From Cutting Trees to Slashing Emissions: Reducing Deforestation in Brazil

By Arielle K. Eirienne
2009, Vol. 1 No. 11 | pg. 1/1

Much debate has recently arisen over China’s and India’s responsibilities as related to climate protection. These two countries have repeatedly pleaded that their emissions be judged on a per-capita basis, since their per-capita emissions pale in comparison to those of the global North, and they have thus argued that the rest of the world should not insist that they slash emissions. In contrast, Western powers have maintained that the Chinese and Indian governments must take action if a global climate-protection plan is to be scientifically, economically, and politically viable.

Where, however, does Brazil fit into this equation? Like China and India, Brazil is a prominent, populous developing country and a member of the Group of 8’s ‘Plus-5’ contingent, yet the dialogue on climate protection touches upon this South American state far less often.[1] What can Brazil’s leaders contribute to the global anti-climate change fight, and what political and economic pressures encourage/discourage their action? Unlike China and India, Brazil produces roughly three-quarters of its emissions through deforestation (Blunt 2004); hence, though Brazil must continue to implement climate protection measures in its energy sector, decreased deforestation will be essential to the country’s emissions-curbing efforts. This paper will thus explore the potential for Brazil to reduce its deforestation, analyzing the political and economic concerns that its leaders must address if reduction initiatives are to succeed. Though multiple actors are at work within Brazil’s forests, the principle players appear to be medium- to large-scale cattle ranchers. Thus, though its deforestation efforts may attempt to dissuade every manner of deforester, Brazil must focus greatest attention on the ranching group. Key to this task is the expansion of the Brazilian police presence into the areas where ranchers work.

The analysis begins with an overview of the relationship between deforestation and climate change and of general proposals for forest preservation. Next, an examination of Brazil’s particular deforestation scenario introduces the key players perpetuating the Brazilian forest’s destruction, as well as the main political and economic pressures/incentives/concerns involved. Also noted are government anti-deforestation efforts to date. Given Brazil’s present situation and the political/economic forces at play, the discussion shifts to probe potential strategies for dealing with deforestation concerns.

Deforestation as a Driver of Climate Change

“There’s been a lot of fuss lately about burning the forest,” remarked one Brazilian rancher, “but everyone knows that it’s the First World, not us, that’s responsible for the greenhouse effect. It’s the carbon emissions from all their cars. The amount generated by burning the forest is miniscule by comparison” (quoted in Le Breton 1993:77). Recent scientific analyses, however, indicate that few things could be further from the truth. Yes, the burning of fossil fuels is the prime culprit in climate change, but the Union of Concerned Scientists labels deforestation, combined with “other land-use changes,” as yielding the second-most greenhouse gas emissions (2007). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has likewise identified fossil-fuel burning and deforestation as the top contributors to the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, with “most” emissions in recent years resulting from fossil fuels but a substantial 10 to 30 percent arising from land-use changes, deforestation foremost among them (2001). Per the 2001 IPCC report, other emission sources bear minimal impact in comparison.2 Moreover, Moutinho, Schwartzman, and Santilli place deforestation’s contribution at 20 to 25 percent of global emissions (2005:7). Unfortunately, the current state of research thus leaves ambiguous the exact proportion of climate change for which deforestation is responsible, yet these figures suggest that deforestation, aside from contributing the bulk of Brazil’s emissions, remains a key driver of climate change for the planet as a whole. The phenomenon is likely to loom large in the future as well: “If current trends continue, tropical deforestation will release about 50% as much carbon to the atmosphere as has been emitted from worldwide combustion of fossil fuels since the start of the industrial revolution” (Houghton 2005:20).3

The above statistics capture, albeit imperfectly, one side of the deforestation-climate change dynamic: deforestation releases emissions, for when chopped trees burn or otherwise decay over time, the carbon once contained within them flows into the atmosphere, primarily as carbon dioxide but also as methane and carbon monoxide (Houghton 2005:13).4 The other way that deforestation harms the climate is that it in some cases eliminates carbon sinks that could have captured future emissions from other sources. In other words, forests, by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, “sink” greenhouse gases, and as deforesters chop down more trees, the world becomes less able to cope with its ever-growing emissions. The potency of various forests’ sink capacities varies, both over time (Forests and the European Union Resource Network n.d.) and space. To what extent Brazil’s forests, for example, serve as a carbon sink remains unknown, with researcher Antônio Manzi suggesting that though sequestration occurs in parts of Brazil, “each locale has its own specificities” (quoted in Rohter 2003:2). Thus, though the primary concern about deforestation is the amount of greenhouse gas the practice immediately emits into the atmosphere, its obliteration of a potential climate-change mitigation tool is likewise of concern.

