Colombians Sue Government To Protect Amazon Rainforest

National Peace Unleashed War On Forests

By Naomi Larsson, Huffington Post

Arvey Alvear Daza’s life has been dominated by fear for most of his 37 years. A farmer in Caquetá, a district in southern Colombia, his land on the northwestern edge of the Amazon rainforest placed him in the middle of a decades-long conflict between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and the Colombian government.

“You were aware of things that happened to people ― dying, disappeared, being hurt,” Alvear Daza says. “We had to exist one way or another and learn to survive, to live day by day.”

Like thousands of those who lived in the rebel-occupied countryside, his movements were dictated by the guerrillas ― from having curfews imposed on his working day to rigid restrictions on the size of his farm so the forest cover would protect the FARC from government air raids.

Two years ago, things began to change. Colombia signed a historic peace deal with the FARC, ending a 52-year civil war that saw about 260,000 people killed and millions more displaced. Alvear Daza says he feels a sense of calm after so many years of turmoil.

Unfortunately, this transition has had other consequences. In two years of post-conflict Colombia, a large power vacuum has formed in vast rural areas where the guerrillas relinquished control, leaving previously inaccessible areas vulnerable to destruction. Record levels of deforestation have followed, driven ― in part, at least, experts say ― by armed groups illegally clearing forests to grow cash crops, such as coca.

In response, a group of young Colombians sued the government at the start of the year, stating that its failure to reduce deforestation threatens their fundamental rights, including their rights to a healthy environment, food and water.

These issues are all interconnected when it comes to deforestation. On a local level, the loss of tree cover drives soil erosion, making land less fertile, clogging waterways with sediment and worsening flooding. Globally, rainforests do a vital job of absorbing carbon, preventing greenhouse gases from accumulating in the atmosphere and warming the planet. Once the trees are cut down, however, they release the stored carbon, accelerating climate change. Deforestation is believed to be responsible for about 10 percent of heat-trapping global emissions.

forest conservation


Colombia lost more than 1.04 million acres of tree cover in 2017, according to the latest data published by the World Resources Institute (WRI) ― a 46 percent rise in deforestation from 2016, which was more than double the rate of loss from 2001 to 2015.

WRI says land speculation and the illegal clearing of forests for coca, mining and logging by armed groups that have emerged since the civil war ended has contributed to this dramatic increase in tree cover loss. The government’s foreign investment push has only intensified this scramble for land, according to a recent report by Global Witness, an international nongovernmental organization.

Forest clearance is out of control, says Carolina Gómez of the Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute, which monitors the health of Colombia’s biodiversity.

“In some regions, we have documented some of the highest deforestation rates for Colombia in its history,” she told HuffPost. “It is very sad. Before, the guerrillas were very strict in the use of natural resources, so places had some protection. The government should have continued doing that, but now there’s nobody there.”

In central Bogotá, just a few streets away from a polluted, traffic-heavy main avenue, some of the 25 plaintiffs who brought the deforestation claim against the government meet up ― bright-eyed young men and women talking animatedly about Colombia’s environmental future.

forest conservation Colombia

They are in the airy offices of Dejusticia, a research and advocacy organization that coordinated the group’s lawsuit in its desire to do something practical to hold the government to its international commitments to reduce deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.

Inspired by similar cases led by young people in Europe and the U.S., Dejusticia sought out those living in Colombian cities most vulnerable to the effects of climate change who were actively interested in protecting the environment, and asked them to be part of the lawsuit.

“We’re the first generation to live in peace in Colombia, but we are destroying our most biodiverse ecosystem,” says 26-year-old Gabriela Eslava, a lawyer for Dejusticia and one of the plaintiffs.

Those involved in the lawsuit acknowledge the tensions in appearing to link the FARC with land conservation. “We didn’t want to make the impression that we were pro-war,” says 26-year-old Valentina Rozo, one of the plaintiffs who lives in Bogotá. “We never wanted to thank the guerrillas, but it was clear that we had to show that paradox […] to make it clear that it was the government’s fault.”

Read The Full Story About Colombia and Amazon Rainforest Conservation

deforestation and climate change

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, carbon capture, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. It supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information

Brazil Can Save Amazon And Economy

Rainforest Destruction Not Enriching Brazil

Many scientists blame deforestation, generated in large part by agriculture, for global climate change and disrupted rain patterns in the Amazon. Clearing Amazonian forest to create new pastures is illegal now in Brazil, but a cash-strapped government is struggling to enforce the law.

The Brazilian Amazon demonstrates that environmental destruction can be overcome. Meanwhile, this destruction continues at a frightening speed, which threatens the people of the Amazon, the country and the world.

deforestation and global warming

Since Brazil began monitoring deforestation in 1988, 166,000 square miles have been razed through 2017. Deforestation peaked in 1995, when a swath the size of Hawaii, about 11,000 square miles, was turned to pasture. That rate has slowed, but 2,548 square miles were cleared just last year.

This document indicates the possible ways to end deforestation in the region, with environmental, economic and social benefits for the country. Prepared by the Zero Deforestation Working Group – composed of experts from the organizations Greenpeace Brazil, ICV, Imaflora, Imazon, IPAM, Instituto Socioambiental, WWF Brazil and TNC Brazil, it has the most current scientific literature on forests, climate and agriculture.

Zero Deforestation is possible. It’s vital. No other nation has cleared as much as Brazil. There were 55 million hectares cleared between 1990 and 2010, more than double Indonesia, ranked second. Altogether, in the Amazon alone, 780,000 km² of native vegetation has been lost, an area more than twice the size of the territory of Germany. The rate of destruction over the last two decades has been 170 times faster than that registered in the Atlantic Rainforest during Colonial Brazil. The loss was accelerated between 1990 and 2000, with an average of 18.6 thousand km2 deforested per year, and between 2000 and 2010, with 19.1 thousand km2 lost annually and 6 thousand km2 between 2012 and 2017.

Amazon wildlife

About 20 percent of the original forest was already cut down without generating significant benefits for Brazilians and for the development of the region. On the contrary, there are several losses. Pollution from fires, for example, each year causes deaths, increased cases of respiratory diseases and changes in the regional climate that can bring great risk to productivity in the field. The government itself, through its research agencies, already indicates that it is unnecessary to continue deforestation of the Amazon, since it estimates that it is possible to shelter all agricultural production in the areas that are already open.

Several Amazon governors agree. The recent past confirms this thesis. Measures implemented between 2005 and 2012 have cut deforestation rates in the region by about 70 percent and indicate that the elements needed to achieve ZD are present. Among them are the agreements to end deforestation in agricultural production, increase the efficiency of livestock farming in the areas already cleared, the creation of protected areas (Conservation Units and indigenous lands) and compliance with the Forest Code. These policies, several of which are addressed in this document, if applied not only to the Amazon but also to other biomes, would be able to produce, well before 2030, the end of deforestation in the country.

It is clear that deforestation did not generate wealth for most Amazon inhabitants. The municipalities of the Amazon are among the lowest HDI (Human Development Index) and SPI (Social Progress Index) of the country. They follow the so-called “boom-collapse” logic.

At first, easy access to natural resources produces an explosion of wealth in the municipality. This wealth, however, is concentrated in the hands of few and runs out in a few years. The end result is swollen cities, with poor infrastructure, no quality jobs and a concentrated income. The additional contribution of each year of deforestation to the economy is negligible. The average area cleared per year between 2007 and 2016 (7,502 km2) has the potential to add about R$453 million annually in gross value of agricultural production (i.e. production volume multiplied by the price of products). This figure represented only 0.013 percent of the average Brazilian GDP between 2007 and 2016.

The old argument that it is necessary to clear new areas of forest to increase agricultural production does not hold up. There is already a huge deforested area that has been poorly used. Much of it is degraded pasture. According to the Brazilian government, in 2014 there were 10 million hectares of degraded pastures and pastures with forest regeneration in the Amazon. In the country 70 percent of the total pasture area is degraded or in the process of degradation. In fact, when measures against deforestation were more effective, agricultural production continued to grow, as farmers invested in increasing land productivity.

