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environmental magazine

NakedPlanet issue

2.

02/2008

Profiles: Deforestation Amazonian desert Greenpeace


NakedPlanet Issue 2


: The trees’ beauty The problems

p.4

Agriculture Palm oil and monocultures Climate Change The role of companies and government

p.12 p.13 p.14 p.17

Original and today’s forest world cover

p.20

What is deforestation?

p.22

Etymology

p.24

Biodiversity

p.25

History of deforestation

p.26

Impact on the environment

p.28


A Worls Imperiled: forces behind forest loss Economic Impact

p.32 p.36

Amazonian Rainforests Dissapearance Amazonian Rainforest can become a desert

p.39 p.40 p.44

Greenpeace: What do we do? Protected areas Resposible forest management Government actions Changing industry actions

p.48

Special thanks

p.52

p.51


the beauty of trees

A tree is a perennial woody plant. It is most often defined as a woody plant that has secondary branches supported clear of the ground on a single main stem or trunk with clear apical dominance. A minimum height specification at maturity is cited by some authors, varying from 3 m to 6 m; some authors set a minimum of 10 cm trunk diameter (30 cm girth). Woody plants that do not meet these definitions by having multiple stems and/or small size, are called shrubs. Compared with most other plants, trees are long-lived, some of them getting to be several thousand years old and growing to up to 115 m (375 ft) high.

Trees are an important component of the natural landscape because of their prevention of erosion and the provision of a specific weather-sheltered ecosystem in and under their foliage. Trees have also been found to play an important role in producing oxygen and reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as well as moderating ground temperatures. They are also significant elements in landscaping and agriculture, both for their aesthetic appeal and their orchard crops (such as apples). Wood from trees is a common building material. Trees also play an intimate role in many of the world’s mythologies.

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The Earth was once covered in ancient forests. Home to around two-thirds of all plant and animal species found on land as well as millions of people who depend on them for their survival, they still form some of the most diverse ecosystems known to science and are vitally important to the health of our planet, especially when it comes to regulating the climate.

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the beauty of trees

But these ancient forests are under threat. A staggering 80 per cent have already been either destroyed or degraded, and half of that has been in the last 30 years. Illegal and destructive logging, industrial-scale farming and, increasingly, climate change all threaten the remaining tracts of forest that have stood for thousands of years. Countless species face extinction and entire communities are being displaced. If current rates of deforestation continue, some of the last areas of ancient forest could be lost within our lifetimes, but we believe this destruction can be stopped. We are working to protect these forests and the plants, animals and peoples that depend on them. But we can only do so with your help.

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The problems We are destroying ancient forests at an unprecedented rate. As demand for anything made from wood increases- whether it’s books, furniture, construction materials or even toilet paper- we risk stripping away the last remaining ancient forest areas. Extinction threatens many species of wildlife, particularly larger animals such as tigers, grizzly bears and gorillas that need large intact forest areas to survive. In addition, the rights of traditional landowners are being abused as they are evicted from the lands they have occupied for generations, often as a result of violence and intimidation. Sixty million indigenous people depend on forests for their survival, while a further 1.6 billion make their livelihoods from forest products.

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the problems

&Distructive illegal logging

More and more areas of pristine forest are being cut down to feed timber and paper mills around the world - an area the size of a football pitch disappears every two seconds. Much of this logging is destructive and can also be illegal, particularly in poorer countries where corruption, weak governance, and a lack of money make it difficult for the authorities to police and enforce the law. With 80 per cent of the world’s ancient forests already lost or seriously degraded, it’s vital we look after what remains to maintain biodiversity, protect the way of life of local communities, and guard against climate change. But industrial logging, which is often either destructive, illegal or both, has these last areas of ancient forest under siege. So fast is the rate that an area the size of a football pitch is lost every two seconds. Of course, none of this would be happening if there wasn’t a market for the timber - the UK is the fourth largest economy in the world so our own demand for timber is a big driver of forest destruction. It’s astonishing that there are no laws in either the UK or the EU to ban imports of illegal and destructively logged timber. Coupled

