A balance of deforestation during President Lula's administration (2002-2006)
This Special Feature intends to sketch a brief evaluation of the actions undertaken during President Lula's first administration. The information and analyses produced in the next few days seek to demonstrate the little known relationship between deforestation in Brazil and, among other elements, climatic changes, agribusiness and infrastructure works. Deforestation is a subject of strategic importance to the country's future, but one that has, nevertheless, been systematically neglected by the political class, to whom environmental features seem to hold little importance, as attested by the political debates during the 2006 presidential election campaigns. Check the other texts included in the Special Feature at the end of this article.
Slash and burn, Mato Grosso, 2002
The decrease of approximately 30% in deforestation within the Brazilian Amazon Region for the second year running, announced a few days ago (check out) by the federal government, represents an important advance regarding the implemented environmental control actions, specially after 2004. There is a reversal trend at play and the governmental initiatives are certainly related to the reductions that, though localised, are significant in the total devastation calculations, such as, for instance, that around the BR-163 highroad, in the State of Pará or within a few of the Protected Areas (PAs) created by the present government. As well said by the Minister of Environment Marina Silva, despite the fact that the present level of deforestation is unacceptable, without the policies now in force the situation would certainly be a lot more serious.
The total deforestation area accumulated in the course of President Lula's administration (from 2002-2003 to 2005-2006) will add up to 84 thousand square kilometres, with a projection of 13.1 km2 of felled forest between 2005 and 2006, calculated from the 34 satellite images analysed by the INPE (National Institute for Space Research - Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais), up to October.
As a curiosity, 13 thousand km2 in a year means a deforestation average of over 36 km2 a day, or 1.5 km2 per hour, or 2.5 hectares per minute. To use football metaphors, so dear to President Lula, these 13 thousand km2 equal five devastated soccer fields a minute, over the 365 analysed days. In four years, we have 16.6 million soccer fields, the equivalent to the territory of Austria.
In the last four years, Brazil has emitted, as a result of deforestation, 996 million tons of carbon, corresponding to nearly US$ 5 billion, according to conservative estimates. Between August 2005 and August 2006, deforestation in the Amazon region was responsible for over 60% of our total emissions. The country emits 95 million tons/year of carbon as a result of the burning of fossil fuel.
In a note published in August 2005, (see), the Working Group on Forests (GT Florestas) of the FBOMS (Brazilian Forum of NGOs and Social Movements for the Environment and Development - Fórum Brasileiro de ONGs e Movimentos Sociais pelo Meio Ambiente e Desenvolvimento) considered the government's celebration of the reduction in deforestation rates as legitimate, but, as it warned about the effects of the agribusiness crisis, it also pointed at the need to be cautious and not lower the guard.
If we take the tone of the 2006 presidential campaign seriously, marked by the obsession with the Gross Domestic Product growth above all else and tempered by the need to slim down the state apparatus and cut public expenses (including environmental command and control?), we shall face, in the next mandate, a far bigger challenge than simply a reversal in the deforestation curve.
Imagine a scenario favourable for economic growth grounded on rates next to or over those foreseen by Minister of the Economy, Mr. Guido Mantega (between 4.5% and 5% a year). Such achievement supposes inevitably a decrease in interest rates, as well as a greater offer of public credit and private investments, some degree of local currency devaluation and the growth of agriculture and cattle raising activities, which result not only from the increase in productivity but also from the expansion of crop areas. Under such favourable hypothetical skies, will it be possible for the federal and Amazonian states to reduce deforestation to a level close to acceptable? According to Minister Marina Silva, acceptable deforestation is the one legally authorised and, the ideal is zero deforestation. Will it be possible to at least maintain the 2006 estimated rate of 13 thousand km2? What must be done to achieve this?
The government has not yet been able to set up economic instruments in a scale able to constrain the conversion of forest into areas of agriculture and cattle-raising production
In the last three years, there has been a laudable and unheard of involvement in environmental policies by government bodies linked to ministries other than the Ministry of Environment (MMA), especially the Federal Police, the INCRA (The National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform -Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária) and the Army. It is also necessary to highlight the significantly higher volume of inspection actions, thanks to the engagement of IBAMA and the substantial increase in the creation of PAs, though these may be little more than paper laws.
On the other hand, the state governments have not advanced on the feature. The impunity of those committing environmental crimes, despite inspection, is still the absolute rule. Objective goals for deforestation reduction are not discussed on the federal or state levels. Even though they remain a mechanism to be tested, these goals would have nevertheless allowed for planning and the real evaluation of the State's actions.
There are no strategic or structuring actions, on an appropriate scale, to increase agriculture and cattle-raising productivity, by crop and by region, resorting to formulas grounded on studies about the potential of already opened areas. The discourse in defence of economic instruments to support the conservation, recuperation of forests and of underused or abandoned areas within private land is in a process of exhaustion and nothing of concrete has been done - by any government, it must be said. We still do not know exactly where are the 165 thousand square kilometres of deforested, abandoned or underused areas in the Amazon region, which correspond to nearly thrice the soy bean crop area in the State of Mato Grosso, the national agriculture production champion. To whom does this precious land stock belong?
So, how to turn the table on the feature?
A "national" action plan to prevent deforestation must necessarily involve a lot more than other important ministries, such as Planing and Agriculture, which have not yet stated how they are willing to participate in the Cross-Ministry Work Group dealing with the feature. The responsible participation of the state governments is needed, and sometimes even municipalities need to get involved, as well as, fundamentally, the Brazilian agribusiness representative segments. A federal plan is not enough. A national plan involving the whole of the society is needed.
At the end of 2005, the government actually started an evaluation process (know more), but, due to the fact that it had not previously made the information available to the organisations invited to carry it out, it did not resume. Still in September 2005, during the Conama (National Council on the Environment-Conselho Nacional de Meio Ambiente) meeting, carried out in the city of Cuiabá (Mato Grosso State), ISA recommended the creation of a work group for the evaluation of the action plan. It has not yet been set up.
Would it not be the case for the Ministry of the Environment to feature a secretariat for the formulation and setting up of policies and the economic, fiscal, financial and credit instruments for the consolidation of the decreasing deforestation curve, so as to bring it down to next to nothing? Why is a secretariat not created at the Ministry of Agriculture to draw a plan of goals for the recuperation of the underused opened areas that are viable in production terms?
In a meeting with socio-environmentalist organisations in the last week of October, just after the announcement of this year's deforestation figures, Minister Marina Silva and her team committed themselves to carrying out an evaluation, which should take place in November 8 and 9. As stressed by the Minister, it could be said that we have reached the year 2006 with a draw or tie in the deforestation feature, an analogy taken from the rubber-tappers movement, which, in the 1980s, stopped the felling of the forest in the State of Acre. But there is a lot to be done before we can be on the winning side. How can we overcome the supposed draw? Command and control actions are not sufficient, specially if the international agriculture and cattle-raising scenario improves, as it seems to be doing.
The Special Feature on deforestation published by ISA starting today seeks to bring together information, opinions, data and recent analyses about the dynamics of what is considered by Brazilian society as the country's biggest socio-environmental problem - according to a recent survey promoted by the ISER (Religious Studies Institute - Instituto de Estudos da Religião ) - therefore one of the biggest challenges for the development of Brazilian society.
This series of reports, interviews and articles on the main themes associated to deforestation in the Amazon region, starting today, constitutes ISA's contribution to the debate, reflection and decision making, if not in the context of zero deforestation, at least in the context of the region's legal deforestation levels. The challenge is not minor. Check it out!