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recent analysis by the Zoological Society of London found that over half of the 100 most significant tropical timber and pulp companies do not publicly commit to protecting biodiversity and only 44% have yet to publicly commit to zero deforestation. As of 2021, forests still cover about 31% of the world’s land area, but they are disappearing at an alarming rate. Since 1990, the world lost 1.3 million sq km of forest due to deforestation for land uses and commercial agriculture. The area of primary forest worldwide has since decreased by over 80 million hectares. Despite the rate of deforestation have shown signs of decreasing, where between 2015 and 2020 deforestation was estimated to be down from 16 million hectares every year to 10 million, a number of companies remain to be the drivers for deforestation. They should be named and shamed and made to account for their actions, which threaten every inhabitant of the planet: human, animal, and plant. There are many, but here are 13 companies that are responsible for deforestation.

Who is Responsible for Deforestation?

1. Cargill

The US-based company has a long history of destruction and one of the biggest companies that contribute to deforestation, according to a report by NGO Mighty Earth. The report details how Cargill profits from the destruction of the environment and the exploitation of people. In Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia, Cargill is involved in the destruction of the Amazon, Grand Chaco, and Cerrado ecosystems for the production of soy and beef. In Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, Cargill buys coca that has been illegally grown in protected areas and national parks. In Indonesia and Malaysia, Cargill buys palm oil from companies that illegally clear rainforests.

The report also claims that Cargill uses inaccurate accounting methods to underestimate how harmful its practices are.

Its corporate customers include McDonald’s, Burger King, Walmart, Walmart, Unilever, and more.

2. BlackRock

In January 2020, investment firm BlackRock announced it would exit investments with high environmental risks, including thermal coal. They also said that they would launch new investment products that screen for fossil fuels.

However, BlackRock has been accused of “climate hypocrisy” since, in September, a big data tool found that the firm’s ESG funds hold companies with a deforestation risk that stretches over 500 hectares of land, more than any other fund.

3. Wilmar International Ltd.

The world’s largest refiner and trader of palm oil, Wilmar International received a total score of 25% on Forest 500, which assesses the biggest companies in the world in terms of their anti-deforestation commitments. The company is one of the world’s largest oil palm plantation owners and processors, reportedly controlling around 45% of worldwide palm oil trade sourced from more than 80% of global palm oil growers. Wilmar also has a global soybean crushing capacity of 36 million metric tons per year, the majority of which is in China.

It has no commitments to protect priority forests and no commitments to report on its supply chain. They also do not monitor or verify supplier compliance.

Furthermore, in April 2020, the company left a committee that helps to identify forest areas for protection.

4. Walmart

Walmart has set zero-deforestation goals for 2020, however, it does not have a system in place to track and monitor the origin of forest-risk commodities – palm oil, pulp and paper, soy, and beef; it says that implementing such a system is “not an immediate business priority.

It is unlikely that it will meet the goals defined for these key commodities, but it also “does not know” what percentage of the soy and beef used in the product it sells is produced with zero net deforestation.

In 2019, NGO Mighty Earth was publicly linked to the fires in the Amazon as it conducted business with the Brazilian beef company JBS. Walmart is also a major buyer of Cargill’s products, the second-largest Brazilian soy exporter.

5. JBS

JBS is one of Brazil’s leading exporters of beef and one of the more known deforestation companies. It operates over 200 production facilities worldwide, processing many tens of thousands of cattle per day. In addition to beef, JBS uses soy in its animal feed in cattle feedlots, poultry, and swine farms.

On the Forest 500 index, it has received a score of just 39%.

Further, in July 2020, JBS reportedly acquired cattle from a farm in the Brazilian Amazon which is under sanction for illegal deforestation, the fifth time in a year that the company has been linked to illegal deforestation.

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6. IKEA

Despite claims that it does not accept illegally logged wood in its products, a report accused IKEA of sourcing manufactured products from suppliers that have used logs that were felled illegally in Ukraine. VGSM, one of IKEA’s suppliers, also cut down trees during a “silence period” between April and mid-June, when certain forms of logging in Ukraine are banned during the critical breeding period for lynx and other species.

Those logs were also felled under a “sanitary felling” permit, a widely-used loophole in Ukrainian that allows for trees to be cut down and sold provided they were already damaged by disease or insect infestation. These permits are often issued even when the felled trees show little or no signs of degradation.

According to the company, they are the largest producer of wooden furniture in the world, meaning that their operations require large amounts of timber.

