Climate 411

Tropical Trump bodes ill for the planet


Cattle grazing at a ranch where burned trees and the edge of the rainforest are still visible in Brazil. Shutterstock.

Jair Bolsonaro, the winner of Brazil’s presidential election, has been dubbed “Tropical Trump.” The parallels are strong – both Bolsonaro and US President Donald Trump show clear contempt for democratic institutions, are on the record with racist and misogynist statements, and play on and inflame the fears and hatred of their supporters.

They are also both dangerous to the planet.

Both think they can put up a wall around their countries, ignore or affront the rest of the world, and stoke up their national economies with no regard whatsoever for the environment. Both believe that solving climate change would impede the ability to profit from exploiting natural resources.

This bedrock “me-first” provincialism isn’t just based on generic ignorance. It ignores the fact that we all share a single planet and increasingly, things that happen in one place affect other places – ecologically and economically.

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Posted in Brazil, Forest protection, Paris Agreement / Comments are closed

Why and how Brazil should do more to stop deforestation and climate change

Forest fire in Brazil

This post was co-authored by Paulo Moutinho of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) and Steve Schwartzman of EDF. See the first part of this reaction to Brazil’s climate target: Brazil's climate pledge is significant, but falls short on curbing deforestation.

Brazil’s climate pledges in advance of the Paris negotiations were significant because it is one of the world’s most important emerging economies, and it’s taking on an absolute, economy-wide emissions reduction target. But, its related goal of achieving zero illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by 2030 is widely regarded in Brazil as lacking in ambition.

Stopping deforestation, which formerly accounted for about 70% of Brazil’s emissions, would be good for Brazil, good for Brazilian agriculture, and supported by a large majority of Brazilians. It is also doable. Here are three reasons why, and a look at how Brazil could make such policies work.

1) More forest, less poverty: Brazil’s economy can grow without deforestation

Brazil succeeded in reducing Amazon deforestation by more than 80% since 2005 while maintaining robust growth in beef and soy production. There are at least about 56,000 km² of degraded cattle pasture in the Amazon that can be reclaimed for agriculture, as well as ample scope for intensifying cattle raising and improving yields, freeing up even more land.

Agriculture and land-use scientist Bernardo Strassburg argues that by increasing average productivity of pasture in Brazil from the current 30% of its potential to about 50%, Brazil could meet all new demand for commodities until 2040 with no new deforestation. The benefits to smallholders would be also important, considering the already deforested area (12.7 million hectares) available for agriculture expansion in rural settlements. With appropriate technical assistance and credit smallholders could produce more food (smallholders account for 80% of food production in the Amazon) with less deforestation.

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Posted in Brazil, Forest protection, International / Comments are closed

NY Times forests oped is out on a limb: protecting trees still key to solving climate change

In an oped in Saturday's New York Times (To Save the Planet, Don't Plant Trees), Nadine Unger argues that reducing deforestation and planting trees won't help fix climate change but will rather make it worse. One might ask how the 2,000-plus scientists and experts on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) got this one wrong – they found tropical deforestation a major source that must be reduced to control climate change – but in fact it's Unger who's way out on a limb here.

Steve Schwartzman, Director of Tropical Forest Policy

Steve Schwartzman, Director of Tropical Forest Policy

When trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide (CO₂) from the atmosphere and store it as carbon in their trunks, branches, leaves and roots. When people cut the trees down and burn them to clear forest for cattle pasture or crops, as they have at a rate of 13 million hectares of forest per year in the tropics over the last decade, this releases CO₂ back into the atmosphere.

Unger argues that forests absorb more sunlight than crops or grassland, which reflect more sunlight back into space and cool the earth. But that's not true in the tropics. In tropical forests like the Amazon, where deforestation is happening and thus where the Climate Summit's attention is focused, trees take up water from rainfall and evaporate it through their leaves, and create cloud cover. These clouds reflect even more sunlight than grasslands or bare earth, thus cooling the earth more. This is why large-scale deforestation disrupts rainfall regimes – and why deforestation in the Amazon, if unchecked, may reduce rainfall in California.

Emissions from tropical deforestation are, from the perspective of the atmosphere, just the same as emissions from burning fossil fuels – carbon that was wood, coal, oil or gas is turned into CO₂ and released to the atmosphere. In a living forest, trees do die and, over time release CO₂ to the atmosphere. But then new trees grow, and absorb that CO₂ again – not the case when forests that have stored carbon for centuries are replaced by grass to feed cattle or oil palm plantations.

Contrary to Unger’s claims, the "high risk" is to ignore the 200 billion tons of at-risk carbon stocks in the world’s tropical forests. In fact, as the IPCC has concluded, stopping tropical deforestation is a critical priority for controlling climate change.

Posted in Forest protection / Comments are closed