Amazon road-building could deforest millions of hectares: report

FILE PHOTO: A coach drives along the Transamazon Highway as it passes through deforested and burnt land during "Operation Green Wave" conducted by agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Road projects in the Amazon could drive deforestation of millions of hectares over the next 20 years, environmental researchers said in a report on Thursday.

The construction or upgrading of some 12,000 kilometers (7,456 miles) of Amazon roads in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador over the next five years could lead to 2.4 million hectares (5.9 million acres) of deforestation in the two decades after, according to the report on progress on the non-binding New York Declaration on Forests.

The pledge adopted by governments, corporations and other groups at the United Nations Climate Summit in September 2014 to halve deforestation by 2020 will not be met, the report said, while another agreement to end deforestation by 2030 will need “an unprecedented reduction” in annual forest loss rates.

Infrastructure is thought to be directly responsible for 9% to 17% of deforestation in tropical and subtropical countries. And there is also an indirect toll.

“The indirect impact (of roads) is what’s important,” Franziska Haupt, executive director of the Berlin office of Climate Focus and lead author of the report, said in an interview.

Building highways through ecologically important areas also leads to land speculation and encourages construction of illegal roads, she added. For every kilometer of legal road in Brazil, there are an estimated three kilometers of illegal byways, the report said.

“Just having the (road construction) plan brings some speculation because people expect that concessions in these areas will be accessible and will become more viable,” Haupt said, referring to potential mining and other large-scale projects.

Governments should look for alternative routes to development where possible, the report said.

“These are not highways designed to prioritize linking communities to healthcare, other essential services or economic opportunities,” said report co-author Anthony Bebbington in a statement. “Their purpose is to facilitate the movement of commodities.”

Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Richard Chang