Prospects for mitigating climate change through reduced deforestation are huge: per the most recent report from the IPCC’s Working Group III, approximately half of the world’s “mitigation potential” may lie in the possibility of curbing the phenomenon (2007:21). Unfortunately, the full Working Group III report, which details suggestions for incorporating forest management into climate change mitigation initiatives, is not yet available for citation or quotation. Until the report’s final release, analysts must rely on a summary thereof, which recommends several currently available general strategies for offsetting deforestation’s impact and/or curbing the phenomenon itself, among them afforestation, reforestation, and “reduced deforestation” (p. 14). Afforestation entails the replanting of forest on land cleared several (e.g., 20 to 50) years earlier and used for non-forest purposes in the interim (IPCC 2000:6). Reforestation, in contrast, involves replanting on land that has been cleared but not yet converted for alternative (e.g., agricultural) use; this takes place shortly after the deforestation originally occurs (IPCC 2000:6). Both activities, instead of halting deforestation emissions themselves, encourage the reestablishment of carbon sinks. The wisdom of such practices remains in question, however, for the Forests and the European Union Resource Network (FERN) notes that sunk carbon may burst back into the atmosphere following forest fire, insect infestation, decay, changes in land use, and other disturbances (n.d.). FERN thus contends that reliance on carbon sinks allows for increased anthropogenic emissions, which, though able to be sequestered today, may threaten the atmosphere in the future. Decreasing deforestation in the first place is thus preferable.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which allows entities from the industrialized world to earn credit for funding mitigative programs in developing countries, can offer credit for afforestation and reforestation of areas cleared prior to 1990 (Schlamadinger et al. 2005:26). It cannot, however, provide credit for prevention of deforestation (Fearnside 2005:686). Parties to Kyoto rejected inclusion of “deforestation avoidance” for a variety of reasons, including “non-permanence,” the concern that forests saved today might be destroyed anyway in the future; difficulties in determining exactly how much deforestation would have occurred under business-as-usual conditions; and the concern that industrialized countries might embrace the ease of paying to reduce deforestation abroad at the expense of making domestic cuts in emissions from fossil-fuel burning (Schlamadinger et al. 2005:30).5 Nevertheless, expansion of the CDM or the establishment of a similar compliance mechanism to include avoidance remains a possibility for the post-Kyoto (i.e., post-2012) period (Schlamadinger et al. 2005).


The Brazilian Context

Deforestation has wreaked havoc in both of Brazil’s largest biomes, the Amazon rainforest and the smaller Cerrado, a region of savannas, woodlands, grass, and forests (see Klink and Machado 2005:708 on the Cerrado). Brazil’s portion of the Amazon rainforest once stretched over a region roughly the size of Western Europe (Fearnside 2005:681). For centuries, those settling in Brazil have chopped away chunks of the forest in order to secure livelihoods, yet until recently, their efforts have been of relatively limited magnitude. “Almost five centuries of European presence before 1970 deforested an area [100 x 103 km2] only slightly larger than Portugal,” writes Fearnside (2005:681), whereas in the mere 33 years thereafter, total deforested space (648.5 x 103 km2) had grown larger than France (547.0 x 103 km2). In 2002 alone, new clearings encompassed more land than the state of New Jersey (Rohter 2003:2). Similarly, Brazil’s Cerrado withstood centuries of minor settlement by Native peoples and “backwoodsmen” but has recently fallen prey to large-scale destruction: “All that has changed, however, and during the last twenty-five or so years the cerrados have been extensively developed … with the active encouragement of the Brazilian government” (Ratter, Ribeiro, and Bridgewater 2006:88-89). Klink and Machado estimate that since 1970 or so, settlers have destroyed over half of the Cerrado (2005:708); though not the entire region was originally forested, leaving the prevalence of Cerrado deforestation unclear, Klink and Machado’s figures indicate considerable human interference.

