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Fifty percent of Brazil's emissions derive from deforestation and forest and savannah fires. No other country is losing forest on the same scale as Brazil, which accounts for one in every two trees felled in the world. Credits: Carlos García Paret/La Amazonia Brasileña.

Fifty percent of Brazil’s emissions derive from deforestation and forest and savannah fires. No other country is losing forest on the same scale as Brazil, which accounts for one in every two trees felled in the world.
Credits: Carlos García Paret/La Amazonia Brasileña.

By Carlos García Paret, a climate activist from the Brazilian Amazon 

The situation in Brazil regarding climate change is quite different from that in industrialised nations with higher emissions, such as China, the USA and the EU. As the world’s fourth highest producer of greenhouse gases, 50 percent of Brazil’s emissions derive from deforestation and forest and savannah fires. No other country is losing forest on the same scale as Brazil, which accounts for one in every two trees fallen in the world. This has resulted in the destruction of 700,000 km2 of rainforest in the last 30 years, and of 120,000 km2 of savannah in the last seven years.

The primary explanation for this phenomenon lies in the role Brazil plays in globalisation as an exporter of agricultural commodities. Forest is cut down to obtain timber and to extend the boundaries of land used for grazing and farming (soy beans, sugar cane, cotton, etc.). This process is the outcome of political decisions that have cost thousands of millions of dollars in public, private and multilateral investment in recent decades.

The losers in this process are the indigenous peoples, riverside dwellers, rubber plantation workers and small farmers who live off the resources of the forest (gathering, fishing, traditional farming, hunting, etc.), and who have seen their survival threatened, or even disappear.

The connection between the Amazon region and climate operates on two levels: cutting down and burning the Amazon rainforest is the region’s main contribution to global warming. In turn, global warming will lead to an accelerated process of replacement of primary rainforest by savannah.

Nowadays science and international politics place the connection between the Amazon rainforest – including its uses and traditional inhabitants – and climate at the centre of debate. It is regarded as an opportunity, insofar as for the first time it has been recognised that such traditional uses help to conserve the rainforest and its environmental and climatic functions.

More than ever, in today’s Brazil the struggle between this incipient hopeful process and past inertia constantly emerges in the federal congress and in proposals for different development models. A current plan including goals to reduce Brazilian emissions by 38.9% by 2020 has been approved and was widely publicised at international level in Copenhagen. This plan particularly emphasises reduction of deforestation in the Amazon and savannah regions (up to 80%).

On the other hand, Brazil’s Forestry Code has been revised, whereby legal property rights have been reduced and the traditional destroyers of the rainforest granted amnesty, all with a view to expanding farming and stockbreeding.

Many organisations and communities in the Amazon and savannah regions are conducting experiments to integrate the rainforest within means of development. This could help mitigate and offset emissions and make these groups more resilient. Rural entrepreneurs are beginning to realise that the rainforest is not the enemy of cattle and soy beans, and are attempting to rehabilitate degraded areas in order to improve the prices fetched by their products.

In recent years the government has started talking about minimum prices for products with high socio-environmental value. Enhancement of the rainforest is an irreversible process, but it requires a global climate accord, less short-sighted markets and more decisive public policies.