Despite saying that it will investigate the claim and potentially end its relationship with the law-breaking supplier, the Swedish furniture company received a score of 48% on the Forest 500 index, failing in the commodity categories of timber, leather, pulp and paper, and palm oil. Its commitment strength to protect priority forests is also low for all commodities.

In 2021, the Swedish giant was also implicated in an Earthsight investigation for selling children’s furniture made from wood linked to illegal logging in protected Siberian forests in Russia.

7. Korindo Group PT

Korindo group is an Indonesian-based producer, processor, and manufacturer of various products, including wind towers, battery separators, specialised container vehicles, and cast iron products. It has plantations of palm oil and timber.

two-year investigation process by the International Board of Directors of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a global certification body on responsible forest management found the company guilty of violating its association policies. Korindo has engaged in massive-scale deforestation in Papua and North Maluku (more than 30 000 hectares in the two years prior to filing the complaint), Indonesia, and has been using the FSC’s eco-forestry label to greenwash its practices. The investigation also found that the company destroys critical wildlife habitats and violates traditional and human rights.

It sells its timber, plywood, pulpwood, biomass, and newsprint to Asia Pulp & Paper, APRIL, Sumitomo Forestry, Oji Corporation, and News Corps Australia.

The company has received a score of 38% on the Forest 500 index based on its poor commitment strength, reporting and implementation, and social considerations.

8. Yakult Honsha Co. Ltd

This is the Japanese manufacturer of the popular probiotic milk drink Yakult. It also produces a variety of other food and beverage products, as well as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Through its various product lines, Yakult is exposed to forest risk commodity palm oil, soy, and pulp and paper.

Shockingly, it has a score of 3% on the Forest 500 index; it has made no commitments to protect any priority forests in which it operates. In 2018, it committed to ending deforestation by 2020 but it has since dropped that commitment.

9. Starbucks

In 2015, Starbucks was ranked as the largest chain of coffee shops in the world by the number of stores; in 2017, it had over 24 000 outlets in 70 countries. Starbucks also sells teas, bottled drinks, baked goods, snacks, and other food. Its products and packaging expose the company to various forest risk commodities such as palm oil, soy, beef, and paper. On the Forest 500 index, it performs very poorly for palm oil, soy, and pulp and paper, but especially soy, where its commitment strength, reporting and monitoring, and social consideration scores are abysmal. It scored 25% on the index overall, making it one of the companies that caused deforestation.

Starbucks says that 99% of its coffee is now ethically sourced, but it has yet to adopt sourcing policies that ensure that the palm oil in its baked goods does not contribute to deforestation, climate change, and human rights violations. A Wall Street Journal investigation found human rights abuses on plantations in Malaysia.

10. McDonald’s

McDonald’s has more than 36 000 locations in over 100 countries. Its burgers, sandwiches, sides, and beverages involve significant amounts of beef, soy, and palm oil, as well as paper in packaging. In 2015, over 120 000 metric tons of palm oil were used by McDonald’s. The fast-food restaurant gets its soy from Cargill, one of the most renowned deforestation companies.

These companies conduct billions of dollars’ worth of business all around the world- they should not be allowed to continue their wanton acts of destruction against the environment, deforestation or otherwise. Wherever possible, the countries in which they operate should mandate that they either source their products in an ethical and sustainable way, or move their production somewhere else. If every country were to take this hard a stance, these unethical companies would soon have nowhere to go.

11. Yum! Brands

The American fast food corporation owns a majority of the country’s biggest fast food chains including KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Considering the massive amounts of meat, soy, palm oil, and paper used in its restaurants in the US and across the world, Yum! Brand is unsurprisingly one of the major companies that contribute to deforestation in order to get ahold of these commodities. According to the WWF Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard in 2019, Yum rack up to a total of 157,776 tonnes of palm oil used in a year. 

Despite the corporation having made a commitment to eliminate deforestation from their global supply chains by 2020,  a CDP Consumer Deforestation Report found that not only Yum was not able to achieve that target,  but industry-wide deforestation goals were also not met. 

12. Procter & Gamble (P&G)

The consumer goods giant P&G was recently given a grade F in the scorecard released by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) when evaluating the major companies, banks and other parties who are involved in deforestation. P&G has been criticised for their inadequate action in addressing the impact of its sourcing of forest-risk commodities, and failure to ensure that their forest sourcing does not infringe on Indigenous rights and negatively impact threatened species. 

The WWF reported that P&G used a total of 463,295 tonnes of palm oil in 2019 and was not able to guarantee sourcing 100% sustainable palm oil. 

