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Deforestation In The Amazon: An Analysis

Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is on the decline, but climate experts say there is still a long way to go to recovery.

Recent government data reveals a significant decrease of 22.3% in the 12 months through July, reaching its lowest level since 2018.

The PRODES Satellite monitoring by the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) reported a decrease from 11,568 to 9,001 square kilometres of destroyed Amazon jungle during this period, representing the first time deforestation has dipped below 10,000 square kilometres since 2018.


Why Is Deforestation In The Amazon On The Decline?

The reduction in deforestation coincides with a political shift in Brazil. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who assumed office in 2022, vowed to curb the damage caused by his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro’s leadership saw deforestation rates reaching a 15-year high, prompting Environment Minister Marina Silva to describe it as “an explosion of crime, following a complete dismantling of the government’s environmental structures.”

President Lula’s pledge to end deforestation in the Amazon by 2030, expressed in his October 2022 victory speech, raises optimism. But is Brazil on the right trajectory to fulfil this goal?


Brazilian Government Targets Illegal Deforestation

As the country with the largest share of the Amazon rainforest globally, Brazil plays a crucial role in its preservation.  Since the early 1970s, the Brazilian Amazon has lost just under 20% of its forest cover. To avoid future losses, the Lula administration has intensified efforts against land grabbers and farmers replacing trees with pasture. The Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBIO) have significantly increased fines resulting in a 58 % drop in deforestation in these areas this year.

The government has also been utilising improved technology, such as the PRODES and DETER satellites, to identify issues quickly and accurately. Furthermore, the cancellation of pending Rural Environmental Registry registrations overlapping indigenous territories and conservation units, along with the resumption of the Amazon Fund, showcases a multifaceted approach to tackling the issue.


Global Initiatives And Regulations: A Collaborative Approach

In 2022, Brazil accounted for 40% of recorded rainforest destruction. However, the Amazon extends beyond Brazil’s borders and is shared among eight other countries - Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, Venezuela and French Guiana.

Colombia, which hosts a tenth of the Amazon has witnessed a 70 % decrease in deforestation rates in the first nine months of the year,  led by the efforts of the Colombian government and organisations like the Communitarian Multiactive Cooperative of the Common (Comuccom).

Comuccom has already planted 125,000 trees and with 250,000 more on the way, its goal of planting 1 million trees and restoring the entire Colombian Amazon Basin could become a reality in a decade. The cooperative is also working to regenerate soils impoverished by cattle pasture and coca crops and replenish the water sources polluted by gold mining and mercury use. Recovering the fauna could see the return of wildlife such as jaguars, armadillo, white-faced monkeys, hummingbirds, parrots, and herons.

Reinforcing this collaborative effort is the new EU law requiring producers of commodities like soy, beef, coffee, and wood to provide evidence that their supply chain is free from deforestation.

While these results are encouraging, a two-day summit in the Brazilian city of Belém left climate activists and indigenous groups feeling disappointed. President Lula emphasised unity, but most other rainforest nations disagreed, citing disputes over oil extraction, mining and the beef industry.

Silva stressed the need for an international effort to produce an action plan, focusing on sharing data and best practices for sustainable economic development through a scientific panel. She added that the goals should include protecting the forest and indigenous people, fighting inequality, and strengthening democracy.


Protecting Local Interests

Indigenous interests have been overlooked for decades, with deforestation in indigenous reserves now threatening livelihoods of people living in one of the last stretches of preserved rainforest, including Capoto/Jarina Indigenous Territory. Once under strict federal protection and a safe haven for hunting, fishing and traditional rituals, the area is now under pressure due to agricultural expansion. The Capoto/Jarina area used to be dense forest, but when the MT-322 highway began its construction in the 1970s without consent from indigenous people, that all began to change.

As newcomers flocked to the region, they brought measles and the flu along with them. Loggers began felling centuries-old trees, wildcat miners drilled into the mineral-rich soil in search for gold, and patches of forest were transformed into cattle pastures and plantations. Plans to extend the MT-322 highway raise concerns about opening exposing the territory to more land-grabbers, miners, and organised crime groups. Despite repeated requests by Indigenous people and environmental activists, there has been no comprehensive study of the MT-322’s impact on regional flora and fauna.

Authorities have trained Indigenous brigades to combat wildfires, resulting in an 84 % reduction in Capoto/Jarina between June and October, according to Brazil’s space agency (INPE). However, more needs to be done to protect indigenous land.

Addressing other local interests is more complex. Large-scale palm oil plantations and industrial processing mills bring multiple social and economic benefits, including improved food security, balance of trade, tax revenues, job creation, and economic growth. However, a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals how local farmers could benefit from forest conservation.

It has already been established that loss of tree cover contributes to higher regional temperatures. Without the forest canopy to block the sun’s rays and absorb moisture, the Amazon’s natural cooling system becomes ineffective, resulting in drought. But the impact is far more wide-ranging than was once thought.

The new study found that “deforestation in the Amazon caused substantial warming up to 100 km away from the location of forest loss,” and that “regional forest loss increases warming by more than a factor of four with serious consequences for the remaining Amazon forest and the people living there.”

Lead author Dr. Edward Butt, a research fellow at the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds, emphasised the far-reaching consequences of deforestation, telling Mongabay “If you chop the forest down, not only are you going to have an impact in your local area, but you potentially are going to be affecting downstream temperatures, and that’s going to have obvious implications on things like agriculture and people living in the region.”

The Amazon is already experiencing the effects of regional warming observed in the study. Severe drought has dried up rivers and is fuelling the wildfires, which have reportedly consumed an estimated 50,000 square kilometers of the Brazilian Amazon in the first nine months of the year. According to Carlos Durigan, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Brazil Country Director the drought is now affecting a region as large as France, Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom combined.


The Amazon Urgently Needs Protecting

Scientists have long been concerned that the Amazon could reach a “tipping point” leading to a transition to a savanna-like ecosystem. New research suggests the recent drought is a warning sign of an impending tipping point. This could have disastrous consequences, driving an unprecedented number of species to extinction, releasing carbon into the atmosphere and causing huge shifts in rainfall patterns across the continent.

Despite storing more than 120 billion tons of carbon, the Amazon is currently emitting more carbon than it absorbs. In the last four decades, the region’s dry season has become longer and droughts have become more severe. Marcelo Seluchi, the head of modelling and operations at the Natural Disaster Monitoring and Alert Centre, told The Guardian this is already one of the worst droughts in the history of the Amazon.

While recent data indicates a positive trend in reducing deforestation rates, climate activists continue to press for further measures to protect the Amazon. The future of the Amazon remains uncertain, holding profound implications for the planet.

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