with weak governance and corruption in timber-producing countries, this lack of legislation allows unscrupulous logging companies and timber traders worldwide to exploit ancient forests. The lax attitude of governments towards destructive and illegal logging also has dire implications for climate change. With up to 25 per cent of global man-made emissions coming from deforestation, their reluctance to ensure only legal and well-managed timber is in EU only encourages rampant deforestation. But the destruction can be stopped, and introducing legislation is one piece of the puzzle. But you can also help. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) runs a certification system that already provides a benchmark for environmentally responsible and social just timber products, certifying all manner of products from timber and plywood to garden furniture and books. Checking for the FSC’s ‘tree tick’ logo on any wood or paper you buy will help protect the remaining ancient forests. And if it’s recycled, even better.

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the problems

Agriculture

Soya land grabbing slavery

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Deforestation is also being driven by another human factor - agriculture. Ancient rainforests are being cleared to open up new land for crops such as soya and palm oil, which are grown on an industrial scale to supply the growing demand from food companies across the world, including the UK. The land is often stolen from the people who live there, and in the Amazon farms in cleared areas of forest still use slave labour. As the human population and our consumption of resources grow, more and more land is being turned over to agricultural production. This is at the expense of natural habitats such as mangroves, wetlands and, of course, ancient forests. In particular, it’s the growing importance of soya beans and palm oil as global commodities are key drivers of deforestation. As global demand for soya has increased, Brazil has matched that demand by clearing huge areas of the Amazon rainforest to make room for plantations. In 2005, it became the world leader in soya exports but this has been at a terrible price. Soya farming is now one of the leading causes of deforestation in Brazil - in 2004-5 alone, 1.2 million hectares

of soya were planted in the rainforest where land-grabbing and illegal deforestation are common. Land grabbing goes hand in hand with violence and even murder, while communities are forced from their homes and slave labour is used to clear the land. More than half of all reported incidents of slavery in Brazil are in Para and Mato Grosso states, where much Amazon soya is grown. As with destructive and illegal logging, very little of the enormous profits generated from soya production trickle down to the local population. Instead, they end up in the pockets of the agricultural multinationals driving the soya invasion, including ADM, Bunge, Dreyfus and Cargill (which also happens to be the largest privatelyowned company on the planet) as well as a Brazilian company, Grupo Andre Maggi. As a result of our work on Amazon soya, in July 2006 these traders announced a two-year moratorium on buying soya from newly deforested areas.


palm oil monoluctures

Meanwhile in South East Asia, oil palm plantations are laying waste to huge areas of the Paradise Forests. Palm oil is used as an ingredient in many supermarket products including biscuits, chips and chocolate, and with the growing interest in biofuels demand is set to rise further still. Touted as an alternative to fossil fuels and a solution to climate change, the production of biofuels could actually means further deforestation, and could actually accelerate climate change rather than minimise its effects. Deforestation is not the only consequence of industrial-scale agriculture in such vulnerable ecosystems as tropical rainforests. The links between monocultures and loss of biodiversity are well established. They also result in increased pest outbreaks and this, along with the poor tropical soil, means massive amounts of fertilizers and pesticides are needed to boost harvests. Even then, the soil is soon exhausted and farmers move on to newly deforested areas to begin again.

There are alternatives to this continuing destruction. More protected forest areas with better policing are an obvious answer, but in addition the agricultural industry and its investors need to change their policies and support more environmentally responsible and socially just methods of providing their crops. And as consumers, if we demand that our food or energy does not come with deforestation, social conflict and climate change included in the price, companies will be forced to listen.

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the problems

Climate change From storing carbon to recycling water into the atmosphere, it's increasingly clear that ancient forests play a critical role in the regulation of the global climate while their destruction is a major contributor to climate change. Deforestation accounts for 18 per cent of all emissions, more than the entire global transport sector, so protecting our ancient forests from further devastation is absolutely essential if we're serious about tackling climate change. As our understanding of the role forests play in stabilising global climate increases, it is becoming clear that their destruction is only exacerbating climate change. If we’re serious about tackling this, then preserving our remaining ancient forests has to be a priority.

