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News Article | May 3, 2017
Site: www.sciencemag.org

In a major change, Brazil's Ministry of the Environment is looking for a company to help it monitor deforestation in the Amazon. "This is a surprise for everyone … crazy stuff," says Tasso Azevedo, coordinator of the Greenhouse Gas Emission Estimate System and Observatório do Clima in São Paulo and former head of the Brazilian Forest Service. The controversial proposal led to the firing of one of the ministry's top scientists, who is a vice president of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Since 1988, the ministry has relied on the National Institute of Space Research (INPE) to analyze land cover changes in the Amazon, which holds the world’s largest intact swaths of forest. Efforts to combat deforestation there have been the focus of worldwide interest, in large part because of the region’s rich biodiversity and the forest’s role in shaping regional climate. The ministry says INPE will continue to monitor the Amazon, but researchers worry that the $25 million annual contract will result in significant duplication of effort, a waste of scarce resources, possible confusion over deforestation rates, and create an apparent conflict of interest for the ministry. The data from INPE's remote sensing analyses helped the ministry create and enforce policies that slashed deforestation by 72% between 2004 and 2016. The flagship effort at INPE is the Program for Monitoring Deforestation of the Amazon by Satellite (PRODES), in which technicians analyze LANDSAT data to identify clear-cuts larger than 6.25 hectares and produce a yearly estimate of deforestation in the Amazon. Since 2004, INPE has added techniques to detect smaller patches of illegal cutting, and also created a program called DETER to provide monthly and weekly updates that could be used for enforcement. The long track record with PRODES and INPE's newer approaches have won praise from international experts. "Brazil is the leading country in terms of monitoring deforestation," says Matthew Hansen of the University of Maryland in College Park. "No one touches Brazil." But on 20 April, the ministry quietly issued a 160-page request for proposals for "contracting specialized services of support to the infrastructure of geoprocessing and remote sensing activities to meet the demands of environmental monitoring and geoprocessing." The 2-week deadline for proposals closes Thursday, after which the ministry will consider any bids for up to 60 days. The 12-month contract could be extended for up to 5 years. News of the proposal request was first reported Wednesday by Estadão. The decision to hire a commercial firm to do remote-sensing analysis was disputed within the ministry. The head of the program to combat deforestation, mathematician Thelma Krug, who helped create PRODES, reportedly objected to the decision. She was dismissed from her position on 19 April, the day before the request for proposals was issued. In a statement, the ministry said she wanted to spend more time on her work for IPCC. "She's a scientist who knows better than anyone in Brazil what's going on with measuring deforestation in the Amazon," says Paulo Moutinho, an ecologist at the Amazon Environmental Research Institute in Brasília. Her firing was "not good news for Brazilian society or those trying to protect the forest." In a statement yesterday, the ministry said that the purpose of the contract is to add technology, such as radar imagery, not available from INPE. The space agency will continue to monitor and estimate deforestation in the Amazon, the ministry said, and disputed that work done under the contract would be redundant with INPE’s activities. But Raoni Rajão, a social scientist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, says that much of the work called for by the bid request is already being done by INPE, so hiring a contractor to replicate it is "basically a waste of money." The contract would eat up 18% of the ministry's budget, which was cut 51% in March to $142 million. That's money that could be better spent fighting illegal logging, which rose 29% last year, says Carlos Souza, a remote sensing expert with Imazon, a research institute in Belém. There's also the potential for conflict of interest, critics say. The ministry would be paying a company to evaluate deforestation, which is one measure of how well the ministry is doing its job. That raises important questions, Souza says: "How transparent will the system be? Can it be verified by civil society?" INPE's methods are transparent and its analysis independent of the ministry, experts say. "If you want to save the Amazon," says Moutinho, "we need a very robust monitoring system of deforestation." Rajão, who has created an online petition to ask the ministry to cancel the request, also worries that the ministry could cherry-pick deforestation data from the contractor or INPE and highlight the better-looking numbers. Multiple sources of government information could create confusion over the status and trends of deforestation, he says. A big value of INPE’s annual deforestation estimates is that they offer a simple, clear indicator about how the world's largest rainforest is faring, says tropical ecologist Dan Nepstad of the Earth Innovation Institute in San Francisco, California. "It's become part of the national narrative on the Amazon," he says.