Fearnside identifies large-scale cattle ranchers as the primary perpetrators of deforestation in the Amazon (2005:682; 2006:159-160). As of 1993, for example, he claimed that that ranches of 100 or more hectares were responsible for approximately 70 percent of deforestation, with farms of under 100 hectares making up the remainder (2006:159). Only 21 percent of ‘new clearings’ in 1995, and 18 percent in 1996, encompassed under 15 hectares of land (2006:159, citing Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research), and since small-scale farmers typically manage to clear no more than three hectares per year (2006:159), these statistics suggest a sizeable presence among large-scale entities. Pacheco similarly calculates that 63.4 percent of plots were over 100 hectares in the 1997-1999 period, with 13.1 percent in the 50 to 100 hectare range, 14.0 percent between 15 and 50 hectares, and a mere 9.5 percent under 15 hectares (in Margulis 2004:13).6,7 Margulis further echoes Fearnside’s concerns, placing the percentage of deforested Amazon land overrun by cattle ranches at “nearly 75 percent” (2004:xviii), then “virtually 80 percent” (p. 29).8 Ranching appears the predominant activity in the Cerrado as well, as indicated by Klink and Machado’s figures that 41.56 percent of the region as a whole, and the bulk of its destroyed area, now serves as “planted pastures” (2005:708, based on earlier research of Machado et al.).9

For these medium to large-scale ranchers, conquering the Amazon has grown easier in recent decades. Tens of thousands of kilometres of new roads have appeared since 1970, partly as a result of the government’s eagerness both to connect Brazilian producers to markets in neighbouring countries, as well as to the Pacific Ocean, and to tighten its control of the Amazon, preventing the region from becoming embroiled in the drug trade just beyond Brazil’s borders (Margulis 2004:17-19). Rather than chopping their own paths to the middle of dense forest growth, deforesters have taken advantage of this ease. According to Chomitz and Thomas, approximately 75 percent of forest clearings occur within 25 kilometres, and 85 percent within 50 kilometres, of the road network (in Margulis 2004:6), and Brazil’s National Space Research Institute has indicated that prospective deforesters are likely to pick forested plots adjacent to already-deforested land (in Margulis 2004:6). Moreover, transportation of goods to market requires further deforestation to accommodate the building of highways and other infrastructure, which by increasing the forests’ accessibility, in turn facilitates additional migration and forest destruction (Fearnside 2005:682; see also Klink and Machado 2005:711).

Nevertheless, ease alone would fail to compel ranchers to deforest; driving the cattle ranching industry is the profitability of its environmentally destructive trade (Margulis 2004).10 Margulis emphasizes that medium and large-scale cattle ranchers must glean significant economic return, for deforestation rates rose in the 1990s as government subsidies for deforestation-inducing trades declined (p. xi).11 Indeed, the average ‘net income per hectare of cattle’ reaches 138.91 reals/year12 in the Alta Floresta region of the Amazonian state of Mato Grosso, significantly higher than the 65.32 reals/year found in São Paulo’s non-Amazon Tupã region (p. 37).13 One reason for this profitability is that cattle ranchers may originally have obtained their land illegally, through ‘land-grabbing,’ for in the relatively un-policed, unregulated forest (discussed below), the party physically on a given swath of land, not the party entitled to it on paper, commandeers the rights to it (p. 23). Cattle ranchers may purchase land that others have ‘grabbed’ (p. 29), yet such land may still prove cheaper than land acquired legally. Even when inputs are costly, economic returns are “substantially higher” than they would be in São Paulo (p. 39, original emphasis). Deforested areas in which cattle ranching currently predominates receive about 1800 to 2200 millimetres of rainfall per year, the “optimal climatic conditions” for the trade (p. 29); this level of precipitation curtails cattle weight loss (a concern in other portions of Southeast Brazil) and thus makes cattle ranching in deforested regions extremely “productive” (p. 37). Moreover, Fearnside indicates that the opportunity for tax evasion lures some to the forests. Physicians and other professionals wishing to conceal their incomes refrain from investing in highly visible assets, such as stocks or urban real estate, but they find it easy to hide in the Amazon, where tax officials are less likely to investigate their economic activities (2005:685).

