Cattle walk over burnt grasslands in the Chaco region, Paraguay, 2020.
Credit: Alamy

Paraguay’s climate pledges mask plans to green light rising deforestation until 2030

05.11.2021

  • Claims to be tackling deforestation at the Climate Summit in Glasgow ring hollow, as one of the world’s worst countries for tropical deforestation has submitted an emissions plan which will see its deforestation rate rise even further.
  • The country has notably backed out of an international initiative on sustainable agriculture and only reversed course on a COP26 pledge made by over 100 countries on zero deforestation after public criticism.
  • Paraguay has persistently failed to stamp down on industrial clearance of the protected forests of an ‘uncontacted’ indigenous group for cattle ranching. Earthsight’s research has revealed how leather from cattle reared there has been making its way into luxury cars, including those made by BMW and Jaguar Land Rover.
  • The trade highlights a gaping flaw in planned legislation meant to prevent EU consumption driving deforestation overseas, which is currently expected to exclude leather.

Pledges by Paraguay to slash greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and support new initiatives to protect biodiversity ring hollow as its government looks willing to accept emissions from deforestation will continue to rise until at least 2030.

Buried in its national submission to the UNFCCC Climate Conference currently underway in Glasgow are figures which reveal that the country foresees its emissions from ‘Land Use, Changes in Land Use and Forestry’ jumping 27 per cent during the decade to 55,509Gg CO2 eq per year by 2030. Land conversion and agriculture are currently responsible for 80 per cent of all Paraguay’s GHG emissions.

Rather than committing to significantly cut emissions from deforestation, Paraguay’s government is signalling to industry and the international community that it is acceptable for its already world-high deforestation rates to keep rising. This makes a mockery of its pledges to reduce climate emissions and protect biodiversity.

Earthsight sought comments from the Paraguayan ministry of environment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Industrial-scale cattle ranching and soy production have left the country’s forests and savannahs decimated. By some estimates, Paraguay’s forests are disappearing more rapidly than any other on earth. In the last three decades, the country lost an area of forest larger than Switzerland.

Aerial view of illegal forest clearances in the Paraguayan Chaco. Credit: Earthsight

Earthsight revealed last year how Chaco forests belonging to the Ayoreo Totobiegosode people were illegally cleared for cattle. Our investigation linked the clearances to leather used by global car firms BMW and Jaguar Land Rover.

Despite Earthsight and allied organisations urging Paraguayan authorities to investigate in January and again this week, no action has yet been taken. Due to lack of progress, the Ayoreo recently withdrew from a dialogue process with the government mediated by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights meant to advance the titling of their lands.

Meanwhile, illegal deforestation persists, government agencies have publicly supported some of the implicated cattle firms without bothering to investigate the facts, and the leather and car industries are still unable to trace their leather back to origin.

This offers another example why markets, such as the EU and UK, must pass their own laws to halt deforestation embedded in their supply chains. Yet recently leaked documents seen by Earthsight indicate that the EU Commission’s legislative proposal due to be published in November does not include leather in the list of commodities to be covered.

The cattle industry is a significant part of Paraguay's economy and a major contributor to deforestation in the country. Credit: Erthsight

Given the Paraguayan government’s continued failure to address deforestation and resulting emissions, its readiness to accept these will rise even further in the coming years is a worrying sign amid its COP26 participation.

Paraguay was initially a signatory to the new Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade (Fact) dialogue which proposes to implement a roadmap to reduce commodity-driven deforestation among 28 major producing and consuming nations.

Run by the UK and co-chaired with Indonesia, Fact will focus on transparency and traceability, trade and markets, smallholder farmers, and research and innovation.

Environment minister Ariel Oviedo hit the right notes at Fact’s virtual launch in February, saying his country has an “absolute commitment” to conservation and responsible use of natural resources.

Despite this and the ongoing environmental destruction in the country, Paraguay was surprisingly absent from the list of 28 signatories to the Fact roadmap of action unveiled this week. It is unclear if Paraguay will have any presence at the official Fact event on Saturday.

Paraguay was also notably absent from the 100-plus countries that agreed to end deforestation by 2030 in a major COP26 pledge announced on Monday. But following public criticism and a request by the country's own forest agency, the environment ministry changed course and pushed out a statement on Wednesday evening confirming Paraguay had now joined the initiative.

In addition to its apparent reluctance to commit to these global pledges and initiatives (it was also absent from the Global Methane Pledge at COP26), a worrying lack of diversity among Paraguay’s COP26 delegation has also emerged. An attendee list obtained by Earthsight shows there are no indigenous representatives as part of the country’s mission, while three of the 29-person delegation work for agribusiness lobby groups.

The Paraguay government was widely critcised for initially failing to sign on to the COP26 deforestation pledge. Credit: Shutterstock

Through its own climate policies, the development goals and climate commitments of the UN, Paraguay aims to reduce GHG emissions by at least 10 per cent by 2030, while saying it must have a “sovereign right” to sustainable development.

Such pledges, including through its membership of the French-led Alliance for the Conservation of Rainforests, are at odds with the country’s unquestioning prioritisation of agribusiness expansion at the expense of its forests, biodiversity and indigenous peoples.

The need for Paraguay to strengthen efforts to curtail deforestation was crystalised again this year when it emerged that Chaco forests store 19 times more carbon than previously thought.

If the Paraguayan government is serious about its climate commitments, investigating the illegal deforestation exposed by Earthsight and making sure the law is enforced would be a good place to start. And unless authorities reassess the country’s emissions forecast in a way that prompts urgent action on forest conservation, nothing else they commit to can be taken seriously.

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