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San Francisco, CA, United States
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News Article | May 3, 2017

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.

Ellis E.A.,University of Veracruz | Kainer K.A.,University of Florida | Sierra-Huelsz J.A.,University of Florida | Negreros-Castillo P.,University of Veracruz | And 2 more authors.
Forests | Year: 2015

Despite regional deforestation threats, the state of Quintana Roo has maintained over 80% of its territory in forests. Community forest management (CFM) has played a pivotal role in forest cover and biodiversity conservation in the region. In this article, we present the institutional, socioeconomic and environmental conditions under which community-based forest management has been consolidated in the tropical state of Quintana Roo, which occupies the eastern half of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. With a focus on management for timber and other market-based development strategies, we then examine the institutional and socioeconomic factors, as well as biophysical shocks, that have constrained community forestry development in the past 25 years, challenging its persistence. Following, we discuss how forest communities and institutions have responded and adapted to changing forest policies and markets as well as major environmental shocks from hurricanes and fires. CFM in Quintana Roo has shown resiliency since its institutionalization 30 years ago. Future challenges and opportunities include biodiversity conservation, carbon management through Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) initiatives, market strengthening, business management training as well as the implementation of alternative silvicultural systems, particularly to manage sustainable populations of commercial timber species. © 2015 by the authors.

Oviedo A.F.P.,University of Brasilia | Mitraud S.,ATMA Fortalecimento e Gestao Social Ltda. | McGrath D.G.,Earth Innovation Institute | Bursztyn M.,University of Brasilia
Environmental Science and Policy | Year: 2016

The need to design measures for adapting to climate change is increasingly recognized as important and has encouraged research on the role of local ecological knowledge (LEK) in supporting adaptation. Studies of how LEK can help adapt to increasing climate variability remain limited. This article develops an approach through which the process of adaptation can be tracked at a community level. We describe how community residents in the Amazon floodplains incorporate natural hydrologic and ecological processes into their management systems to optimize ecosystem functioning.We describe two case studies where LEK is used as a resource by small-scale fisher-farmers in the Amazon floodplains to adapt to the increasing impacts on their livelihoods generated by changing climate patterns. This article draws on local histories and seeks to identify the critical factors that either facilitate or impede household ability to reduce their vulnerability. We found that the LEK of small fisher-farmers has facilitated the adaptation of a resource management system to optimize production across a broad range of floodplain habitats and conditions. There are, however, significant challenges to operationalizing these approaches, including an absence of systematically collected data on adaptation strategies and outcomes. In addition, local people must be integrated into policymaking processes so their knowledge can contribute to the design of locally appropriate policies for adapting to the impacts of climate related events. © 2016 Elsevier Ltd.

Nepstad D.,Earth Innovation Institute | McGrath D.,Earth Innovation Institute | McGrath D.,Federal University of Pará | Stickler C.,Earth Innovation Institute | And 15 more authors.
Science | Year: 2014

The recent 70% decline in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon suggests that it is possible to manage the advance of a vast agricultural frontier. Enforcement of laws, interventions in soy and beef supply chains, restrictions on access to credit, and expansion of protected areas appear to have contributed to this decline, as did a decline in the demand for new deforestation. The supply chain interventions that fed into this deceleration are precariously dependent on corporate risk management, and public policies have relied excessively on punitive measures. Systems for delivering positive incentives for farmers to forgo deforestation have been designed but not fully implemented. Territorial approaches to deforestation have been effective and could consolidate progress in slowing deforestation while providing a framework for addressing other important dimensions of sustainable development.

