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Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon
Changing trends that could define our future.
By: Devon Calhoun
Brett and Mary. 2011. “New legislation Threatens More Deforestation in Brazilian Amazon.” December 7,
May 5, 2014.
ENST 201: Problem Definition Paper
Bucknell University - May 2014
An estimated 1.6 billion people worldwide rely on forests for their livelihoods, with
60 million indigenous people depending of forests for their subsistence (WWF 2005).
However, upward trends of deforestation since the 1960’s have threatened these forests,
causing devastating impacts to the people dependent as well as the world. The Brazilian
Amazon, the largest tropical forest on Earth, has specifically been impacted by
deforestation and many negative impacts have occurred on the surrounding environment.
Tropical forests, especially the Amazon, play a crucial role in biodiversity conservation,
provide essential ecosystem services to indigenous and traditional populations, and
pertaining to global climate change, they are large carbon sinks (Hargrave 2012). Because
of all these crucial services the Amazon provides to both humans and the earth, it has
become a major priority of Brazil’s nation as well as the world. In this paper, trends and
conditions of deforestation, forest degradation, biodiversity, and carbon dioxide emissions
will be evaluated in an attempt to define exactly what the problem is with deforestation
and what exactly makes it of national and global interest. After first defining the problem,
alternatives to this problem will be investigated in terms of current debates that occur in
the world today as well as their feasibility. Then finally projections for the future of The
Brazilian Amazon will be laid out in an attempt to understand the problem we are dealing
with in the long-run and what we can do to change the devastating fate of our beloved
There are four main scopes that are explored in this paper, first of which being the
levels of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. I will also look at the levels of forest
degradation, a more gradual destructive process. Most forest degradation is caused by
forest fires and selective logging as well, however, its main distinction from deforestation is
that when a forest is degraded, it can still participate in forest regeneration, or natural
forest regrowth (Hansen and Hiller 2005). Forest degradation can be looked at as forest in
the process of being deforested because most of the time, degraded forests can be
converted by deforestation. This process is best understood by evaluating Figure 1.
Lastly, the two adverse effects of both
deforestation and forest degradation will be
explored: biodiversity loss and increasing
levels of carbon dioxide release into the
atmosphere. By loosing forest area, you loose
habitats of many different plant and animal
Figure 1: Souza et. Al 2013: 5495
species, causing a loss in biodiversity. Also, the cutting down of trees causes a massive
release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, or better yet a lack of forest absorption of
carbon dioxide. By focusing in on these four main scopes and the trends associated with
them, a better understanding of the causes and impacts of deforestation in the Brazilian
amazon will be gained.
Deforestation and Forest Degradation
As defined by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Deforestation is the process whereby
natural forests are cleared through logging and/or burning, either to use the timber or to
replace the area for alternative uses (WWF 2014). Over the past 30 years, the Amazon has
lost more than 520,000 km2 of forest. The loss continues at up to 27,000km2 annually since
1990, an area almost the size of Belgium (WWF 2014). In a Ten-year Landsat classification
of deforestation and forest degradation published by the Imazon Organization, it showed
that by 2010, 20% of the original forest cover of the Amazon region had been converted to
pasture, agricultural lands, and, to a lesser degree, urban areas (Souza et. Al 2013: 5494).
However, it also stated that deforestation rates reached their peak in the year 2004 then
downturned until their lowest rate in 2010, seen in Figure 2. The Brazilian government
released figures suggesting that deforestation has exceeded 520,000 km2 since 1978, with
2004 being the second worst year of forest loss (Hansen and Hiller 2005). Over this 10year time frame (2000-2010), 169,074 km2 of Amazonia forest was deforested by humandominated land uses. In the same times frame, 50,815 km2 of forest was degraded by
timber harvesting and/or fire (Souza et. Al 2013: 5493). It is important to note that trends
of deforestation and forest degradation decreased from 2004 to 2010. Deforestation rates
then continued to decrease by 57% between the years 2011 and 2012.
However, between 2012 and 2013, two key changes occurred. As seen in Figure 3,
increased by 28%
from the years 20122013. In 2012 4,656
km2 of forest was
lost then in 2013
5,843 km2 of forest
was lost. Also, forest
Figure 2: Brazil Ministry of Science and Technology, WWF
degradation rates had a 75% reduction from the year 2012-2013. This recent upturn in
deforestation rates will be the main focus when understanding both projections and
alternatives explored later in the paper.
It is important to consider, however, that even though most of the explanations will
be based on changes on human actions, the fact that degraded forests are often times in the
process of become deforested lands could account for the switch in rates of deforestation
and forest degradation. In other words, there is a possibility that a large potion of the
previous degraded lands were converted to deforested lands between 2012-2013, either
caused by humans or natural causes, that in turn caused the increase in deforested land.
