Philip M. Fearnside
Philip M. Fearnside
Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA)
Caixa Postal 478
E-mail of first author: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
1 Figure (graph)
PHILIP M. FEARNSIDE*
Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA), Caixa Postal 478, Manaus 69083-000, Amazonas, Brazil
The major onslaught on the
only in the early 1970s
and both major
concerns in the
Amazon are the . The vast size of
means that the potential impacts of continued clearing are far
more serious than those, already severe, resulting from forest loss
Combating deforestation in
Extent and Rate of Deforestation
LANDSAT satellite data
interpreted at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) (Fig. 1) indicate
that, by 2003, forest cleared in Brazilian Amazonia had reached 648.5 × 10³ km²
(16.2% of the 4 × 106 km² originally forested portion of Brazil's 5 × 106 km² Legal Amazon Region),
including approximately 100 × 10³ km² of "old" (pre-1970) deforestation
in Pará and Maranhão (Brazil, INPE 2004).
Both the current rate and the cumulative extent of deforestation
represent vast areas. The rate is often
[Figure 1 here]
In Brazilian Amazonia, the
relative weight of small farmers versus large landholders changes continually
with economic and demographic pressures.
Large landholders are most sensitive to economic changes such as
interest rates offered by money markets and other financial investments,
government subsidies for agricultural credit, the rate of general inflation,
and changes in land prices. Tax
incentives were a strong motive in the 1970s and 1980s, and although a decree
in June 1991 suspended new incentives
the old incentives continue to the
present day, contrary to the popular impression fostered by statements by
government officials that all had been ended.
Other incentives, such as government-subsidized credit at rates well
below inflation, became much scarcer after 1984 .
Hyperinflation dominated the Brazilian
economy for decades preceding
Tax incentives and subsidized credit for
large cattle ranches were important motives driving deforestation in the 1970s
(e.g., Mahar 1979), but have played a lesser role since 1984.
Till around 1987, land
speculation was also important , but there was
a subsequent increase in the role of pasture profit from beef production
(Mattos et al. 1994; Margulis 2003), although this was limited to regions where
soil and rainfall are suitable for pasture.
large areas, especially in the west , rainfall
is too high (Schneider et al. 2000). 2). Even for the last year (1991) the effect
would have been minimal, as the average date for the LANDSAT images for the
1991 data set was August. At the low
point in 1991 many ranchers were unable to use their funds for investment in
clearing because then-president Fernando Collor de Melo had seized bank
accounts in March of 1990, with funds subsequently released in small
installments over a period of years.
, in large
part, a reflection of economic recovery under the Plano Real. , which includ ed
cattle ranches, and municipal elections in 1994
also lead to an increase in agricultural credit which, in providing cash to
landholders, is much more effective in spurring deforestation than economic
changes which affect the value of less liquid assets such as land. The subsequent fall in deforestation rates in 1996 and 1997 is a
logical consequence of the Plano Real having sharply cut the rate of
inflation. Land values peaked in 1995
and fell by about 50% by the end of 1997.
Falling land values make land speculation unattractive to
investors. Deforestation rates
then climbed to a level of 17-18 × 10³ km² per year, which remained constant
for the next four years, followed by a jump in 2002 to a new plateau at 23 ×
10³ km² per year (Fig. 1).
The association of major
swings in deforestation rate with macroeconomic factors such as money
availability and inflation rate is one indication that much of the clearing is
done by those who invest in medium
cattle ranches, rather than by small farmers using family labor. The predominant role of larger landholders is
also indicated by the location of clearing activity. The distribution of 1991 clearing
among the region's nine states indicates that most is in those
dominated by ranchers: Mato Grosso alone accounted for 26% of the 11.1 × 10³
km² total. Mato
Grosso has the highest percentage of its privately held land in ranches of 1000
ha or more: 84% at the time of the 1985 agricultural census. By contrast, Rondônia – famous
for its deforestation by small farmers – accounted for only 10% of the 1991
deforestation total, and The
Institute for Environmental Research in Amazonia (IPAM) in 202 properties from Paragominas to Rio Branco in the
"arc of deforestation" indicated only 25% of the
clearing in properties of 100 ha or less (Nepstad et al. 1999a). The social cost of substantially reducing
deforestation rates would therefore be much less than is implied by frequent
pronouncements that blame "poverty" for environmental problems in the
who is to blame for deforestation is vital for any program attempting to reduce
it, and a strategy to this end which promotes agroforestry among small farmers
is doomed to fail when large when cattle ranchers with large
estates are the principal villains.
