A Promising Initiative to Address Deforestation in Brazil at the Local Level
Co-founder and CEO, Imazon
Soy, cattle, rice, palm oil, and logging are the principal drivers of deforestation. As global population increases from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2040, and as more and more people around the world rise out of poverty into the middle class, the demand for these commodities and practices will continue to rise with them. To address these issues, and in advance of the World Forests Summit hosted by the Economist in March, the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship partnered with the Stanford Institute for the Environment and Mongabay News to surface the latest insights and innovations at the intersection of deforestation and sustainability. This debate will also set the stage for a larger discussion on deforestation at this year’s Skoll World Forum in Oxford, UK.
Environment Unit Head, Roberto Marinho Foundation
Founder & Executive Director, The Forest Trust
Co-founder and CEO, Imazon
The history of the Brazilian Amazon has long been marked by deforestation and degradation. Until recently the situation has been considered out of control. Then, in 2004, the Brazilian government launched an ambitious program to combat deforestation. Public pressure—both national and international—was one of the reasons that motivated the government to act. Another reason was that in 2004, deforestation contributed to more than 55 percent of Brazil’s total greenhouse gas emissions, making Brazil the fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
Initially, the government program led to the creation of protected areas and indigenous lands, now constituting about 40 percent of the Brazil’s Amazon, combined with significant advances in command and control efforts. Most notably, there was a sharp increase of enforcement to stop illegal activities. In addition, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research and Imazon launched monitoring systems, using near real-time satellite images to track deforestation. And finally, Brazil decided to suspend credit to all landowners if they do not stop illegal deforestation. This set of measures made it possible for Brazil to reduce annual deforestation from 19,600 square kilometers (the average for 1996-2005) to about 6,300 square kilometers (average for 2009 to 2012). This represents a more than 80 percent reduction of deforestation, with avoided emissions of CO2 equivalent to approximately 2.2 gigatons—the greatest reduction achieved by humankind. To put this into perspective, 2.2 gigatons is comparable to the emissions resulting from fuel burning in 2008 from India and China combined, according to the IEA.
How do we maintain these tremendous gains and move towards ending deforestation by 2020? The next wave of this effort is to have local initiatives to combat deforestation while transforming the land use from extensive to intensive. For example, agricultural expansion is an example of an extensive driver, while mining and mineral processing is an example of an intensive driver. One promising initiative is the Green Municipalities Program, launched in 2011 by State of Pará in the eastern Brazilian Amazon. Pará, with a huge territory of more than 1.25 million square kilometers (three times the size of California) already has lost 21 percent of its forests.
The key to the Green Municipalities Program’s approach is to have dialogue with all stakeholders, especially ranchers and loggers, clear goals and indicators, and a broad political coalition. The long-term goal is that of net zero deforestation in Pará by 2020, with milestones along the way. For example, deforestation in Pará should be below 1,200 square kilometers by 2016. This means that not only by 2020 do we expect zero illegal deforestation, but that all legal deforestation from that point on is to be compensated for with reforestation. So far the results are promising: deforestation in Pará reached 1,700 square kilometers in 2012, the lowest in history. Moreover, rural property registration (defining property boundaries) has skyrocketed from less than 600 properties in 2009 to more than 64,000 in 2012. Now almost 40 percent of Para’s rural properties can be easily monitored using satellite images, which can also track all rural production.
Of course, there are still many challenges ahead. On the economic side, it is critical to attract investments to move forward with the intensification of land use. For example, the Brazilian pilot initiative on low-carbon agriculture needs to be scaled up, along with forest management and reforestation. Moreover, potential payments for environmental services such as REDD are very welcome. But on the other hand, hydroelectric projects underway can catalyze massive migration and land use speculation—reigniting strong drivers of deforestation. Ultimately, however, Brazil’s international commitment to reduce deforestation in the Amazon by at least 80 percent by 2020 is critical to keeping the country on the right track. We have made great progress thus far, but there is still more work to be done.