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Brazil’s Deforestation Progress Takes a Step Backward

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This morning, Brazil released its annual data on the rate of deforestation in the Amazon over the past year. But unlike previous years, this year’s figure doesn’t show continued progress.

The new figure is 5,843 square kilometers deforested. That compares to 4,571 km2 last year and 6,418 km2 the year before.

The data, released on the web site of INPE, the Brazilian Space Agency, is the annual total for the “Amazon year” lasting from August 2012 through July 2013. So far it’s only available in Portuguese, but the graph showing the trend in the annual figures since 1988 is pretty clear in any language:

Deforestation in the Amazon region of Brazil from 1988 through 2013. SOURCE: INPE (Brazilian National Space Agency, www.inpe.br)

Deforestation in the Amazon region of Brazil from 1988 through 2013. SOURCE: INPE (Brazilian National Space Agency, www.inpe.br)

There are various ways to spin this figure, but there’s no way it’s good news. On the one hand, compared to the previous year, it’s an increase of 28 percent. On the other hand, in terms of the longer-term trend it’s still way below the levels of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. Compared to the official baseline period — the average from 1996-2005 — it’s a reduction of 70 percent (last year’s number was a reduction of 76 percent).

Although many factors can be invoked in explaining this year’s number, certainly the amendments last year to Brazil’s Forest Code were one reason. Those modifications, although a complex mixture, included various changes that weakened forest protection.

What does this mean for the future? A single step backward doesn’t necessarily wipe out the long-term trend. See, for example, the one-year reversal in 2008, which was followed by significant reductions in the following years.

But it’s a warning that although deforestation can be reduced rapidly and dramatically by strong policies, it can also increase again when those policies are weakened.

Posted in: Global Warming, Tropical Forests Tags: , , ,

About the author: Doug Boucher is an expert in preserving tropical forests to curtail global warming emissions. He has been participating in United Nations international climate negotiations since 2007 and his expertise has helped shape U.S. and U.N. policies. He holds a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Michigan. See Doug's full bio.

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