News Article | December 2, 2016
Site: www.washingtonpost.com

Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, or INPE, released new data on the ongoing deforestation of the country’s portion of the Amazon rainforest this week, based on satellite measurements. And the news is very bad. From August of 2015 through July of this year, the enormous forest lost nearly 8,000 square kilometers of area to clear cutting, representing a 29 percent increase over a year earlier (when 6,207 square kilometers were lost). That’s an area considerably larger than the state of Delaware. This means that since 2012, when deforestation hit a historic low after many years at high rates, it is now bouncing back again — and doing so at a time when researchers say protecting tropical forests, and allowing them to regrow, is one of the most effective short-term ways of fighting climate change. “This is a big deal,” said Daniel Nepstad, an Amazon expert and senior scientist at the Earth Innovation Institute. “It is the highest deforestation number since 2008. Compared to the lowest deforestation number, in 2012, it means an extra 150 million tons of CO2 went up into the air through forest destruction.” “It seems that we are facing a new trend of deforestation,” added André Guimarães, the executive director of Brazil’s Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM). “It has increased two years, it’s now close to 8,000 square kilometers. We left behind the level of 5,000 square kilometers, which was stable for three years.” The loss of tropical forests is a crucial factor in the warming of the planet. Deforestation and the degradation of forests accounts for between 8 and 15 percent of the globe’s total emissions. [The solution to climate change that has nothing to do with cars or coal] The causes of the uptick in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon aren’t fully clear, but experts like Nepstad suggest that it represents a decrease in enforcement on the part of the Brazilian government, which was not only in a state of political upheaval in 2016 but also has been facing a severe recession. “Suppression of Amazon deforestation is still highly dependent upon command-and-control measures–namely, law enforcement,” he said. “The cost to the government–to Brazilian taxpayers–of catching and penalizing people who are clearing forests illegally is huge and Brazil’s economic crisis has cut into the budgets of the federal environmental enforcement agency (IBAMA) and the state level enforcement agencies. In addition to a weakened enforcement effort, beef prices have increased, making it more lucrative to convert forests into cattle pastures.” Nepstad says the use of economic incentives to reduce deforestation is what’s currently missing, and that enforcement measures alone won’t be enough. In its pledge to the world under the Paris climate agreement, the government of Brazil laid out plans to halt all illegal deforestation in the Amazon by 2030 and to restore 12 million hectares (120,000 square kilometers) of forests by that year. It’s clearly moving in the wrong direction if it wants to achieve this goal. Moreover, the idea of waiting until 2030 to stop illegal actions is itself a way of sending “mixed signals,” said Guimarães. “The central government tells, ‘Look, we are going to stop illegal deforestation in 15 years.’ That means, keep on going with your illegal activities, because we’ll deal with that 15 years from now.” At least until fairly recently, Brazil was seen as a success story when it came to cutting back on deforestation of the Amazon. Deforestation totals in the 1990s and early 2000s were astronomical — averaging 19,500 square kilometers per year between 1995 and 2005. Yet with tougher law enforcement and other measures such as an international soy moratorium, it had plunged to a low of 4,571  square kilometers by 2012. The problem is that it is now clearly going up again. “The increase in deforestation rates can be linked to signals from Brazil’s government that it will tolerate the destruction of the Amazon. In recent years, public environmental protection policies in Brazil have weakened. For example, very few protected areas and Indigenous Lands have been created, and a new Forest Code was approved in 2012 that gives amnesty to those who committed illegal deforestation,” said Cristiane Mazzetti, Amazon campaigner with Greenpeace, in a statement. George Mason University professor Thomas Lovejoy, who operates a research project in a completely undisturbed part of the Amazon near Manaus, in collaboration with the Brazilian government, saw a recently deforested plot along a road close to the research area last December. He now says it was a “first indication” of the deforestation increase. “For our immediate situation we are cutting down road access,” he said by email from Manaus.


Stickler C.M.,Amazon Environmental Research Institute | Nepstad D.C.,Amazon Environmental Research Institute | Azevedo A.A.,Institute Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazonia | McGrath D.G.,Amazon Environmental Research Institute | McGrath D.G.,Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences | Year: 2013

Land-use regulations are a critical component of forest governance and conservation strategies, but their effectiveness in shaping landholder behaviour is poorly understood.We conducted a spatial and temporal analysis of the Brazilian ForestCode (BFC) to understand the patterns of regulatory compliance over time and across changes in the policy, and the implications of these compliance patterns for the perceived costs to landholders and environmental performance of agricultural landscapes in the southern Amazon state ofMato Grosso. Landholdings tended to remain in compliance or not according to their status at the beginning of the study period. The perceived economic burden of BFC compliance on soya bean and beef producers (US$3-5.6 billion in net present value of the land) may in part explain the massive, successful campaign launched by the farm lobby to change the BFC. The ecological benefits of compliance (e.g. greater connectivity and carbon) with the BFC are diffuse and do not compete effectively with the economic benefits of non-compliance that are perceived by landholders.Volatile regulation of land-use decisions that affect billions in economic rent that could be captured is an inadequate forest governance instrument; effectiveness of such regulations may increase when implemented in tandem with positive incentives for forest conservation. © 2013 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.