Biodiversity Loss
The Amazon contains large amounts of biodiversity, containing thousands of species
of plants, over a million insect species, more than 700 fish species, 1,000 bird species, over
300 mammalian species, and at least 12% of all flowering plants are found within the
Amazon (Hansen and Hiller 2005). Loosing forest area means loosing species habitat and
often times causing those associated species to go extinct. Today, the mosaic of the Alto Rio
Guama, Alto Turiacu, Awa and Caru indigenous lands and the Gurupi Biological Reserve in
the Amazon represents habitat for 158 species of mammals, 63 species of amphibians, 11
species of reptiles, and 10 species of birds that now appear on the IUCN’s Red List of
Threatened Species (GreenPeace 2012). In the specific case of the Jaguar, a species of
concern under the IUCN, its population has been spiraling downwards becoming
endangered due to its loss of habitat and forest fragmentation (GreenPeace 2012).
Increasing Levels of Carbon Dioxide
Forest cover removal releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as a
result of tree burning, followed by the gradual decomposition of the forest biomass left on
the ground while pasture lands or crop lands are established (Aguiar et al. 2012). Global
carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation contribute 12-20% of
anthropogenic global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually (Paoli 2010). In the 1990s,
the forests stored approximately 120 ± 30 Pg C in biomass carbon, of which 0.5 Pg C year–
(0.3 to 1.1) was released through deforestation. Seen in Figure 4, from 2000-2010, carbon
dioxide emission trends from the Brazilian amazon mirror the trends of deforestation,
peaking in 2004 and gradually decreasing until the year 2010 (Aguiar et al. 2012).
Figure 3: Aguiar et al. 2012
Today, the Amazon forests store 90-140 billion tons of carbon, equivalent to 9-14
years of current, global, annual, human-induced carbon emissions (WWF 2014). Most large
forests today are considered carbon sinks, absorbing mass amounts of carbon dioxide and
help in the prevention of atmospheric carbon dioxide. However, by cutting down these
forests, there is a threat that it will transform from a carbon sink to a net source of carbon
dioxide (WWF 2014). Current rates of deforestation imply an estimated carbon release of
around 200 million tons a year (WWF 2014).
Conditions for Increasing Deforestation
Agricultural Expansion
Starting in the 1980s, deforestation dynamics became increasingly severe as cattle
(Hargrave 2012). As seen in Figure 5, it
can be argued that during the last
decade, deforestation rates could even
be directly correlated with the prices of
both soybeans and beef, both in spatial
and time dimension. Several studies
Figure 4: Hargrave 2012 p.473
have documented that the expansion of cattle ranching
basically coincides with deforestation and that deforestation is highly correlated with it
(Hargrave 2012). As the global population increases, the demand for goods, such as soy
and cattle, have also increased, therefore causing the need for land to increase.
Infrastructure Expansion
It is said that deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon started in the mid 1960s as a
state driven process, fueled by large-scale infrastructure projects (Hargrave 2012). This
involves road construction, hydropower development, and mineral exploitation (Diniz
2013). Over the past few decades, Brazil has been attempting to dig their way out of an
economic recession, most methods involving infrastructure expansion. More roads, both
planned and unplanned, are being built through the core of the forest to connect Pacific
ports due to the increasing demand for tropical goods such as timber, soybeans, and cattle
increase (Malhi 2007). The Amazon Basin can also be considered the epicenter of the
world’s hydropower plants (Brodwin 2013). Near dams, trees are cut down to increase the
flow of water through the dam to increase energy output. Today, climate change has caused
a prolonging of Brazil’s dry season, causing a decrease in water flow. This causes a positive
feedback loop because as climate change increases, we continue to cut down trees, which
then continues to influence climate change (Brodwin 2013). Furthermore, when it comes to
mineral exploitation, wood charcoal could be considered Brazil’s biggest downfall in terms
of drivers of deforestation. In the past few decades, thousands of remote charcoal camps,
spread throughout the region have pillaged huge areas of natural rainforest to smolder into
wood charcoal to fuel blast furnaces of the regions production of pig iron, a primary
ingredient for steel (GreenPeace 2012). The Brazilian government has invested heavily in
the regions pig iron, mining sector and infrastructure though The Great Carajas
Programme, which a project funded by the World Bank. Overall, the pig iron industry and
its charcoal suppliers are a main driver in the increasing amounts of deforestation in the
Amazon (GreenPeace 2012).
Alternatives or Conditions for Decreasing Deforestation
Since 2004, many different methods have been used to cause the downturn in
deforestation up until 2010. The government has implemented protected areas that involve
both strict enforcement and fines to make sure deforestation practices are avoided. Today,
Brazil has the largest Protected Area system in the world- covering approximately 220
million hectares (Imazon 2012). Questions of feasibility are raised around this method
when looking at enforcement and whether there areas are effectively protected in terms of
prevention and punishment. The Brazilian government has also looked into incentives for
businesses and companies such as, compensating reductions in deforestation as well as
credit reductions, which have proven to be quite effective considering most of the appeal of
deforestation activities are to gain money in one way or another. Other methods such as as
intensifying the combat against illegal deforestation as well as educating indigenous
peoples of sustainable land use methods are also explored, but all of these methods stir up
quite a debate. Furthermore, an effective plan to combat deforestation could also include a
wide array of strategies, but the bottom line is that no research has been done in terms of
comparing different strategies and their effectiveness.
Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, also known as
REDD+, was created at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) treaty
and seeks to involve developing countries in global GHG reduction efforts by creating
financial incentives to improve forest management and protection and recognizing forest
carbon stock enhancements (sequestration) from improved conservation and sustainable
management of forests (Paoli 2010). In other words, it provides positive policy and
financial incentives to countries that demonstrate reductions in emissions and/or
increases in the removal of carbon from the atmosphere (Coe et al. 2013). Some of the
components of REDD+ include the evaluation of forests, legal and institutional analyses,
monitoring of carbon emissions, forest recomposition, Green Municipalities, capacitybuilding, and support for public policies and dissemination. These different programs
within REDD+ range from research methods, to working with the government to draft
policy, to monitoring and performing socioeconomic forest diagnoses and capacity building
for agents with the objective of reducing deforestation and degradation (Imazon 2012).
Some people argue that there are limits to what we can achieve through REDD+
mechanisms (Coe et al. 2013). The main issue with REDD+ is that it only accounts for
carbon, which isn’t the only thing
that the forest stores. The Amazon
provides many other ecosystem
services, including habitat for over
two-thirds of know terrestrial
accounted for in REDD+ (Busch
2013). This means that there is
room for REDD+ mechanisms to
favor the conservation of highercarbon
Figure 5: Swan and McNally 2011 p.4
biodiversity forests or could displace
agricultural activity into low-carbon but biologically important landscapes (Busch 2013).
People who make this argument suggest adding biodiversity benefits along side carbon
benefits, therefore eliminating these discrepancies, however nothing of this kind has
actually been implemented. The risks and benefits of REDD+ are laid in Figure 6, showing
the trade-offs included with this type of alternative.
Business As Usual: Forest Fode
Going back to the trends highlighted earlier, there has been a recent upturn in
deforestation rates in the past year. If for so many years rates of deforestation have been
decreasing due to the different methods examined in the alternative section, how come we
have backtracked? Some believe that the answer to this is based in recent revisions of the
Forest Code passed in 2012. These revision included changes that eased restrictions for
smaller landowners, allowing them to clear land closer to riverbanks, and allowed those
who had illegally felled land to not face penalties if they signed an agreement to replant
trees, which is unlikely to be enforced (Carrington 2013). GreenPeace made a statement
about these revisions stating, “The government can’t be surprised by this increase in
deforestation, given that their own action is what’s pushing it. The change of the Forest
Code and the resulting amnesty for those who illegally felled the forest sent the message
that such crimes have no consequences” (Carrington 2013). Another argument for this
upturn was because of new infrastructure projects put in place by President Rouseff, noting
that much of the recent destruction was along a government-improved highway running
through Para and Mata Grosso states, which eases the transport of illegal timber
(Carrington 2013). If the Brazilian government is to continue on in this path, deforestation
will continue to rise. As identified, the new revisions to the Forest Code have caused an
allowed increase in deforestation that will most likely rise until changes are made. This
recent upturn shows a lack of enforcement that is likely to continue without some sort of
With Reform
In order for deforestation rates to go back down, alternative methods need to be
further explored. Clearly from 2004-2010, we figured out a way to change the tides and
bring down deforestation rates. With scientific research of the different methods that were
used and helping to determine the effectiveness and feasibility of each method, we will be
able to combat these recent changes. Also, as stated before, something needs to be done
about the new revision to the Forest Code, considering its devastating impact. Overall,
more research is required to determine the effectiveness and feasibility, of certain methods
in order for Brazil to combat climate change. In my opinion, incentives will prove to be the
most effective because as stated before, most of the drivers associated with the upward
trends of deforestation and its associated impacts are caused by practices involving money.
Its an unfortunate truth but people value money over nature so the involvement of some
sort of incentive will prove to be most important. However, I also believe a combination of
techniques can be used to combat this problem, those methods will just be determined
once we research their effectiveness.
In conclusion, the recent upturn in deforestation reveals unreliability of the
Brazilian government to keep deforestation at the top of their list of priorities. Clearly,
growing their infrastructure as well as expanding their agricultural sector is a bigger
priority to them than their forests, even though without their forests, expansion will cease
to exist. With an increase in dry seasons and a decrease in temperature, the agricultural
industry will struggle, eventually trickling down through their infrastructure, leaving them
with nothing. In order to combat these changes going into the future, it is important that
Brazil, as well as the world, take issues of climate change seriously. The important thing to
remember about climate change is that it impacts every aspect of our life, most of which
would never come to mind. Even though things such as our economies and our
infrastructures seem oh-so-important to us now, they will cease to exist if we don’t put the
combat against climate change at the top of our priorities. For centuries now, humans have
been using earth as a resource and living off of its land to enhance their life. However, it has
turned into an abusive and greedy relationship where humans take too much and give back
little to nothing. If we want any hope of living another century, the first step will be to place
the Amazon in front of our cattle and soy needs.
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