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Carbon storehouses

Mature forests store enormous quantities of carbon, both in the trees and vegetation itself and within the soil in the form of decaying plant matter. Forests in areas such as the Congo and the Amazon represent some of the world’s largest carbon stores on land. But when forests are logged or burnt, that carbon is released into the atmosphere, increasing the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and accelerating the rate of climate change. So much carbon is released that they contribute up to one-fifth of global man-made emissions, more than the world’s entire transport sector. Deforestation has such a massive effect on climate change that Indonesia and Brazil are now the third and fourth largest emitters of carbon dioxide on the planet. This dubious honour comes not from industrial or transport emissions, but from deforestation - up to 75 per cent of Brazil’s emissions come solely from deforestation - with the majority coming from clearing and burning areas of the Amazon rainforest.

the problems

stern words

The link between forests and climate change is now widely accepted. The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, commissioned by the UK government and released in October 2006, was in no doubt about the impact forests have on our climate. “Action to preserve the remaining areas of natural forest is needed urgently,” it said, and called for “large scale pilot schemes... to explore effective approaches to combining national action and international support”. The report also noted that preventing deforestation would be a relatively cheap method of tackling climate change, allowing forested countries to reduce their emissions by enormous amounts. These countries - such as Indonesia, Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo - should lead the way in developing policies to protect and manage their forests, but they also need help from other nations. Preserving forest areas benefits the entire planet and there is now a growing acceptance among the international community for financial incentives to leave forests standing. If that were to happen, forests could be worth more intact than if they were felled for timber or agriculture. Climate change is the biggest problem facing our planet, and preserving our remaining forests is a key part of the solution. You can be a part of that solution too - find out what you can do to help save the remaining forests and stop climate change.

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Amazonian forest burning. (Image from CREA archive) Burning forests to clear land for agriculture releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases

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the problems

The role of companies& government If these threats are so apparent, why have governments not done more to combat them? Simply put, there is a distinct lack of political will on all sides to take action. In the developing world, a lack of funding for management and policing protected areas is aggravated by widespread corruption, while in industrialised nations products made from illegally logged timber are cheaper than those produced in an environmentally and socially responsible way. Even our own government can’t abide by its own guidelines for buying timber- despite Tony Blair’s verbal commitments towards forest protection, it’s still absurdly easy to find products made from illegal and unsustainably logged timber on sale in this country. Despite repeated promises and claims of green policies, government and companies have so far failed to seriously address the problem of deforestation. Destructive and illegal logging is laying waste to huge areas of forest, making a massive contribution towards climate change and is having a devastating effect on forest-dwelling people and wildlife.

Our own government in particular should hang its head in shame: it claims that it is working to protect forests elsewhere in the world, but its efforts at preventing dodgy timber from entering the UK have been rather poor. In 2000, the government introduced a policy requiring all departments to “actively seek” to buy timber from legal and well-managed sources. The policy has since been updated and now requires departments to buy legal timber to sustainable timber by 2009 as set out in the government’s new Sustainability Procurement Action Plan. It also established the Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET) to advise government departments on procuring good timber for their construction projects. But our investigations have shown that, since that policy was introduced, the government has repeatedly broken by its own rules and illegal timber has cropped up on a number of government construction sites. One part of the problem is CPET itself. It recognises several certification schemes for proof of legality and sustainability, and some of these schemes use criteria and processes that are fundamentally flawed. Alongside a lack of monitoring and shoddy enforcement, it means illegal timber is still being used.

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the problems

The need for legislation Like our own government, the EU has made impressive noises about their efforts to tackle the illegal timber trade, but unfortunately it has not yet to produced proper legislation. So far, the EU has developed the action plan on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) which, amongst other things, advocates the development of Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) with timberproducing countries. These agreements will commit the EU to helping these countries improve forest protection and management, and eventually, the only timber entering Europe from signatory countries will be legal timber. However, this voluntary approach alone is not going to defeat the illegal timber trade since various loopholes mean it isn’t going to be enough. * VPAs will only apply to countries that actually sign up so illegal timber could still legally enter the EU from non-signatory countries. * They will only cover direct trade with Europe and not timber products manufactured in a third-party country like China.