For example, ten years after the Soy Moratorium – which began blocking farmers who planted in newly deforested areas – in 2006, planted area increased from 1.2 million hectares to 4.5 million hectares due to planting in pasture areas. The large amount of poorly exploited areas in the region results to a large extent from deforestation from land grabbing, through the invasion of public lands, often using labor that is degrading or analogous to slave labor.

In 2016, for example, at least 24 percent of deforestation occurred in public forests not yet earmarked and in areas with no information. This land grabbing is also linked to very low-efficiency cattle ranching: 65 percent of the deforested area in the region is occupied by pastures, with an average stocking rate of less than one head of cattle per hectare. Therefore, the alleged economic imperative of deforestation is a false matter.

Politicians, agribusiness representatives and experts declared on October 31, 2017 to the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper that it is possible to expand Agribusiness without deforesting.

Yes. Brazil can double grain production by 2025 by occupying half of the 74 million hectares of degraded pastures that are not being used by extensive livestock grazing. Technologies that are available are also allies for increase productivity and allow for agricultural expansion without clearing new areas,” said Marcos da Rosa, president of the Brazilian Association of Soy Producers.

If the economic benefits of deforestation in the Amazon are questionable, their socio-environmental and economic losses are not. For example, air pollution from forest fires, coupled with deforestation, has the potential to cause hundreds of early deaths each year. The drop in the number of fires between 2001 and 2012, the period in which Brazil most reduced the rate of deforestation, resulted in a decrease in air pollution and may have prevented the early death of 400 to 1,700 people per year in South America. Not only from a health point of view, but also from an economic point of view, forest fires resulting from deforestation can cause serious damage.

In 1998 alone, a year under strong El Niño effects, Amazon states sourced a loss of almost US$5 billion (9 percent of Amazon’s GDP). The Public Health System of Brazil (SUS) alone had expenses with respiratory health treatment in the order of US$ 11 million. Agriculture in the region, that year, suffered a loss of $45 million.

Zeroing deforestation, therefore, also means saving lives, reducing government expenditures, and mitigating private economic losses. Deforestation also enhances rural violence and loss of public assets, exposes Brazil to the risks of commercial boycotts and is the main source of greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil – deforestation in the Amazon alone contributed with about 26 percent in 2016.

The end of deforestation in the Amazon, in addition to contributing to the fight against climate change worldwide, will be fundamental for agricultural productivity in the future. There is increasing evidence that climate, not only regional or global, but mainly local, depends on the forest intact. In a grain-producing region or in areas with large settlements, the existence of forests (private or public) is necessary to dictate the future path of agricultural production.

A good example of forests as “irrigators” of agricultural production comes from the upper Xingu region of Mato Grosso. Over the past few years, clearing of the forest around the Xingu Indigenous Park resulted in a local temperature rise of around 0.5°C. This may be behind the severe droughts that hit the region. Were it not for the existence of the Xingu Park, this increase in temperature and drought would be even greater. Therefore, maintaining a mosaic of forests keeps the irrigation system running for everyone.

Disease and Death: Pollution from fires associated with deforestation causes premature diseases and deaths. The reduction of deforestation/forest fires in the Amazon averaged from 400 to 1,700 early deaths from respiratory diseases per year between 2001 and 2012 in Latin America. The decline in deforestation has reduced the rate of premature births and underweight infants.

Loss Of Public Patrimony: Land grabbers deforest to demonstrate possession of public lands. Illegal land grabbing affects approximately 7 million hectares, valued at R$21.2 billion.

forest tribes and forest conservation

Social Conflicts: By August 2017, a thousand areas with land conflicts have already been recorded, affecting close to 94 thousand families and resulting in 47 murders in the Legal Amazon. The total number of murders in the Amazon in 2017 has already surpassed that recorded in all of 2016.

Risk Of Boycotts: Environmental campaigns led companies to establish the Soy Moratorium, which boycotts purchases of deforested areas after 2006. And boycotts may increase. France, for example, has already announced that it will phase out imports of commodities that contribute to deforestation in the world, including the Amazon.

Increased Climatic Risks: Deforestation in the Amazon accounted for 26 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. With every 10 percent reduction in forest cover, the Xingu basin, for example, has a 50mm reduction in evapotranspiration and a 0.5 degree C increase in temperature. The worsening climate change can lead to a reduction of 1.3 percent of national GDP in 2035 and up to 2.5 percent in 2050. The loss of agricultural GDP would be even more serious: between 1.7 percent and 2.9 percent in 2035 and from 2.5 percent to 4.5 percent in 2050.

The country has successfully tested and implemented measures to control deforestation in the Amazon. Since the creation of the Plan for Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Amazon (PPCDAm) in 2004, the rate of deforestation has fallen by about 80 percent up to 2012 – something that was previously considered by some decision makers as an impossible task. For example, based on the monitoring of deforestation by real-time satellites – through the Deter and SAD systems – the government focused, during this period, on policies in critical areas.

The government created protected areas in regions targeted for illegal land grabbing. Between 2002 and 2009, for example, almost 709 thousand square kilometers of protected areas were created, contributing to the decline in deforestation in subsequent years.

The National Monetary Council established credit denial to properties embargoed due to illegal deforestation. Credit restriction, as of 2008, helped to curb deforestation, especially in municipalities of livestock production. However, much still needs to be done to readjust the credit criteria to stimulate good practices. In addition, environmental campaigns, market restrictions and lawsuits have stimulated companies’ commitments against deforestation associated with the production of soy and beef.

Measures that contributed to the decrease in deforestation between 2004-2012:

2003-2006: The expansion of protected areas in the Amazon by 59.6 million hectares resulted, in this period, in the reduction of deforestation. It is estimated that 37 percent of the reduction observed between 2004 and 2006 occurred due to protected areas.

2006: Soy Moratorium. The voluntary agreement of the industry against the commercialization of soy associated with deforestation in the Amazon resulted in a reduction of deforestation area for soy cultivation. In 2004, up to 30 percent of soy planted in the Amazon came from recent deforestation. Today, that figure is only 1.5 percent.

2008: Surveillance directed towards municipalities with high deforestation. The intensification of surveillance in the 43 municipalities listed among those that most deforest avoided the deforestation of 355,100 hectares per year between 2009 and 2011.

2008: More efficient penalties. The application of immediate penalties, such as seizure of assets and embargo of activities, has a greater deterrent effect than the imposition of fines. In addition, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, Central Bank and markets all employed embargoes in the fight against deforestation.

2008: Credit restriction Researchers estimate that R$ 2.9 billion (US$ 1.4 billion) in rural credit was not allocated between 2008 and 2011 due to the restrictions imposed by Resolution 3545, approved by the National Monetary Council, in order to reduce financial incentives for deforestation.

2009: Some of the slaughterhouses pressured by environmental campaigns and legal processes stopped buying from farms that cleared illegally (cattle agreement and TAC) and deforestation fell by 6 percent on farms that registered immediately in the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR).

2006-2013: Deforestation was 10 percent lower in property registered in CAR in Pará and Mato Grosso in relation to the period prior to the existence of CAR.

Unfortunately, the decline in forest destruction rates observed between 2005 and 2012 has been halted. The average rate of deforestation between 2013 and 2017 was 38 percent higher than in 2012, the year with the lowest rate since the beginning of the measurements. This increase in deforestation after 2012 occurred due to high impunity for environmental crimes, setbacks in socio-environmental policies, flaws in cattle agreements, encouragement of land grabbing of public land and the resumption of large infrastructure projects.

The scenario ahead does not point to significant reductions in this rate for the coming years. Currently, there are several measures to weaken forest protection approved or proposed in the Executive Branch and in the National Congress, including approved amnesty for land grabbers, and the reduction of protected areas, the weakening of environmental licensing, as well as the halting of the demarcation of indigenous and quilombola lands.

In addition, if additional measures are not taken, deforestation can remain high in the next decade, driven by demands for agricultural products and lack of political commitment and government and market inefficiency to enforce the necessary control. The rate of deforestation could reach levels between 9,391 km2 and 13,789 km2 until 2027 if the same historical relation between cattle herd and total deforested area is maintained.

