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An end to (large-scale) deforestation in the Amazon?

Jeff Tollefson
Nature
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

An end to (large scale) deforestation in the Amazon? evol distrb prodes 2010Could it be? Things are changing so quickly in the Amazon that it’s hard to come up with a satisfactory explanation of anything, but the latest deforestation statistics certainly make you wonder.

Here’s the gist: Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research issued preliminary satellite data last week indicating that the rate of deforestation dropped by 47.5 percent, from 4,375 to 2,296 square kilometres, in 2010. (Beware: the English version contains an error with these specific numbers) This is low-resolution satellite data, so the official number (which no one really disputes) will be substantially higher when it comes out in December. But it is an apples-to-apples comparison.

The final tally for 2009 was 7,464 square kilometres, and the 2009 total is expected to register below 4,000 square kilometres. That would represent an 85 percent drop compared to the recent peak year of 2004, when 27,772 square kilometres were chopped down. It would also mean that Brazil has met its commitment to reduce deforestation by 80 percent by 2020 a decade early, says Doug Boucher, who heads the tropical forest programme for UCS. “That’s a remarkable achievement.”

Boucher translates an 80-percent reduction from the long-term baseline (roughly 19,500 square kilometres between 1996 and 2005) into an annual reduction of about 1 gigatonne of carbon dioxide emissions. That is equivalent to roughly 17 percent of the United States’ annual greenhouse gas emissions, which is about what the United States is promising to do by 2020. And the US commitment is roughly equivalent to what the European Union has committed to doing unilaterally between now and 2020.

In other words, if Brazil can prevent a major backslide, it will have accomplished as much in the past few years as the United States and Europe are committing to do over the next decade. And then there’s the added benefit to biodiversity.

Full story here.

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