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* The current proposals only cover some products while others (for instance paper and furniture) are currently excluded. FLEGT also recommends developing additional legislative options that could see only timber from wellmanaged sources entering Europe, but so far the European Commission has not done enough to make this a reality. Pressure is needed from all the member countries to make this happen: we’re pushing for the full potential of FLEGT to be realised so the market for illegal timber in Europe is closed forever.


the problems

Corporate greed Meanwhile, companies are making huge profits on the back of deforestation, as destructive and illegally logged timber is cheaper and undercuts responsible alternatives. It’s not just the logging industry that poses a threat - agriculture also encourages deforestation. Crops like soya and palm oil which are in high demand on the international markets are often grown in areas of rainforest and tropical peatland that have been burnt and drained. While an increasing number of companies are developing strong procurement policies to tackle these issues, others refuse to do so or are unaware of the impact their activities have. For example, before our Amazon soya campaign, we asked many UK food companies where their soya supplies were coming from. No one could tell us and yet we were able to track soya being exported from the Amazon into the UK. By challenging industry to develop good procurement policies and use their power to influence key players on the ground in forest producing areas, we can help to end the destruction.

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deforestation

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deforestation

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Deforestation is the conversion of forested areas to non-forest land for use such as arable land, pasture, urban use, logged area, or wasteland. Generally, the removal or destruction of significant areas of forest cover has resulted in a degraded environment with reduced biodiversity. In many countries, massive deforestation is ongoing and is shaping climate and geography. Deforestation results from removal of trees without sufficient reforestation, and results in declines in habitat and biodiversity, wood for fuel and industrial use, and quality of life. From about the mid-1800s, the planet has experienced an unprecedented rate of change of destruction of forests worldwide. Forests in Europe are adversely affected by acid rain and very large areas of Siberia have been harvested since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the last two decades, Afghanistan has lost over 70% of its forests throughout the country. However, it is in the world’s great tropical rainforests where the destruction is most pronounced at the current

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time and where wholesale felling is having an adverse effect on biodiversity and contributing to the ongoing Holocene mass extinction. About half of the mature tropical forests, between 750 to 800 million hectares of the original 1.5 to 1.6 billion hectares that once covered the planet have fallen. The forest loss is already acute in Southeast Asia, the second of the world’s great biodiversity hot spots. Much of what remains is in the Amazon basin, where the Amazon Rainforest covered more than 600 million hectares. The forests are being destroyed at a pace tracking the rapid pace of human population growth. Unless significant measures are taken on a world-wide basis to preserve them, by 2030 there will only be ten percent remaining with another ten percent in a degraded condition. 80 percent will have been lost and with them the irreversible loss of hundreds of thousands of species.

Many tropical countries, including Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, China, Sri Lanka, Laos, Nigeria, Liberia, Guinea, Ghana and the Cote d’lvoire have lost large areas of their rainforest. 90% of the forests of the Philippine archipelago have been cut. In 1960 Central America still had 4/5 of its original forest; now it is left with only 2/5 of it. Madagascar has lost 95% of its rainforests. Atlantic coast of Brazil has lost 90-95% of its Mata Atlantica rainforest. Half of the Brazilian state of Rondonia’s 24.3 million hectares have been destroyed or severely degraded in recent years. As of 2007, less than 1% of Haiti’s forests remain, causing many to call Haiti a Caribbean desert. Between 1990 and 2005, Nigeria lost a staggering 79% of its old-growth forests. Several countries, notably the Philippines, Thailand and India have declared their deforestation a national emergency.

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deforestation

The name Amazon is said to arise from a war which Francisco de Orellana had with a tribe of Tapuyas and other tribes from South America where the women of the tribe fought alongside the men, as was the custom among the entire tribe. (Orellana’s descriptions may have been accurate, but a few historians speculate that Orellana could have been mistaking indigenous men wearing “grass skirts” for women.) Orellana derived the name Amazonas from the ancient Amazons of Asia and Africa described by Herodotus and Diodorus in Greek legends.