Measures that enabled the increase in deforestation between 2012 and 2016:

Impunity for environmental crimes is still high: The risks of punishment and losses associated with the crime of deforestation are still low, making enforcement ineffective: between August 2008 and July 2013 only 18 percent of the total deforested area was embargoed – in the same period approximately 95 percent of the deforestation in the Amazon was illegal. The judgment of the infractions is slow and most of the fines applied are not paid.

deforestation and global warming

Environmental policy setbacks: With the new Forest Code, Congress and government conceded amnesty to 47 million hectares illegally deforested in 2012; reduced 2.9 million hectares of Conservation Units between 2005-2012; reduced the number of environmental analysts allocated to the Amazon by 40 percent in ICMBio (2010-2016) and 33 percent in Ibama (2009-2015).

Flaws in cattle agreements: Half of the slaughterhouses, responsible for about 30 percent of the slaughter capacity in the Legal Amazon, did not sign the agreements. In addition, companies that have signed the agreements have no control over indirect producers (breeding and rearing). Delays in audits facilitate fraud to cover illegal deforestation on farms. While nearly 60,000 ranchers in the Amazon adopted sustainable practices in the last decade, according to government officials, about 330,000 haven’t. Last year, ranchers cleared a swath the size of Delaware. Brazil is home to the largest cattle herd in the world earmarked for meat—214 million head. The Amazon alone is home to 87 million head, which is 30 million more than in all of Argentina and nearly the size of the total U.S. herd, 90 million, including dairy cows, according to U.S. figures. Ranchers could boost productivity quite a bit. On average, each Amazonian head of cattle gets two acres to munch on, while ranchers raise two head per acre in other parts of Brazil, a ratio similar to the U.S. And here in the rain forest, the animals are smaller, feeding on blades of low-quality grass. At a slaughterhouse run by JBS SA in Pará state, the average animal weighed a slim 550 pounds, 150 fewer pounds than cows raised in feedlots in other parts of Brazil where the company also has plants.

Amazon deforestation and beef

Many ranchers in the Amazon sell fresh pastures at 10 times what they paid for land with tree cover. Others say they can’t absorb the high cost of sustainable farming.

Grabbing of public lands continues to be lucrative: The government does not reclaim invaded public lands and approved laws to facilitate regularization of lands invaded. Under Law No. 13,465/2017, subsidy for illegal land grabbing in the Amazon could reach R$ 21 billion.

Large infrastructure projects: Deforestation increases in the surroundings of large infrastructure projects because it increases immigration. Risks are underestimated and/or mitigating measures are not designed and/or implemented. This was the case of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Plant: in a hydroelectric construction scenario and with high immigration in the region, mitigating measures in the surroundings were not implemented.

After decades of trial and error, successes and failures, advances and setbacks, there is enough knowledge in Brazil about how to achieve ZD with social, economic and political responsibility. It is necessary to discourage deforestation and at the same time support the sustainable use of the forest, seek recognition and positive incentives for forest conservation and compensate best agricultural practices. The implementation of this vision depends on the government, businesses, rural producers, and also on manifestations of society, which elects representatives, demands and finances public policies and buys and invests in companies.

The end of deforestation in the Amazon will result from four short-term actions:

  • The implementation of effective and perennial environmental public policies
  • Support for sustainable forest uses and improved agricultural practices
  • The drastic restriction of the market for products associated with new deforestation
  • The engagement of voters, consumers and investors in efforts to eliminate deforestation

Reducing deforestation in a context of scarce public resources will depend, to a large extent, on increasing the effectiveness of punishment for environmental crimes. The current Director of the Department of Forests and Deforestation Control in the Ministry of the Environment, in his doctoral thesis, has already proposed more effective procedures. Some are already in practice and have already generated positive results, such as the increase in the number of legal notices and embargoes applied by IBAMA, especially through remote actions.

The legal notices are sent by mail after crossing maps of deforestation detected by satellite images, the maps of real estate obtained from the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR) and authorizations for deforestation. The cost of each remote legal notice (R$600) is 4.66 times lower than that based on field surveillance (R$2,800). This measure may increase the likelihood of a crime being notified by 192 percent, according to Jair Schimitt. The government can use satellite imagery to monitor if the embargoed areas are being used and, thus, prosecute violators. To reduce trial time, it is still necessary to adopt automated administrative processes, as is already done in some Courts of Justice. Such a measure would increase the likelihood of cases going to trial by 169 percent, according to Schimitt. The effective collection of fines would generate a large volume of resources to intensify the surveillance and implementation of protected areas.

It is even more important that the government broaden and strengthen the punishment of companies buying and financing products from illegally deforested areas. After all, it is more effective to punish a few companies than the thousands of farmers they finance or source from. A good example was the Shoyo operation, which fined Santander Bank R$ 47.5 million for financing the planting of soybeans in embargoed areas. Another was the Carne Fria (literally “Cold Meat”) operation, which investigated 15 slaughterhouses and an exporter of live cattle bought from embargoed areas on 24 farms. Ibama crossed public information of the animal transit guides (GTA) with the embargoes. Intervention by the Federal Public Prosecutor´s Office was necessary for the government of Pará to release the GTA data. Unfortunately, the Pará government continues to hamper access to such data. Therefore, states truly committed to combating deforestation should provide full data transparency.

Meanwhile, after Operation Cold Meat, the Minister of the Environment apologized to the producers and declared that the operation was inopportune and that the acting superintendent of Ibama in Pará, who participated in the set-up of the operation, was dismissed. These reactions reinforce the importance of society shielding the environmental organs from political influence.

One of the key roles of surveillance is to curb the theft of public lands. As already seen, at least 24 percent of the deforestation verified today has its origin in land grabbing of public lands. Public authorities must intensify operations against organized squatters, who, in addition to destroying forests, carry out other crimes, such as money laundering, which provide for harsher penalties than violations against the environment. Another strategy to combat illegal land grabbing and the speculative deforestation is the effective collection of the Rural Territorial Tax (ITR). Such a tax was created in the 1970s to curb speculation in unproductive land. The collection could increase 100 times based on analysis done in Pará (from about R$5 million to R$500 million per year) using rural real estate maps (CAR) and satellite images to identify land use. ITR’s revenues could be reinvested primarily in rural areas in the form of incentives for forest conservation and the adoption of better agricultural practices in areas already deforested.

By closing the frontier for illegal occupation and collecting the ITR effectively, the public authority would also signal to farmers that the increase in production should occur in areas that are already deforested. In addition to the environmental benefit, combating illegal land grabbing would help reduce conflicts that occur over dispute for public lands.

deforestation and jaguar conservation

In the Amazon there are about 70 million hectares of public forests that have not been destined yet to a specific use, part of which has already been cleared. It is essential that public authorities create protected areas on these public lands, including indigenous lands and Conservation Units for various uses such as tourism, scientific research and use of forest products (e.g. extractive reserves). Where the type of public land allocation still needs to be better studied, the government should institute Areas under Provisional Administrative Limitation (ALAP), while conducting studies to decide future allocation. The creation of ALAP, which prevents any use of the areas, is especially relevant around regions that will receive infrastructure projects that quickly attract immigrants and illegal land squatters.

If the creation of new protected areas results in a decrease of deforestation, the opposite is true. Ending forest protection, as a result of actions to reduce the size of protected areas, can motivate illegal deforestation. In the Jamanxim National Forest in Pará, the announcement of the federal government’s decision to reduce the protected area could result in a significant increase in deforestation in the coming years. Therefore, public authorities should not reduce the size or degree of protection of Conservation Units.

The urgency of eliminating deforestation requires that federal and state governments have bold goals and coordinate their activities. Some states have already set targets to reduce deforestation that are bolder than that of the federal government. For example, the governor of Pará declared that the state could eliminate net deforestation by 2020. Mato Grosso, in a strategy that unites efforts from the government, companies and civil society support, has set the goal of eliminating illegal deforestation by 2020.