13. Ahold Delhaize

The supermarket chain Ahold Delhaize, which forms an umbrella over companies like Stop & Shop, Food Lion, Giant, Hannaford, and other brands, has said they aim to achieve zero deforestation and conversion by 2025. However in 2018, they launched a $100 million joint venture with Cargill to operate a new meat packaging plant supplying Ahold Delhaize’s stores in the US, as well as continue to source meat from another leading deforestation company, JBS. The fact that the zero deforestation goal currently only applies to the company itself and not to the entire corporate group is also telling of its commitment to deforestation.

Featured image by: Sandile Ndlovu

According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon surged to a 12-year high in the year between August 2019 and July 2020. 

During this time, 11 088 sq km of rainforest was destroyed- up 9.5% from the previous year and the highest level of destruction since 2008, according to the INPE during its annual news conference this week. 

Brazil’s vice-president, Hamilton Mourão, attempted to be positive about the figures as he visited INPE’s headquarters in São José dos Campos this week. Mourão claimed the annual increase of 9.5% was less than half the anticipated figure of about 20%. He said, “We’re not here to commemorate any of this, because it’s nothing to commemorate. But it means that the efforts being launched [against Amazon deforestation] are starting to yield fruit.”

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What is Happening?

The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest and is called the “lungs of the world” as one of the planet’s best defenses against climate change. The rainforest is capable of pulling billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. 

Featured image by: Wikimedia Commons

As technology advances exponentially, experts in the field of forestry have harnessed these technologies to better understand and monitor deforestation, conservation and environmental degradation. Oleg Seliverstov, Head of GIS at Aspectum, a cloud-based solution for data analytics and visualisation, shared his thoughts with Earth.Org about deforestation, environmental degradation, nature conservation, drone mapping technologies and the role of geospatial technology in forestry.

Earth.Org: One of the most critical issues facing forests in the world is alarming deforestation. In your view, how can geospatial technology address this issue in forestry?

Oleg Seliverstov: Interestingly enough, in some regions natural tree growth outstrips the deforestation rates. Forest areas are increasing as logging areas, pastures and abandoned arable lands are becoming overgrown. As a result of weather conditions and climate change, forests may be spotted even in the steppe regions. 

Still, the overall statistics show that there’s a sharp decline in forest land areas on the planet. In the last 40 years, the average forest area decreased twofold from 1.2 hectares to 0.6 hectares per person.

There are different reasons behind deforestation tendencies. Obviously, the principal one is felling. We keep destroying forests for raw materials, paper production, fuel and furniture. Also, wood is cut down to free land for construction or farming. 

Also, the problem is that in many cases tree felling is illegal and therefore uncontrollable. There must almost always be a license for chopping a tree down, and if it is cut without one, it’s a felony. The penalties vary depending on the crime volume and on the country. For example, in the EU the penalties range from €63.49 per tree to up to 2 years imprisonment. Despite the punishments, illegal logging costs the global market US$10 billion annually. 

But it’s not only about the money. All organisms on the planet Earth are intertwined. By eradicating forests, we destroy the habitats of myriads of animals and plants, reduce biodiversity, disrupt regional water balances, and destabilise ecosystems. The latter, in turn, reduces nature’s ability to cleanse water and air from pollution and leads to an increased risk of diseases spreading.

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EO: Why is using geospatial technology in forestry important? What industry trends do you foresee?

OS: Every year forestry enterprises, just like enterprises in any other industry related to natural resources, are increasingly adopting geospatial technology to improve daily operations. The rapid progress of technology is changing the GIS used, turning it into a distributed “neural system” that analyses current situations, predicts options for future states and recommends optimal solutions.

For instance, stationary sensors allow you to more accurately track the weather, insect pests, warn of fires and other adversities. Mobile sensors of transportation vehicles, employees’ mobile devices, timber batches tags, etc. allow you to control the movement and condition of resources, as well as better coordinate field and office teams, and take prompt corrective actions. For example, a cell phone collects a rich amount of data. It has different types of sensors for detecting motion, environment and position. A cellphone has on average twelve sensors that collect data. Ideally, this data should be used for GIS intelligence and forestry as well. 

Regular surveys from drones, airplanes and satellites provide farms with data on equipment conditions, warehouses, roads and forests with a level of accuracy reaching down to individual trees. In the coming years, we will be able to determine the height, trunk diameter, species and age of each tree. As for groups of trees and small areas of forests, we will be able to determine signs of damage, infection, drying out, and more. 

Drones are gradually taking the stage as the market share of drone services is expanding and is predicted to reach $63.6 billion in five years

EO: One of your points of interest is nature conservation. Can you tell us more about its importance and the input of GIS into it? 