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Another etymology for the word suggests that it came originally from a native word amazona (Spanish spelling) or amassona (Portuguese spelling), meaning “destroyer (of) boats”, in reference to the destructive nature of the root system possessed by some riparian plants.


deforestation

Wet tropical forests are the most species-rich biome, and tropical forests in the Americas are consistently more species rich than the wet forests in Africa and Asia. As the largest tract of tropical rainforest in the Americas, the Amazonian rainforests have unparalleled biodiversity. More than 1/3 of all species in the world live in the Amazon Rainforest. The region is home to about 2.5 million insect species[citation needed], tens of thousands of plants, and some 2000 birds and mammals. To date, at least 40,000 plant species, 3,000 fish, 1,294 birds, 427 mammals, 428 amphibians, and 378 reptiles have been scientifically classified in the region. Scientists have described between 96,660 and 128,843 invertebrate species in Brazil alone. The diversity of plant species is the highest on earth with some experts estimating that one square kilometer may contain over 75,000 types of trees and 150,000 species of higher plants. One square kilometer of Amazon rainforest can contain about 90,790 tonnes of living plants. This constitutes the largest collection of living plants and animal species in the world.

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deforestation

Prior to the early 1960s, access to the forest’s interior was highly restricted, and aside from partial clearing along rivers the forest remained basically intact. The poor soil also made plantation-based agriculture unprofitable. The key point in deforestation of the Amazon was when colonists established farms within the forest during the 1960s. Their farming system was based on crop cultivation and the slash and burn method. However, the colonists were unable to successfully manage their fields and the crops due to the loss of soil fertility and weed invasion. The soils in the Amazon are productive for just a short period of time, and farmers are therefore constantly moving to new areas and clearing more and more land. Amazonian colonization was ruled by cattle raising because ranching required little labor, generated decent profits, and awarded social status in the community. Additionally, grass can grow

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in the poor Amazon soil. However, the results of the farming lead to extensive deforestation and caused extensive environmental damage. An estimated 30% of the deforestation is due to small farmers and the intensity within the area that they inhabit is greater than the area occupied by the medium and large ranchers who possess 89% of the Legal Amazon’s private land. This emphasizes the importance of using previously cleared land for agricultural use, rather the typical easiest political path of distributing still-forested areas. In the Brazilian Amazon, the amount of small farmers versus large landholders changes frequently with economic and demographic pressures.


deforestation

Description: This is a map location of the Amazon Rainforest. The blue line encloses Amazon rainforest ecoregions as delineated by the World Wide Fund for Nature. National boundaries are shown in black. Source: NASA, January 2007

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deforestation

Impact on the Environment Generally, the removal or destruction of significant areas of forest cover has resulted in a degraded environment with reduced biodiversity. In many countries, massive deforestation is ongoing and is shaping climate and geography. Deforestation also enhances global warming,[citation needed] and although 70% of the oxygen we breathe comes from the photosynthesis of marine green algae and cyanobacteria, the mass destroying of the worlds rain forests is not beneficial to our environment. In addition, the incineration and burning of forest plants in order to clear land releases tonnes of CO2 which increases the impact of global warming[citation needed].


Amazonian deforestation (from MONGABAY archive)

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Deforestation affects the amount of water in the soil and groundwater and the moisture in the atmosphere. Forests support considerable biodiversity, providing valuable habitat for wildlife; moreover, forests foster medicinal conservation and the recharge of aquifers. With forest biotopes being a major, irreplaceable source of new drugs (like taxol), deforestation can destroy genetic variations (such as crop resistance) irretrievably. Shrinking forest cover lessens the landscape’s capacity to intercept, retain and transport precipitation. Instead of trapping precipitation, which then percolates to groundwater systems, deforested areas become sources of surface water runoff, which moves much faster than subsurface flows. That quicker transport of surface water can translate into flash flooding and

deforestation

Amazonian deforestation (from MONGABAY archive)

more localized floods than would occur with the forest cover. Deforestation also contributes to decreased evapotranspiration, which lessens atmospheric moisture which in some cases affects precipitation levels down wind from the deforested area, as water is not recycled to downwind forests, but is lost in runoff and returns directly to the oceans. According to one preliminary study, in deforested north and northwest China, the average annual precipitation decreased by one third between the 1950s and the 1980s. Longterm gains can be obtained by managing forest lands sustainable to maintain both forest cover and provide a biodegradable renewable resource. Forests are also important stores of organic carbon, and forests can extract carbon dioxide and pollutants from the air, thus contributing to biosphere stability. Deforestation (mainly in tropical areas) account for up to one-third of total anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. Forests are also valued for their aesthetic beauty and as a cultural resource and tourist attraction.

