Nav: Home

Revised Brazilian forest code may lead to increased legal deforestation in Amazon

January 04, 2019

Up to 15 million hectares of tropical rainforest in the Brazilian Amazon could lose protection and be clear-cut because of an article in the country's new Forest Code.

The warning comes from Brazilian researchers at the University of São Paulo's Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture (ESALQ-USP) and Swedish researchers at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg. They recently published a paper on the subject in Nature Sustainability. The study was derived from a project supported by São Paulo Research Foundation - FAPESP.São Paulo Research Foundation.

"The 15 million hectares that could become deprotected as a result of this rule in the new Forest Code are roughly equivalent to the entire legal reserve deficit that needs to be offset or restored in Brazil, and they consist mainly of tropical rainforest," Gerd Sparovek , a professor at ESALQ-USP and a coauthor of the paper, told.

"Loss of these areas to agriculture could nullify the effort to regularize legal reserves in Brazil and result in huge losses of biodiversity, impair ecosystem services of great value to society, such as water supply, and increase greenhouse gas emissions."

Sparovek explained that until 2012, the Forest Code required private landowners in the Amazon region to set aside 80% of their property with native vegetation intact in what the law terms a "legal reserve".

Now, however, under Article 12 (5), added at Amapá State's request when the Forest Code was amended and updated in 2012, any state in the Amazon region is allowed to reduce the legal reserve requirement from 80% to 50% if conservation units and indigenous reservations account for more than 65% of its territory.

If the article is implemented, between 7 million and 15 million hectares of forest will be deprotected and could be legally cut down, according to the researchers. This computation accounts for the fact that states such as Amazonas, Roraima, Acre, and Amapá consist mostly of primary forest and have some 80 million hectares of undesignated public land.

If conservation units and indigenous reservations are created on this public land, the law will allow private landowners in these states to reduce their legal reserves, opening up large areas for legal logging and agricultural expansion.

"The removal of legal protection doesn't automatically mean these forest areas will be clear-cut, but it's important to pay attention to this in the current political context, which suggests a weakening of deforestation prevention mechanisms," said Flávio Luiz Mazzaro de Freitas, a PhD researcher at KTH Royal Institute of Technology and first author of the paper.

Scenario modeling

To assess the possible impact of a reduction in the legal reserve requirement to protect forest areas equivalent to 50% instead of 80% of public and private lands in the Amazon, the researchers used a georeferenced database for the entire country with land tenure datasets including official statistics for national and state conservation units, indigenous reservations and military land, as well as rural property and settlement databases maintained by the National Land Reform Institute (INCRA) and the Rural Environmental Register (CAR).

Using this georeferenced database, housed in the Euler computer cluster at the Center for Mathematical Sciences Applied to Industry - CeMEAI, one of the Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers - RIDCs supported by FAPESP, the researchers modeled the implementation of Article 12 (5) of the new Forest Code under two different scenarios for the use of undesignated land in the Amazon.

They termed the first land use scenario conservative in the sense that it assumed a high priority for nature conservation. The second scenario assumed full implementation of the new legal provision and was termed a worst-case scenario from the standpoint of protecting nature.

The researchers quantified the potential reduction in forest protection under these two scenarios. They also assessed the risk of legal conversion of deprotected forest areas into agricultural land using measures of land suitability and market access, as well as the potential impact of such land conversion on carbon emissions and biodiversity.

The results of their analysis suggest that Amapá, Roraima and Amazonas States would qualify for a reduction in private property legal reserves as per Article 12 (5) under both scenarios.

Under the conservative scenario, conservation units or indigenous reservations would be created on 97% of the undesignated land in Amazonas and Amapá. Under this scenario, the new article of the Forest Code would remove protection from 6.5?million hectares (ha) of preserved forest - 4.6?m ha in Amazonas, 1.4?m ha in Roraima and 0.5?m ha in Amapá.

The authors note that the more land is allocated to conservation units and indigenous reservations, the greater the aggregate protected area, but when the 65% threshold is reached and article 12 (5) is triggered, the aggregate deprotected area more than doubles.

The researchers also estimated that under the conservative scenario, approximately half the area deprived of forest protection, or 3.14?m ha, would be in registered private properties, while approximately 1.9?m ha would be in land reform settlements and 0.6?m ha in untitled properties that would probably qualify for the ongoing land regularization program.