OS: Numerous studies suggest that the contemplation of nature drastically decreases stress and improves mental well-being. But sadly, each year city citizens have fewer and fewer of such opportunities. 

Now the efforts of experts in the field of nature conservation are directed at the studying, monitoring and forecasting of natural processes separately and in conjunction with anthropogenic ones. Certain applied areas of nature conservation include the development of the state and business policies, development of legislation and regulatory requirements, business certification, and business and government control mechanisms. All these initiatives aim to reduce industrial and household emissions, slow down the destruction of species and their habitats, develop environmental education and introduce best practices for balanced consumption and sustainable development.

And since all these tasks have a spatial component, it is impossible to perform them efficiently without using maps, spatial models and geographic information systems. 

EO: The benefits of UAV (drone) capture are higher-quality imaging and temporality. Can you expand on that and the other benefits you see in this technology?

OS: Usually, UAVs (drones) are used when for some reason data from ground sensors, aerial or space surveys is insufficient or when the work of a field specialist is impossible or ineffective.

With the help of UAV, we can quickly examine sites “on-demand” at a smaller cost than from operational satellite imagery. Moreover, we receive information on damage from poor weather, fires, landslides, etc. Thus UAV can be useful for investigating with passive sensors under the cloud cover when satellite imagery is ineffective. In addition, UAV will be useful for regular monitoring of the condition of a limited area, for example, at the level of a forest enterprise or even at the level of individual plantations of a young forest. 

Furthermore, UAV is irreplaceable if we want to obtain the spatial resolution of data at the level of the upper inches of the surface, for example, to monitor the level of water rise, tree growth rate, or to investigate individual parts of the tree crown.

EO: How can different industries adopt drone mapping technology?

OS: Drones help make our maps more accurate, both spatially and temporally. In many cases, drones are already more cost-effective than field teams and are safer because they can operate in hostile environments, reducing the risk of personnel injury. If your business has been previously associated with collecting field data or performing routine mechanical operations, it’s important to closely follow current trends in the industry and cases of successful implementation.

Oleg Seliverstov is a Head of GIS at Aspectum, technological specialist, geospatial and remote sensing data analyst with more than 15 years of experience in projects related to geography, cartography and forestry.

Russia contains the largest area of natural forests in the world, covering 49% of Russia’s landmass and 815 million hectares, 23% of the planet’s total forest area. Yet, much of the country’s forests are under the threats of rapid deforestation. From 2001 to 2019, Russia lost 64 million hectares of relative tree cover, equivalent to an  8.4% decrease since 2000 and 17% of the global total. In 2018 alone, Russia lost 5.6 million hectares of tree cover followed by Brazil with nearly 3 million. What obstacles does Russia face in preventing deforestation?

Russia’s forests stretch from the Baltic Sea to the Sea of Japan, encompassing the last wild forests of Europe and a substantial portion of the vast wilderness of Siberia. With their ability to soak up carbon dioxide and expel oxygen, the world’s forests are often referred to as the “planet’s lungs.”

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deforestation russia

An illustration showing the top five countries in the world for forest area (Source: Weforum.org). 

Poor Forest Management

The forests of Russia are owned by the state and are used for commercial reasons by the private sector. Forests can only be licensed as concessions to enterprises for one to 49 years, but the Office of the President of the Russian Federation reported an approximate 66% increase in illegal logging from 2008 to 2013 in the Russian Federation. 

Action to combat illegal deforestation is taken by the Federal Forestry Agency of Russia, which is responsible for forest policy, regulation of forests as well as enacting new laws. The 2013 Russian Roundwood Act requires the timber process to have documentation for Roundwood transportation, logs of valuable hardwoods and Roundwood sales to be declared in an open-source database alongside the implementation of penalties for non-compliance with the law concerning the Roundwood transaction declaration.

Additionally, an export tax in 2008 aimed to restrict log exports, reduce the loss of forest resources and increase domestic processing, jobs, and revenue for the domestic forestry industry.

Despite this, there are millions of hectares where it is unclear whether they are agricultural or forest areas, making it difficult to understand where illegal logging takes place; the government and administrative bodies often lack the funds to get clear indications of this.

Most illegal logging occurs through permits being issued illegally. The UN has stated that 14.2% of timber firms experienced at least one bribe payment request in 2012 with an overall lack of transparency during concession licensing processes with unfair competition and licences issued based on auctions to the highest bidder or given to individuals with connections to the issuing authorities.

In general, with little oversight by the government and high levels of corruption, many illegal timber activities are left unchallenged resulting in deforestation in Russia occurring unabated.