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Amazonian deforestation (from MONGABAY archive)

a World imperiled:

forces behind forest loss 32

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deforestation

As the first seven sections of this site have described, tropical rainforests are incredibly rich ecosystems that play a fundamental role in the basic functioning of the planet. Rainforests are home to probably 50 percent of the world’s species, making them an extensive library of biological and genetic resources. In addition, rainforests help maintain the climate by regulating atmospheric gases and stabilizing rainfall, protect against desertification, and provide numerous other ecological functions. However, these precious systems are among the most threatened on the planet. Although the precise area is debated, each day at least 80,000 acres (32,300 ha) of forest disappear from Earth. At least another 80,000 acres (32,300 ha) of forest are degraded. Along with them, the planet loses as many as several hundred species to extinction, the vast majority of which have never been documented by science. As these forests fall, more carbon is added to the atmosphere, climactic conditions are further altered, and more topsoil is lost to erosion. Despite increased awareness of the importance of these forests, deforestation rates have not slowed. Analysis of figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) shows that tropical deforestation rates increased 8.5 percent from 2000-2005 when compared with the 1990s, while loss of primary forests may have expanded by 25 percent over the same period. Nigeria and Vietnam’s rate of primary forest loss has doubled since the 1990s, while Peru’s rate has tripled.

Overall, FAO estimates that 10.4 million hectares of tropical forest were permanently destroyed each year in the period from 2000 to 2005, an increase since the 1990-2000 period, when around 10.16 million hectares of forest were lost. Among primary forests, annual deforestation rose to 6.26 million hectares from 5.41 million hectares in the same period. On a broader scale, FAO data shows that primary forests are being replaced by less biodiverse plantations and secondary forests. Due to a significant increase in plantation forests, forest cover has generally been expanding in North America, Europe, and China while diminishing in the tropics. Industrial logging, conversion for agriculture (commercial and subsistence), and forest fires—often purposely set by people—are responsible for the bulk of global deforestation today.


deforestation

Rate of change in total deforestation rate 2000-2005 period vs 1990-2000 period Country Rate of change (%) Malaysia 85.7 Cambodia 74.3 Burundi 47.6 Togo 41.6 Nigeria 31.1 Sri Lanka 25.4 Benin 24.1 Brazil 21.2 Uganda 21.0 Indonesia 18.6 Total (62 tropical countries) 8.5

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deforestation

Historically utilization of forest products, including timber and fuel wood, have played a key role in human societies, comparable to the roles of water and cultivable land. Today, developed countries continue to utilize timber for building houses, and wood pulp for paper. In developing countries almost three billion people rely on wood for heating and cooking. The forest products industry is a large part of the economy in both developed and developing countries. Short-term economic gains made by conversion of forest to agriculture, or over-exploitation of wood products, typically leads to loss of longterm income and long-term biological productivity (hence reduction in nature’s services). West Africa, Madagascar, Southeast Asia and many other regions have experienced lower revenue because of declining timber harvests. Illegal logging causes billions of dollars of losses to national economies annually.

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A new study found that the emerging market for carbon credits: “Deforestation in tropical countries is often driven by the perverse economic reality that forests are worth more dead than alive. But a new study by an international consortium of researchers has found that the emerging market for carbon credits has the potential to radically alter that equation.” The new procedures to get the massive amounts of wood are causing more harm to the economy and over powers the amount of money spent by people employed in logging. According to a study, “in most areas studied, the various ventures that prompted deforestation rarely generated more than US$5 for every ton of carbon they released and frequently returned far less than US $1.” The price on the European market for an offset tied to a one-ton reduction in carbon is 23 euro (about $35).