Further enhancing profitability, at least in some cases, is the deforesters’ reliance on slave labour. “We tend to picture environmental destruction as huge bulldozers gouging their way through pristine forests,” writes Bales, yet here, “the hands of slaves wrench the life out of their own land …” (2004:122). According to Bales, recruiters lure impoverished Brazilians from the slums of the state of Minas Gerais to the forests of Mato Grosso do Sul, promising food and good wages in exchange for work (p. 126-127). Recruiters then strip workers of their identity and labour cards; transport them far from home, to swaths of land dozens of miles from the nearest small towns; and generally deprive them of income, thus securing “complete control” over their prey (p. 128-129, 134-135). These slaves are installed in Mato Grosso’s batteries, or charcoal camps, where they chop the forest’s trees and pile the logs and branches into massive ovens so the wood may burn into charcoal (p. 129-131). Landowners, either Brazilian or multinational corporations, then sell the charcoal for profit (p. 142-143). Bales writes exclusively of deforestation in Mato Grosso, and because of the secrecy surrounding the use of slaves, little information exists about the percentage of deforestation activities that slaves carry out there or elsewhere in the Amazon. Furthermore, the exact links between slavery and economic returns to cattle ranchers are unclear. Charcoal-making produces profit in its own right and thus forms its own incentive for deforestation. Nevertheless, Bales indicates that burning wood for charcoal is, for landowners, simply an economically savvy way of opening up the forest for cattle pasture; whereas deforesters once simply “dragged [wood] into great piles and burned” it, they have realized that in the process, they would do well to coax charcoal out of what once turned to pure dust (p. 122, 126).

Exacerbating the problem is the impunity with which deforesters have to date been able to carry out their work. Despite the government’s aforementioned interest in the region, Brazil has achieved little “effective … presence” in the Amazon and thus fails to enforce laws therein (Margulis 2004:19; see also Fearnside 2003:2). Bales too notes the absence of police from the region, attributing the batterias’ existence in part to this lack of state control (2004:124). As discussed below, this absence is a central factor, for if the Brazilian government is to enact legislation deterring potential deforesters, it must establish the ability to enforce its laws.

Other activities do contribute to Brazil’s deforestation, yet their impacts appear less pronounced at present. Fearnside suggests that large-scale soybean farmers play a prominent role (2005:682). Government subsidies still support the development of agriculture on deforested lands, for example through “price supports,” in which the government “guarantees … the price paid to the farmer, irrespective of how distant the farm may be from markets” (Fearnside 2005:685). The government may also provide fertilizer for certain crops or offer “amnesties,” the canceling or dramatic lessening of agriculturalists’ debts, when droughts or other “acts of God” thwart productivity (Fearnside 2005:685). Nevertheless, though Margulis indicates that the soybean is a “highly profitable” crop (2004:37), he maintains that farmers’ impact pales in comparison to that of the cattle ranchers (p. 9-10). Such is the case in the Cerrado as well, for Klink and Machado indicate that while a full 41.56 percent of the native region has become pasture, agriculture encompasses 11.35 percent of the original Cerrado area (2005:708).14 Thus, agriculture exerts a comparatively low, but not insignificant, impact at present. Incentives for agricultural production are on the increase because planting genetically modified crops, which maintain lower input costs than conventional crops, is now legal in Brazil (Klink and Machado 2005:710) and because the market for Brazilian ethanol, for which agriculture provides the raw material, stands poised to expand (Osava 2007, quoting Luis Piva).

Land speculation also has played a role in deforestation, particularly in the 1970s and ‘80s (“when land values increased faster than inflation”), as settlers bought swaths of land to sell a few years later, but this is less of a concern today (Fearnside 2005:685). Another factor is the “invasion” of squatters onto forested lands under ranchers’ control; once the squatters settle, the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform essentially purchases the occupied land from ranchers and “legalizes” the settlements (Fearnside 2005:685). These and other small-scale settlers fell the forestry to establish small slash-and-burn farms (Lawrence et al. 2005:3). In addition, garimpeiros, or small-scale gold miners, must clear away trees to access new mines, yet each mine encompasses an area so small – “measured in square metres rather than hectares” – that gold miners “barely figure” in the range of deforestation culprits (Cleary 2000:70). Furthermore, though Margulis de-emphasizes the current impact of the logging industry, he suggests that as cattle ranchers venture deeper into the rainforest, they will encounter rainfall too severe for their trade, such that logging may be the sole activity that is economically viable there (2004:45).

Reduction Efforts to Date

Brazil’s 1965 Forest Code mandated that landowners clearing forest or Cerrado preserve 50 and 20 percent of their land, respectively, in its natural state; in 2000, lawmakers increased the percentages to a respective 80 and 35 percent (Chomitz and Wertz-Kanounnikoff 2005:5; Fearnside 2003:3). Regulatory measures, including licences, inspections, and fines, have constituted the primary government attempts to curb deforestation thus far (Fearnside 2005:684). Nevertheless, Fearnside writes that “clearing rates in the region tend to rise and fall independent of these programs” (p. 684). Margulis identifies a reason for the failure of government efforts: “Cattle ranchers have so far played a minor role in the public debate and have not been taken into proper account in government policies” (2004:xix, original emphasis). Fearnside too maintains that policies thus far have not tackled the “underlying causes” of deforestation (2005:684).

