With the current climate talks now underway in Poznan, the Brazilian government has finally fulfilled a promise it made at the previous round of talks in Bali last year and set targets for reducing deforestation in the Amazon.
It's great to see they finally have some targets to work towards (and it's been a long time coming) but as is often the way with these political initiatives, it all falls short of what's really needed.
The targets Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has announced will gradually reduce the amount of deforestation happening in the Amazon. By 2010, he wants to cut tree trashing by 40% with further incremental steps to reach a grand reduction of 70% by 2017.
This also means Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions will go down, by as much as 72% according to the Guardian, and as the country is currently the fourth largest emitter that's not to be sniffed at. If we needed any further proof that halting deforestation is one of the quickest and most effective ways of reducing global emissions, this would be it.
On the surface, this might sound ambitious and visionary but of course even if these targets are met, they'll reduce deforestation but they won't stop it. As environment minister Carlos Minc noted, if all goes to plan then in 2017 we'll still be losing 5,000 sq km of rainforest every year (although I think he saw that as a good thing).
Plus it seems that the announcement only refers to illegal deforestation, and legal clearance of the forest (which is still considerable) will be unaffected. So these targets fall short of the more ambitious ones we think are needed to lead us towards see zero deforestation by 2015.
The whole plan is linked to the Amazon Fund established by the Brazilian government a few months ago, into which other governments can pay money to fund the conservation of the forest, and it has been made clear that reaching the targets is dependent on international funds being available. Norway has already pledged US$ 1 billion over the next seven years, on the condition that deforestation levels fall each year.
The announcement is no doubt timed to coincide with the climate talks in Poznan where plans to make forest conservation a global responsibility will be discussed (Greenpeace's own Forests for Climate plan is the one I'm backing).
But there are double standards at play here – the Brazilian congress is preparing to vote on a new bill which, if passed, will allow land owners to clear more forest from their property. At the moment, they can cut back 20% of the forest on their land, but the bill (backed by those with agricultural interests) will increase that to 50%.
So right there you can see that, even if illegal deforestation is cut or even eliminated, state sanctioned destruction could balloon in its place and so completely undermine any efforts to bring the rate of deforestation down.
And these figures are on the rise once again. For three consecutive years, the pace of deforestation in the Amazon has been going down, but the annual figures released last week showed they jumped 3.8% on the same period last year.
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