Money laundering is also
involved. "Dirty" money from
drugs, corruption and many other illegal sources can be converted into
"clean" money by investing in Amazonian business ventures, such as
gold mining dredges and cattle ranches, even if they are unprofitable based on
the face value of return on investment.
The rapidly increasing drug traffic in
fires that set in motion
a vicious cycle of tree mortality, increasing fuel loads, and re-entry of fire,
until the forest is completely destroyed.
Reaching this endpoint can increase the role of fire from that of “cryptic deforestation” to a level of damage that
would appear on LANDSAT imagery as deforestation (Cochrane et al. 1999; Nepstad
et al. 1999b).
One of the most basic causes of deforestation is
the effect of transportation infrastructure in accelerating migration
to remote areas and in increasing the rate of clearing in already-established
properties. The Avança Brasil program, a development package for the period
ed US$20 billion in infrastructure in
the Amazon region (Laurance et al. 2001; Fearnside 2002b; Nepstad et al.
2001). Particularly damaging are the
BR-163 (Santarém-Cuiabá) and BR-319 (Manaus-Porto Velho) highways, which will
provide access to large blocks of forest currently little disturbed. The “Pluriannual Plan” (PPA) that supplanted Avança Brasil for the 2004-2007 period is virtually identical to its predecessor. The prominence of transporting soybeans as
the economic justification of much of the planned infrastructure makes them especially
controversial, as mechanized soybean cultivation brings little in the way of
employment and other social benefit for local populations.
Logging greatly increases the
susceptibility of forest to fire, and once fire enters it kills trees and
increases fuel loads and understory drying, thereby increasing the risk
of more-damaging future fires and the complete degradation of the forest. Because only some of the tree species in
harvested trees (Veríssimo et al. 1992).
Because many smaller trees are killed, the effect on individuals is even
greater: One study near
Paragominas, Pará counted 27 trees killed by collateral damage for every tree
harvested (Veríssimo et al. 1992)]. Gaps in the canopy allow sun and wind to
reach the forest floor, resulting in drier microclimates. The number of rainless days needed for the
understory to reach flammable condition is
much less for a forest that has been logged than for one that has not (Nepstad
et al. 2004). The larger fuel load in
the logged forest results in greater fire damage.
than the canopy fires typical of coniferous forests, fires in Amazonian forests
take the form of a slowly moving line of flame in the understorey. The bases of many trees are burned as the
fire lingers. Amazonian forest trees are
not adapted to fire
and lack thick bark and other forms of protection . Mortality
fire da mage from a first burn provides the
fuel and dryness needed to make the second and subsequent fires much more
damaging. The temperatures reached and
the height of flames in the second fire are
significantly greater than in the first fire, thereby
killing many additional trees (Cochrane 2003).
After several fires the area is cleared to the point where it appears as
deforestation in LANDSAT imagery.
1997-1998 El Niño event, the “Great Roraima Fire” burned 11,394-13,928 km² of
intact primary forest (Barbosa & Fearnside 1999), and fires in the “arc of deforestation” were estimated to have totalled a
further 15 × 10³ km² (Cochrane 2003; Nepstad et al. 1999b). Substantial burning also occurred in logging
areas near Tailândia, southern Pará, while additional areas of standing forest
burned in the state of Amazonas. In
southern Pará, the damage from El Niño events is magnified by the combination
of the dry season being longer than in other parts of
Loss of productivity
Loss of productivity through
soil erosion, nutrient depletion, and soil compaction are among the most
obvious impacts of deforestation.
Agricultural productivity declines as soil quality degrades, although a
lower plateau of productivity can be maintained by systems such as shifting
cultivation. Continuous inputs of lime, manure, and nutrients can counter
degradation, but economic and physical resource limitations render this
unviable for large areas distant from urban markets (Fearnside 1997a). Deforestation removes options for sustainable
forest management for both timber and, presently little-valued, genetic and
pharmacological resources. Also lost
are environmental services (e.g., biodiversity maintenance, water cycling and
avoidance of global warming), which presently fall outside of most economic
Changes in hydrological regime
Watershed functions are lost when forest
is converted to uses such as pasture.
