In the wake of a distressing report about accelerating deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, the Brazilian government has vowed to reduce the rate of land-clearing by 70 percent over the next decade. The government was called upon to take drastic steps after a report declared that deforestation increased this year for the first time since 2004 as surging prices for cattle and soybeans led ranchers to seek farm land in the forest. The world’s largest rainforest lost 11,968 square kilometers (4,600 square miles), an area about 10 times as large as New York City, in the 12 months through July 2008 [Bloomberg].
Tasso Azevedo, head of the Brazilian government’s forestry service said: “We can now adopt targets because we now have the instruments to implement them.” He was referring to a new Amazon fund, where foreign nations are being encouraged by Brazil to contribute financially to the conservation of the vast Amazon region [BBC News]. Norway has already agreed to contribute $1 billion to the fund over the next seven years on the condition that deforestation rates continue to drop during that time; however, Norway’s pledge is hoped to be just the beginning. The Brazilian government wants to raise $21 billion in donations to finance conservation and sustainable development projects, arguing that since the whole world receives climate benefits from an intact Amazon rainforest, the whole world should subsidize it.
The Brazilian government maintains that the figures for 2008 would have been still worse without its new crackdown on illegal logging and land clearing, and points to its policy of confiscating soy and beef products from rogue ranchers as proof that the government takes the issue quite seriously. But critics say the environmental protection agency, IBAMA, is understaffed and underfunded to face thousands of often heavily armed loggers and ranchers…. Last week a crowd in Paragominas, a town that depends heavily on logging, ransacked IBAMA offices, torched its garage and used a tractor to break down the entrance of the hotel where its agents stayed. Twelve trucks loaded with confiscated wood were stolen [New Scientist].
Brazil’s announcement of the new conservation targets coincides with the opening of a United Nations conference on global warming. Amazon destruction makes Brazil one of the top emitters of greenhouse gases because trees release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when they’re cut down or burned [Reuters]. If the rainforest remains intact, however, the ecosystem can serve as a valuable “carbon sink” that can take up and sequester carbon dioxide emissions from the rest of the world.
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