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Amazon deforestation drops to record low

Posted on behalf of  Claudio Angelo.

The rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has fallen to yet another record low this year. The new figure, a staggering 27% drop from 2011, exceeded the expectations of the Brazilian government and puts the country on the verge of fulfilling the promise it made at the COP 15 climate meeting in Copenhagen in 2009: to slash the rate of destruction of the world’s largest tropical forest by 80% by 2020.

According to preliminary calculations released on Tuesday, 27 November, by Inpe (National Institute for Space Research), 4,656 square kilometres of forest were clear-cut in the Amazon over the 12 months from August 2011 to July 2012, compared to 6,418 km2 from August 2010 to July 2011. The estimate was based on fine-resolution satellite images that capture nearly all the deforestation hotspots. The figures are always reviewed in the following year, but the final number never strays too much from the December estimate.

The 2012 rate is only about 4% higher than the 2020 target of 3,907 km2 that Brazil volunteered as part of its commitment to the 2009 Copenhagen Accord. It was also a rare piece of good news as diplomats from 194 nations gathered in Doha, Qatar, for yet another attempt to salvage multilateral climate talks and negotiate the terms of an extension of the Kyoto Protocol. Ambassador André Corrêa do Lago, Brazil’s chief negotiator at COP 18, was applauded upon announcing the figure at the plenary.

“Once again, the good news on the climate agenda comes from Brazil,” said Brazilian environment minister, Izabella Teixeira, in an interview with Nature after releasing the Inpe data. “What we need now is that developed countries also deliver on their promises, so that the planet can effectively cope with the challenge of climate change,” she said.

Nailing down the remaining 4% of the target will be no easy task for Brazil, however. High prices of grain and gold in the international market, combined with a weakened Forest Code by the Congress, have caused clear-cutting to go up by 220% in August, the first month of the 2013 data series. Teixeira says that the picture for September and October is much brighter, but Imazon, an environmental think tank that uses a different methodology to independently calculate deforestation rates, has seen a 125% increase from August to October compared to August–October 2011.

Money for fighting climate change is also due to vanish in the South American nation. Earlier this month, the Congress passed a law that redistributes royalties from the country’s booming oil industry that were used to feed the national Climate Fund.  The new law, now awaiting sanction by president Dilma Rousseff, has the potential to eliminate up to US$500 million a year in funds that should finance climate adaptation and mitigation.

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