Nevertheless, reduction efforts run by the state of Mato Grosso have delivered a modicum of success. The state’s Rural Property Environmental Licensing System does concentrate on large landholdings, those over 1,000 hectares, and it uses satellite imagery and field visits to monitor forest activity (Chomitz and Wertz-Kanounnikoff 2005:6-7). If landowners have deforested more than the allowed portions of their lands, regulators encourage them to replant vegetation or buy other preserved land and/or levy fines (Chomitz and Wertz-Kanounnikoff 2005:7). Chomitz and Wertz-Kanounnikoff have examined its effects through 2002 and concluded that deforestation declined (in relation to projected rates) in “more observable areas, areas prioritized for enforcement, and areas with low remaining forest cover,” though they caution that their results indicate nothing as to whether deforestation rates in the entire region changed (p. 40). The researchers attribute whatever successes the program did achieve to its enforcement capacities: “With the transition from a lax enforcement regime to a well-organized and well-publicized one, landholders may have perceived an increased likelihood of eventual detection and prosecution for illegal deforestation” (p. 40). Such a conclusion is consistent with the observation that deforestation decreased in obvious or heavily patrolled regions. Fearnside likewise notes a reduction in Mato Grosso’s deforestation through 2002, compared to what deforestation rates might have been expected to be, and attributes this to the program’s emphasis on enforcement (2003). Thus, this program addressed at least one of deforestation’s root causes: the impunity with which deforesters have previously acted.

Despite the small-scale anti-deforestation efforts undertaken to date, Brazil currently has no comprehensive deforestation reduction strategy (del Carmen Vera Diaz and Schwartzman 2005:93) and no overall climate protection plan (Osava 2007). In fact, the government has recently constructed new roads through the Amazon (del Carmen Vera Diaz and Schwartzman 2005:93), exacerbating the problem.

The Future: Reducing Deforestation in Brazil

In short, the government cannot simply announce new regulations to reduce deforestation and expect its citizens to comply. Margulis maintains that the fundamental requirement of any deforestation-reducing policy is that it alter cattle ranchers’ incentive structures, aligning the activities most profitable privately with those most beneficial socially and environmentally (2004:xxi). One legislative first step would be to alter the country’s land titling regime so that it is harder (or impossible) to gain legal title for deforested space. Currently, deforesters have an advantage in titling: when landholders in the Amazon apply for title, having cleared forest for cattle pasture qualifies as an “improvement” to the land (Fearnside 2005:685-686). Another possibility is to tax lands of low value, such that the costs of securing such land outweigh the benefits, but this suggestion impacts little the incentive structures of deforesters claiming high-valued lands, which account for the majority of clearings (Chomitz and Wertz-Kanounnikoff 2005:41). Fines might also be an option, provided that they were high enough to make cattle ranching profits less than what ranchers would earn in other economic activities. In addition, Margulis indicates that compensating ranchers so that forest preservation becomes more profitable than its destruction would cost approximately 45 reals per hectare per year; absent of risk, necessary compensation might rise as high as 200 reals per hectare per year, but in the real world cattle ranching entails enough risk to warrant use of the lower figure (2004:56).

Margulis’s economically viable suggestion creates a number of practical concerns, however. First, though the per-hectare cost seems fairly low, the amount of land the government (or international donors, discussed below) would have to pay ranchers to preserve would make total costs considerable. Nevertheless, Margulis contends that the societal/global economic costs of ranching reach 128 reals per hectare/year, 33 of them from carbon emissions, 38 from bioprospection (the possibility of extracting medial treatments/cures from the forest, p. 53), and “for the ‘existence’ of the forest” (i.e., the general value of maintaining natural habitats, p. 53-54) (p. 56). Thus if climate change were the only concern, the price paid for forest preservation would be higher than the costs deforestation itself wreaks upon the atmosphere, but coupled with the co-benefits of forest preservation, costs of preservation appear worthwhile.