However, just as at the federal level, the implementation of these state plans falls short of what is needed due to political resistance and budget constraints. Deforestation in Mato Grosso in recent years is still high. The federal government should revise its goals, include an end to deforestation, and act in coordination with states to avoid the sense that illegal deforestation will be tolerated until 2030, considering NDC’s goal of eliminating illegal deforestation by 2030.

Extraction of forest products yielded an average R$3 billion based on 2015 and 2016, according to IBGE, of which R$1.8 billion came from logging and R$537 million from açaí13 extraction. However, this potential is poorly explored regionally, since much of the production is exported to other regions instead of being processed in the Amazon.

Production is also often associated with predatory practices (for example, about half of the logging is illegal). It is therefore essential to support best practices in producing these products by strengthening and improving the quality of existing programs and plans to reduce deforestation and increase income associated with forest conservation, including the National Plan for Biodiversity Products Supply Chain and General Policy for Minimum Price for Biodiversity Products (PGPMBio), National Program for Strengthening Family Agriculture (PRONAF) and the National Policy for Technical Assistance and Rural Extension (PNATer). These programs have the potential to serve populations in Conservation Units such as extractive reserves and Agrarian Reform settlement projects. Such programs should be linked to centers of scientific research and development as is done with other products of national agriculture (such as Embrapa Grape and Wine, Embrapa Beef Cattle and Embrapa Milk Cattle).

In addition, infrastructure planning for the Amazon needs to be articulated with local development plans, with the objective of stimulating sustainable production chains that are already underway. Infrastructure plans in the Amazon are currently focused on large energy and transport projects that have little positive impact on local development plans and contribute to the expansion of the agricultural frontier and real estate speculation that stimulate deforestation. Policies to support forest conservation could be strengthened with state and municipal resources that reward forest conservation. The Green ICMS Tax, implemented by Pará and Mato Grosso, transfers additional tax resources to municipalities with better conservation performance. These experiences could be adopted by other states.

State governments also have the power to influence the allocation of more resources to conservation in private areas. They can, for example, accelerate the application of the Forest Code, which provides for the offsetting of forest liabilities in the same biome, creating an Environmental Reserve Quota (CRA) market. By this system, the rural property that conserves forest beyond the legal minimum (Legal Reserve) can sell conservation quotas for those that need to compensate for the excessive deforestation in other properties. This quota market can reach R$5.8 billion in Mato Grosso alone. CRAs could guarantee protection of up to 3.6 million hectares, if used to offset the entire Amazon Legal Reserve deficit.

However, a study by Esalq and Imaflora points out that there are 12 million hectares of forests on private land that are not protected by the Forest Code (i.e. in addition to the required Legal Reserve and Permanent Protection Area). Thus, discounting the potential of CRAs, there are still 8.4 million unprotected hectares. To encourage the protection of these areas it would be advisable to create means of payment for environmental services for landowners who conserve forests beyond legal protection.

Given that conservation of the Amazon contributes to the country’s climate balance, therefore, for agricultural production and energy generation, it is fair to allocate additional federal resources to the region. One way to do this would be to increase allocations from the Participation Funds to states and municipalities. Today, the federal government transfers R$50 billion a year to the states through the FPE (State Participation Funds).

If only 2 percent of the FPE resources were distributed according to a forest protection criterion (states with more protected areas would receive an additional one), about R$1 billion would be allocated to forest conservation. Of these, approximately R$770 million would be destined to the Amazon biome, which hosts 77 percent of the continental area of the Brazilian Conservation Units. This approach is consistent with the new PPCDAm approach, which provides for the elaboration of economic, fiscal and tax standards and instruments.

Increasing production and efficiency of the activities in the deforested areas will maintain the socioeconomic contribution of this sector without new deforestation. Some progress has already been made, but the cattle industry is an obstacle. For example, its potential does not reach 34 percent. If it rose to 52 percent (which would still be low), livestock would meet the demand for beef and, consequently, grain, by 2040 without the need for additional forest conversion and still avoid the emission of 14 billion tons of CO2.

The most powerful policy to support the adoption of best agricultural practices is the rural credit and other subsidies of the federal government’s Agriculture and Livestock Plan, which is financed with taxes from all Brazilians. In 2017/2018, this plan totaled around R$ 200 billion17. However, only 1.1 percent of rural credit is earmarked exclusively for low carbon agriculture through the ABC (Low Carbon Agriculture) Program. To encourage a more rapid adoption of more sustainable practices, the federal government needs to adopt two main measures:

  1. Prioritize rural credit only for municipalities that reduce deforestation and thus encourage rural producers, mayors and governors to engage against deforestation; and
  2. Establish a transition goal (for example, a maximum of 10 years) so that all rural credit is allocated to ABC alone. In doing so, the taxpayer would encourage that the entire system of research, development, and technical assistance focus on techniques compatible with reducing deforestation and increasing production with low greenhouse gas emissions. Irrespective of promoting more efficient use of the cleared areas, to reduce deforestation globally we will need to reduce food waste and change food practices (Box 5).

Increasing production in areas already deforested is the most obvious way to continue increasing agricultural income without deforestation, especially with cattle.

Up to 14 percent of the emissions generated by agriculture in 2050 could be avoided by better managing the use and distribution of food, according to a new study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Between 30 percent and 40 percent of all food produced on the planet is never consumed, because it deteriorates after being harvested and during transportation or because it is thrown away by traders and consumers.

Irrespective of the increase in production only in areas already deforested, it will also be necessary to reduce the consumption of animal protein globally. As the world population grows and productivity rates of agricultural production reach the limit, a greater amount of land would be required to produce if current conditions of production and consumption are maintained. This model is unsustainable, and experts (including the FAO, UN Food and Agriculture Organization) have recommended more efficient use of agricultural products and food with a greater emphasis on the use of plants (instead of animal protein) and alternative sources of animal protein (e.g., edible insects need six times less feed to produce the same amount of bovine protein).

A 2015 study by Imaflora illustrates the Brazilian case of the nutritional inefficiency of production. In 2006, agriculture produced 35 times more protein than cattle production did, although pastures occupy 2.6 times more area than agriculture. The 2006 harvest would meet the protein needs of 2.1 billion people, while meat production would feed only 85 million. In addition, today, much of this land used for agriculture is intended to provide food to fatten animals for human consumption and not eat the vegetable protein itself. The shift to diets less dependent on animal protein and more sustainable production systems is necessary and requires the promotion of a just transition from the current model of production and consumption respecting the social, economic and cultural differences of each country.

Companies that buy or finance agricultural products should reduce the market for products associated with deforestation and support the adoption of better agricultural practices. They may do so voluntarily or because of financial risks, market blockages, or legal pressures from investors or consumers, which are becoming more and more common. The various initiatives to monitor corporate commitments and legal action against buyers and financiers of deforestation mean that risks are increasing and will increase further as many commitments have targets for 2020. Recent experiences show that when companies monitor the origin of products and boycott purchases from deforested areas, producers stop deforestation.

Therefore, companies that claim to be committed to zero (absolute or liquid) deforestation – whether they are processors, such as slaughterhouses, retailers, supermarkets, or industries such as leather – must trace the source of all their products that can be associated with deforestation, such as meat, milk, soy, corn, cocoa and palm oil, among others. For example, in the case of the Amazon, slaughterhouses and supermarkets must trace the cattle from the breeding and raising farms that supply the finishing farms from which they buy.

Likewise, supermarkets that have announced policies aligned with zero deforestation in the acquisition of beef also need to implement their systems and monitor the entire supply chain. Pilot projects show the technical and financial feasibility of this complete tracking of livestock – for example, the total cost would be around ten cents per kilo of meat for the final consumer. This type of initiative could scale up with the participation of more public and private actors, as happened with the successful program to combat foot-and-mouth disease.

Buyers also should demand that half of the slaughterhouses that haven’t committed against deforestation – with slaughtering capacity equivalent to 30 percent of the total Amazon region – engage in the agreements, and that supermarkets that have not yet published policies to control deforestation associated with cattle production, such as large Amazon networks like DB, Líder and Cencosud, do so immediately. This would reduce unfair competition from those who are already restricting purchases from deforested areas.