China’s Wood Demand

China is the world’s largest importer of logs and lumber in the world, becoming a global wood product remanufacturing and redistribution centre. 48.3% of these lumber imports to China are supplied by Russia.

By Russia feeding China’s colossal appetite for wood, China has brought jobs and cash to regions of Russia. Yet China has sharply restricted domestic logging to preserve its own forests, as well as Russian timber facilities to only be staffed by Chinese labour.

Ms Avdoshkevich, the Kansk City Council member said that the Chinese timber barons based in China simply ship as much wood as they can, as quickly as possible, to China, without investment in manufacturing in Russia and without regard to environmental damage.

It is estimated that around 20% of the Russian wood exported to China is felled illegally, helping Russia to become a global leader in forest depletion.

Furthermore, corruption is allegedly widespread in the Russian timber industry. Nikolay Shmatkov from the WWF believes that the law enforcement officials are stretched to their limits and that they stand by without taking action with Russian forestry workers who sell the timber without necessary permissions to China.

Although China’s timber rush has temporarily stimulated Russia’s local economies, it has also stoked localised Russian public anger against China unwilling to let Russia truly benefit from its timber investments while destroying its forests.

Raging Wildfires

Since the start of 2020, it’s estimated by Greenpeace International that fires have burnt through 20 million hectares of the Russian landscape, an area bigger than Greece, and about 10.9 million hectares of forest. 

The Forestry Agency says the authorities will not extinguish 91% of the fires because they are located in “control zones.” Forests fall into control zones when the fires have no effect on local populations and when the cost of extinguishing them is greater than the residual damage of the fires.

“The role of fires in climate change is underestimated. Most of the fires are man-made,” said Grigory Kuksin, head of the fire protection department at Greenpeace Russia.

While the Russian government has previously declared states of emergency and dispatched the military to help firefighting efforts, local authorities have dismissed the wildfires as a natural occurrence, saying that putting out wildfires is not economically viable.

Environmental Damage in Russia Beyond Deforestation

In addition to the destruction of carbon-absorbing forests across Russia, the carbon dioxide, smoke and soot released have increased temperatures, with the winter of 2019 being the warmest winter in 130 years according to the Russian Hydrometeorological Research Center. It is these conditions that have invigorated heat and dry tundra conditions triggering forest fires along the Arctic Circle.

“Now we are seeing these fires within 15 kilometres of the Arctic Ocean,” according to Greg Henry, a climatologist and tundra researcher at the University of British Columbia. “Usually there’s not much fuel to burn there, because it’s kept cold by the ocean so you don’t get ignition of fires that far north.”

In turn, by burning so close to the Arctic, the fires are contributing to the thawing of Arctic permafrost which, in some cases, can lead to sudden ground collapse. The Western Russian Arctic is experiencing some of the highest rates of permafrost degradation globally with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecasting that by 2050, near-surface permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere may shrink by 15 to 30%. 

“When surface soil rich in organic matter burns, it places the permafrost at risk which serves as an insulator against warm summer temperatures,” explains Sue Natali, Arctic programme director at Woods Hole Research Centre. 

Permafrost degradation risks the collapsing of infrastructure as well as the release of carbon feedback.

Another implication of forest fires in the Arctic Circle is the burning of peatlands, carbon-rich soils that accumulate as waterlogged plants slowly decay, sometimes over thousands of years. These are the most carbon-dense ecosystems on Earth; a typical northern peatland packs in roughly ten times as much carbon as a boreal forest and nearly half the world’s peatland-stored carbon lies between 60 and 70 degrees north, along the Arctic Circle. 

As a result of Arctic wildfires, northern peatlands could eventually shift from being a sink for carbon to a source, further dramatically accelerating climate change.

Russia ’s lacklustre response to tackle deforestation is in line with the country’s low commitment to addressing climate change, relying heavily on the oil and gas industry as well as having a poor record of enforcing green initiatives that could have greater negative global climate effects simply from not addressing deforestation and for short-term economic gains.

Featured image by: Flickr

A Greenpeace study in Hong Kong has found that nearly one-third of the city’s supply of beef comes from Brazilian ranches located in deforested areas of the Amazon rainforest.

The survey, conducted in August, found that imported beef from Marfrig, JBS and Minerva Foods, meat packers that represent nearly half of the cattle slaughtered in the Amazon, is being sold in at least one major supermarket chain in Hong Kong. 