Precipitation in deforested areas quickly runs off, creating flash
floods followed by periods of greatly reduced or no stream flow. Regular flooding patterns are important both
for natural ecosystem functioning in and near the river as well as for
The percentage of water recycled within the
out through the Basin. In fact, some water vapor escapes to the
Pacific, especially in the northwest corner of the Basin in
, were subject
to repeated blackouts and electricity rationing in 2001, as a result of low
water levels in hydroelectric reservoirs in the non-Amazonian portion of the
country. The role of Amazonian water
vapor in providing rainfall to this region should make the importance of
Amazonian forest conservation readily apparent.
Water is supplied to central-south
In addition to maintenance of basin-wide precipitation and long-range water transport, deforestation also produces meso-scale effects. Recent observations of a slight (approximately 5%) increase in rainfall in the heavily deforested Ji-Paraná area of Rondônia, together with satellite observations showing cloud formation occurring preferentially over clearings as small as 5 km in diameter, corroborate preliminary theoretical results on meso-scale effects of deforestation. The potential of deforestation to increase local precipitation by providing convective updrafts of air that trigger cloud formation might mislead the unwary to conclude that deforestation is not so bad. It could provide a deceptive temporary improvement as deforestation advances, only to be followed by a precipitous decline in rainfall as deforestation passes a threshold and falls off quickly. In addition, the increase of rainfall over a clearing means that rain has been, in effect “stolen” from somewhere else. This includes both the distant destinations of water vapor transport and the nearby forest edges. Forest edges would suffer because the convection cells formed over clearings will not only take wet air aloft to provoke rain, but will also create a down draft over the nearby forest, bringing dry air down that will inhibit rainfall and dry the forest near the edge of the clearing (perhaps in a band about 20-km wide, provided prevailing winds are not blowing). This drying from edges adds an additional feedback reinforcing the degradation of forest edges through fire and water stress.
Biodiversity maintenance is a function to which many attribute
value beyond the commercial sale of products (Fearnside 1999). The loss of major portions of
& Rylands 2003). If
Amazonian deforestation is allowed to continue to near complete destruction,
the same levels of risk to biodiversity would also apply there.
Net Emissions of Greenhouse Gases
× 106 t CO2-equivalent
C through combustion, of the which 67% was from fires in primary forest , or 12.0-12.3
× 10 6 t CO2-equivalent
C (Barbosa & Fearnside 1999). CO2 carbon
equivalent coverts the various greenhouse gases to
CO2-equivalent C considering the global warming potential of each
gas over a 100-year time horizon using the conversions adopted under the Kyoto
Protocol. Clearing at the rate prevailing in 2003
implies approximately 429 × 106 tons of CO2-equivalent carbon emission, while for the 1988-1994 period (the base
period used by Brazil for its initial greenhouse gas inventory under the
climate convention) released 275 × 106 tons including all components
(updated from Fearnside 2000a, including
corrections in Fearnside & Laurance 2004
and Nogueira et al. nd),
or 252 × 106 tons if only the emissions and wood density considered
in the National Inventory are used. This
figure is slighty more than double the official value
of 116.9 × 106 tons ( ,
p.149). The difference is explained by a
series of omitted components in the official estimate (including roots and
necromass) and by a high estimate for carbon uptake by secondary forests that
does not reflect the slow rate at which these grow in degraded Amazonian
What most distinguishes the global warming implications of Amazonian deforestation from those of other tropical forests is the huge potential for future emissions. In 1990, net committed emissions from Brazilian deforestation represented 5% of the global total from all sources, including both land-use change and fossil fuels, at that time (Fearnside 1997b), while the carbon stock in biomass in Brazilian Amazonia represented 38% of the tropical total (Fearnside 2000b, p.129). “Net committed emissions” refers to the net result of emissions and uptakes as an area of forest is replaced by a patchwork of other land uses (in the proportions that would be reached at equilibrium if current land-use patterns continue).
to be done differently
and underlying causes also need to be addressed.
A strong indication that
The reduction of burning
in Mato Grosso was achieved by a combination of measures. A system of permits was instituted by the
al agency (FEEMA) that included a
printout of a satellite image showing the property boundaries and the existing
deforestation. Fines were issued with a
satellite image printed on them, thus discouraging argument and attempts to
misrepresent the area actually cleared.
