By Elton Alisson
Agência FAPESP – Brazil can reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by Amazon deforestation to zero after 2030 if it enforces its Forest Code.
This is the conclusion of a study by researchers at the National Space Research Institute (INPE), partnering with colleagues at Brazil’s Applied Economic Research Institute (IPEA), as well as researchers from other countries at the Vienna-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the United Nations Environment Program's World Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP-WCMC).
Resulting from REDD-PAC, funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment through its International Climate Initiative and supported by FAPESP through the project “Land use change in Amazonia: institutional analysis and modeling at multiple temporal and spatial scales”, the study was presented at two meetings held on October 6-7 at FAPESP’s headquarters in São Paulo, Brazil, on issues to be discussed during the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP21), which is scheduled for December in Paris.
The findings of the study were key inputs for the voluntary greenhouse gas emission reductions to be targeted by Brazil as part of its “intended nationally determined contribution” (INDC) to the new international climate change agreement that will be discussed at COP21. President Dilma Rousseff announced Brazil’s INDC on September 27 at the UN summit for the adoption of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda in New York.
“The Forest Code can help eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from Amazon deforestation if it’s enforced. Brazil doesn’t need more environmental legislation to stop clear-cutting in the Amazon. It just needs to assure compliance with the laws already in place,” said Gilberto Câmara, a researcher at INPE and principal investigator for the project, during the event at FAPESP.
The researchers projected the impact of the Forest Code on future land use in Brazil, taking into account domestic policies as well as global and domestic demand for Brazilian agricultural products, potential output in each region, and environmental restrictions.
To do this, they used the Global Biosphere Management Model (GLOBIOM), developed by IIASA to analyze the competition for land use between agriculture, forestry and bioenergy, which are the main land-based production sectors. The researchers adapted GLOBIOM to construct a map of land use in Brazil in the year 2000.
The map combines information on plant cover from the Brazilian Geography & Statistics Institute (IBGE), data supplied by the SOS Atlantic Forest Foundation, and land use and cover change (LUCC) maps supplied by INPE’s moderate-resolution imaging spectroradiometer (MODIS), as well as agricultural production and plantation forest statistics from IBGE.
Based on this combination of data, the model projected land use and cover changes for Brazil until 2050.
To validate the model, the researchers compared its projections for deforestation rates and agricultural production in Brazil in the period 2000-2010 with IBGE’s official statistics.
The differences between IBGE’s statistics and the projections produced by the model were less than 10%, according to Câmara, who is a member of the steering committee for FAPESP’s Research Program on Global Climate Change (RPGCC).
“INPE’s satellite deforestation surveillance program for the Legal Amazon, PRODES, calculated that 16.5 million hectares were cleared in the period 2000-2010, while the GLOBIOM estimate was 16.9 million hectares,” Câmara said.
Projections to 2050
To estimate how the new Forest Code may influence land use in Brazil between 2020 and 2050, the researchers calculated projections under five different scenarios.
The first scenario assumed business as usual without application of the Forest Code. The second assumed full enforcement of the Forest Code, with zero illegal deforestation, mandatory conservation or rehabilitation of a specified percentage of every rural property’s forest cover (legal reserve), the right to trade in certificates representing forest areas surplus to the legal reserve (CRAs), an amnesty for small farmers, and regularization of rural properties via mandatory environmental registration.
Under the third scenario, only crop growers could buy CRAs. Under the fourth, also assuming full enforcement of the Forest Code, only small farmers would be required to recover their legal reserves. Finally, the fifth scenario assumed no CRAs.
According to the projections, under scenario 1 (Forest Code is fully enforced), forest regrowth could reach 11 million hectares (Mha) by 2050.
“A more conservative estimate would be between 10 and 12 Mha. Unsurprisingly, Brazil’s INDC used the higher number,” Câmara said.
With regard to agricultural production, the amount of cropland will grow in the coming decades under all five scenarios, potentially reaching 92 Mha in 2030 and 114 Mha in 2050, up from 56 Mha in 2010.
Pasture, in contrast, will shrink significantly according to the projections, falling 10 Mha in 2030 compared with 2010 and another 20 Mha by 2050.
The model considered data from the Ministry of Agriculture showing that the amount of land used to raise cattle and other livestock will fall by approximately 1 Mha , owing to improvements in practices and yields.
“The Forest Code and environmental legislation aren’t constraints on the growth of Brazilian agriculture,” Câmara said.
According to the projections, full enforcement of the Forest Code could also contribute to a sharper reduction in Brazil’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
Forest regrowth, combined with declining deforestation due to the Forest Code, could cut Brazil’s deforestation emissions to 110 million metric tons of CO2 by 2030, down 92% compared with 2000, when two-thirds of its CO2 emissions came from deforestation in the Amazon.
As a result, Brazil would reduce net deforestation emissions to zero after 2030, according to Câmara.
“The reduction in deforestation is buying Brazil time to clean up its energy mix and decarbonize its economy,” he said. “Cutting greenhouse gas emissions depends on the use of renewable fuels from now on and no longer on the Amazon.”
Brazil’s INDC also pledges to increase the share of bioenergy to approximately 18% of the country’s energy mix by 2030, as a step toward reducing emissions by the energy sector. This target is highly conservative and unambitious, according to Glaucia Mendes Souza, a professor at the University of São Paulo’s Chemistry Institute (IQ-USP) and a member of the steering committee for FAPESP’s Bioenergy Research Program (BIOEN).
“Sugarcane ethanol alone already accounts for 18%, and there’s idle capacity in the industry. Several plants have been bankrupted by allowing their debts to pile up in response to official pledges that ethanol’s share of the energy mix was set to grow quickly,” Souza said at a workshop on COP21 for journalists held on October 6 at FAPESP.
“There’s no excuse for Brazil’s failure to use more renewable fuel in its energy mix, especially sugarcane ethanol. After all, Brazil is recognized as a bioenergy pioneer.”
The study coordinated by Câmara also estimated the impact of the new Forest Code on biodiversity loss in Brazil.
According to the researchers’ projections, the Forest Code may also contribute to a reduction in the number of endangered species and help halt the destruction of habitats.
One of the biomes most threatened with habitat loss is the Caatinga, which could lose more than 51% of its pristine thorn forest by 2050 – these areas are important for biodiversity and currently not protected by law. Another is the Cerrado, a savannah-like ecosystem that is also very important for biodiversity and could lose over 20% in total area.
“We have more uncertainties than certainties about how biodiversity in all its complexity will be affected by climate change,” said Luciano Verdade, a professor at USP and a member of the steering committee for FAPESP’s Research Program on Biodiversity Characterization, Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use (BIOTA), in a speech during the October 7 event “COP21: the science of sustainability” at FAPESP.
“However,” he went on, “we do know that not only climate change but also land use changes modify the pattern of wildlife distribution and abundance. What’s hard to assess right now is the impact of interactions between climate change and land use on biodiversity.”
The report entitled “Modeling land use changes in Brazil: 2000-2050”, which resulted from the REDD-PAC project, can be accessed at www.redd-pac.org/reports/lucc_brazil_folder.pdf.