Frances Yeung Hoi-shan, a senior campaigner at Greenpeace, says to the South China Morning Post, “Some of the supply chains are like ‘beef laundering’. The smaller ranchers that farm on destroyed Amazon forest land sell to other ranchers, who then sell to larger farms, before it ends up with consumers. This means beef from ranches on destroyed forest land is mixed in with beef from other farms that are not on deforested areas.”

Hong Kong and China are the top two destinations for Brazilian beef, according to the US Department of Agriculture. In 2017, Hong Kong imported 780 000 tons of frozen beef and offal, of which 53% came from Brazil. 60% of this beef in Brazil came from the three meat packers, which is how Greenpeace arrived at its figure of 30% of beef consumed by Hong Kongers coming from these three companies.

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Cattle ranchers, loggers and farmers in Brazil often set fire to the Amazon rainforest to clear land for their activities. The pace of deforestation has increased rapidly since President Jair Bolsonaro came into power. He says that farming and mining in the forest is the only way to lift the country out of poverty.

The National Institute for Space Research (INPE) reported that 796 square kilometers of forest were cut down during the first three months of this year. A third of the devastation happened on land including national forests and conservation areas, which in general have become targets for land grabbers eager for big profits. According to the Institute, reports of deforestation were up 51% between January and March as compared to 2019.

According to the SCMP, while Yata and City’super responded to Greenpeace saying that they “rarely” sold Brazilian beef, ParknShop, one of the biggest supermarket chains in the city, said it sourced a “small portion” of beef from JBS and would switch to other suppliers once its current stock had sold out.

Hong Kong is already being affected by the climate crisis, seen in reports that this summer was the hottest since records began in 1884. The number of “very hot days” recorded this year has already reached 43, 32.8 days above the annual norm.

The Ministry of Environment in Brazil has said that it will continue operations to restrict deforestation and fires in the Amazon and other regions. The announcement follows an earlier decision to halt such operations starting on August 31. 

The decision was shared on the ministry’s website on August 28 after vice president Hamilton Mourão said Environment Minister Ricardo Salles acted “hastily” when he said the government had run out of money for operations against deforestation.

The ministry had previously said that it had been blocked from accessing over $11 million for environmental protection, which would have demobilised over 1 300 firefighters, hundreds of inspection agents, six helicopters and 10 planes. However, Mourão told reporters that no operations would be stopped despite the ministry’s statement and that Brazil would continue to work to restrict deforestation in the Amazon. 

In May, president Jair Bolsonaro put the army in charge of protecting the Amazon rainforest in May, following international demands for action after wildfires in the rainforest skyrocketed recently. However, the operation proved to be a failure, as investigation and prosecution of rainforest destruction by ranchers, farmers and miners ended, even as this year’s burning season increased. Instead, the army seems to be focusing on small road-and-bridge-building projects that allow exporters to flow faster to ports and ease access to protected areas in the forest. There have also been no major raids against illegal activity since Bolsonaro required military approval for them a few months ago.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon

According to data published by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), 516 fires covering 376 416 hectares have been detected between May 28 and August 25. 83% of these fires have burned in recently deforested areas, while 12% have occurred within intact forests. 97% of the fires are illegal. 

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A graph showing the accumulated Amazon deforestation rates from August 1 to July 31 from 2008 to 2020 (Source: Mongabay).

Overall, deforestation in the Amazon has risen sharply since January 2019 when Jair Bolsonaro became president. Bolsonaro promised to open the Amazon to more mining, logging and industrial agriculture. His administration has subsequently relaxed environmental law enforcement and penalties and issued executive orders opening up protected areas and indigenous lands to logging, mining and agribusiness. 

Featured image by: Amazônia Real

The UK government is planning to introduce a new law aimed at clamping down on illegal deforestation by fining large companies who cannot prove that their supply chains are not linked to illegal deforestation.

The legislation- drafted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs- would prohibit companies in the UK above a certain size to use products grown on land which has been subject to illegal deforestation. Ministers have launched a six-week consultation to discuss these measures, where they will consider how the law will impact businesses and other stakeholders. 

Businesses could also face substantial fines if they fail to publish information to show where these key products- including rubber, soil and palm oil- come from and whether they are produced in line with local laws protecting forests. The Department says that these illegally produced commodities ‘have no place in the UK market’. The size of these fines would be determined at a later date. A regulator will check that businesses have complied, and if found not to, the environment secretary will have the power to issue fines.

The proposal says that the legislation would target a relatively small number of businesses. Employee or turnover thresholds will be set out in the secondary legislation, but the department has said that the approach would minimise the regulatory burden on smaller businesses in the UK whose supply chain is less likely to have an impact. 

