Illegal deforestation drives dramatic rise in Brazilian emissions, eclipsing effects of recession

31.10.2017

Deforestation for pastoral land in Acre state, Brazil Photo: Kate Evans/CIFOR

Illegal deforestation drove the biggest increase in Brazilian greenhouse gas emissions for 13 years in 2016, despite a severe recession leading to lower emissions from nearly every sector save agriculture.

“We share today the worst climate headline on the planet: increased emissions due to unbridled forest destruction,” said Carlos Rittl, head of Brazil’s Climate Observatory, which produced the analysis.

Researchers placed the blame squarely on deforestation for agriculture, which they said was “mostly illegal”. Deforestation accounted for more than half of Brazil’s total emissions.

Overall, if Brazilian agribusiness were a country, it would have been the eighth largest polluter on the planet in 2016 – producing more carbon than the entire economy of Japan

“The lack of control of deforestation has led us to emit 218 million more tonnes of CO 2 in 2016 than in 2015, more than twice what Belgium issues per year,” said Ane Alencar, a researcher at Ipam. “This is dramatic, because the deforestation is mostly illegal and so not reflected in the country’s GDP.”

The figures are the latest estimates from the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Forecasting System, operated by the Climate Observatory, a coalition of Brazilian NGOs. They show a nine percent increase in emissions from 2015 to 2016, making Brazil the seventh largest polluter on the planet.

The increase in emissions is even more striking as it comes in the midst of an economic downturn. As a result, emissions decreased from nearly every other sector apart from agriculture, which accounted for 76 percent of Brazil’s total emissions.

Protesters demand action on carbon emissions Photo: Ng Swan Ti/Oxfam

Since coming to power in mid-2016, the government of Brazilian President Michel Temer has slashed funding for the environment ministry, including the environmental enforcement agency IBAMA. It has downgraded protections on hundreds of thousands of hectares of protected Amazon rainforest, opening them to cattle ranchers.

Temer himself has been charged with accepting bribes from the world’s biggest meatpacker, JBS. He has avoided trial thanks to the backing of the lower house of Congress. Pivotal support has come from a block of 200 legislators known as the ‘bancada ruralista’, which represents the interests of Brazilian agribusiness.

The rise in emissions in Brazil come as the UN’s latest monitoring report warns that global carbon dioxide levels hit a record high in 2016.

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