Posted on 17 May 2021
Research shows alarming lack of transparency in official data.
São Paulo, 17 May, 2021
– 94% of deforestation in the Amazon and the Cerrado (specifically in the region known as MATOPIBA, which includes the State of Tocantins and parts of the states of Maranhão, Piauí, and Bahia) until the second half of 2020 was linked to illegal actions, according to an unpublished study by Brazilian researchers from the Centro de Vida Institute (ICV), Institute of Forestry and Agricultural Management and Certification (IMAFLORA), and the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), with support from WWF-Brazil.
The study, Illegal deforestation and conversion in the Amazon and MATOPIBA: lack of transparency and access to information
crossed official data from the PRODES system (from the National Institute of Space Research – INPE – for the Amazon and the Cerrado) with databases on ecosystems clearing permits.
The study found an alarming lack of transparency in data on clearing permits , with information that either does not exist or is made available inadequately or incompletely. The way data is currently presented makes it impossible to differentiate between legal and illegal deforestation/conversion, which is essential to curb the ever-increasing rates of ecosystem-clearing activities in Brazil.
"We noted a worrisome picture of low-quality official databases, as well as the limitation or even the unavailability of access to environmental information that, by law, should be available to society," said Paula Bernasconi, coordinator of the Centro da Vida Institute and one of the authors of the study.
"The institutions involved in the study were surprised with the dramatic lack of enforcement of Brazilian environmental legislation, not only by the federal government but also by subnational administrations," said Frederico Machado of WWF-Brazil. "The data clashes with the information provided by Brazilian authorities and some farmers' associations on the quality of our environmental legal framework. Even if the legal framework was a positive one for ecosystem protection – which is not the case, as up to 80% of the devastation of most of our biomes are legally allowed – a law on paper but without enforcement should never be presented as a potential international benchmark."
To assess the transparency and quality of the information, researchers surveyed the databases of ecosystems clearing permits (Autorização de Supressão de Vegetação Nativa, ASV) issued until the second half of 2020 in the 11 states that comprise the Amazon and MATOPIBA.
The analysis revealed that five states – Acre, Amapá, Bahia, Maranhão, and Piauí – didn't have any database on ASVs available on their websites. The Federal Government and the other states have problems with the format or updates of information. When trying to obtain information via the Access to Information Brazilian Law, only three states forwarded the requested databases and, even so, with erroneous information, as well as missing time periods.
When analyzing the information found on the states' Official Gazettes (official journals of the states and federal government to announce new acts and other information), once again, the transparency level set by law was not met: Amapá, Piauí, Rondônia, Roraima, and Tocantins do not provide any information on the ASVs. Those states that do it do so incompletely, without data such as geographic coordinates or the total area officially allowed to be cleared, for example.
Most states have data only from 2018 to 2020. When crossing the areas of the ASVs with the deforestation data for the same period, researchers found that the areas of the ASVs correspond, on average, to only 5% of the total deforestation observed in the states together. "It is important to note that the deforested areas don't always match those indicated in the ASV. There are even cases in which the ASV is issued, and the deforestation is not carried out or is done outside the period of validity of the ASV. So, the total level of illegal activities can be even higher. Only analyses using georeferenced information could arrive at a minimally reliable estimate of illegality," explained Vinícius Guidotti, coordinator of Geoprocessing at IMAFLORA and co-author of the study.
According to Frederico Machado, "The study proves that it is impossible to gauge the effectiveness of business due diligence methodologies that deal only with illegal deforestation. Such limitation was previously flagged (in 2020) in a common positioning co-signed by dozens of research groups, scientific societies, and Brazilian NGOs, which was officially submitted during the period of public consultations of the new bills under debate in the UK and the European Union regarding 'imported deforestation' via Brazilian soft commodities that are placed in European markets."
The study also noted a discrepancy between states: while Amazonas, Roraima, Pará, and Bahia have a total area of ASVs that corresponds to less than 2% of deforestation/conversion in the period, in states like Amapá and Roraima, it exceeds 30%. But despite this difference between states, the conclusion is that 94% of the area deforested in the Amazon and Cerrado biomes in the states included in the study do not have publicly available ASVs and, therefore, can be considered illegal. That corresponds to 18 million hectares, an area greater than the combined territories of Denmark, Holland, Belgium, and Switzerland.
"There is an urgent need for greater technical effort and political will to comply with environmental legislation and the Access to Information Brazilian Law. Otherwise, the lack of transparency will continue to serve as a shield for the ongoing destruction of ecosystems," warned Raoni Rajão, coordinator of the Environmental Services Management Laboratory (LAGESA) at UFMG and one of the study's co-authors.
The lack of transparency, together with the high rates of illegality, becomes a real market risk for Brazil since there is increasing pressure from buyers for better traceability of products and numerous national and international financial institutions demanding deforestation-free value chains. The difficulty of checking the legality of deforestation/conversion prevents producers, investors, banks and the foreign countries from separating the rotten apples of the Brazil’s agribusiness, damaging the image of a vital sector of the country's economy.
Founded in Mato Grosso on April 14, 1991, the ICV is a non-profit civil society organization (OSCIP) recognized as a public interest organization by state law 6752/1996. Its work focuses on sustainable land use and natural resources. It covers transparency, environmental governance, and public policies, mainly through practical experiences. The entity seeks to foster innovations to expand and influence other actors beyond the territories in which it operates, through studies and analyses, and in-field experiences, always seeking the effective participation of the largest possible number of actors in this process. For more information, go to www.icv.org.br.
The Institute of Forestry and Agricultural Management and Certification (IMAFLORA) is a non-profit civil association created in 1995 under the premise that the best way to conserve tropical forests is to give them an economic destination associated with good management practices and responsible management of natural resources. IMAFLORA seeks to influence the production chains of goods of forest and agricultural origin, collaborate in the elaboration and implementation of public-interest policies, and make a difference in the regions where it operates, creating models of land use and sustainable development that can be replicated in different municipalities, regions, and biomes of the country. For more information, go to www.imaflora.org
About the Laboratory of Environmental Services Management (LAGESA)
The Environmental Services Management Laboratory (LAGESA) is a laboratory integrated with the Production Engineering Department of the UFMG School of Engineering. Created in 2012 and coordinated by Professor Raoni Rajão, LAGESA has a team of 15 researchers from different academic backgrounds who develop studies in the area of environmental management. In line with its mission to promote greater participation of science within the scope of environmental policy decisions in Brazil, the laboratory is part of the Brazilian Forum on Climate Change, the Forest Code Observatory, and the Brazilian Coalition on Climate, Forests and Agriculture.
WWF-Brazil is a national non-governmental and non-profit organization that works to change the current trajectory of environmental degradation and promote a future in which society and nature live in harmony. Created in 1996, it operates throughout Brazil and is part of the WWF Network. Support our work at www.wwf.org.br/doe