News Article | April 4, 2016
Site: www.washingtonpost.com

The Amazon has it bad, but the Cerrado may have it even worse. After all, at least you’ve actually heard of the Amazon. The Cerrado isn’t as big, but it is still one of the largest and most important ecosystems in one of the largest and most environmentally rich countries on Earth — Brazil. It’s an enormous region of dry forests and shrubs that hosts jaguars, rare birds and thousands of unique plants and makes up about one-fifth of Brazil’s total area. “The Cerrado, the central savannas, is far more threatened than the Amazon because that biome has been out of sight,” says André Guimarães, executive director of Brazil’s Amazon Environmental Research Institute. “These are the largest biomes in Brazil — the Amazon and the Cerrado, the central savanna. These two biomes, they represent more than 70 percent of the Brazilian territory.” The word “savanna” can be a little misleading in the case of the Cerrado — the majority of the native vegetation consists not of open grassland, but rather relatively dry but woody forests and scrubland. The Portuguese word “cerrado” actually translates as “closed,” “thick” or “dense.” But the Cerrado has lost more than half of its native vegetation, by some estimates, and has much less legal protection than the Amazon. As a result, the region has seen major agricultural expansion, a trend that is expected to continue. “The Amazon is around 18 percent deforested, the Cerrado is around 50 percent deforested,” Guimarães continues.  “That’s where most of the grain production from Brazil comes from. The Brazilian government has put a lot of effort into Amazon conservation in recent years. So in terms of being threatened, the Cerrado is even more than the Amazon.” “It’s a totally different ballgame. It’s essentially Brazil’s Midwest,” says Stephanie Spera, a Brown University graduate student who was lead author of a new study in Global Change Biology showing just how dramatically the Cerrado is losing its native trees and vegetation and how that, in turn, is probably driving the decline in rainfall. This loss of rain not only hurts agriculture — which, ironically, is what the land is being cleared for — but may also actually starve the adjoining Amazon of much-needed rains. (The work was published with collaborators from Brown, the University of Vermont in Burlington and the Woods Hole Research Center.) Spera’s study used satellite imagery to examine changes in Matopiba, a region of the Cerrado that crosses four Brazilian states, tracking agricultural expansion. It found that from 2003 to 2013, cropland in this part of the Cerrado boomed, adding 2.3 million hectares in area, roughly the size of New Jersey. Seventy-four percent of the new land converted to agriculture was, originally, native Cerrado ecosystem, the research suggested. And the study found that as this has happened, evapotranspiration — in which plants and soils give up water to the air — declined, driving down rainfall. The study found that in 2013, 3 percent less water was recycled by the region — an amount adding up to 14 billion tons. That could have huge consequences, within the Cerrado and beyond it — it borders, for instance, on the Amazon to its northwest. “If you affect the amount of water that comes up, you’re going to affect the amount of water that comes down. So if less of that is transported over the Amazon, you have less rain,” Spera said. One reason this occurs is that there is a strong rainy-season-and-dry-season cycle in this region, and native Cerrado vegetation, naturally adapted to such a regime, can draw deep underground water through its roots even when there is little or no rain. “If you have a fallow agricultural field, there’s no water to bring up,” Spera says. The story is in some ways quite similar to what is happening in the Amazon, where scientists also fear that the loss of too many trees will weaken the hydrological cycle of the region — leading to less rain and, at times, major droughts. Those, in turn, can drive fires and further tree loss. One key debated issue is whether stronger attempts to protect the Amazon of late have pushed deforestation elsewhere. Brazil has been widely celebrated for reducing deforestation over the past decade or decade and a half, although levels have ticked up again more recently. “Part of this reduction in the deforestation rate, there is a leakage of deforestation to the Cerrado,” says Paulo Moutinho, an expert with Brazil’s Amazon Environmental Research Institute, although he emphasized that it is very difficult to determine just how much Cerrado deforestation actually represents spillover or leakage from the Amazon. Still, the new study similarly embraces the idea that “increased deforestation governance in Brazil’s Amazon tropical forest and land scarcity in older frontier regions have led both farmers, states, and the federal government to seek out new areas for development.” It also observes that the presence of 40 million additional hectares of land in the Cerrado that can be legally deforested makes “continued exploitation of this region, rather than the much more protected Amazon, likely in the coming decades.” The study does find one possible middle ground between rampant agricultural expansion and strict Cerrado preservation. It finds that the practice of double-cropping — planting, say, soy followed by corn — actually reduces the problem of Cerrado water loss. This suggests that agricultural management, in addition to stricter environmental protections, can help rescue at least some of the lost rain. “This region is so dynamic, but no one is giving it the attention it deserves,” Spera says. Alas, given the massive corruption scandal — paired with a harsh recession and currency devaluation — that has engulfed the regime of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and threatens her with impeachment, it seems unlikely that environmental protections are at the front of many minds at the moment.


