Brazil Cuts Half New York in Amazon Trees in a Month, And It’s a Record Low

Brazil Amazon deforestation Brazil's Environment minister, Carlos Minc, is celebrating the pace of Brazilian deforestation. The last numbers released by the National Institute of Space Studies (Inpe) this Wednesday, November 4, shows that Brazil in September has downed 400 km² (154 square miles) of trees in the Amazon or the equivalent of a half New York City.

As big as this number seems it's the lowest deforestation Brazil has ever experienced, according to Brazilian authorities. Minc credits those results to intelligence activities, increased surveillance and the work of Operation Green Arch, which educates about sustainable development.

September of last year Inpe's satellites  registered 587 km² (227 square miles) of deforestation. So, there was a 31.8% reduction. When the total deforestation from January to September is taken into account, the comparison between 2008 and 2009 shows even a bigger improvement. By that parameter the reduction goes up to 54%.

The cut of trees in the first nine months of this year amounted to 2,855 km² (1,102 square miles) or more than the areas of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago put together.

One of the strategies to fight deforestation is a better oversight of forest management documents. In September alone inspection agents were able to block 43 pirate management plans using the DOF (Document of Forest Origin), an online system that traces the origin and the destination of the wood cut inside the forest. After being used in the northern state of Rondônia this procedure should now be extended to other states inside the Amazon region.

According to Luciano Evaristo, the Environment Protection director from the Ibama (Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources), one of the most helpful weapons in fighting illegal deforestation has been the  "decapitalization" of the lawbreakers.

From January to October 2009, the joint effort of Ibama, the Federal Police, the National Force and the ABIN (Brazilian Intelligence Agency) led to the embargo of 340,000 hectares of land where illegal activities were happening.

Moreover 233 sawmills were shut down, 63,000 m³ of sawed wood plus 82,000 m³ of cut logs were seized. Add to this 399 trucks, 233 boats, 61 tractors plus 172,000 kg of fish that were also confiscated. Illegal operators were fined a total of 1.489 billion reais (US$ 830 million).

The data from the Deter (Deforestation Detection in Real Time) show that Mato Grosso state had a 38% deforestation reduction, while in Amazonas the decrease was 33%, in Rondônia 22% and in Maranhão 86%. This trend, however, was inverted in the state of Pará where deforestation went up 4.7%.

In Acre, 9 km² were deforested in September against 8 km² last September. In Roraima, however, while in September 2008 there was no cutting of trees, this September the cutting was 7 km². In Tocantins the deforestation went down from 2 km² to 1 km² for the same period. Amapá has the distinction, however, of repeating its performance two years in a row: zero deforestation.

Mato Grosso, with 134 km² of deforestation is once again leader in the cutting down of trees, in Brazil, a position it had lost to Pará in recent months. Due to excessive clouds Amapá could not be monitored adequately, according to the Inpe.

Deter's measurements distinguish between areas that suffered fast and complete forest clearing and those that deteriorate progressively. 

These September numbers will not be used to calculate the 2008/2009 yearly rate of deforestation, however. For that the Brazilian government utilizes data from August 2008 to July 2009. Even without using these lower figures the Environment ministry estimates the rate of deforestation will still be the lowest in the last 20 years.

Minc informed once again that Brazil is going to present a CO² emission reduction target in Copenhagen at the UN Climate Change Conference (December 7-18, 2009) and reiterated that the postponement of the official announcement for November 14 is no diplomatic maneuver.

"Brazil is going to have a target, a number, a leadership role," said the minister. "The president has already decided that he will present an ambitious target. And it became clear for all in the government that we need to show a serious commitment in order to be able to win international funds."

Minc is talking about the Nama (Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions), which will depend on foreign  financing to be implemented.

For the minister, recent assessments that Brazil intends to reduce greenhouse gases by 35% might be a conservative number since it doesn't include Brazil's already announced "green steel," approach, which will the end the practice of sugarcane burning and will find substitutes for nitrates in agriculture.

Minc continues defending his original proposal known as "20 20," i.e., 20% reduction in Amazon deforestation and 20% cut in emissions from other areas in the economy, including energy, metallurgy and agriculture sectors.

"We will have the best proposal among countries in development," assured the minister. "We are not going to adopt a line of saying that the United States is obstructing and because of that we cannot advance. If his happens, everybody starts to slowly back out and we finish with the planet. This is not a cotton price negotiation, in which we can discuss another fiber if the negotiations fail. This is a negotiation about the planet, and we don't have another planet," concluded Minc.

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