Race is on to Halt Brazilian Forest Loss by 2015

The Brazilian government will release a goal to cut net deforestation to zero by 2015, as a part of a draft climate change action plan, as reported by the BBC.  The plan aims to have more trees planted in Brazil than are lost by 2015 (a "no net forest loss" plan rather than a 'no net deforestation" plan).  This is a significant step in the multi-decade long battle to address forest loss in Brazil. 

Deforestation in Brazil has been significant -- with an area the size of more than 5 football fields lost every minute (tick, tick, tick).  Over the past two years, Brazil has made noticeable progress in reducing the rate of deforestation (see figure), but a recent uptick in deforestation starting in late 2007 put some doubt on the sustainability of that decline (and the recent figures confirm).   

Brazilian Deforestation Rates

Tree planting on land that was previously deforested will likely play a role in this effort (see detailed numbers here) -- after all, most pieces of land that have been previously deforested could probably use some reforestation.  However, they'll likely need to focus primarily on slowing down the rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon since a program that only aimed to meet the target through replanting (without any reductions in deforestation) would likely be the largest tree planting program we've seen.

Most importantly a program that relied too much on replanting as opposed to deforestation reductions would not necessarily be positive from a global warming pollution standpoint as native forests store more carbon than replanted ones.       

For other reasons, hopefully the vast majority of the efforts will be targeted at significantly reversing the rate of deforestation since the Brazilian Amazon...

  • holds an estimated 2/3 of the world's known species;
  • significantly impacts regional and global climate and rain patterns; and
  • supports a large number of indigenous communities.

The plan isn't as aggressive as called for by a coalition of nine environmental groups which called for deforestation to be eliminated in seven years.  However, it is a very significant step in the battle to address global warming pollution from deforestation as Brazil accounts for almost 25% of estimated deforestation emissions.  Of course, the crucial test will be if the government puts in place the necessary policies to achieve these commitments. 

The good news is that an influx of targeted incentives is flowing to Brazil as they recently announced the creation of the "Amazon Fund" targeted at $21 billion.  Norway announced that it would commit up to $1 billion dollars towards this effort.  This influx, coupled with the Brazilian governments own increased efforts, provide optimism that the corner may finally be turning on Brazilian deforestation, but the contest is still undecided.

In addition, the Brazilian Government is expected to release strategies that target other sectors of the economy.  Remember that deforestation accounts for over 70% of Brazil's global warming emissions, so just the forest program would cover the vast majority of their emissions.

As reported by Mongabay.com, Environment Minister Carlos Minc said:

"It's a bold plan, with voluntary and sectoral targets that together represent the reduction by hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide a year, be it through reducing waste, improving energy efficiency or the progressive reduction of deforestation and planting of native and commercial forests."

So, first South Africa, then South Korea, and now Brazil.  You think another developing country will be the next one to announce a targeted effort to address global warming...or the US?  The race is on...get ready, set, go...

About the Authors

Jake Schmidt

Managing Director, International program

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