Good climate change news: Brazil cut Amazon deforestation by 50% last year

The Amazon is vital to the fight against rising temperatures.

The Amazon rainforest plays a massive role in the planet’s future regarding climate change. The rainforest creates a cooling effect because its trees channel heat into the atmosphere. It also protects the Earth from greenhouse gasses by storing 150 to 200 billion tons of carbon.

The health of the Amazon is vital to all life on Earth because it releases 20 billion tons of water into the atmosphere each day, playing a pivotal role in the planet’s water cycle. But unfortunately, the Amazon is under threat from deforestation.

“Despite some important conservation successes, the Amazon faces greater threats than ever before. We need to act fast to protect this life-sustaining treasure for the millions of species and people that depend on it,” Sarah Hutchinson, the World Wildlife Foundation’s Chief Latin American Advisor, said on its website. 

Even though the situation in the Amazon seems dire, there was some great news to come out of the rainforest recently. Brazil, home to 60% of the rainforest, announced that it reduced deforestation by 50% from 2022 to 2023.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva via Sala de Medios - Intendencia de Montevideo/Wikimedia Commons
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva via Sala de Medios – Intendencia de Montevideo/Wikimedia Commons

 

The change came after the election of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who stepped up enforcement in the area, slowing forest clearing by ranchers and farmers. In 2023, Brazil lost 1,989 square miles of rainforest, compared to 2022, when there was a drop of 3,963 square miles.

Under the country’s previous president, Jair Bolsonaro, deforestation in the Amazon had reached a 15-year high. The Bolsonaro administration weakened environmental protection while allowing development by farmers and land grabbers who felt maligned by the country’s environmental laws.

“The effort of reversing the curve of growth has been reached. That is a fact: we reversed the curve; deforestation isn’t increasing,” João Paulo Capobianco, the Environment Ministry’s executive secretary, said during a presentation. 

The big problem with protecting the Amazon is that it is an important economic resource for Latin America as it’s a major source of agri-food exports to the European Union. Cattle ranching for the production of beef sold to the U.S. and China is also a major cause of deforestation, as is soybean production. 

The trees of the Amazon rainforest. via Amauri Aguiar/Flickr
The trees of the Amazon rainforest. via Amauri Aguiar/Flickr

 

 

Deforestation not only prevents future carbon sequester but it undoes past gains. After the tree is cut down, most of the carbon sequestered by the tree is released back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change. 

Land use change, principally deforestation, contributes to up to 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The fight to save the Amazon is a long battle, and the good news is that a tremendous amount of progress has been made in reducing deforestation over the past 20-plus years. In the late 1990s, over 20,000 square miles of Brazillian rainforest were destroyed every year, about ten times the amount lost in 2023.

President Lula believes that there is a bright future for the Amazon and has pledged to achieve zero deforestation by the end of the decade. He calls it the “Amazon dream.” 

“The Amazon can be whatever we want it to be: an Amazon with greener cities, with cleaner air, with mercury-free rivers and forests that are left standing; an Amazon with food on the table, dignified jobs and public services that are available to all; an Amazon with healthier children, well-received migrants [and] Indigenous people who are respected,” Lula said at a rainforest summit.

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