The adhesion of producers will be as big as the support of the supply chain of their business. Thus, companies should broaden their initiatives to support environmental regularization and increase productivity. For example, governments and companies in the livestock supply chain could help train about 2,000 people needed to improve livestock productivity.

The government also plays a crucial role in strengthening company agreements by providing public information to help monitor farms and other land uses. The livestock supply chain, for example, could be freed from deforestation if the Ministries of Agriculture and Livestock (MAPA) and the Environment (MMA) and the state health defense agencies made the CAR data available (in the case of MMA) and the animal transit guides (in the case of states). Slaughterhouses, supermarket chains and other interested parties could crosscheck this data to identify the origin and destination of the livestock. It is likely that governments will release this data only after more pressure from consumers and companies committed to forest conservation, as there is resistance in the rural sector against increased surveillance and transparency, as was evident in the reactions against the dissemination of CAR data and against IBAMA’s Operation Cold Meat.

The total and active transparency of other data generated by governments (municipal, state and federal) is also fundamental in monitoring supply chains that act as potential drivers of deforestation and forest degradation. Among this information are the Forest Origin Documents and/or Forest Transport Guides and the Mapping of Forest Degradation in the Brazilian Amazon (DEGRAD).

Opinion polls show that most Brazilians support forest conservation and, in fact, at various times society’s participation and pressure have favored the conservation of the Amazon, including recent campaigns against policies that facilitate destruction. However, systemic political corruption and the lack of prioritization of environmental issues by governments make it difficult for the population’s demands to be met. In this context, social pressure must be even stronger and continuous against attempts to weaken forest protection, such as easing environmental licensing, reducing the protection of Conservation Units, halting the demarcation of Indigenous Lands and extending the term in order to legalize land grabbing.

However, it is not enough to reject destructive policies; it is necessary to support projects that promote the sustainable development of the region – for example, the Sustainable Amazon Plan, launched in May 2008, which provides for the valorization of sociocultural and ecological diversity and the reduction of regional inequalities. The population may also demand that their taxes be used only for policies that favor conservation and best practices, such as those described in previous sections. In addition, to give political sustainability to conservation, citizens should elect politicians who understand the value of forests to the wellbeing of the population and the economic development of the country. Every Brazilian and a global citizen, as a consumer, can help transform companies into conservation allies through purchases and investments (several of which are listed on stock exchanges and others financed by public resources). Corporate markets play an important role.

The Soy Moratorium has shown that rural producers changed rapidly when European soybean consumers announced that they would not buy soy from deforested areas. In addition to ceasing deforestation, they began to invest in production in areas already deforested. In the last decade, the pressure of the national and international market, which, even buying less than what is consumed internally, also managed to push the largest companies to adopt systems of socio-environmental control for livestock production. Also under pressure from civil society, the largest retail chains had to adopt policies for sourcing cattle aligned with zero deforestation. Thus, initiatives that assess and bring visibility to commitments to conservation are essential to channel attention from society and promote changes in policy and business. Along the same path, it is essential that countries investing in the country and in their businesses also demand criteria aligned with zero deforestation and respect for local communities.

After a broad mobilization by society, in 2015 a bill was passed in the National Congress that defends the end of deforestation in Brazilian forests. The project was supported by more than 1.4 million Brazilians and is still being processed in the Chamber and Senate. It is essential that society remain mobilized so that the project is discussed and the actions that build this path become a reality.

The Zero Deforestation Working Group includes, Greenpeace, Imaflora, Imazon, Instituto Centro de Vida, Instituto Socioambiental, IPAM Amazonia, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund,. The group has been supported by Climate and Land Use Alliance, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and Norad.

For more information, visit IPAM.

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Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture, carbon capture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information Together, we can stop deforestation and preserve biodiversity.

Colombian Government Ordered To Protect Forests

Top Court Demands Halt To Amazon Deforestation

By Anastasia Moloney, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Colombia’s highest court told the government to take urgent action to protect its Amazon rainforest and stem rising deforestation, in what campaigners said was an historic moment that should help conserve forests and counter climate change.

In their ruling on Thursday, the judges said that Colombia – which is home to a swathe of rainforest roughly the size of Germany and England combined – saw deforestation rates in its Amazon region increase by 44 percent from 2015 to 2016.

deforestation and global warming

“It is clear, despite numerous international commitments, regulations … that the Colombian state has not efficiently addressed the problem of deforestation in the Amazon,” the supreme court said.

The ruling comes after a group of 25 young plaintiffs, ranging in age from seven to 26, filed a lawsuit against the government in January demanding it protect their right to a healthy environment.

The plaintiffs had said the government’s failure to stop the destruction of the Amazon jeopardized their futures and violated their constitutional rights to a healthy environment, life, food and water.

Bogota-based rights group Dejusticia, which supported the plaintiffs’ case, said the verdict meant it was the first time a lawsuit of this kind had been ruled upon favorably in Latin America.

“The Supreme Court’s decision marks an historical precedent in terms of climate change litigation,” said Camila Bustos, one of the plaintiffs and a researcher at Dejusticia.

In its ruling, the court recognized Colombia’s Amazon as an “entity subject of rights”, which means that the rainforest has been granted the same legal rights as a human being.

“The ruling states the importance of protecting the rights of future generations, and even declares the Amazon a subject of rights,” Bustos said.

The court ordered the government – both at the local and national level – along with the environment and agriculture ministries and environmental authorities to come up with action plans within four months to combat deforestation in the Amazon.

The Amazon’s destruction leads to “imminent and serious” damage to children and adults for both present and future generations, the judges said.

The ruling stated that forests were being felled to make way for more grazing and agricultural land, as well as coca crops – the raw ingredient for cocaine – illegal mining and logging.

reforestation and carbon capture

Deforestation is a key source of greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change, which damages ecosystems and water sources and leads to land degradation, the court said.

“Without a healthy environment, subjects of law and living beings in general will not be able to survive, let alone safeguard those rights for our children or for future generations,” the ruling said.

The lawsuit follows a surge in litigation around the world demanding action or claiming damages over the impact of climate change – from rising sea levels to pollution.

Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Robert Carmichael. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.

Read The Story About Forest Conservation in Colombia.

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Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, carbon capture, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems.

Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information

Deforestation Surging Again In Amazon Basin

Deforestation In Brazil Not Expected To Stop

The Brazilian government estimates that the rate of deforestation in the Amazon has increased by 29 percent over last year. That’s the second year in a row that deforestation in the Amazon accelerated. Last year, the pace rose by about 24 percent.

The estimated deforestation rate, released Tuesday by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), is based on satellite imagery. The institute found that from August 2015 to July 2016, the Amazon rainforest was deforested at an estimated rate of 7,989 square kilometers (more than 3,000 square miles). The year before, it was 6,207 square kilometers. Two years ago, it was barely over 5,000 square kilometers.

forest tribes and forest conservation

INPE acknowledged the increase but noted that the current rate represents a decrease of 71 percent, when compared with 2004. That was the year the government implemented a policy designed to curb deforestation; from 2004-2007, the rate of deforestation dropped rapidly.

Many observers had been prepared to see an increase in deforestation, but not one this high. The causes of the increased deforestation were actions taken by the federal government between 2012 and 2015, such as the waiving of fines for illegal deforestation, the abandonment of protected areas — that is, ‘conservation units’ and indigenous lands — and the announcement, which he calls ‘shameful,’ that the government doesn’t plan to completely stop illegal deforestation until the year 2030.

The rise in deforestation is raising concerns about Brazil’s ability to meet its commitments as part of the international Paris Agreement on combating climate change. Deforestation is a major contributor to climate change, and Brazil’s success in reducing deforestation from 2004 to 2014 was seen as a model for other developing countries.

A lack of funding has hampered the organization that’s tasked with stopping illegal logging efforts. The Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, has struggled with budget cuts as Brazil grapples with a recession.

