Increase in deforestation of the Amazon threatens Brazil’s ability to achieve its climate goals
June 02, 2021
By Elton Alisson | Agência FAPESP – Brazil’s ability to achieve the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets established in its 2015 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement and revised in December 2020 is threatened by the increase in illegal logging in the Amazon.
Deforestation to clear land for cattle grazing in the Amazon has boosted greenhouse gas emissions so much that since 2017 it has become the main source of these emissions, which contribute to global warming, according to researchers who participated in a webinar on Brazil’s NDC and targets for strategic sectors such as forests, agriculture and energy. The event was organized by FAPESP’s Research Program on Global Climate Change (RPGCC) and held on May 11.
“If the deforestation continues, all the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil will be in vain,” Eduardo Assad, a researcher at the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA), said during the event.
According to data presented by Assad, until 2016 the agricultural sector was responsible for 33.2% of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions, while changes in land use led by deforestation accounted for 27.1%. The situation has changed since 2017, with deforestation becoming the main source of these emissions.
In 2019, land use changes were responsible for 44% of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions, ahead of agriculture (28%), energy (19%), industrial processes (5%) and waste (4%). Moreover, land use changes accounted for a 23% increase in Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Deforestation caused 94% of the emissions due to land use changes. Most of the deforestation (87%) occurred in the Amazon, said Ane Alencar, Science Director at the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM). The information she presented was based on end-2020 data from the Greenhouse Gas Emission and Removal Estimating System (SEEG) run by the Brazilian Climate Observatory (Observatório do Clima, OC).
“Greenhouse gas emissions due to deforestation have been increasing in recent years,” Alencar said. Over 50% of the deforestation detected in the Amazon takes place on public land, including conservation units such as national and state parks, forest areas not designated as conservation units or extraction reserves, “devolved land” (terras devolutas), and indigenous reservations. Alongside the significant increase in deforestation, the last two years have seen strong growth in use of Rural Environmental Registration (CAR) in undesignated public forest areas amounting to some 57 million hectares, or 14% of the Amazon region.
“The growth in CAR registration in these areas is clear evidence of land grabbing,” Alencar said, referring to falsification of title to devolved land, known as grilagem. “Most deforestation on undesignated public land coincides with CAR areas.” It should be possible to stop at least half the deforestation occurring in the Amazon because it happens on public land, she added.
The measures required include making inspection effective, designating public forests as areas for conservation or sustainable production, and canceling overlapping CAR rights to the land in question. Measures needed to protect the other 50% include consolidating protected areas, supporting forest-based production and marketing, supporting the conservation of private forests via economic incentives, and providing economic and technical assistance for sustainable production on land reform settlements (assentamentos).
In the opinion of these researchers, the targets for land use change set by Brazil’s NDC in 2015 and revised in 2020 are very timid in light of the sector’s share of greenhouse gas emissions. The initial target was a reduction in emissions of 37% by 2025 compared with 2005, and 43% by 2030, allowing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) to reach 1.38 gigatons in 2025 and 1.25 gigatons in 2030.
The revised NDC published at end-2020 maintained the percentages but used a higher baseline so that the NDC can be achieved even with current levels of deforestation in the Amazon. “They should have committed to a reduction of at least 55% in emissions after recalculating in this way,” Assad said, adding that the targets for the agricultural sector are also too conservative. They include restoring 15 million hectares of degraded pasturelands by 2030, as well as increasing the crop-livestock-forest integration system by 5 million hectares.
Some 45 million hectares of pasturelands are severely degraded and 25 million hectares are moderately degraded, according to surveys by the Image Processing and Geoprocessing Laboratory (LAPIG) at the Federal University of Goiás (UFG).
“We could reduce the amount of degraded pastureland four times more than the percentage pledged in the 2015 NDC,” Assad said.
The cost of Brazil’s NDC
The cost of Brazil’s NDC would be lower if other sectors besides agriculture, energy, and forests were included by pricing carbon emissions and establishing a market for the carbon credits resulting from projects that focus on reducing emissions, according to a study by Ângelo Costa Gurgel, a professor at Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV), in collaboration with other researchers.
“It’s cheaper to establish a market for swapping permits so that all economic sectors can participate in the effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions,” Gurgel said.
The researchers also estimated the price of carbon in such a broad market, with all sectors contributing to the reduction in emissions. Their findings suggest carbon would be priced at USD 3.00 per metric ton in 2030.
“Leaving the NDC model unchanged, with only some sectors having to make an effort to cut emissions, will be a very costly policy in the long term,” Gurgel said.
Financing the transition to a low-carbon economy is a global challenge, but Brazil faces a number of specific difficulties in this regard, said Annelise Vendramini Felsberg, a professor at FGV.
One of the difficulties is the macroeconomic situation, which does not allow for public spending on this agenda. “There’s no fiscal leeway for the heavy investment required from the public sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. “We’ll need private enterprise to chip in if we want to move the agenda forward.”
However, private investors prefer the energy and transportation sectors, tending to avoid forests because of the high risk and lengthy payback period. “Brazil has lost investment grade and is seen as a difficult country to invest in. When we think about restoration and conservation, we’re talking about a horizon of at least seven years, which most investors consider too risky,” Felsberg said.
The unstable political and economic macroenvironment, added to major legal deficiencies such as the delay in implementing the Forest Code, intensifies the perceived risk of investing in the forest sector. “If the Forest Code and PRAs [Environmental Regularization Programs] had been fully implemented by state governments, half of these financing problems would have been resolved,” Felsberg stressed.
The event was the first in a series of webinars entitled “COP26: Discussing Brazil’s NDC” and organized by FAPESP. The series will analyze strategic areas and decisions by cities and states as part of subnational efforts to achieve the national targets. A text will be drafted at the end of each webinar containing key conclusions for dissemination to the scientific community and the general public.
“We chose these three topics for the first event – forests, agriculture and energy – because they represent huge challenges for Brazil. It won’t be easy for the Brazilian economy and society to address these challenges,” said Paulo Artaxo, a professor at the University of São Paulo’s Physics Institute (IF-USP) and a member of the RPGCC’s steering committee.
The webinar series is part of the implementation of the RPGCC’s 2020-30 Science Plan.
“It’s vitally important for society to engage with the debate on the problems associated with these climate goals, which ultimately affect the everyday lives of all citizens and future generations,” said Luiz Eugênio Mello, FAPESP’s Scientific Director, in his opening address to the webinar.
The moderator was Mercedes Bustamante, a professor at the University of Brasília (UnB).
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