Portions of Mato Grosso with the greatest decreases in burning were
those subjected to special community training and education programs in fire
management by the Amazonian Working Group (GTA) and the Friends of the Earth -Brazilian
Amazonia, with support from FEEMA
and from the PROARCO
of the Pilot Program to Conserve the Brazilian Rainforest. Plans have been announced to extend the
system to select municipalities in Pará and Rondônia.
A major problem in
controlling deforestation is that much of what needs to be done is outside of
the purview of agencies such as IBAMA that are charged with environmental
issues. Authority to change tax laws and
credit policies rest with other government agencies, as do resettlement policies
and road-building and development priorities.
Tax subsidies for cattle ranches approved by the Superintendency for
Development of Amazonia (SUDAM) were an important force motivating
deforestation in the 1970s and 1980s; the ending of approval of new subsidized
projects in June 1991 did not revoke the projects for which tax subsidies had
already been granted. SUDAM-approved
projects not only gave tax-exemption on income generated
projects, but also allowed the owners to invest in their ranches
part of the tax they owed on earnings from operations elsewhere. The exclusion of ranches in 1991 did not
affect other damaging activities, such as sawmills and pig-iron smelters fueled
by charcoal. The remaining tax subsidies
need to be removed.
Another motive for
deforestation, more prominent in the 1970s and 1980s than now, is land
speculation. The capital gain from
selling a property after holding it for a few years was a major source of
profit for ranchers as long as land values increased faster than
inflation. While average land values are
no longer increasing at the rates prior to the abrupt slowing of inflation with
the 1994 Real Plan, individual properties can still produce speculative
profits, particularly when near a newly-built or improved road. Heavy taxes should be applied to take the
profit out of land speculation, both to remove the remaining speculative force
in areas favored by infrastructure and to provide protection should there
someday be a return to the astronomical inflation rates prevailing in Brazil
for most of the past century.
Tax evasion can be a
significant source of investment funds in Amazonian ranches. Some of the ranchers who deforest the most
are medical doctors and other professionals from urban areas. People in such professions often have large
incomes that they fail to declare.
Investing their money in the stock market or urban real estate they are
likely draw the attention of tax authorities, but most of the investment in
Amazonian ranches is of types that authorities have little basis for evaluation. Even if the soil and rainfall regimes are
unfavorable for pasture, resulting in some loss on the investment, money from
beef sales from an Amazonian ranch will be “clean.” As mentioned above, profits from drug
trafficking, corruption and other illegal activities also provide a powerful
motivation for investment in Amazonian ranches.
The government must invest in law-enforcement and in tightening the
tracking of financial movements to eliminate this important driver of
Deforestation also receives a
strong impetus from subsidized agricultural credit. The provision of agricultural credit in a
given municipality and year is one of the factors with the strongest
correlation to deforestation. The
government subsidy goes beyond low interest rates and generous grace
periods. There are also frequent
“amnesties”, either forgiving debts or converting them to virtually token
payments over long periods at low interest.
Amnesties are granted when production is reduced by droughts or other
“acts of God.” While usually viewed as
“one-time” interventions, in fact they are a regular feature and represent a
large additional subsidy to deforestation.
The nature of settlements
established by the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform
(INCRA) has changed markedly over the years.
In the 1970s and 1980s most were placed in areas deliberately chosen by
order to minimize their impact on deforestation ,
the mid-1990s INCRA has claimed that new settlements are only sited in areas
already deforested. Despite
numerous official statements that such a policy was in effect, however, new
settlements continued to be placed in forested areas, such as the Rio Acarí and
Rio Juma settlements in the state of Amazonas, established in 1996. More recently, INCRA has essentially ceded
its role of determining settlement sites to squatter organizations such as the
Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST); squatters invade either public land or
the “legal reserves” (areas required to be kept forested) of large ranches, and
INCRA subsequently “legalizes” the settlements when they are faits accomplis and compensates the
ranchers for the lost land. Because the
compensation has generally been higher than the market price for land, some
ranchers quietly encourage squatters to invade their land. Bankrupt ranches undergoing foreclosure by
the Banco do Brasil have been particularly prone to invasion – a situation that
both assures squatters a resistance-free invasion and solves the financial
problem of the Banco do Brasil when the compensation is paid by INCRA. The areas chosen by squatters for invasion
are invariably under primary tropical forest rather than pasture, agriculture
or secondary forest. The timber provides
capital for the squatters and the soils are considerably better than could be
expected in a degraded cattle pasture.