“The loggers are better equipped than we are,” said Uiratan Barroso, Ibama’s head of law enforcement. “Until we have the money to rent unmarked cars and buy proper radios we won’t be able to work. A 30 percent cut in Ibama’s budget has meant fewer operations this year. Helicopters and jeeps have been idle due to a lack of fuel.”

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Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information

Norway Paying Brazil For Slowing Deforestation

Deforestation In Amazon Rising Again

The Norwegian government has fulfilled its billion dollar commitment to Brazil for the South American country’s success in reducing deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Norway announced it would complete payment to Brazil’s Amazon Fund by the end of the year. Norwegian Minister of Climate and Environment Tine Sundtoft commended Brazil’s progress and said it has become a model for efforts to combat climate change.

forest tribes and forest conservation

“Brazil’s achievements in reducing deforestation in the Amazon are truly impressive. The benefits for the global climate, for biodiversity and vital ecosystem services, as well as for the people living in and off the Amazon, are immeasurable,” Sundtoft said in a statement. “Through the Amazon Fund, Brazil has established what has become a model for other national climate change funds. We are proud to be partnering with Brazil in this effort.”

Her sentiments were echoed by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“The partnership between Brazil and Norway through the Amazon Fund shows intensified support for one of most impressive climate change mitigation actions of the past decades,” the Secretary General said. “This is an outstanding example of the kind of international collaboration we need to ensure the future sustainability of our planet.”

Norway’s pledge, signed in 2008, was the largest of several similar commitments made by the Nordic country. It was later matched by a billion dollar agreement with Indonesia, which has struggled to keep pace with Brazil in terms of reducing deforestation.

jaguar conservation and deforestation in Amazon

Annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon plunged more than 75 percent over the past decade. Better monitoring and law enforcement, coupled with private sector initiatives under pressure from civil society groups, have been credited for much of the decline.

But while the decrease in the Amazon has been welcomed, there are concerns that some of the progress has come at the expense of other native ecosystems like the woody grassland known as the cerrado and drier forests called the caatinga. Furthermore short-term satellite data from the past 12 months suggest that deforestation may be creeping back up in the Amazon.

deforestation and climate change

Nonetheless, Brazil’s reduction in deforestation represents the single biggest emissions cut in the past decade, amounting to 3.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equal to the savings that would have been achieved by taking all cars off American roads for three years.

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Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture, carbon capture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information

Reforestation A Priority In Ecuador

Reforestation Plan Yields World Record

Planting more than 600,000 trees across almost 2,000 hectares, Ecuador has broken the Guinness record for reforestation efforts.

Targelia Mauha was one of the over 44,000 citizens who participated in this historic endeavor, which is part of larger state priority to protect the environment and honor the constitutional rights secured for nature. Citizens joined together to plant 647,250 trees of more than 200 species. The seedlings were planted all over Ecuador, taking advantage of the country’s wide range of climatic and geographical regions. New trees were introduced everywhere, from the Pacific coast to the high Andes and low-lying tropical Amazon basin.

Ecuador reforestation world record

“I believe in the people who are collaborating to plant trees. And today we will not see the growth of the trees, or the reduction in contamination. I think that in the future our children, our grandchildren, they will see this and they will see a healthy environment,” said Mauhua after planting her tree near the equator Middle of the World monument outside of Quito.

Ecuador became the first country in the world to guarantee the rights of nature in the constitution passed in 2008. Putting this legislation into action are efforts such as the Socio Bosque conservation program, which provides incentives for citizens to not cut down trees, as well as the National Reforestation Plan, which seeks to reforest 1 million hectares over a 20-year period.

“Going beyond the record, this is a symbolic act to mobilize the population,”said Minister of the Environment Lorena Tapia. “It is important, but it is symbolic. Behind this is the National Reforestation Plan of the government. And as you said, that the goal is to have the deforestation rate be zero. The project Socio Bosque, a project of reforestation, has invested more than US$74 million dollars, something no other government has done.”

Ecuador deforestation

The state argues that the protection of the rights of nature is key for achieving the goals of the National Development plan of Good Living. With the goal of improving the quality of life of citizens, the 2008 constitution recognizes the right of the population to live in ecologically balanced and healthy environments.

“We are working on legislation, in an environmental code that will permit us to have a strong backing for environmental management but at the same time with the support of various state institutions throughout national territory, we will have the base to be able to achieve the objectives of Good Living, or Sumak Kawsay,” said Carlos Viteri, a legislator for the PAIS Alliance at the planting event.

Planting 216 species of trees native to Ecuador’s various ecosystems, the breaking of the Guinness record for reforestation is bringing the country’s environmental efforts into the limelight, sparking interest among citizens to become involved in the efforts to protect the rights of nature, while meeting the government’s development goals.

jaguar conservation and deforestation in Amazon

In 2012, 109 Ecuadorian schools collected 1,559,002 plastic bottles for recycling – the most ever recycled in one week. The recycled bottles generated $30,000, which helped fund Yasuni-ITT — a program aiming to protect a national park from oil exploitation.

This content was originally published by teleSUR:—20150518-0030.html.

Commodity Boom Driving Deforestation

Industry Exploiting Resources At All Costs

By Nick Miroff, Washington Post

A commodity boom has pulled millions of people out of poverty across South America over the past decade. It also unleashed a scramble for oil, minerals and cropland that is accelerating deforestation and fueling a new wave of land conflicts from Colombia to Chile.

palm oil plantation deforestation

Now, as prices for oil and other commodities slide, economists and environmental researchers warn that the loss of forest cover may be hastened, leading to new clashes, as governments in the region try to maintain growth rates and spending levels by driving deeper into the jungle.

Satellite imagery of the Amazon basin, the world’s largest tropical forest and a critical bulwark against climate change, shows a stark divergence in the continent’s preservation efforts. In Brazil, the pace of deforestation has been reduced 75 percent since 2004, largely the result of tighter regulation and new environmental protections.

But in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and the other five nations whose territories cover 40 percent of the Amazon basin, the loss of vegetation increased threefold in the same period, wiping out a combined area of forest larger than the state of Maryland. Last year, the pace of deforestation in those nations jumped 120 percent.

“Commodity prices, directly or indirectly, have increased deforestation in the Amazon,” said Kevin Gallagher, a development economist at Boston University who specializes in Latin America’s trade relations with China. “Price increases create the perception of scarcity, which pushes investors into new terrain,” he said.

deforestation and climate change


More than 80 million Latin Americans were lifted out of poverty in the past decade, according to the World Bank, which reports that as of 2011, “for the first time in recorded history, the region has a larger number of people in the middle class than in poverty.”

But a decline in commodity prices and a slowdown in the rate of China’s growth will sap Latin America’s expansion, the bank predicts, making it difficult “to expand the social gains amassed over the economic boom over the past decade.”

In several South American nations, the export bonanza has enabled populist leaders to significantly expand the role and the size of the state, by boosting social spending, developing infrastructure and taking greater control of major national industries.

Those measures have made leaders such as Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa extremely popular at the polls, allowing them to preside over long periods of political stability and economic growth. But those presidents have pegged their ambitious development plans to export revenue, which has been squeezed by falling commodity prices. The loss of income is likely to leave some countries progressively indebted to resource-hungry China.

In Ecuador, the smallest member state of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, president Rafael Correa turned to Beijing after his country defaulted on its bonds in 2008, and found a deep-pocketed business partner. Now, Chinese loans account for more than 60 percent of the government’s financing, according to a Reuters analysis, and more than 90 percent of Ecuador’s oil exports are earmarked for China. Much of the oil never reaches Chinese shores, however, but is resold by Chinese traders on world markets, often ending up in refineries on the West Coast of the United States.

But the recent slump in oil prices leaves Ecuador owing more and more crude to China, creating new pressure for the government to expand the drilling frontier in the Amazon. In 2014, the government auctioned off new sectors of its Amazon territory, much of it to Chinese firms.


Chinese road-building crews and drilling rigs will cut into ancient forests where indigenous groups and un-contacted tribes living in “voluntary isolation” have violently resisted the oil industry.

