The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Sarah Goldberg,, 202-331-6943

New Deforestation Data From Brazil Shows Continued Progress


Today the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (INPE), the Brazilian space agency, released the annual estimate of Amazon deforestation from August 2010 through July 2011. The estimates show that the area of deforestation has dropped from 7,000 km2 in 2009-2010 to 6,238 km2 in 2010-2011. This is an 11 percent reduction in the forest area cleared last year. This finding shows continued progress in reducing deforestation, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Brazil's new figure is not surprising. A UCS analysis of the monthly figures released by INPE indicated that this year's total would be in the same range as last year's.

The total Amazon deforestation this year is the lowest record since deforestation satellite monitoring began in 1988. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has dropped for the past four consecutive years. Overall, the clearing of forest land has been reduced by 68 percent from Brazil's average deforestation levels; Brazil's deforestation baseline was calculated from levels recorded from 1996-2005.

The progress recorded today is especially notable as Brazil is in a period of rapid economic growth, with high soy and beef prices pushing towards more deforestation rather than less.

Earlier this year, news stories reported massive increases in Amazon deforestation, with some calculations of rises by over a hundred percent. These stories were based on raw monthly figures recorded during the wet season when deforestation is low but also quite variable. The raw monthly figures don't take into account such factors as cloud cover, or that a small change results in a misleadingly high percentage.

Other data released by INPE today, from its TerraCLASS analysis program, shows that 62 percent of all the deforested land, about 720,000 km2, is now used as cattle pasture. This confirms the overwhelming role of beef production as the dominant driver of land use change in the Amazon.

Brazil's National Climate Change Law requires the country to reduce Amazon deforestation by 80 percent by 2020. Today's data shows that the country is well over three quarters of the way toward meeting that goal. Deforestation could be reduced to zero, and well before 2020.

Several factors can be credited for this ongoing progress, including: strong enforcement of anti-deforestation laws and the Lula and Dilma governments' forest protection efforts; Norway's support for Brazil's REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plus pro-forest activities) efforts through its agreement to provide results-based financing; the moratoria on deforestation adopted by the soy industry in 2006 and the cattle industry in 2009; and Brazilian civil society's continuing pressure for zero deforestation.

Conversely, the proposed amendments to the Forest Code, Brazil's national forest protection laws, passed by the Brazilian House of Representatives earlier this year and expected to be voted on by the Senate as early as this week, is the major threat to progress.

President Dilma's fulfillment of her commitment to veto amendments that would give amnesty to those who deforest will be a key test of whether Brazil continues to lead the world towards ending deforestation in our lifetime.

The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.