A second concern, however, is that compensating cattle ranchers for not deforesting further, or not deforesting more than a limited amount, might increase the flow of people to the forests. Policymakers would have to stipulate that only citizens currently living in the forests would be eligible for payment; though these individuals would already have deforested, payment might prevent future damage. Nevertheless, this regulation might prove time inconsistent, for if new entrepreneurs stood poised to deforest, the government would have incentive to compensate them immediately. A combined carrot-stick approach might mitigate this problem; the government could compensate current ranchers, with new entrants becoming eligible for “carrots” after, say, five years of forest residence, but the government would also have to levy exorbitant taxes on deforesters, such that immediate costs would deter all but the most future-oriented individuals. A third problem, however, would be that the opportunity costs of cattle ranching might rise, as occurred in Costa Rica, such that 45 reals would become too little before the government had recalculated its compensation rate (Margulis 2004:56). Furthermore, regulators might be unable to determine exactly how much land particular ranchers would have cleared under business-as-usual conditions (Schlamadinger et al. 2005:30) and therefore be coaxed into paying too much. Finally, payment in itself would accomplish little if ranchers had no disincentives to deforest as well; again, any “carrot” structure must be coupled with the sticks of taxation for non-compliance and most importantly, enhanced enforcement capacity.

Regulation will have little effect if deforesters can shirk rules with impunity (Osava 2007). Hence, if taxes, payments, or laws are to reduce exploitation of Brazilian forest, and if Mato Grosso’s reduction efforts are to provide any lessons for the future, the country’s government must cultivate a more active presence in the region. If Fearnside is correct in arguing that the Amazon provides haven to tax evaders, the mere presence of law enforcement in the region would make the forest less attractive in the first place, as would generally increased “tracking of financial movements” that would catch such individuals before they fled cities and towns (2005:685). Yet the government itself must have incentive to expand its reach (see Herbst 2001). Given that the economic costs of deforestation that Margulis identifies are costs to the world (carbon emissions, loss of potential medications) or to society in the abstract (loss of nature), the Brazilian government probably sees little gain for itself in investing in forest presence. Indeed, its minimal deforestation reduction efforts to date speak to this lack of government incentive. If the Brazilian government were to devote greater time and resources to its forests, the push to do so would likely come from outside Brazil, in the form of (“binding”) international agreements committing Brazil to curbing emissions. Potential might also exist for international entities to finance this increased enforcement capacity if foreign businesses or governments were eligible for credit for reduced deforestation and if the cost of this increased enforcement were factored into the price of offsets (more on which below).

Of note, however, are the “natural barriers” to the cattle industry of which Margulis writes, the areas with rainfall so intense that ranching becomes unprofitable (2004:45). Margulis wonders “whether further deforestation and land use conversion will take place before it is realized that such areas are unviable for ranching” (p. 45), hinting that ranchers might stop deforesting at some point if someone could convince them that further deforestation would prove fruitless. This suggests that at a certain point, discouraging cattle ranchers from deforesting becomes a matter not of altering economic incentives but of educating ranchers about “natural[ly]” altered incentives. Nevertheless, because Margulis indicates that logging15 might prove viable in this Amazon “heartland,” deforestation will not halt on its own, and policy-makers must turn their attention to preempting the group that stands poised to become a proportionally greater force in the forest’s destruction. Similar proposals – regulation, taxation, compensation, all coupled with enhanced enforcement – might prove useful, but another option appears: Margulis indicates that “sustainable forest management” (SFM), while far less profitable to privately-motivated entrepreneurs than cattle ranching, has in some studies demonstrated itself to be about as profitable as logging (p. 57). (SFM is a form of “timber exploitation” yet is less harmful environmentally because it involves the “rotation of cutting areas and low impact management practices,” p. 57.) If logging eventually becomes the prime concern, and if SFM and logging indeed yield comparable returns, loggers might be indifferent between the two practices and thus receptive to encouragement to embrace SFM.

Measures to deter the more minor players in Brazil’s deforestation may also prove useful, albeit to a lesser extent. Given the sizeable presence of large-scale farmers, the government would be wise to establish for them incentive and disincentive structures similar to those for cattle ranchers. International prohibitions on ethanol from crops grown on deforested land could also help. Fearnside further recommends levying “heavy taxes” on the remaining land speculators, such that speculation no longer yields a profit (2005:685), and stimulating viable income-earning opportunities outside the forested regions would deter small-scale settlers who simply seek decent livelihoods (p. 686). This last suggestion would require a separate and much different set of policies to promote development in urban and suburban regions and, though vital to the Brazilian population’s welfare, unfortunately lies beyond the scope of this paper, given the proportionally low impact of small-scale deforesters.

Afforestation and reforestation are also options. Nevertheless, given the aforementioned concerns about the success of these measures, among them the questions as to the extent to which forest sink capacity offsets emissions from deforestation and the possibility for new growth to be chopped and burned once more, focusing first on reducing deforestation appears wise (Forests and the European Union Resource Network n.d). Afforestation and reforestation would also require government or international financing.