Doughty C.E.,University of Oxford | Metcalfe D.B.,Lund University | Girardin C.A.J.,University of Oxford | Amezquita F.F.,National University of Costa Rica | And 11 more authors.
Global Biogeochemical Cycles | Year: 2015

Changes to the carbon cycle in tropical forests could affect global climate, but predicting such changes has been previously limited by lack of field-based data. Here we show seasonal cycles of the complete carbon cycle for 14, 1ha intensive carbon cycling plots which we separate into three regions: humid lowland, highlands, and dry lowlands. Our data highlight three trends: (1) there is differing seasonality of total net primary productivity (NPP) with the highlands and dry lowlands peaking in the dry season and the humid lowland sites peaking in the wet season, (2) seasonal reductions in wood NPP are not driven by reductions in total NPP but by carbon during the dry season being preferentially allocated toward either roots or canopy NPP, and (3) there is a temporal decoupling between total photosynthesis and total carbon usage (plant carbon expenditure). This decoupling indicates the presence of nonstructural carbohydrates which may allow growth and carbon to be allocated when it is most ecologically beneficial rather than when it is most environmentally available. ©2015. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.


Stickler C.M.,Amazon Environmental Research Institute | Nepstad D.C.,Amazon Environmental Research Institute | Azevedo A.A.,Amazon Environmental Research Institute | McGrath D.G.,Amazon Environmental Research Institute
Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences | Year: 2013

Land-use regulations are a critical component of forest governance and conservation strategies, but their effectiveness in shaping landholder behaviour is poorly understood. We conducted a spatial and temporal analysis of the Brazilian Forest Code (BFC) to understand the patterns of regulatory compliance over time and across changes in the policy, and the implications of these compliance patterns for the perceived costs to landholders and environmental performance of agricultural landscapes in the southern Amazon state of Mato Grosso. Landholdings tended to remain in compliance or not according to their status at the beginning of the study period. The perceived economic burden of BFC compliance on soya bean and beef producers (US$3-5.6 billion in net present value of the land) may in part explain the massive, successful campaign launched by the farm lobby to change the BFC. The ecological benefits of compliance (e.g. greater connectivity and carbon) with the BFC are diffuse and do not compete effectively with the economic benefits of non-compliance that are perceived by landholders. Volatile regulation of land-use decisions that affect billions in economic rent that could be captured is an inadequate forest governance instrument; effectiveness of such regulations may increase when implemented in tandem with positive incentives for forest conservation.


Moutinho P.,Amazon Environmental Research Institute | Martins O.S.,Amazon Environmental Research Institute | Christovam M.,Amazon Environmental Research Institute | Lima A.,Amazon Environmental Research Institute | And 2 more authors.
Carbon Management | Year: 2011

Brazil has exercised a leadership in the International scene about climate change mitigation and adaptation. Internally, it has been demonstrating institutional, legal and technical capacity to monitor and reduce deforestation in the Amazon, capacities also required to the development of a national Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) system. In this article, we present the progress on the REDD+ debate under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Brazilian government trajectory towards a positive REDD+ agenda. We also discuss the relevant Brazilian legislation that can support a REDD+ regime: the National Policy for Climate Change, the Amazon state plans for deforestation reduction and the current debate and proposal of a REDD+ regime in Brazil, discussing their contexts, threats and opportunities. Funding opportunities are also discussed, with emphasis on the role of the Amazon Fund on fostering the REDD+ activities in Brazil. At the end, we propose a mechanism of REDD+ benefits sharing, based on a stock-target and flow approach. © 2011 Future Science Ltd.