Deforestation accounts for about 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The issue has come into mainstream politics, with both the UK and the EU considering rules to outlaw the importing of products from illegally deforested land. 

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International Environment Minister, Zac Goldsmith, says that there is a ‘hugely important connection between the products we buy and their wider environmental footprint’ and that ‘the UK has a duty to lead the way in combating the biodiversity and nature crisis’. 

While industry associations representing food and drinks makers, as well as retailers, welcomed the announcement, Elena Polisano, forests campaigner at Greenpeace UK, says the law is ‘seriously flawed’. “We’ve all seen the way President Bolsonaro has championed the expansion of agriculture in Brazil at the expense of the Amazon rainforest. We will never solve this problem without tackling demand. Companies like Tesco, who sell more meat and dairy and so use more soya for animal feed than any other UK retailers, know what they need to do to reduce the impact they are having on deforestation in the Amazon and other crucial forests: They must reduce the amount of meat and dairy they sell and drop forest destroyers from their supply chain immediately,” she says. 

According to the recent report from WWF, to satisfy the UK’s demand for commodities including beef, cocoa, palm oil, and paper and pulp between 2016 and 2018, a total of 21.3 million hectares of land, equivalent to 88% of the UK land area, was needed each year. 

Earlier this year, more than 40 European companies, including retailers Tesco and Marks and Spencer, warned they would boycott Brazilian products if President Jair Bolsonaro’s government did not act on deforestation. 

Institutional investors have also urged Brasília to halt deforestation. 

In the first half of 2020, deforestation had risen by 25% from the same period in 2019, totalling 4 879 sq km

Featured image by: Nathanael Coyne

According to new data, harvesting in Europe has caused the continent to lose a vastly increased area of forests in recent years, reducing the continent’s carbon sequestration capacity and placing doubts on the EU’s ability to mitigate the climate crisis.

Many of the EU’s forests, which roughly accounts for about 38% of its land surface area, are managed and harvested regularly for timber production. However, according to satellite data, the loss of biomass increased by 69% in the period from 2016 to 2018 when compared with the same period from 2011 to 2015. The area of forest harvested increased by 49% in the same comparison, published in the journal Nature Research

Even accounting for natural events such as fires and heavy snows, this data shows that far more harvesting of forests has occurred in Europe in a short period of time.

Other factors may include increased demand for wood as fuel and expansions of timber markets along with wood products. This data shows that forests are being unsustainably harvested.

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Of 26 countries studied, this harvesting is most pronounced in Sweden, which accounted for 29% of the increase, Finland for about 22%, and Poland, Spain, Latvia, Portugal and Estonia jointly accounted for about 30% of the increase. 

Guido Ceccherini of the EU Joint Research Centre and lead author of the study, says that the observed increase in harvesting and the subsequent loss of biomass was unlikely to result in the decline of overall forested area in the EU as harvested forests regenerate. However, it would disrupt the carbon absorption capacity of the forests in the short term, he said. 

Ceccherini says, “The forests continue to remain a carbon sink, but less than before. Even if part of the harvested biomass carbon is used in long-lasting wood products, possibly replacing more energy -intensive materials such as steel or cement, most of it will return to the atmosphere as CO2 in a short period of time, [from] months to a few years. Until the carbon stock in harvested areas returns to previous levels, which takes several decades, depending on the type of forest, an increase in harvest is therefore equivalent to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere.” 

Although Europe’s carbon balance may not be greatly affected in the long term, with harvested forests regenerating, the researchers claim that it is important to find out why harvesting has increased so rapidly, as this may indicate larger underlying issues with regards to the way in which Europe’s forests are being managed. More research is needed in order to establish definitive causes. However, the researchers have hypothesised that an increase in the demand for timber and wood products, such as pulp and paper, and more burning of biomass for fuel may be the reasons for the rapid rise in harvesting observed in the Nordic countries. 

Professor Thomas Crowther, founder of Crowther Lab, who was not involved in the research, said: “It is concerning to see that the increasing demand for forest products may be reducing the carbon stored within living biomass in European forests. It is possibly more concerning that forest removal may also threaten the storage of carbon below ground. These high-latitude forests support some of the largest soil carbon stock on Earth. If forest clearing threatens the integrity of high-latitude soil carbon stocks, then the climate impacts may be stronger than previously expected.” 

Forests offset about 10% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. While the areas harvested are likely to be replanted and the growth will continue to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, a recent study that found that the climate crisis is driving the shift towards younger and shorter trees in forested ecosystems places doubt on the ability of these forests to continue to offset this volume of carbon dioxide in the long term.