Balch J.K.,University of Colorado at Boulder | Brando P.M.,Institute Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazonia | Brando P.M.,Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution | Nepstad D.C.,Earth Innovation Institute | And 11 more authors.
BioScience | Year: 2015

The interaction between droughts and land-use fires threaten the carbon stocks, climate regulatory functions, and biodiversity of Amazon forests, particularly in the southeast, where deforestation and land-use ignitions are high. Repeated, severe, or combined fires and droughts result in tropical forest degradation via nonlinear dynamics and may lead to an alternate vegetation state. Here, we discuss the major insights from the longest (more than 10 years) and largest (150-hectare) experimental burn in Amazon forests. Despite initial forest resistance to low-intensity fires, repeated fire during drought killed the majority of trees, reduced canopy cover by half, and favored invasive grasses - but the persistence of this novel vegetation state is unknown. Forest edges, where drying, fire intensity and grass invasion are greatest, were most vulnerable. Crucial to advancing fire ecology in tropical forests, we need to scale these results to understand how flammability and resilience postfire varies across Amazon forest types. © 2015 The Author(s) 2015.

McGrath D.G.,Earth Innovation Institute | McGrath D.G.,Federal University of Pará | Castello L.,Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University | Almeida O.T.,Federal University of Pará | Estupinan G.M.B.,Independent Consultant
Society and Natural Resources | Year: 2015

A major trend in global trade in forest, animal, and agricultural products is the implementation of importation policies and development of private sector standards and certification mechanisms to promote the sustainable management of natural resources in the countries of origin. In many cases, ensuring sustainable origins involves requirements that small-scale rural producers and fishers cannot meet. This article investigates the formalization of community-based floodplain fisheries in the Brazilian Amazon, including (a) the development of federal and state fisheries management policies, (b) the parallel development of community management systems, and (c) the role of these processes in the evolution of fisheries management in the Lower Amazon region. We argue here that market-oriented solutions, such as third-party certification, are insufficient. Government support for and collaboration with producers and industry are essential to creating conditions that enable fishing communities to sustainably manage their fisheries. © 2015, Published with license by Taylor & Francis.