“The Correa administration seems intent on trying to drill its way to prosperity, which has turned what was once pristine rain forest into a natural sacrifice zone crisscrossed by oil wells, roads and palm plantations,” said Kevin Koenig of the group Amazon Watch.

“Now Ecuador is financially beholden to China, so it’s seeking to auction off the rest of its Amazon forests for oil concessions,” he said. “That could spell disaster for its remaining forests and the indigenous peoples who call them home.”

The struggling socialist government of oil-rich Venezuela, where the deforestation rate was the worst last year in South America, is similarly indebted to Beijing. But the resource push is hardly exclusive to the region’s left-leaning governments.

In Colombia, illegal mining, petroleum extraction and the expansion of the country’s fast-growing palm oil industry have contributed to deforestation and violence involving Marxist rebels, government troops and paramilitary groups often acting on behalf of landowners, according to rights groups.

Despite the simmering civil conflict, Colombia’s economy is the fastest-growing in South America, and the government has spent the past two years in peace talks with commanders of the country’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. A peace agreement could bring a flood of investment into extractive industries and exacerbate deforestation.

Peru’s economy expanded more than any other during the decade of high commodity prices, led by its mining industry. A new highway linking the country to Brazil opened a gateway for tens of thousands of impoverished highlanders to fan out into the jungle prospecting for alluvial gold. In a matter of months, their dredgers and mercury kits can convert vast tracts of green forest into lunar-like wastes.

With gold prices falling, struggling President Ollanta Humala has scaled back environmental regulations in a bid to attract new capital, while also pushing to open up more jungle areas to oil and natural gas development.

“Price declines and slower growth make nations more desperate, and they can be more apt to weakening environmental standards in order to grab at any investment,” said Gallagher, the development economist, who is the co-author of “The Dragon in the Room: China & the future of Latin American Industrialization.”

When prices fall, “countries and investors seeking bargain-basement prices swoop into the Amazon,” he said. “We can expect to see a surge in Chinese investment in the Amazon in this manner in years to come.”

Louis Reymondin is the main developer of a satellite imagery program called Terra-i, which is used by governments and environmental groups to monitor deforestation, and he said the technology offers a dose of optimism.

“The ability to monitor where and when deforestation occurs was key to support the decrease in deforestation rates in Brazil by allowing the local authorities to identify illegal events and quickly act,” he said.

“I think in most countries, the authorities are aware of the importance of Amazon forest and recognize the importance of implementing efficient ways to conserve it, or use it in a sustainable way,” Reymondin said.


climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information

More Murder In The Rainforest

Defender Of Ecuador’s Indigenous Rights Killed

By Alexander Zaitchik

At the latest climate change talks, indigenous tribes showed again that they’re frontline allies in the fight against deforestation and global warming. So why aren’t we protecting them?

A dark piece of news emerged at the U.N. climate talks in Lima. The body of José Isidro Tendetza Antún, a leading Ecuadorian indigenous-rights and anti-mining campaigner, had been found in a riverside grave near his village, his remains bound in rope, showing signs of beating and torture. Antún had planned to be in the Peruvian capital last week, where hundreds of indigenous leaders from around the world gathered to demand recognition and rights, as both defenders of the world’s rainforests and under-appreciated players in the effort to slow climate change.

forest tribes and forest conservation

The outlines of Antún’s murder were grimly familiar to indigenous activists. The spread of logging, agriculture and extractive industry into once remote forests has sparked social conflict under the tropical canopies of Amazonia, Africa and Asia. Rising native resistance is met with repression and violence, the screams from which don’t often reach the outside world. The situation is especially bad in the northwest Amazon.

News of José Antún’s death in Ecuador follows the September killing of four Peruvian indigenous anti-logging activists near the Brazil border. The group’s slain leader, Edwin Chota, had also planned to travel to Lima and use his famed energy and eloquence to help sound the indigenous alarm. Two of the widows faced down threats from local loggers to attend in his name.  

This jungle violence isn’t just a human tragedy or a local environmental story — it is global climate politics. The first days of the Lima summit — known as COP 20, for the twentieth session of the Conference of Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change — saw the publication of data that quantifies, for the first time, the exact size of the climate impact made by indigenous populations as front-line guardians of imperiled rainforests. The size of this impact, a kind of negative carbon footprint, is staggering. Nowhere is this more true than in the Amazon that begins just over the mountains from the just-concluded negotiations.

jaguar conservation and deforestation in Amazon

Land rights were a recurring topic both at the Global Landscapes Forum and throughout the 12-day climate change summit, as indigenous leaders called for countries to grant titles to communities that are awaiting legal recognition.

In the Amazon basin, about 100 million hectares of indigenous communities’ land still have not been titled, according to Edwin Vásquez, who heads the Coordinating Committee of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA).

Where land rights are not clear, defending forests against outsiders is dangerous for indigenous people. Two leaders of the Asháninka village of Saweto, in Peru near the border with Brazil, were killed in September, along with two other men from the community.

“The territories of Amazonian indigenous peoples store almost a third of the region’s aboveground carbon,” said Woods Hole Research Center scientist Wayne Walker. “That is more forest carbon than is contained in some of the most carbon-rich tropical countries, including Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

Walker is an author on a new peer-reviewed study, “Forest Carbon in Amazonia,” slated for publication in the journal Carbon Management. The report, released at the start of COP 20, details how preserving carbon-rich forests and protecting indigenous rights are two sides of the same climate coin. Designated indigenous territories in the Amazon contain 28,000 megatons of stored forest carbon, according to the study, which statistically unpacks the close correlation between titled indigenous land and the integrity of carbon-storing tropical rainforests. When granted legal protection of their land, indigenous populations continue to husband their ancestral environment as they have for centuries. “International recognition and investment in indigenous and protected areas are essential to ensuring their continued contribution to global climate stability,” said Richard Chase Smith, of Peru’s Instituto Bien Comun, a co-author of the study.

deforestation and climate change

That’s the good news — that the rainforest has natural protectors already living there. The bad news is the world’s governments, including some of the biggest rainforest nations, have failed to grant title to indigenous territories or protect them from loggers and state-backed oil and mining projects. “We have never been under so much pressure,” said Edwin Vásquez, a study co-author and president of COICA, the Indigenous Coordinating Body of the Amazon Basin. The Woods Hole study estimates that 40 percent of the forests holding carbon on indigenous are now under direct threat by the spread of industry. Failure to protect this land, the authors argue, raises the odds of “dieback,” a dreaded feedback loop scenario in which climate change causes wilting forests to begin releasing their own carbon. “Releasing the carbon currently at risk in Amazon [indigenous territories] alone — equivalent to clearing all of Peru’s forests — would increase the probability of Amazon dieback, with deleterious and potentially irreversible effects on the atmosphere and the planet,” notes the Woods Hole report.

Prior to the study, the correlation between indigenous land-rights and healthy tropical forests was intuitive. Now that it’s backed by official literature, indigenous groups hope the world will begin treating them as important allies whose struggle has global significance. 

“We have always known that indigenous peoples manage forest resources sustainably, and therefore are major actors in the protection of the Amazon landscape, but now we have scientific evidence that their territories act as barriers to deforestation,” said Ana Saenz, a researcher with Peru’s Instituto Bien Comun (Common Good Institute). Saenz is co-author of another new study showing that indigenous populations protect their forests even when they live in proximity to roads and other access routes to markets. But these cultures can only take so many cuts before they begin to bleed out and absorb the values of the encroaching culture, with its tractors and chainsaws.

Prior lack of hard data never stopped indigenous groups from attending international climate fora and pressing their complaints. Indigenous representatives addressed some of the first COP gatherings, and were soon sitting in as official observers. They’ve organized official events like this year’s Indigenous Pavilion and lobbied successfully for inclusion in treaty language. There are indigenous veterans of the climate circuit with more experience than the youngest negotiators representing major economies.

