Posted on 12 December 2018
The rate of deforestation in the Cerrado is the lowest since the publication of official data began, but these are still worrying levels for the world’s most biodiverse savannah.
Brasília, December 11
– The results published on Tuesday , 11 December, 2018, by Brazil's Ministry of Environment (MMA) and Ministry of Science, Technology, Information and Communications (MCTIC) show that the Cerrado biome lost 6,657 km² of native vegetation in the period between August 2017 and July 2018, according to the results of PRODES Cerrado, a project mapping deforestation across this entire biome.
This figure represents an 11% reduction in deforestation compared to the same period for the previous year. Despite this positive result, it is essential that monitoring and surveillance of illegal deforestation are guaranteed and that public and private policy is widened to ensure that the conversion of natural vegetation is reduced and controlled. As this agenda progresses, it is essential that the government includes what proportion of this deforestation is legal in the publication of its data.
PRODES Cerrado classifies deforestation to be the complete removal of the biome’s natural plant coverage, independent of the subsequent use of these areas. Since June of this year, the published information will be updated on an annual basis. In 2016, 6,777 km2 of native vegetation was lost. In 2017, this figure was 7,474 km2. The figure released today for 2018 of 6.657 km2 represents the lowest deforested area registered since records began. Despite this, the data is still concerning. The figures are available via this link.
“Annual data is essential not just to measure the rate of vegetation loss, but also to understand the dynamics behind deforestation and enable more assertive action towards its control. Ensuring the increased visibility and transparency of this data will also allow other players to act, such as the agribusiness sector,” states Mauricio Voivodic, executive director of WWF-Brazil.
Science and Innovation
Led by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), this project to measure plant coverage began in the 1970s in the Amazon biome and has been expanded for use in other biomes, including the Cerrado. Its technology was developed by the Brazilian science sector and the INPE provides this service for the whole of Brazilian society. Support and investment are required in order to achieve this. The project plans to monitor the entire country by 2020.
“This internationally recognised continuous monitoring project currently focuses on losses of plant coverage, but it is important to understand the impacts of deforestation on biodiversity, natural landscapes and environmental services. This makes a great contribution to society and enables other governmental and non-governmental institutions to perform environmental studies,” explains Cláudio Almeida, coordinator of the INPE’s Monitoring Program for the Amazon and Other Biomes.
The power of state government transparency
The Cerrado spans 11 states and covers an area of around 2 million km2, the equivalent of 23% of Brazilian territory. Despite spatial analysis providing a full panorama of deforestation in the biome, it doesn’t reveal if plant coverage is being removed legally or illegally.
“The PRODES data helps us to see where this conversion is happening. The next step is to understand why and how this is happening. Therefore, data on authorisation granted for vegetation removal by states and municipalities, as well as data on the Environmental Rural Registry (CAR in Portuguese) and Environmental Regularisation Program (PRA in Portuguese), is essential,” states Edegar Rosa, coordinator of WWF-Brazil’s Agriculture and Food Program.
In Brazil, any activity involving the management and/or removal of native vegetation requires authorisation, whatever the type of vegetation or its stage of development. If activities cross over the territorial limits of the state where a particular undertaking will be located, and in other specific cases, it is the responsibility of IBAMA to authorise the removal of native vegetation. In cases of activities in which impacts will be limited to the state territory, the evaluation and issue of licences is the responsibility of state and municipal authorities, such as the Secretaries of the Environment.
“What happens today is that there is no transparency in the issue of these licences, as data on these authorisations is not published. State government has a fundamental role in acting together with the Public Prosecutor’s Office to supervise these activities, curtailing and penalising any illegal deforestation,” states Frederico Machado, specialist in public policy for WWF-Brazil.
It is important to remember that in the case of the Cerrado, the Forest Code permits the deforestation of between 65% and 80% of native vegetation in privately-owned areas, depending on the state, which further weakens the protection of this biome. In addition, the fourth postponement of the deadline to register rural properties on the Environmental Rural Registry (CAR) has delayed the monitoring of compliance with the law for the protection of Areas of Permanent Preservation and Legal Reserves.
“We have more than enough evidence to demonstrate the importance and urgent nature of protecting the Cerrado. Even though the Forest Code makes this biome a low priority, not even this is followed, as can be seen in the state of Mato Grosso where 98% of deforestation of the Cerrado between 2016 and 2017 was illegal. We need to curtail this illicit practice and turn things around, which will only be possible through a combination of efforts including the Federal and State Public Prosecutors, civil society, private initiative and government,” concludes Machado.
Biodiversity: the key to economic development
The causes of deforestation in this biome are old and recurring: real estate speculation driven by the expansion of cattle-raising activities and large-scale agriculture, urban growth, new infrastructure and mining, according to the WWF’s Living Planet Report.
The Cerrado is considered to be one of the planet’s most richly biodiverse regions, with various species of flora and fauna that are exclusive to this biome, and has an economic potential in terms of food as well as research into active ingredients for medication and other uses. This biome stores 13.7 billion tons of CO2 and supplies the country’s large reservoirs and water basins, making it known as “the birthplace of the waters”.
All of this wealth is being neglected due to the application of a development model that does not consider the potential of our biodiversity or natural wealth to be economic assets.
Around 40% of Brazil’s population lives in the Cerrado. As this biome falls victim to intense degradation, the quality of life of traditional communities and indigenous peoples, their ways of life, culture and wisdom are endangered and rendered unfeasible.
“The Cerrado should not just be managed from a commodity production perspective. This biome is a rich source of natural resources that can be used for difference purposes, and that are still not highly valued or explored,” states Júlio Sampaio, coordinator of WWF-Brazil’s Cerrado-Pantanal Program.
“We need to maintain the areas of native vegetation that guarantee water and other ecosystemic services for urban centres, agribusiness, the energy sector and – most importantly – that provide better quality of life,” concludes Sampaio.