Indeed, whatever the type of actor targeted, international initiatives may encourage Brazilian forest preservation. Lamenting the current absence of credit for “forest maintenance” from the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, Fearnside recommends that such credit be granted after 2012 and notes that at the Conference of the Parties-9, representatives discussed the possibility of retroactively providing credit (after 2012) for today’s “deforestation avoided” (2005:686). Essentially, such a project would entail foreign entities’ paying potential deforesters not to clear vegetation. The Brazilian government expressed a similar hope when it in 2006 advocated the establishment of a fund to which the developed world could donate monies to finance reductions in deforestation; as a voluntary fund, however, this would remain separate from the current international carbon market (Osava 2007). In the past, the Brazilian government has responded favourably to the idea of its citizens’ receiving carbon credits for reforestation (which the CDM does allow) yet resisted credits for deforestation avoidance (Rohter 2003:3). In particular, though the country’s Environmental Ministry has advocated the latter form of credit, the Foreign Ministry has blocked support thereof (Rohter 2003:3). Rohter indicates that motives for the Foreign Ministry’s opposition remain unclear but that in general, Brazil fears the “internationalization” of its forests (“along the lines of Antarctica,” p. 3), presumably because those funding credits might begin to claim rights over the land. Fearnside likewise explains that several Brazilian leaders are concerned that if Brazil cannot reduce deforestation to the extent they promise, its sovereignty will be in jeopardy (2003:2).

If other countries are to support the inclusion of deforestation avoidance in the CDM or a similar mechanism (such as that in the Brazilian proposal), they must overcome previously expressed hesitations about such an enterprise. As outlined above, various parties have worried about potential for leakage, or “indirect effects … on GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions outside the project or even country boundaries”;16 non-permanence, or the possibility for forests saved today to be destroyed later; difficulties in determining how much deforestation would have happened under business-as-usual conditions; and the possibility that developed countries, attracted by the ease of paying others to slash emissions, might invest in foreign deforestation avoidance at the expense of domestic emissions reductions (Schlamadinger et al. 2005:30). Schlamadinger et al., however, contend that careful planning could for the most part address these concerns. To reduce the risk of non-permanence, for example, the authors offer two policy options:

The country where the land-use activity takes place assumes full responsibility for managing the carbon stocks in the future, [sic] and is liable for any enhanced emissions in the future. ….

The country where the land-use activity takes place is not liable for any re-emission. …. In this case … the investor company or country is liable for any re-emission of the carbon that has been credited …. (p. 31).

Coupled with penalties for non-compliance, these methods of assigning responsibility would ensure that over the long-term, either the Brazilian government or a foreign entity had a vested interest in permanent preservation. Nevertheless, such accountability measures would only be justifiable for dealing with future human-induced deforestation. Natural disasters could also cause forest destruction, and government and international actors could not be held responsible; still, the risk of non-permanence is reducible. As for concerns about determining how much deforestation would have occurred in a business-as-usual scenario, Schlamadinger et al. recommend use of regional, as opposed to national, baseline figures (p. 32); activity may be greater in one portion of Brazil’s forests than another, and regional calculations would prevent overestimates of deforestation potential for, and therefore over-allocation of deforestation reduction funding to, particular areas. (Still, calculations may be inaccurate.) Avoidance of leakage is trickier, for it would be difficult to dissuade landowners from taking advantage of the opportunities to clear profitable lands that have escaped regulators’ notice (p. 35), but coupling incentives for reduced deforestation with a strict government-run taxation regime would likely discourage potential deforesters from sneaking in illicit clearing activities after receiving the compensation to preserve their initially-threatened lands.

That donor countries might over-rely on reducing deforestation overseas, at the expense of decreasing domestic emissions from fossil-fuel burning, is still of concern, though Schlamadinger et al. indicate that lower emissions targets for industrialized countries might encourage said states both to decrease their own emissions and to fund foreign forest preservation programs (2005:32). One further concern exists at the international level: if post-Kyoto international agreements were to assign Brazil and other developing countries their own emissions targets, developing countries would likely want to count domestic emissions reductions toward their own goals. To avoid double-counting, foreign funders would then be unable to earn credit for reduced Brazilian deforestation – and thus would have no incentive (other than the benevolent provision of foreign aid or corporate responsibility funds) to finance such projects. To retain incentive for foreign contribution, agreements would have to stipulate that foreign-funded “deforestation avoided” earned foreign countries credit, while Brazil, if required to reduce emissions, would have to pay for additional reduction efforts.