News Article | April 15, 2016

This story has been updated. It’s just the latest sign of mounting tension over the next stage of development in the threatened Amazon — enormous dams that will generate huge amounts of electricity, but also, inevitably, have major ecological consequences. A report released Wednesday by Greenpeace — which is highly active in the Amazon region — has decried the Brazilian government’s plans for a huge new hydropower project in the Amazon’s Tapajós river basin, questioning both the project’s purported environmental impact and even its legality. The organization has called for the halting of the project and urges the expansion of other clean energy forms instead. But in reality, other experts said, Brazil’s hunger for energy and major reliance on dams (rather than fossil fuels) for generating it seems unlikely to abate any time soon. The new project, known as the São Luiz do Tapajós dam, is shooting for a maximum electricity generating capacity of more than 8,000 megawatts and, at nearly five miles wide, would block one of the last major unobstructed tributaries in the Amazon and flood thousands of square miles in the process. It’s the largest of five dams currently planned for the Tapajós river, according to Greenpeace, and one of about 200 proposed hydropower projects proposed throughout the Amazon basin. Hydropower is particularly favored by Brazil, where hydroelectric plants account for about 80 percent of the electricity generated in the country. But while hydropower is certainly a low carbon form of energy, scientists and activists are growing increasingly concerned about its other environmental impacts. Recent research has suggested that damming is responsible for a myriad of detrimental effects in the Amazon basin, threatening water quality, degrading habitat for wildlife and drawing more humans into remote regions, which can indirectly drive activities like mining and deforestation. This is a major problem both for the natural environment and for the indigenous populations who live in the affected areas. In this context, Greenpeace charges that the environmental impact assessment submitted by one of the consortia expected to bid for the project was “deeply flawed.” Representatives from Eletrobras, a state-run energy utility company and leader of the consortium that submitted the environmental impact assessment, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the report. A statement from Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy to The Washington Post in response to the Greenpeace report said, “The current Brazilian hydroelectric projects are characterized by the respect for the environment and the population, with previously defined plans for environmental and social compensation, improvements to the local society, and a commitment to international protocols to be followed in relation with society, as in the Equator Principles.” The statement also noted that hydropower is the cheapest energy source available in Brazil. Even beyond the importance of scientifically sound environmental impact assessments for individual projects, though, other experts have also emphasized the need for basin-wide evaluations of the effects of damming. David McGrath, deputy director and senior scientist at the Earth Innovation Institute and a professor at the Federal University of Pará in Brazil, has previously told The Washington Post that this type of large-scale analysis should be one of the highest priorities for scientists and policymakers looking for a more complete view of how all the hydropower projects in the basin may build on one another’s impacts — although he’s also noted that the institutional capacity for such an analysis is still lacking. While damming is widely believed to be a source of havoc in the natural environment, some experts have also pointed out that environmental destruction can feed back and negatively impact hydropower production. This is a point that was not fully conveyed in the Greenpeace paper, said Claudia Stickler, a scientist and Amazon expert with the Earth Innovation Institute, who was not involved with the report. “The bigger deforestation problem in the Amazon as a whole is really also going to affect these hydropower projects,” Stickler said. “For me, that’s one of the most damning pieces of evidence against a lot of these big installations.” Large-scale deforestation in the Amazon can cause trouble with water flow, Stickler explained. With fewer trees in the region to recycle water and return it to the atmosphere, rainfall patterns can actually be disrupted over time. And the landscape changes that come with deforestation can also cause more water to run off instead of soaking into the soil and being sucked up by the remaining vegetation, making the problem even worse. These factors may disrupt water flow in the Amazon’s river systems over time and lower the output of hydropower installations. “That’s something that’s not being taken into account by the engineers that are continually doing projections of hydropower energy generation,” Stickler said. At the same time, the Greenpeace report argues, dams can become an indirect driver of deforestation in the region as well, by drawing workers into remote areas and leading into the construction of new roads and communities. However, all of these complaints having been made, the solutions to the hydropower issue are still unclear. The Greenpeace report has called on the Brazilian government to halt the Tapajós project, as well as plans for other installations throughout the Amazon, and explore alternative energy sources instead. But this may be an unlikely outcome for the time being. “We’re talking about a giant country that really does mostly depend on hydropower production for its energy,” Stickler said. “As much as Greenpeace might not like the idea that they have economic plans that require more energy, the reality is that you’re not going to be able to do away with that.” In regard to alternative energy solutions, Stickler noted that Brazil’s challenges are similar to those faced in much of the rest of the world — mainly issues with efficiency and storage that, while improving, still need more independent analysis in order to evaluate how well they could take over the power that’s currently being counted on from proposed hydroelectric installations. Even so, Stickler and other scientists have noted that the need for alternative solutions is growing greater as the devastating impacts of damming become increasingly clear. And while the São Luiz do Tapajós project will likely continue on for now, it may also become the next symbol of how profoundly human activity is changing the Amazon.

News Article | December 2, 2016

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.