One of these veterans is Mina Susana Setra, deputy of the Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago, an umbrella group representing 15 million indigenous Indonesians. Setra says the crises facing the world’s indigenous communities are accelerating and converging, along with their response. “In every country, indigenous people face the same problems and share the same basic vision,” she said. “The vision is self-governance in our own territory, without violence or intervention, so that we can maintain our relationship with nature. Without the land, without the water, there’s nothing. That’s why we fight and die to protect it.”

This is not just rhetoric. A growing body count is evidence that indigenous activists must accept death as a possible price for their activism, set as it is in remote regions where state and private security forces often have free rein.

For throwing a floodlight on these two colliding trends — threats to the rainforests and violence against those trying to defend them — there is no better stage than the Peruvian government complex that housed the UN talks. Among the nine Amazonian countries, Peru contains the second-most rainforest, after Brazil. It also leads the world in parceling out its forests and land to the highest bidder: 40 percent of Peru’s total area, including most of its rainforest, is controlled by private industry, largely oil and mining. As any Peruvian activist will tell you, the country’s rulers have no patience for organized opposition to this Great Amazonian Sell-Off. The country ranks fourth in the repression of environmental activists (at least 57 have been murdered in the last 12 years) and shows an active contempt for the human rights and land claims of its 14 million indigenous citizens.

Along with land titles and the freedom to be left alone, many indigenous activists want something more from the consumer society that feeds on its trees and minerals. They want to transform it according to indigenous values, to help it understand why it’s better to live in a world without corporations that dump cyanide-laced mining waste into rivers where people drink and swim.

During an impassioned speech delivered to the Indigenous Caucus in Lima, a Congolese indigenous leader challenged his brothers and sisters to be more assertive in their interactions with UN diplomats.

“We must be more than just witnesses here, we must demand to be used for what we know,” he said. “The people in those conference rooms don’t know as much as they think they do. If they did, they wouldn’t be in this situation.”


climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information

Latin American Countries Will Restore 20 Million Hectares Of Forest

Eight South American Countries Promise To Restore Damaged Lands

A coalition of eight Latin American countries just announced plans to replant up to 20 million hectares of forests by 2020, an area five times the size of Switzerland. Unfortunately, Brazil was not on the list.

Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, El Salvador, Chile and Costa Rica made the pledge on the sidelines of UN climate change talks in Lima, backed by US$365 million from donor organizations.

“We are losing our forests at a fast speed,” said Juan Manuel Benitez, Peru’s Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation, at the launch of the initiative. “It is putting at risk our future, our water and our land.”

deforestation and climate change

He explained that Peru has invested US$50 million to investigate the causes of deforestation, which is linked to 60 percent of its annual emissions.

Tackling deforestation is seen as a critical part of efforts to secure a global greenhouse gas emissions reduction agreement in Paris next December.

The transformation of 13 million hectares of forests a year into pastures for animals, croplands or other industrial uses accounts for 20 percent of annual emissions.

“Protection of forests and restoration of degraded lands should be a fundamental part of a strong, universal climate agreement to be finalized at the COP in Paris in 2015,” said Andrew Steer from the World Resources Institute, one of the organizations backing this effort.

“Standing forests and other plant-rich landscapes store climate-warming carbon dioxide, keeping it out of the atmosphere, making forests an important component of both national and international efforts to curb global warming.”

The announcement is the latest sign governments are slowly getting to grips with the destruction of some of the world’s most biodiverse habitats and valuable stores of carbon.

In 2011 governments of South Korea, Costa Rica, the US, China, Rwanda and Brazil agreed to restore 150 million hectares of land by 2030.

And in September 2014 the UN reported 150 governments, companies, civil society and indigenous peoples had backed proposals to cut forest losses 50 percent by 2020, and end it by 2030.

But despite these initiatives forest communities say they are facing an unprecedented number of threats from developers keen to extract valuable raw materials from their lands and open up new farming areas.

Last week widows of four Brazilian tribesmen murdered by suspected illegal loggers travelled to the UN talks in Peru’s capital to highlight the dangers they are now facing.

“We have never been under so much pressure,” said Edwin Vásquez, co-author and president of indigenous people’s network COICA.

forest tribes and forest conservation

Cándido Mezua-Salazar, a tribal chief from Panama, said forests could prosper if governments ensured traditional customs were protected.

“We are part of the forest,” he said, “but out relationship with the earth is suffering and we are all fully responsible.”

Mezua-Salazar said he wanted to see any international climate agreement deliver “clear rules” to protect the rights of tribal peoples.

The UN Challenge

Negotiators in Lima hope to understand better how deforestation will be addressed under any new 2015 agreement. Hopes have been pinned on a marked-based mechanism known as REDD+ that could see forest communities paid to protect forests. But since its inception it has been beset by fears over transparency and accountability, both in terms of flows of money and the accuracy of forest inventories.

Rules over how the variety of projects that fall under its umbrella were agreed at UN talks in Warsaw last year. Its supporters now say it needs strong financial backing from the international community and the private sector. The World Bank, which runs two of the three main bodies charged with distributing funds for REDD+, says it its committed to ensuring costs for anyone applying for help are as low as possible.

“One of the most important things for us is streamlining the finance from donors,” said the Bank’s head of climate change, Rachel Kyte. “What you need to be able to do is be able to engage with one process. “So what we’re doing is changing the way that we will manage all those different windows so we will have one conversation with a country, and we will figure out how the different regulations with different governments and different governance operate, and we’ll waive that charge for the client.”


climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information

Peru Must Honor Promise To Return Forests To Indigenous Tribes

Indigenous Communities Promised Millions Of Acres In 2008

Decades of illegal gold mining have destroyed large expanses of virgin Peruvian rainforest into polluted wastelands. Excavations to separate gold flecks from tons of earth have left holes big enough to swallow a half-dozen buses.

Excavations to separate gold flecks from tons of earth created holes big enough to swallow a half-dozen buses. Mercury, a neurotoxin used to bind the gold, pervades the local food chain, reaching humans through the fish they eat.

deforestation and climate change

The ruined lands scar the southeastern region of Madre de Dios, a mecca of biodiversity where natural marvels lure ecotourists and where several tribes call home. Most of the destruction has been done by invaders from outside the region. Fortunately, thousands of them have left in recent months as the government cracks down on illegal mining, dynamiting mining machinery, dismantling brothels and cutting off gasoline supplies.

Agriculture and illegal mining are the largest causes of deforestation in Peru, said Environmental Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal on the eve of the U.N. climate conference in Lima this week.

rainforest destruction Peru
Areas once full of biodiversity in Peru are now industrial wastelands that pollute land and water. Photo by Rodrigo Abd, AP.

“It is terrible for the nearly irremediable wounds it causes to the forest,” he said.

In the past decade alone, mining has denuded 230 square miles (595 square kilometers) of forest in the Madre de Dios region, while poisoning the rivers with chemicals. A study released last year by the Carnegie Institution for Science found that 76.5 percent of people in the region had mercury levels above acceptable limits.

Peru is more than 60 percent rainforest and only Brazil has a larger share of the Amazon jungle, whose preservation is vital to mitigating global damage from climate change.

Deforestation and land conversion account for about 40 percent of Peru’s greenhouse gas emissions. The country has vowed to halt deforestation by 2021, and Norway in September pledged $300 million toward that goal.

Yet Peru’s stewardship of its rainforest has been questioned by environmentalists, and deforestation appears to be on the rise. University of Maryland scientist Matthew Hansen, who tracks deforestation globally, said preliminary data indicates that Peru lost an average of 770 square miles (1,995 square kilometers) of forest annually over the past two years, up from 490 square miles (1,270 square kilometers) a year during the previous decade.

As part of the agreement with Norway on halting deforestation, Peru said it would grant native communities ownership of a total of 19,300 square miles (5 million hectares). Environmentalists say evidence shows that that native communities are less likely to damage or destroy the areas in which they live, making them better stewards of the world’s forests than governments or private interests.

forest tribes and forest conservation

Granting that much land to the more than 600 native communities that seek titles will not be easy. Regional governments, many of which have turned a blind eye to deforestation-related corruption and illegal logging, were given jurisdiction over land titling in 2008. Hopefully, the pledges will be acted upon sooner rather than later.


climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information