Under the worst-case scenario, most of the reduction would take place in currently undesignated areas, where newly titled properties would be allowed to reduce legal reserves by more than 8?m ha.

"The creation of conservation units and/or indigenous reservations in these states may have the side effect of increasing the likelihood of more deforestation. That's schizophrenic," Sparovek said.

The researchers suggested that legal measures taken by state governments in the context of the Environmental Regularization Program (PRA) could mitigate the risk of extensive deforestation.

Economic incentives may also help, given the strong global tendency to urge consumers not to buy products that originate in deforestation zones. Brazil's agricultural exports could be severely affected if deforestation increases in the Amazon region, they stressed.

"By drawing attention to the possibility of an increase in legal deforestation in the Amazon, we hope our research findings will contribute to the development of public and private actions and strategies designed to mitigate potential environmental and social damage from this process," Freitas said.
-end-
About São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP)

The São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) is a public institution with the mission of supporting scientific research in all fields of knowledge by awarding scholarships, fellowships and grants to investigators linked with higher education and research institutions in the State of São Paulo, Brazil. FAPESP is aware that the very best research can only be done by working with the best researchers internationally. Therefore, it has established partnerships with funding agencies, higher education, private companies, and research organizations in other countries known for the quality of their research and has been encouraging scientists funded by its grants to further develop their international collaboration. For more information: http://www.fapesp.br/en.

Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo

Related Deforestation Articles:

Amazon basin deforestation could disrupt distant rainforest by remote climate connection
The ongoing deforestation around the fringes of the Amazon may have serious consequences for the untouched deeper parts of the rainforest.
Amazon rainforest may be more resilient to deforestation than previously thought
Taking a fresh look at evidence from satellite data, and using the latest theories from complexity science, researchers at the University of Bristol have provided new evidence to show that the Amazon rainforest is not as fragile as previously thought.
Human-induced deforestation is causing an increase in malaria cases
A new study of 67 less-developed, malaria-endemic nations led by Lehigh University sociologist Dr.
'Narco-deforestation' study links loss of Central American tropical forests to cocaine
Central American tropical forests are beginning to disappear at an alarming rate, threatening the livelihood of indigenous peoples there and endangering some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in North America.
Stanford study explores risk of deforestation as agriculture expands in Africa
Multinational companies are increasingly looking to Africa to expand production of in-demand commodity crops such as soy and oil palm.
Trade-offs between economic growth and deforestation
In many developing countries, economic growth and deforestation seem to go hand in hand -- but the links are not well understood.
Local government engagement, decentralized policies can help reduce deforestation
Empowering local governments with forestry decisions can help combat deforestation, but is most effective when local users are actively engaging with their representatives, according to a new University of Colorado Boulder-led study.
The fight against deforestation: Why are Congolese farmers clearing forest?
Only a small share of Congolese villagers is the driving force behind most of the deforestation.
Significant deforestation in Brazilian Amazon goes undetected, study finds
A new study finds that close to 9,000 square kilometers of Amazon forest was cleared from 2008 to 2012 without detection by the official government monitoring system.
Effects of past tropical deforestation will be felt for years to come
Even if people completely stopped converting tropical forests into farmland, the impacts of tropical deforestation would continue to be felt for many years to come.

Related Deforestation Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Don't Fear Math
Why do many of us hate, even fear math? Why are we convinced we're bad at it? This hour, TED speakers explore the myths we tell ourselves and how changing our approach can unlock the beauty of math. Guests include budgeting specialist Phylecia Jones, mathematician and educator Dan Finkel, math teacher Eddie Woo, educator Masha Gershman, and radio personality and eternal math nerd Adam Spencer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#517 Life in Plastic, Not Fantastic
Our modern lives run on plastic. It's in the computers and phones we use. It's in our clothing, it wraps our food. It surrounds us every day, and when we throw it out, it's devastating for the environment. This week we air a live show we recorded at the 2019 Advancement of Science meeting in Washington, D.C., where Bethany Brookshire sat down with three plastics researchers - Christina Simkanin, Chelsea Rochman, and Jennifer Provencher - and a live audience to discuss plastics in our oceans. Where they are, where they are going, and what they carry with them. Related links:...