Amazon Deforestation at Lowest Levels Ever, But China Stokes Illegal Logging

Thanks to strong policing, Brazil has managed to reduce deforestation of the Amazon to its lowest level ever. 

Deforestation of the world’s largest rainforest dropped 27% over the past year and is down 83% since 2004. The goal is to reduce it 80% from 2005 levels by 2020.

This one of the few pieces of hopeful news about global warming. 60% of the Amazon is in Brazil.

Still, close to 93,000 square miles of forest was cleared between 2000-2010, about the size of the UK. The loss of this forest is what makes Brazil one of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters.

One police sweep uncovered camouflaged tractors hidden under the forest canopy that would be used to clear land, reports Bloomberg. 

Since 2008, Brazil has been using satellites to monitor deforestation, which can spot slash-and-born activities.

The country also passed a controversial new Forest Code in October to further prevent deforestation and illegal logging.

"There’s no doubt that what Brazil has done is a major, indeed historic success. It has come despite economic pressure in the opposite direction, from high global prices for soybeans and beef, the two major drivers of deforestation in the Amazon, and from the increased demand brought about by urbanization in the region.

"It represents the largest reduction in global warming pollution achieved by any country so far, and the majority of its cost was paid for by Brazil itself. It came during a period in which the country substantially reduced poverty and hunger and in which the economy and its agricultural output, including that of the soy and beef industries, grew rapidly," says Doug Boucher, Senior Scientist & Director of Climate Research and Analysis for Union of Concerned Scientists.

How did this accomplishment happen? Credit goes to former President Luis Silva and his Minister of the Environment, Marina Silva, as well as current President Dilma Rousseff. Public prosecutors provided strong enforcement of environmental laws and Norway provided incentives through results-based funding through its forest-climate program. Brazil’s civil society pressured government and industries, leading exporters to  voluntarily stop buying soy and beef from deforested lands, explains Boucher.

Concerns Grow Over China’s Illegal Timber Trade 

China is now the world’s biggest importer of illegal timber – to the tune of $4 billion and is fueling conflict in Myanmar, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and parts of Africa.

A decade ago, China realized it was destroying its own land and implemented strong forest protection laws and replanting programs.

But that has led to rampant destruction elsewhere to satiate the country’s enormous appetite for wood.

In the report, Appetite for Destruction: China’s Trade in Illegal Timber, UK’s Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) points out that timber imports are used to make furniture, flooring, moldings and paper products, which are then exported.

It is, in effect, exporting deforestation. Over half of China’s wood supplies come from countries that have poor forest governance and are at high risk of illegal logging.

"Such rampant illegal trade is having a dire impact on the forests of Asia-Pacific and local communities. In the Solomon Islands, exports to China are seven times higher than the sustainable logging rate, with forests predicted to be emptied of commercial timber by 2015," says EIA. And mountains in Myanmar are being stripped bare.

15-30% of the logging industry is now illegal, netting $30 billion to $100 billion a year. The practice is responsible for 50-90% of all the forests cut in the Amazon, Central Africa and Southeast Asia, according to a United Nations report published in October with INTERPOL. 

The US, EU and Australia have all enacted laws banning illegal timber imports and China needs to do the same.

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