Amazonian deforestation both images are from MONGABAY image archive)

R

Amazo -nian

ainforests The Amazon Rainforest is a moist broadleaf forest in the Amazon Basin of South America. The area, also known as Amazonia, the Amazon jungle or the Amazon Basin, encompasses seven million square kilometers (1.7 billion acres), though the forest itself occupies some 5.5 million square kilometers (1.4 billion acres), located within nine nations: Brazil (with 60 percent of the rainforest), Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. States or departments in four nations bear the name Amazonas after it. The Amazon represents over half of the planet’s remaining rainforests and comprises the largest and most species-rich tract of tropical rainforest in the world.

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Amazonian rainforests

A

By Geoffrey Lean in Manaus and Fred Pearce Sunday, 23 July 2006

Issue:

Amazonian forests disappearing


Between May 2000 and August 2006, Brazil lost nearly 150,000 square kilometers of forest—an area larger than Greece—and since 1970, over 600,000 square kilometers (232,000 square miles) of Amazon rainforest have been destroyed. Why is Brazil losing so much forest? What can be done to slow deforestation?

Why is the Brazilian Amazon being Destroyed

?

In many tropical countries, the majority of deforestation results from the actions of poor subsistence cultivators. However, in Brazil only about one-third of recent deforestation can be linked to “shifted” cultivators. Historically a large portion of deforestation in Brazil can be attributed to land clearing for pastureland by commercial and speculative interests, misguided government policies, inappropriate World Bank projects, and commercial exploitation of forest resources. For effective action it is imperative that these issues be addressed. Focusing solely on the promotion of sustainable use by local people would neglect the most important forces behind deforestation in Brazil.

Brazilian deforestation is strongly correlated to the economic health of the country: the decline in deforestation from 1988-1991 nicely matched the economic slowdown during the same period, while the rocketing rate of deforestation from 1993-1998 paralleled Brazil’s period of rapid economic growth. During lean times, ranchers and developers do not have the cash to rapidly expand their pasturelands and operations, while the government lacks funds to sponsor highways and colonization programs and grant tax breaks and subsidies to forest exploiters.

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A relatively small percentage of large landowners clear vast sections of the Amazon for cattle pastureland. Large tracts of forest are cleared and sometimes planted with African savanna grasses for cattle feeding. In many cases, especially during periods of high inflation, land is simply cleared for investment purposes. When pastureland prices exceed forest land prices (a condition made possible by tax incentives that favor pastureland over natural forest), forest clearing is a good hedge against inflation. Such favorable taxation policies, combined with government subsidized agriculture and colonization programs, encourage the destruction of the Amazon. The practice of low taxes on income derived from agriculture and tax rates that favor pasture over forest overvalues agriculture and pastureland and makes it profitable to convert natural forest for these purposes when it normally would not be so.

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Amazonian rainforests

Amazonian deforestation (from MONGABAY image archive)

Amazon rainforest ‘could become a desert’ And that could speed up global warming with ‘incalculable consequences’, says alarming new research.

The vast Amazon rainforest is on the brink of being turned into desert, with catastrophic consequences for the world’s climate, alarming research suggests. And the process, which would be irreversible, could begin as early as next year. Studies by the blue-chip Woods Hole Research Centre, carried out in Amazonia, have concluded that the forest cannot withstand more than two consecutive years of drought without breaking down. Scientists say that this would spread drought into the northern hemisphere, including Britain, and could massively accelerate global warming with incalculable consequences, spinning out of control, a process that might end in the world becoming uninhabitable. The alarming news comes in the

