* Year-on-year decline in Brazil's forests a record 27%
* Conservationists still fear gains are vulnerable
* Follow-up data necessary to confirm continued trend
BRASILIA, Nov 27 Brazil has something to tout at
global climate change talks that began this week in Doha:
destruction of the world's largest rainforest is still slowing
at a record pace.
Data released Tuesday suggests destruction of Amazon
woodlands has slowed to the lowest rate since monitoring began
in 1988. The figures, based on Brazilian government data
gathered by satellite imagery, mark the fourth straight year the
overall deforestation levels have slowed.
But the data, scientists warn, must still be fleshed out by
follow-up research to confirm whether the reality on the ground
matches what seems to be the case from the sky, especially as
loggers and farmers clear smaller but more numerous patches of
woodland in efforts to evade detection.
Three of the nine Amazonian states measured in the recent
data actually showed increases in deforestation. Meanwhile,
scientists and environmentalists warn that changes to Brazil's
environmental policies in recent years could soon begin
reversing the progress.
Still, the data disclosed Tuesday runs counter to arguments
by conservationists who fear that rising commodities prices are
fueling greater destruction.
Deforestation of Brazil's Amazon region totaled 4,656 square
kilometers (1,798 square miles) between August 2011 and July
2012, a 27 percent drop compared to the same period a year
earlier, the Environment Ministry said.
Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira held up the fourth
year of slowing deforestation as proof that Brazil is doing its
global duty in policing the Amazon basin and curbing illegal
loggers and ranchers who clear the forest with fire.
"This is the only good environmental news in the world just
as the climate negotiations begin in Doha," Environment Minister
Izabella Teixeira told reporters.
Brazil has almost met its target of reducing Amazon
deforestation 80 percent by 2020 over 2005 levels, which would
help the South American country reach its voluntary goal of
cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 36 percent below
business-as-usual levels by 2020.
Deforestation accounts for about 60 percent of Brazil's
greenhouse gas emissions because forests are usually cleared by
fires that release large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Almost 200 nations are meeting in Doha, Qatar to try to
negotiate an extension to the expiring Kyoto climate treaty and
work on a new agreement to curb the greenhouse gas emissions
scientists say are warming the planet, raising sea levels and
disrupting weather patterns.
Brazil wants rich developed nations to pledge more ambitious
cuts in greenhouse gas emissions - ideally by 25-40 percent from
1990 levels by 2020 - because they have a greater historic
responsibility for climate change.
"We can show in Doha that we are doing our part in reducing
emissions. The world must urgently find a definite solution for
the global climate change issue," Teixeira said.
With global grain and beef prices on the rise after severe
drought over the South American and U.S. grain belts in the past
year, Brazilian soybean farmers are expanding at the highest
rate since 2003, while Brazil's commercial cattle herd has grown
to a record of nearly 210 million head.
The country is already the world's largest beef exporter and
is set to overtake the United States as the world's largest soy
producer this season.
Environmentalists have long blamed farming pressures as the
root causes of Amazon deforestation.
"Under greater government and food industry oversight,
Brazilian soy farming and cattle ranching is becoming more
sustainable," Holly Gibbs, head of the Center for Sustainability
and the Global Environment at the University of Wisconsin, said.
Gibbs' team keeps tabs on commitments by large multinational
grain traders such as Cargill, ADM, Bunge and Louis Dreyfus as
well as large beef processors to not buy soy or cattle from
illegally deforested lands in Brazil.
Since 2006, major players in Brazil's soy industry have
adhered to a mutually agreed upon moratorium on purchases of soy
produced on newly deforested land in the Amazon rainforest.
But the drop in deforestation and the rise in planted areas
for grains raises the question of where the additional farm land
is coming from.
"With the high price of grains, we see producers moving
increasingly into marginal areas such as degraded pasture and
unused fields," said Daniel Pereira at Lanworth, which produces
crop forecasts around the globe based on satellite images
correlated against field data.
While government officials agree high prices for soy and
beef, plus a weaker Brazilian currency against the dollar,
spurred deforestation to a peak in 2004, they say enforcement
has improved greatly with satellite technology.
Teixeira said a new satellite to be launched next year will
allow Brazil's environmental agency IBAMA to track loggers who
have turned to smaller forest areas to avoid detection.