As deforestation rates spike in the Brazilian Amazon, WWF calls for an urgent stop on illegality

Posted on 18 November 2019

Deforestation rates between August 2018 and July 2019 are the highest in a decade.

Close to 1 million hectares of the Brazilian Amazon lost to deforestation between August 2018 and July 2019.

Weakening of laws and regulations threatens region’s biodiversity, indigenous communities along with proven initiatives against deforestation such as the Soy Moratorium.
Sao Paulo, November 18, 2019 – Data released today by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) shows that deforestation destroyed 976,200 hectares (9,762 sq km) of forests between August 2018 and July 2019, an increase of 30% compared to the same period in the previous year.

The deforestation rate is the highest since 2008 and the third highest ever percentage increase of deforestation, second only to 1995 (95%) and 1998 (31%). It represents an increase of 50% compared to the average of the last 10 years.

"The data confirms what independent systems have been pointing out: deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has been skyrocketing, and unless the federal government profoundly changes its stance on the issue, it is poised to grow even more next year, pushing the country 30 years back in terms of protecting the Amazon," says Mauricio Voivodic, executive director of WWF-Brazil. “It is unacceptable that the Brazilian Amazon continues to be destroyed. Our position is clear: zero deforestation now.”

In addition to downgrading or degazetting protected areas to allow mining in indigenous lands and facilitate land grabbing, the Brazilian Ministry of Environment has issued the lowest number of fines for deforestation since 2000. Present policies have led to an increased invasion of public areas and higher deforestation in private ones, in violation of the Forest Code.

“The data released today by the Brazilian Amazonian Satellite Forest Monitoring Program (PRODES) should serve as a warning to the entire international community and all Brazilian citizens, as the destruction of the Amazon poses serious risks to Brazil and the entire planet,” Voivodic says. "Who wins with this? Certainly, not indigenous people, river dwellers or other traditional residents of the region who are watching loggers and prospectors steal their land. Nor do farmers, who will suffer from a decrease in rainfall, a natural consequence of deforestation in the Amazon. We can no longer tolerate illegality in the region.”

The impact of rampant deforestation is being felt in protected areas, indigenous lands, and traditional community territories as well as globally, such as through the recent forest fires. To protect their homes, forest dwelling communities have assembled “Forest Guardians” to organize surveillance and border protection. Their surveillance teams have however come under intense attack. Earlier this month, a young indigenous leader, Paulo Paulino Guajajara, was killed in a clash with farmers in the Arariboia Indigenous Land in Maranhão.
Soy Moratorium at risk
The release of INPE’s data comes at a time when measures that have historically helped to prevent agricultural expansion into the forest are being canceled. A week ago, the Sugarcane Agro-Ecological Zoning was revoked, freeing up subsidized public credit to finance plantations in newly deforested areas in the Amazon. In addition, several federal government officials have said they will take steps to end the Soy Moratorium in the Amazon, which could further increase deforestation.

A private commitment made by major soy purchasers in 2006, the Soy Moratorium prohibits trade in grain that has been planted in newly deforested areas. Between 2009 and 2018, the moratorium contributed to a significant drop in deforestation across Brazil, around 85%. Meanwhile, soybean acreage in the Amazon more than quadrupled - from 1.14 million hectares in 2006-07 to 4.66 million hectares in 2017-18 - and 98.6% of this expansion occurred in pasture areas that were already cleared, according to Abiove (Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries).

By reorienting the expansion to areas that were already open and often degraded, the Soy Moratorium is evidence that it is possible to reconcile production expansion and the protection of ecosystems and their services.

"In this context, it is critical that international soybean-buying companies, financial institutions, and other players seek to support Brazilian companies that are committed to the Soy Moratorium, as well as civil society and other sectors in finding emergency solutions that can ultimately prevent the boycott to the country's sustainable soy production and impacts on our economy," says Voivodic.
Amazon alive
Science shows that the Amazon rainforest plays a fundamental role in providing clean water to cities and agribusinesses. Science also tells us that we are getting closer and closer to the tipping point from which the forest can become a large savannah, with serious consequences for the country and the planet.

Deforestation has irreparable consequences for the Amazon – species lose their habitat and risk extinction, especially in regions with a high degree of endemism. The rich biodiversity of the region is already at risk because of deforestation generated by low value-per-hectare activities that do not increase the quality of life of local populations: several studies have shown that the Amazon municipalities with the highest deforestation rate are also the ones which have lower Human Development Index (HDI).

The year 2019 in Brazil was marked by serious environmental accidents, through the deconstruction of climate and environmental governance policies and instruments, and the lack of transparency and respect for civil society. Besides risks to Brazilians, including risks to water and food security, the loss of Brazilian rainforests is a risk to the entire world. Recent studies have shown that without the forest the temperature in the Amazon could increase by up to 4.5°C, affecting climate globally.

As three-quarters of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and land use, it is vital that all countries working toward the success of the Paris Agreement encourage the country to accept and implement policies that recognize the urgency of the current climate crisis. The government's chosen route of environmental degradation threatens to eliminate any global chance of limiting the temperature rise to 1.5C, as proposed by the Paris Agreement.
Deforestation in Para State, Brazilian Amazon. September 2019.
© Araquem Alcantara