News Article | March 18, 2016

Continued dam-building across Amazonia could threaten dozens of species with extinction, says a new paper published this month in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation. With 191 dams already dotting the Amazon basin and nearly 250 more planned, scientists say the region’s unique freshwater ecosystems are at serious risk. Major changes will be required from the Amazonian nations — most of all, increasingly unstable Brazil — to prevent further damage in the most biologically diverse area of the planet. Hydropower is the favored energy source in the Amazon, where it is largely considered among the most reliable and price-competitive options. In Brazil, hydroelectric plants already account for about 80 percent of the electricity generated in the country, and the country is in the process of completing the 11,233-megawatt Belo Monte dam on the Xingu river, which will end up being the largest dam in the region. One reason is the mining industry: Dams provide a convenient way to power remote mining operations, and the construction of dams and subsequent redirecting of water supplies can also help facilitate the exposure of new mining sites. But conservationists are increasingly concerned about the dams’ effects on both the natural environment and the indigenous communities who call it home. It’s an issue that, according to some, is only starting to garner mainstream attention, as most conservation efforts and media coverage until this point have focused on deforestation and the Amazon’s terrestrial resources — not its freshwater systems, which are equally important to the health of the rainforest. “Something that’s galled me is the fact that there’s been very little on the cumulative impact of dams on Amazonian biodiversity,” said the new report’s lead author Alexander Lees, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “There are lots of people going out and doing consulting work or work with individual dams, but there was no overarching review on the effects.” So Lees and a group of other researchers set out to conduct a literature review synthesizing the dozens of existing papers looking at the impacts of dams in the Amazon. “The idea of this paper was to say there’s all these individual papers saying we’ve got this huge problem,” Lees said. “We’ve really done a coordinated effort to try to understand what’s happening.” The review suggests that dozens of species in the Amazon, including fish, birds and even mammals, are put at risk by dam-building. And there are a variety of direct effects caused by dams that are responsible for the threats. “Amazonia is not like a big homogeneous place,” Lees pointed out. “It’s…basically an archipelago of different islands separated by major rivers.” Here are three ways dams are causing harm: 1. Upending unique aquatic ecosystems. Because the Amazon landscape is divided up by rivers and tributaries, many of the different “islands” Lees referred to are characterized by organisms that are only found there and nowhere else. Because these species are so specific to their habitats, any disturbance that significantly alters their environment can put them at risk of dying off. To maximize their efficiency, dams are usually placed at a river’s headwaters, as close to the river’s source as possible. This practice can alter all the habitats further downstream by slowing or halting water flow, forming still reservoirs and allowing for silt and other sediment build-up, altering all the habitats farther downstream and halting the flow of important nutrients before they can make it to any other parts of the water system. Naturally, fish and other aquatic-only organisms — even aquatic mammals, such as giant otters — are among the animals that are most affected by these kinds of changes. Preventing fish from migrating upstream means that many species can’t make it to their natural spawning grounds. Reduced flow can lead to deteriorating water quality, meaning some animals essentially suffocate from lack of oxygen or starve because their food sources are dying off. Additionally, many species are highly adapted to live in certain types of conditions — for example, certain levels of turbidity, or the amount of particles in the water — and these delicate conditions can be easily disrupted by dams. The magnitude of these possible extinctions remains poorly understood because there are still so many species in the Amazon — fish in particular — that are poorly studied or not scientifically described at all. And the ways that all of these organisms coexist and depend on one another is still being explored. 2. Harming flying animals like birds and bats. But it’s not just aquatic animals that are believed to suffer from dam-building. Birds and bats also rely on certain habitats that depend on the flow of the water systems. As Lees explained, undisturbed rivers in southern Amazonia are subject to seasonal rising and falling with the wet and dry seasons. At certain times of the year, water levels will fall and expose a series of rocky islands, which provide important habitat to many animals. Free-tailed bats and black-collared swallows, for example, use these areas as breeding grounds. Damming, however, can disrupt the seasonal cycle and flood out these important habitats. Other birds — white-collared swifts, for instance — nest on waterfalls. But dams can eliminate these waterfall habitats entirely by stopping the flow of water, leaving their inhabitants exposed and vulnerable to predators. 3. How dams harm people and communities. All of these effects are worrying enough — but according to Lees, the indirect effects of damming are perhaps even more concerning. The thing about dam-building is that it tends to change human communities in the Amazon and alter the way people interact with the environment. Lees pointed to the Brazilian town of Altamira, which is located in the state of Pará close to the Belo Monte dam construction, as an example. “It’s gone from this small Amazonian town to this megalopolis with…all the social ills you can imagine with unconstrained growth and no plans,” Lees said, citing an increase in crime and rising prices as examples. Dams frequently bring floods of people into previously remote areas — and in addition to the problems this can cause for indigenous communities, it can also lead to an uptick in illegal deforestation. And the expansion of hydropower also aids in the expansion of mining and smelting, which draw even more human activity into the rainforest, are highly energy-intensive processes and can also introduce heavy metals and other pollutants into the environment. So the environmental problems associated with damming are becoming increasingly clear. The solutions, on the other hand, remain murky. If hydroelectric power continues to be the energy source of choice in the Amazon basin, a great deal of work and some significant policy changes will likely be required to prevent catastrophic future impacts on the environment. Most important is the need for a complete, basin-level analysis — beyond a review of the existing literature, which is still incomplete in many ways — of the impact of dams throughout the Amazon, said David McGrath, deputy director and senior scientist at the Earth Innovation Institute and a professor at the Federal University of Pará in Brazil. But there are currently many hurdles to doing so that need to be overcome with time and the adequate allotment of resources. “We don’t have any sort of institutional capacity to really take a look at all of those, and I think that’s a real priority,” McGrath said. The value of such an analysis lies largely in the need to understand the cumulative impacts of dams throughout the Amazon and the way their effects feed off of one another, said Leandro Castello, an assistant professor of fisheries at Virginia Tech. Castello recently published a similar paper in Global Change Biology examining the many threats to freshwater ecosystems in the Amazon. “All rivers flow to the sea, which means the impacts of headwater dams propagate downstream and add to those of downstream dams,” he told The Washington Post by email. Merely evaluating the isolated effects of individual dams does not give a complete enough pictures of what kinds of changes the basin as a whole is undergoing. For future environmental impact assessments to be meaningful, Amazonian governments will naturally need to abide by their recommendations, halting construction on projects that are predicted to cause significant ecological damage or lead to the extinction of species. Additionally, Lees suggested that policymakers should consider updating and modernizing existing dams, which may not always be functioning at maximum capacity, rather than continually adding new ones. And in order to protect the region’s biodiversity, more stringent enforcement of protected areas will likely be necessary, Lees pointed out. Protected areas in the Amazon are sometimes still subject to illegal logging. And as another recent paper Lees co-authored points out, many of them also overlap with areas affected by mining interests or the influence of hydroelectric dams, and are sometimes diminished or dismantled in favor of development interests. All of these recommendations will necessarily hinge on international cooperation among the Amazonian nations, McGrath said. “They need a pan-Amazonian effort to look at this construction and do it before it’s too late, before we’re locked into a huge number of dams which are going to have progressively more severe impacts on the integrity…of the aquatic system,” he said.