If Brazil is to contribute to international climate-protection schemes, deforestation reduction will doubtless be a necessary component of its strategy. The success of any anti-deforestation measures will rely on its consideration of the factors perpetuating the phenomenon, primarily profit-motivated medium- to large-scale cattle ranchers. Creating disincentives for deforestation and incentives for forest preservation involves economic measures, but increased government presence in the region, as well as steady enforcement of anti-deforestation regulations, is crucial.


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1.) Brazil’s population (190,010,647 in July 2007) is much less than that of India (1,129,866,154) or China (1,321,851,888), such that the prospect of Brazil’s increasing emissions to accommodate its size is much less foreboding than is the case for these other two countries. Nevertheless, Brazil ranks as the world’s fifth most populated state, and as a fairly populous, arguably leading developing country, it deserves attention in its own right. (Population estimates are available in the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook 2007, while rankings come from the U.S. Census Bureau 2006.)

2.) The IPCC includes more explicit statistics in its 2007 Working Group III report, but though a preliminary version is available on the IPCC website, the report currently remains unavailable for citation/quotation.

3.) Given the uncertainty of current statistics, this future prediction remains subject to question. Nonetheless, it indicates the centrality of deforestation to climate change discourse in the coming years.

4.) Carbon dioxide and methane are both greenhouse gases. Carbon monoxide, though not a greenhouse gas, “indirectly affects the concentrations of other greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere (Houghton 2005:19).

5.) Similar concerns exist with regard to afforestation and reforestation. See the Forests and the European Union Resource Network n.d.

6.) Margulis’s presentation of this data leaves exact plot-size cutoff points unclear, since a plot of 50 hectares, for example, could fit into either the “15-50” or “50-100” category. Furthermore, data include only seven of the Amazon region’s states (Acre, Amazonas, Maranhão, Mato Grosso, Pará, Rondônia, and Tocatins). Nevertheless, these figures provide an estimate of the proportions of plots of small, medium, and large magnitude.

7.) Of course, the predominance of large-scale entities does not indicate that these entities are cattle ranches. Nevertheless, both Fearnside and Margulis conclude that cattle ranches make up the majority of the large-scale plots.

8.) The discrepancy between the statistics in one source alone points to the general uncertainty among researchers about the exact magnitude of Amazon deforestation and the precise figures on the causes thereof. Nonetheless, Margulis’s estimates demonstrate that cattle ranching likely makes up the bulk of new economic activity in cleared regions.

9.) Because Klink and Machado are discussing the Cerrado as a whole, and because they describe the region as including forests as well as savanna, grasslands, and other woodlands, their statistics do not specifically indicate current uses of deforested land. Nevertheless, in the absence of more explicit statistics, their figures provide a general idea of the activities that humans pursue within the region’s former natural habitats. Furthermore, whether the ground to be cleared is home to forests, grasses, et cetera, burning is the most common means of land clearing, so most Cerrado clearing emits greenhouse gases (2005:709-710).

10.) Of course, ease may decrease up-front costs, enhancing profitability.

11.) Primarily from the 1970s to early 1990s, the Brazilian government provided subsidies, credit, and tax incentives to those claiming – then clearing – forested land (Margulis 2004:48-49).

12.) The real is the Brazilian currency.

13.) Margulis describes the Tupã/São Paulo cattle-producing region as “typical of Brazil’s Center-South” and thus suitable for use “as a kind of reference for assessing the performance of [the] ranching sector in Brazil” (2004:37).

14.) Again, because Klink and Machado are discussing the Cerrado as a whole, their statistics do not refer specifically to current uses of deforested land. Nonetheless, in the absence of more explicit statistics, their figures provide a general idea of the activities that humans pursue within the region’s former natural habitats, and as indicated above, concern about the burning used to clear diverse forms of Cerrado ground is of concern from a climate change perspective.

15.) Because most forms of deforestation yield direct emissions as burning or decaying vegetation releases greenhouse gases, logging is actually of less concern in terms of climate change if the logs are shipped away and used for wood, et cetera. Nevertheless, logging is a concern for the climate because it removes what may be a carbon sink; it is also a concern in general because rainforest destruction reduces, for example, the possibility of finding medical cures among unique fauna.

16.) The authors clarify the concept of leakage by explaining that if a government wants to preserve 10,000 hectares of forest but believes deforesters would clear 100 hectares under business-as-usual conditions, the government might provide compensation for protection of the 100 hectares in question – only to have deforesters clear a different 100 hectare plot (p. 35).

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