Friday, November 13, 2009

Brazil celebrates 45% reduction in Amazon deforestation

Deforestation near Capixaba, Acre, Brazil

A police offensive and the global economic crisis have combined to produce the largest fall in more than 20 years

Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro for the Guardian UK

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The Brazilian government yesterday announced a "historic" drop in the deforestation of the Amazon, weeks before world leaders meet in Copenhagen for climate change talks.

Brazilian authorities said that between August 2008 and July this year, deforestation in the world's largest tropical rainforest fell by the largest amount in more than 20 years, dropping by 45% from nearly 13,000 square kilometres to around 7,000 square kilometres (5,000 square miles to 2,700 square miles).

"It is an excellent figure – a historic result," the environment minister, Carlos Minc, said in the capital, Brasilia.

"It is a substantial drop," said the head of Brazil's Space Institute, Gilberto Câmara, according to the government news provider Agência Brasil. He claimed it was the most significant cut in deforestation since his institute started monitoring rainforest destruction with satellite technology in 1988.

"This is a very happy moment – to note that the efforts of Brazilian society to contain the deforestation of the Amazon have reached a very satisfactory level."

The new figures, reportedly rushed out before the Copenhagen talks, come days after Brazil announced ambitious plans to cut carbon emissions by 2020, partly by continuing to battle illegal deforestation.

This week, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff, said her country would take proposals for voluntary reductions of 38-42% by 2020 to the Copenhagen summit. Britain's prime-minister, Gordon Brown, wrote to Brazil's president this week to congratulate him on the move.

Environmentalists welcomed the news of a drop in rainforest destruction, with Greenpeace's Amazon director, Paulo Adario, claiming that, "whenever the government followed the law, deforestation fell". But he warned: "We must stay alert so that this falling trend becomes consolidated and allows us to achieve the dream of zero deforestation in the Amazon. It is an important drop – but a lot of forest is still coming down."

Rousseff said the figures showed the government had "done its homework" in order to combat illegal rainforest destruction. She pointed to federal police raids on illegal logging operations across the Amazon region, and government attempts to provide economic alternatives to destruction. Since February 2008 the government has been waging an "unprecedented" campaign against the loggers, dispatching hundreds of heavily armed agents to remote rainforest towns where destruction was out of control.

But, in a statement, Greenpeace activists in Brazil said the world financial crisis had also played a part in silencing the chainsaws. "The crisis … has contributed to helping put the breaks on the rhythm of destruction, with a fall in the demand for Amazon products linked to deforestation such as meat, soy and timber," Greenpeace said.

Tellingly, Mato Grosso, a soy producing Amazonian state that has seen its forests ravished in recent years largely as a result of the Chinese demand for soy, saw a 65% drop in deforestation.

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