News Article | December 7, 2016

Illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has spiked since 2015, bringing the rate to its highest level in 8 years. The finding has raised fears that the country could lose a decade’s worth of progress in forest protection. In an analysis of satellite data released on 29 November, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) in São José dos Campos estimates that 7,989 square kilometres of land — nearly the size of Puerto Rico — was cleared between August 2015 and July 2016. The total was 29% above the previous year and 75% above the 2012 level, when deforestation hit a historic low of 4,571 square kilometres (see ‘Going up’). The current trends illustrate a growing sense of impunity as well as betrayal among landowners who have yet to benefit from the sustainable-development agenda, says Daniel Nepstad, a tropical ecologist who heads the Earth Innovation Institute, an environmental organization in San Francisco, California. “There’s been a lot of talk about improving the lives and the bottom lines of farmers and ranchers if they stop clearing the forest,” Nepstad says, “and they are still waiting.” Brazil basked in the international limelight for nearly a decade after deforestation began to drop in 2005, thanks in part to stronger government enforcement as well as high-profile commitments to halt deforestation by the beef and soya-bean industries. But the government’s success sparked a political backlash. The Brazilian Congress relaxed the country’s forest protections in 2012, and many Brazilian lawmakers are pushing to further relax environmental laws to promote development across the Amazon. Meanwhile, the country has been rocked by economic recession and ongoing political-corruption scandals. This has diverted both money and attention away from environmental enforcement, emboldening ranchers and illegal land traders to resume clearing land, says Paulo Barreto, a senior researcher at the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment, an activist group in Belém. Barreto notes that beef prices have risen, as has the size of the forest tracts that are being cleared — a sign that the major players are investing in illegal deforestation. With the Brazilian government as weak as it is, Barreto says that he hopes the beef industry in particular will bolster its efforts to prevent the sale of cattle from newly cleared land. This would be an act of self-interest, he adds, because the industry's public image, at home and abroad, depends on Brazil's continued success in protecting the Amazon. “In the end, this is bad for Brazil, not only in environmental terms but also in terms of agricultural markets.”

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