PubMed | Amazon Environmental Research Institute
Type: Journal Article | Journal: Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences | Year: 2013

Land-use regulations are a critical component of forest governance and conservation strategies, but their effectiveness in shaping landholder behaviour is poorly understood. We conducted a spatial and temporal analysis of the Brazilian Forest Code (BFC) to understand the patterns of regulatory compliance over time and across changes in the policy, and the implications of these compliance patterns for the perceived costs to landholders and environmental performance of agricultural landscapes in the southern Amazon state of Mato Grosso. Landholdings tended to remain in compliance or not according to their status at the beginning of the study period. The perceived economic burden of BFC compliance on soya bean and beef producers (US$3-5.6 billion in net present value of the land) may in part explain the massive, successful campaign launched by the farm lobby to change the BFC. The ecological benefits of compliance (e.g. greater connectivity and carbon) with the BFC are diffuse and do not compete effectively with the economic benefits of non-compliance that are perceived by landholders. Volatile regulation of land-use decisions that affect billions in economic rent that could be captured is an inadequate forest governance instrument; effectiveness of such regulations may increase when implemented in tandem with positive incentives for forest conservation.


News Article | November 2, 2016
Site: www.theguardian.com

The world’s indigenous communities need to be given a bigger role in climate stabilisation, according to a new study that shows at least a quarter of forest carbon is stored on communal land, particularly in Brazil. The research by a group of academic institutions and environmental NGOs is the most comprehensive effort yet to quantify the contribution of traditional forest guardians to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Authors say the expansion of tribal land rights is the most cost-effective way to protect forests and sequester carbon – an issue that they hope will receive more prominence at the upcoming United Nations climate conference in Marrakech. The paper by the Rights and Resources Initiative, Woods Hole Research Centre and World Resources Institute aims to encourage governments to recognise indigenous land rights and include tribal input in national action plans. Currently this is not the case for 167 of 188 nations in the Paris agreement, including Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which are home to some of the world’s biggest forests. It is also likely to feed into a growing debate in Brazil, which has won kudos for recognising more indigenous land than any other country in the past decade but is now under a new government that has yet to be tested in international climate talks. Based on satellite surveys of 37 tropical countries, the study estimates community-claimed lands sequester at least 54,546m tonnes of carbon – roughly four times the world’s annual emissions. Ownership of a 10th of that land is public, unrecognised or contested, which raises the risk that it could fall into the hands of developers, farmers, miners or others who want to clear the forest for short-term financial gain at the expense of long-term environmental costs. The authors argue there is a greater economic benefit from leaving the property in the hands of traditional residents and strengthening their ownership rights so they can protect the land. Alain Frechette of Rights and Resources, one of the report’s authors, urged national governments and negotiators to make indigenous communities a more central part of climate policies. “When communities have secure forest rights, not only are forests better protected, but communities fare better. It’s what economists call an optimal solution. Everyone wins,” he said. “By contrast, large-scale development initiatives produce quick wins, but the long-term environmental, economic and political costs are not taken into account. They are just pushed on to future generations.” “As well as reducing 20-30% of carbon dioxide emissions, the forests provide benefits of clean water, pollination, biodiversity, flood control and tourist attractions that are said to be worth $523bn to $1.165tn in Brazil, $54-119 bn in Bolivia, and $123–277bn in Colombia over the next 20 years. The data shows the most important region is Latin America, where 58% of emissions come from deforestation, more than double the global rate of 24%. Without protection, much more could yet be released. Five of the top 10 countries for forest carbon are in the continent. Brazil with 14,692 megatonnes has twice the amount of the next biggest country, Indonesia. Having expanded indigenous land considerably since 2003, Brazil – and later Bolivia and Colombia – initially slowed deforestation. The World Research Institute estimates that tropical forests without such protection were two to three times more likely to be cleared. But in recent years, forest destruction in Brazil has started to creep up again and many environmentalists are worried that the new centre-right government of Michel Temer could accelerate this trend. Since the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff in September, the new government has cut the budget for the National Indian Agency (better known by its acronym Funai), and removed many of its key personnel. “There are causes for concern,“ said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. She urged Brazil not to backtrack. “As this report shows, if Brazil enhances its respect for indigenous peoples’ rights, they will be able to contribute more to the Paris agreement. It will be to their benefit. They can measure that in terms of the amount of tonnes of carbon that are being conserved.” Paulo Moutinho, director of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, called on the new government to declare the 71m hectares of currently undesignated public forest – equivalent to all the land cleared in the past 40 years – protected or indigenous land. Although he acknowledged that this would be difficult to push past the strong agribusiness lobby in congress, he said farmers would eventually realise that strong forests were necessary not just for the global climate but for local rainfall patterns and irrigation. “There is still time to do something impressive,” he said. “The world expects strong action from Brazil. It would be nice to consolidate and expand protected areas. Otherwise, it will be impossible to achieve what we have promised to the world.”

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