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midst of a heatwave gripping Britain and much of Europe and the United States. Temperatures in the south of England reached a July record of 36.3C on Tuesday. And it comes hard on the heels of a warning by an international group of experts, led by the Eastern Orthodox “pope” Bartholomew, last week that the forest is rapidly approaching a “tipping point” that would lead to its total destruction. The research ­ carried out by the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole centre in Santarem on the Amazon river ­ has taken even the scientists conducting it by surprise. When Dr Dan Nepstead started the experiment in 2002 ­ by covering a chunk of rainforest the size of a football pitch with plastic panels to see how it would cope without rain ­he surrounded


it with sophisticated sensors, expecting to record only minor changes. The trees managed the first year of drought without difficulty. In the second year, they sunk their roots deeper to find moisture, but survived. But in year three, they started dying. Beginning with the tallest the trees started to come crashing down, exposing the forest floor to the drying sun. By the end of the year the trees had released more than two-thirds of the carbon dioxide they have stored during their lives, helping to act as a break on global warming. Instead they began accelerating the climate change. As we report today on pages 28 and 29, the Amazon now appears to be entering its second successive year of drought, raising the possibility that it

could start dying next year. The immense forest contains 90 billion tons of carbon, enough in itself to increase the rate of global warming by 50 per cent. Dr Nepstead expects “megafires” rapidly to sweep across the drying jungle. With the trees gone, the soil will bake in the sun and the rainforest could become desert. Dr Deborah Clark from the University of Missouri, one of the world’s top forest ecologists, says the research shows that “the lock has broken” on the Amazon ecosystem. She adds: the Amazon is “headed in a terrible direction”.

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Company profile: Greenpeace

Ancient forests around the world are at risk from a range of man-made threats including destructive and illegal logging, agriculture and climate change. Unchecked, these will destroy the last remaining forests, possibly within our lifetimes. But there are ways we can avert the crisis and preserve what remains of these fragile landscapes.

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With only 8 per cent of the world’s ancient forests currently under strict protection, huge areas are still at risk from destructive logging. So a global network of protected areas needs to be established to preserve the remaining intact ancient forest areas and the biodiversity they support. This won’t happen overnight, so in the interim we need moratoria on all new industrial logging in these areas for either timber or agriculture while conservation plans are developed. But creating protected areas won’t happen without money in place to fund them. We need to make sure that when reserves are established, mechanisms for financing forest management and policing are in place which will prevent the logging companies from carrying on with business as usual. Eighty per cent of the world’s forests have already been lost and of what remains, only eight per cent is currently protected. So to maintain biodiversity and limit climate change, there needs to be a real commitment to ring-fence large areas of forest for protection.


Responsible forest management This doesn’t mean that all forestry activities should stop, just that they should be done responsibly. As well as protecting regions that have been relatively untouched by industrial exploitation, it’s essential to have other areas where timber can be harvested in a responsible way without laying waste to the rest of the forest. In these areas, logging needs to have a low environmental impact so timber can be extracted selectively, leaving other trees undamaged, and the forest also needs time to recover and regrow. It’s also crucial that all activities are done with the full, informed consent of local communities who depend on the forest for their way of life.


Amazonian deforestation (from CREA image archive)

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Company profile: Greenpeace

Changing industry actions

Government actions Only governments can provide the legislation needed to establish protected areas, so we have to convince them that they need to take action. They also have the power to eliminate the trade in illegal and destructively-logged timber entering the UK and Europe by introducing legislation to stop illegal timber imports. Closing the markets for this kind of wood will send a clear signal to logging companies that their practices need to change before it’s too late.

Companies and industry also have a significant role to play in forest protection and management. By using only timber and paper that comes from environmentally responsible and socially just forest management, they can have a huge impact on the rate of deforestation. We’ve worked with a wide rage of businesses to make this happen, and a range of companies - from timber merchants to building contractors, book publishers to and paper manufacturers - are now taking action to ensure their businesses aren’t contributing to the destruction of ancient forests. Unfortunately, many other companies continue to conduct business as usual. This isn’t just limited to businesses dealing directly in timber products. With agriculture being a major cause of deforestation, food manufacturers and retailers also need to make sure their soya or palm oil is not being grown in newly deforested areas.

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Special thanks to: CREA www.cocobolonaturereserve.org MONGABAY www.mongabay.com GREENPEACE www.greenpeace.org.uk/forests

Forests

Issue 2

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Naked Planet

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Profile for Natasha Alexander

TREES magazine  

Experimental project that inludes own photography, illustrations and collected information on deforestation, other problems and possible sol...

TREES magazine  

Experimental project that inludes own photography, illustrations and collected information on deforestation, other problems and possible sol...

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