the reduction of mandatory reforestation and other devastating implications. The new proposals still affords less protection than the currently existing regulations, so action is essential in protecting the environment and preventing more deforestation and the murder and intimidation of environmental activists. To ensure the interests of the rainforest are still protected please sign the Avaaz Petition.

Photo credit: newscenter.lbl.gov/wp-content/uploads/dsc02007.jpg

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon up Six-Fold

According to recent satellite images, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased 470 percent in the last year. Approximately 103 square kilometers of forest were lost in March and April of 2010, compared with 593 sq km lost during the same period this year.

The Brazilian government has convened an emergency cabinet to address the six-fold increase in illegal clearing. When last measured in December of 2010, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was at the lowest levels seen in over two decades, with just 6,451 sq km of forest lost between August of 2009 and July of 2010.

The majority of the illegal logging is centered in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, where soy farming is a key industry.  Local ranchers in the Mato Grosso region also blame “alien” loggers, arguing that loggers from other Brazilian states come to Mato Grosso only to make a profit and move on.
This claim was corroborated in part by IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental protection agency. Curt Trennepohl, President of IBAMA, spoke to the Guardian on the influx of out-of-state ranchers and loggers.  “We will contain the hemorrhage,” he stated. “This will not happen in south Amazonas because we have this intelligence and we are watching. Any aliens who arrive buying land will be watched.”

Led by Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira, the cabinet hopes to cut deforestation levels sharply within the next two months. Environmental police officers have been deployed in the hundreds to help enforce forestry laws.  IBAMA has also vowed to increase its presence in the region, including planning over 200 operations throughout the next year. The operations will target illegal deforestation, as well as any timber or cattle earned in the process.

The report comes before the Brazilian government takes up a key vote on its Forest Code. Formed in 1934 and amended in 1965, the Forest Code dictates that farmers may clear only 20% of the forest on their lands, conserving the remaining 80 percent, or the “legal reserve”.

Under the proposed reforms, large farm would be required to conserve only 50% of forest found on their lands, with this figure dropping significantly for farms under 400 hectares. The reforms were introduced by Brazil’s Communist Party and supported by a group in Brazil’s Congress that believes more land should be opened up for agricultural development.

Local ranchers agree, arguing that some compromise is necessary. Citing the lack of opportunities available for the rural poor, the forest is described as one of the few viable sources of revenue.

“Our survival has to come from the forest. There is no other way,” one local logger told the Guardian. “There are no universities here. There are no factories. If you don’t have a government job, you have to claw some kind of survival from the rivers and the forest.”

Some environmentalists have argued that it is the possibility of laxer regulations which has sparked pre-emptive deforestation by ranchers.

Speaking to Reuters, Greenpeace campaigner Marcio Astrini said, “You have 300-400 lawmakers here in Brasilia sending the message that profiting from deforestation will be amnestied, that crime pays. The only relevant factor is the Forest Code.”

Voting on the proposed reforms has been delayed, but is expected to occur before the end of this month.

Over 60% of the Amazon Rainforest is found within Brazil. The Amazon forest is home to approximately one third of the Earth’s biodiversity, ranging from 40,000 different species of trees and plants and 3,000 different species of fish. It is also a significant carbon sink, absorbing approximately 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually.

Photo credit: NASA LBA-ECO Project 

Major Palm Oil Company Announces Plan for Forest Protection

February 14, 2011- Nick Engelfried

The future has grown a little brighter for imperiled rainforest species like the orangutan, tiger, and Sumatran rhinoceros.  In a potentially huge step forward for forest conservation in Indonesia, the palm oil company Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) has announced a plan to halt deforestation in large areas of forestland.  A new policy laid out by GAR last week states the company will no longer clear forests in places of especially high conservation value, such as areas that serve as important carbon sinks or strongholds of biodiversity. 

“This could be good news for the forests, endangered species like the orangutan and for the Indonesian economy,” said Bustar Maitar, head of the Greenpeace campaign to protect the rainforests of Indonesia. 

Greenpeace and other international environmental groups have spent the last few years pressuring companies to withdraw support for activities that add to deforestation in Indonesia.  The country is currently experiencing some of the fastest deforestation anywhere in the world, which is adding to climate change and threatening the remaining habitat for hundreds of endangered species.  Most famously the orangutan, the only great ape found in Asia, is predicted to face extinction in the next several years if current deforestation rates continue. 

Yet the news isn’t all bad: in response to public concerns about the fate of Indonesia’s forests, more and more companies have been refusing to do business that contributes to causes of deforestation.  Responding to pressure from Greenpeace and other nonprofits, corporations like Nestle, Unilever, Burger King, and more have promised to stop purchasing palm oil and wood pulp sourced from endangered Indonesian forests.  This has often meant ceasing to do business with Sinar Mas, an Indonesia-based conglomerate that produces palm oil and wood and paper products, and which has been responsible for a significant fraction of Indonesian deforestation.

Golden Agri-Resources is the palm oil branch of Sinar Mas, and last week’s announcement is the biggest sign so far that Sinar Mas companies are seeing rainforest destruction as harmful to their public relations.  A statement from GAR says it is committed to developing “a fully sustainable palm oil industry which will be part of a growing Indonesian economy.”  If GAR can follow through on this pledge, it may again be able to do business with international companies that are shunning it for now.

Though encouraged by GAR’s new forest policy, environmental groups are watching closely to see how implementation plays out.  They are also pressuring the Indonesian government to work with companies like GAR to end deforestation altogether.  Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has promised to place a moratorium on deforestation, but questions remain about how well if at all it will be enforced.  GAR’s forest policy is presents an opportunity for the government and the private sector to collaborate on protecting rainforests.

“Golden Agri’s announcement today has given a huge boost to the Indonesian President’s pledge to protect forests and tackle climate change,” said Greenpeace’s Bustar Maitar.  “Now the Indonesian Government must support this initiative by stopping any more licenses being granted for forest and peatland clearance, and by reviewing activities in areas where licenses have already been handed out.”

Laying out a forest policy on paper is just the first step for GAR when it comes to truly transforming palm oil production in Indonesia.  Meanwhile other forest challenges remain: for example, the pulp and paper arms of Sinar Mas have yet to commit to a policy comparable to GAR’s.  However for now environmentalists around the world are celebrating what seems to be a major victory.  GAR’s announcement on forest protection just might signal the beginning of an industry-wide shift toward forest conservation and protection of critically endangered species like orangutans. 

Photo credit: Daniel Kleeman