Featured image by: Hans Permana

New data from Brazil’s National Space Research Agency (INPE) shows that deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest rose 10.7% in the last month compared to June 2019, marking 14 months of continuous tree and habitat loss.

In the first half of 2020, deforestation had risen by 25% from the same period in 2019, totalling 4 879 sq km

Researchers at the IPAM estimated that deforestation and the fires that have occurred in Brazil’s Amazon over the past six months have emitted 115 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the equivalent of the annual emissions of 25 million cars and a 20% increase over the same period last year.  

Ane Alencar, science director at the Instituo de Pesquia Ambiental de Amazonia (IPAM), stressed that if the Amazon rainforest continues to endure the same trends of deforestation, 2020 will mark the worst year for deforestation in over a decade, with approximately 14 998 sq km of affected forest. 

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What is Being Done?

President Bolsonaro has deployed military in the region to stop illegal land clearing, and has issued a ban on fires in the Amazon region for 120 days from the week of July 13. Whether this would constitute ‘enough action’ to sufficiently protect the Amazon rainforest and combat the deforestation problem has been debated. 

Suely Vaz, the former head of environment regulator at the Brazilian government’s environmental ministry, said, “Control of deforestation isn’t done by sending a lot of inexperienced people to the field.” Vaz stressed that although the army would be able to help, the operations need to be conducted by environmental authorities with appropriate technical planning and intelligence to stop deforestation altogether. 

In recent months, international trade groups, financial institutions and major corporations have urged the President to take steps to stop deforestation. European countries have warned Brazil that it would back out of the USD$19 trillion Union-Mercosur free trade agreement if the country doesn’t do more to protect the Amazon. Further, a letter signed by 29 financial institutions said that the country’s dismantling of environmental policies and indigenous rights are ‘creating widespread uncertainty about the conditions for investing’. 

Rubens Ricupero, Brazil’s former environment minister, stated how the pressure from international investors to act and mitigate the problem should not be overlooked- especially in consideration of post-pandemic infrastructure projects: “right now, there is no investment, from Brazilians or foreigners. But the concern is that as the pandemic begins to weaken, the government will want to revive the economy … and for that the government will need to be able to attract investments from overseas.”

Featured image by: Animal Equality International

Deforestation in Earth’s largest rainforest increased for the fourteenth consecutive month according to data released this month by the Brazilian government. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is currently pacing 83% ahead of where it was a year ago.

Amazon Rainforest’s Deforestation Rate

Data from Brazil’s national space research institute INPE shows that 830 square kilometers (sq km) of rainforest was cleared in the “Legal Amazon” during the month of May, bringing the total clearing since the August 1 to 6,437 sq km, an area larger than Delaware or Palestine. Brazil tracks deforestation based on a year that runs from August 1 to July 31.

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amazon deforestation
A graph showing deforestation in the Amazon from January to April in 2009 to 2020 (Source: Mongabay via INPE).

Since January 1, deforestation in the region has amounted to 2,033 sq km, compared with 1,454 sq km through the first five months of 2019, an increase of 40%.

Independent analysis by Imazon, a Brazilian NGO, tracks roughly inline with what is being reported officially by the government.

The new data was released two days after INPE revised its official 2019 estimate for Amazon deforestation upwards to 10,129 sq km, marking the first time forest clearing in the region has topped 10,000 sq km since 2008. Deforestation is also trending upward in other Amazon countries, according to data from the University of Maryland (UMD) and World Resources Institute (WRI).

Effects of Deforestation in the Amazon

The rise in deforestation troubles scientists who fear that the combination of forest loss and the effects of climate change could trigger the Amazon rainforest to tip toward a drier ecosystem which is more prone to fire, generates less local and regional rainfall, sequesters less carbon from the atmosphere, and is less hospitable to species adapted to the dense and humid forests of lowland Amazonia. The impacts on local and regional economies that depend on precipitation from the Amazon could be devastating, depriving agricultural areas, hydroelectric dams, and cities across South America of water. There are already signs of sustained drying trends in the Amazon portending what may lie ahead.

Near term, the high level of deforestation through the first few months of 2020 means the year is shaping up to have a bad fire season. Typically trees are cut after the rainy season subsides in April or May. Burning normally peaks during the dry season from July through October, but this year burning is already underway: earlier this week researchers at the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) reported on the first major Amazon fire of 2020. The data thus suggests 2020 could be a particularly dire year for the Amazon.

Featured image by: Matt Zimmerman

This article was originally published on Mongabay, written by Rhett A. Butler, and is republished here as part of an editorial partnership with Earth.Org. 

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