The de facto shift of INCRA
activity to following in the path of initiatives by landless peasant
organizations creates an additional barrier to effective control of this form
of deforestation (Fearnside 2001b).
Although small farmers
account for only about 30% of deforestation (Fearnside 1993a), the intensity of
deforestation within the area they occupy is greater than for the medium and
large ranchers holding 89% of the Legal Amazon's private land. Deforestation intensity (the impact per km²
of land) declines with increasing property size. Deforestation would, therefore, increase if
forest areas held by large ranches were redistributed into small holdings. This emphasizes the importance of using
already cleared areas for agrarian reform, rather than following the
politically easier path of distributing areas still in forest. Large as the area already cleared is, it falls far short of the potential demand for
settlement. Indeed, the Legal Amazon as
a whole falls short of this demand.
Recognizing the existence of carrying capacity limits, and then
maintaining population levels within these, is fundamental to any long-term
plan for sustainable
Deforestation for cattle pasture is
considered to be an "improvement" (benfeitoria) for the purpose of establishing and maintaining land
title. As long as this situation remains
one can expect landholders will clear cut down their forest despite
prohibitions. A change in land-titling
procedures to cease recognizing pasture as an improvement has yet to take
Agrarian reform is a particularly
difficult area of policy affecting deforestation. It is needed both
Economic activities in
At least three classes of
environmental services are provided by Amazonian forests: biodiversity
maintenance, carbon storage, and water cycling.
The magnitude and value of these services are poorly quantified, and the
diplomatic and other steps through which they might be compensated are also in
their infancy – facts which do not diminish their importance nor the pressing
need to focus effort on providing both the information and the political will
required to integrate them into the economy in such a way that maintains rather
than destroys the forest.The
role of tropical forests in averting global warming is much closer to serving
as a basis for international financial flows than are other environmental
services such as biodiversity maintenance.
This is because the United Nations Convention on Climate Change
(UN-FCCC) has advanced further than the Convention on Biodiversity, even though
both were signed simultaneously at the United Nations Conference on Environment
and Development (UNCED) in
Investment interest in carbon
with a view to short-term returns is likely to be limited, given the fact that
the agreement over the Kyoto Protocol reached in
lean D evelopment
M echanism. For future commitment periods, inclusion of
avoided deforestation would help induce countries to agree to larger
commitments than they would accept in the absence of such a provision, and
would therefore have a net benefit for climate.
The break with past inaction
represented by the
Although not currently
favored by Brazil’s
ministry of external
the country always has the option of accepting national limits on emissions
that would allow it to earn much more by emissions trading under Article 17 of
the Protocol, rather than through the CDM of Article 12 (Fearnside 2001d). Emissions trading has
substantially larger potential for carbon credit because the Kyoto Protocol
does not require that the reductions be causally linked to a specific
project. It is also not required that
the changes be “additional” to what would have occurred in a no-project
scenario, the baseline for calculation being the country’s first national
inventory (i.e., emissions in 1988-1994 in the case of
Regardless of the future of
decisions on the CDM under the Kyoto Protocol, global warming represents a
long-term problem that is likely to gain urgency in the international policy
arena as impacts become increasingly apparent to the public and to political
leaders. Sooner or later the major role
played by tropical deforestation will be recognized,
and appropriate measures, Brazilian
and international, taken to finance combating
deforestation, and to provide the basis for an alternative to
One of the greatest impediments to effective
action is fatalism. Many believe that the forest will be cut down
no matter what, and consequently argue that we should worry about other
problems. Fatalism acts as a deterrent to taking action
that involves commitment of substantial financial resources and the acceptance
of perceived or real political risks. Many of the key
determinants of the future path of development are in the hands of decision
who need to make their decisions based on the responsibility that this entails.
While the future depends on human decisions, limits also exist. We cannot go on destroying forests without
dire and long-lasting consequences.
The author’s work is
supported by the
Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq:
Proc. 470765/01-1) and
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