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Brazil forges forward on path to sustainable forest development

"In Rio in 1992, I think my country was very brave to host the Earth Summit," announced Carlos Nobre.

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LIMA, Peru (3 April, 2012)_Brazil is forging forward towards its sustainable forest development goal, with many ministers and scientists hailing programs tackling deforestation that have played a critical role in getting the developing country back on the sustainable development path in the last 20 years.

“In Rio in 1992, I think my country was very brave to host the Earth Summit, as (at that time) Brazil’s development path was completely unsustainable,” said Carlos Nobre from the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, in his closing address at the Planet under Pressure conference held in London last week. The outcomes of the meeting will feed into the United Nations Earth Summit 2012 (Rio+20) being held in Brazil in less than three months’ time.

“20 years later, Brazil has taken the sustainable development paradigm as the centre of its governmental policy.”

Brazil’s vast tropical savanna, the Cerrado is in trouble – over half of this area has been deforested to make way for cattle grazing land and other agricultural practices. 88 percent of the Atlantic forest is also gone, said Fabio Scarano, the Senior Vice President of Conservation International in Brazil.

“We need (this) to change. We need a positive strategy,” said Brazil’s Deputy Environment Minister, Francisco Gaetani during the Second Meeting of Environmental Ministers at the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (OTCA),  a preparatory Rio+20 meeting of environment ministers from the Amazon countries held in Peru earlier this month.

At the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Brazil announced its plan to reduce its deforestation rate by 80 percent. The country has taken this commitment on board, said Gilberto Câmara, Director of the Brazilian Space Institute, with deforestation in Brazilian Amazonia dropping from 27,000 km2 to 6,200 km2 in the last 23 years.

However, while Brazil is achieving outstanding results with its efforts in tackling deforestation, it has always been with instruments of command and control, said Gaetani. These are “important, (however they) are not enough”, he said.

The Deputy Minister announced that Brazil is in preparation to implement a large proactive, positive reforestation program that will contribute to developing the country’s sustainable forest economy. The reforestation bill, now with Congress, proposes that the Brazilian Forest Code include the recuperation of 33.5 million hectares of native vegetation.

Though many definitions of a green economy are abound, in Scarano’s opinion, a green economy is one where natural capital (a country’s natural resources) is maintained or enlarged, while institutions, infrastructure and human capacity grow.

While the country’s biggest assets are its natural resources, many countries want to make transactions with urgency, in conditions that are not convenient to Brazil, said Gaetani.

“We are working with other ministers, with agriculture, farming, science and technology, social development, the treasury and the international relations office to formulate the country’s vision, and we want to create it on our terms,” he said.

Brazil’s reforestation program could become the biggest rehabilitation programs in the world, said Gaetani, adding that before implementation, more research was needed on the potential consequences of forest code reforms — the hottest topic in Brazilian forestry right now.

The Forest Code has been at the centre of a drawn out controversy for the past two years, with environmental protection organisations claiming that the reforms will be a major blow to the country’s efforts to halt deforestation by not making reforestation activities mandatory. Supporters say the amendments will make the code clearer and easier to enforce. The reforms have yet to be adopted by the Brazilian Congress.

A recent study led by CIFOR scientist Jan Börner, evaluated the cost and implications of implementing a combination of compensation schemes to avoid deforestation including REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) projects and conservation law enforcement. The study says that for the Brazilian government to meet its commitment of an 80% reduction in deforestation, it will need to implement a socially fair combination of compensation and conservation law enforcement.

Despite the legislative challenges, many foreign ministers and scientists are now looking to Brazil as an example of a developing country that is managing to forge a path towards sustainable development, having overcome the issues of governance and transparency that many other developing tropical forest countries are struggling with.

“There is an underlying assumption that developing countries do not have the monitoring technology, they do not have transparency (to tackle deforestation). After 2004 there was a national understanding (in Brazil) that deforestation was an unsustainable path. We have seen a major growth of protected areas. There has been a major action in law enforcement. So a lot of action (can be) taken,” said Camara.

To ensure that  Rio+20 delivers a global message that forests matter to sustainable development, CIFOR will coordinate one of the most important conferences on forests on 19 June, 2012. Forests: The 8th Roundtable at Rio+20 will discuss new research findings, remaining knowledge gaps and policy implications for integrating forests into the solutions to four key challenges to progress toward a green economy: energy, food and incomewater, and climate. Seats are limited so register here to avoid disappointment! 

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