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Do we still need REDD if deforestation is decreasing in the Amazon?

Carlos A. Nobre's picture
Amazon birds -- iStockphoto
Two macaws in the Amazon.
Photo © istockphoto.com

Although the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen badly failed to achieve legally binding agreements, including on the specific mechanism of REDD (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), there was nevertheless a general sense that this mechanism is something worth pursuing. Meetings and discussions continued to take place after the conference was over, and a fund of US$ 10 billion is being set up to promote initial steps for tropical developing countries to prepare for REDD.

What lessons can be learned from the Brazilian Amazon, where deforestation rates have been steadily declining for 5 years?

Compared to estimates of land-cover change emissions from elsewhere in the tropics, estimates in the Brazilian Amazon tend to be relatively more certain because they are calculated from annual, satellite-based monitoring of land cover change for over two decades for the Brazilian portion of the Amazon. That is the work of the PRODES Project carried out by the National Institute of Space Research (INPE) of Brazil. 

Deforestation in the Amazon changes a lot from year to year. The proximate causes are not totally known. They have to do with economic drivers such as prices of commodities (beef, soy, etc.), the opening of roads, but they are also influenced by the effectiveness of law enforcement to curb illegal deforestation.

The latter may have played a key role in reducing deforestation in the last 5 years. During that period, annual deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon plummeted from over 27 thousand km2 (August 2003-July 2004) to around 7 thousand km2 (August 2008-July 2009), an amazing 74% reduction over 5 years!

Tropical Land-Use Change Emissions—Smaller, but Still Very Significant

Carlos A. Nobre's picture
 
  Photo © iStockphoto.com

Before the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) held in December 2009 in Copenhagen, the Brazilian media picked up the issue of REDD (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). A variety of somewhat conflicting statements came from all quarters: the scientific community, government authorities, environmental NGOs and other interest groups. As expected, they spanned a wide range of views on the issue.

Broadly speaking, tropical deforestation has been declining. Thus, a fundamental question has been put forward: are land-use change emissions of GHGs quantitatively significant enough to warrant a special mechanism under the UNFCCC? Some critics of REDD maintain that emissions from tropical land-use change are not as large as has been assumed, and that it is not as important as emissions from other sectors such as fossil fuel combustion.

Even before I get into the details, let me emphasize that tropical deforestation and REDD are still just as significant as before, and as important, for instance, as the share from transportation emissions. As I will describe in this post, the latest calculations using new data that has become available after the last IPCC report (2007)—following the same methodology as the IPCC—shows that the share of tropical land-use change in overall CO2 emissions has fallen. However, looking at the big picture, tropical deforestation is still a massive issue to tackle in the battle against climate change and attention should not be diverted from REDD. 

“The Route of Smoke” from Brazil wins EJA’s Global Public Award in Copenhagen

Kavita Watsa's picture

Winners of the Global Public Award given on December 14th 2009 in Copenhagen: Andreia Fanzeres and Cristiane Prizibisczki for “The Route of Smoke”. Photo courtesy: Earth Journalism Awards web site.
For anyone who’s been following the Earth Journalism Awards, the much-awaited Global Public Award was announced yesterday in Copenhagen. Thousands of people from across the world voted online for this award, helping to pick the best story.

And the winner of the Global Public Award is…"The Route of Smoke," a multimedia report put together by two Brazilian journalists, Andreia Fanzeres and Cristiane Prizibisczki. They tell the story of how customary farming practices—such as setting fire to land before planting—that contribute to the country's emissions are clashing with new methods for responsible agriculture. This entry also won the Latin America regional award. 

A Scientific and Technological Revolution for the Amazon

Carlos A. Nobre's picture

 
    Photo © Yosef Hadar/World Bank
Most tropical countries have not reached full-fledged social and economic development, but all of them are endowed with plenty of natural resources. Today’s unprecedented global climate threat offers tropical countries a unique opportunity  to become ‘environmental powers’ by utilizing their natural resource base wisely to aid development, while significantly reducing environmental damage.

The Amazon basin harbours the largest contiguous tropical forest on the planet, spread over eight countries. Over the past four decades the Amazon has been subjected to deforestation, forest degradation, global warming, and vegetation fires. However, the model for development of the Amazon—which is based on replacing forests with agriculture and cattle ranches—can be criticized on more than just environmental grounds. It can be faulted on economic grounds too. For example, the gross agricultural product of the Brazilian Amazon represents less than 0.5% of the Brazilian GDP. Sadly, fifty years of deforestation have brought neither wealth nor quality of life for most Amazônidas.