World

Deforestation in Brazil Hits Record Low

NEAR ALTAMIRA, BRAZIL - JUNE 15:  A deforested section of Amazon rainforest (R) is seen near the area where the Belo Monte dam complex is under construction in the Amazon basin on June 15, 2012 near Altamira, Brazil. Belo Monte will be the world?s third-largest hydroelectric project and will displace up to 20,000 people while diverting the Xingu River and flooding as much as 230 square miles of rainforest. The controversial project is one of around 60 hydroelectric projects Brazil has planned in the Amazon to generate electricity for its rapidly expanding economy. While environmentalists and indigenous groups oppose the dam, many Brazilians support the project. The Brazilian Amazon, home to 60 percent of the world?s largest forest and 20 percent of the Earth?s oxygen, remains threatened by the rapid development of the country. The area is currently populated by over 20 million people and is challenged by deforestation, agriculture, mining, a governmental dam building spree, illegal land speculation including the occupation of forest reserves and indigenous land and other issues. Over 100 heads of state and tens of thousands of participants and protesters will descend on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, later this month for the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development or ?Earth Summit?. Host Brazil is caught up in its own dilemma between accelerated growth and environmental preservation.   (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

NEAR ALTAMIRA, BRAZIL - JUNE 15: A deforested section of Amazon rainforest (R) is seen near the area where the Belo Monte dam complex is under construction in the Amazon basin on June 15, 2012 near Altamira, Brazil. Belo Monte will be the world?s third-largest hydroelectric project and will displace up to 20,000 people while diverting the Xingu River and flooding as much as 230 square miles of rainforest. The controversial project is one of around 60 hydroelectric projects Brazil has planned in the Amazon to generate electricity for its rapidly expanding economy. While environmentalists and indigenous groups oppose the dam, many Brazilians support the project. The Brazilian Amazon, home to 60 percent of the world?s largest forest and 20 percent of the Earth?s oxygen, remains threatened by the rapid development of the country. The area is currently populated by over 20 million people and is challenged by deforestation, agriculture, mining, a governmental dam building spree, illegal land speculation including the occupation of forest reserves and indigenous land and other issues. Over 100 heads of state and tens of thousands of participants and protesters will descend on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, later this month for the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development or ?Earth Summit?. Host Brazil is caught up in its own dilemma between accelerated growth and environmental preservation. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)  (2012 Getty Images)

As concerns over global warming continue, Brazil has one bragging point on the issue of climate change. The government announced Tuesday that deforestation in the Amazon has hit a 24-year low.

Satellite imagery showed that 1,798 square miles (4,656 square kilometers) of the Amazon were deforested between August 2011 and July 2012, Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said a news conference. That's 27 percent less than the 2,478 square miles (6,418 square kilometers) deforested a year earlier. The margin of error is 10 percentage points.

Brazil's National Institute for Space Research said the deforestation level is the lowest since it started measuring the destruction of the rainforest in 1988.

Sixty-three percent of the rainforest's 2.4 million square miles (6.1 million square kilometers) are in Brazil.

Over the past several years Brazil has made a huge effort to contain deforestation and the latest figures testify to its success.

- Adalberto Verissimo, a senior researcher at Imazon, an environmental watchdog agency

The space institute said that the latest figures show that Brazil is close to its 2020 target of reducing deforestation by 80 percent from 1990 levels. Through July 2012 deforestation dropped by 76.26 percent.

George Pinto a director of Ibama, Brazil's environmental protection agency, told reporters that better enforcement of environmental laws and improved surveillance technology are behind the drop in deforestation levels.

Pinto said that in the 12-month period a total of 2,000 square meters of illegally felled timber were seized by government agents. The impounded lumber is sold in auctions and the money obtained is invested in environmental preservation programs.

Environment Minister Teixeira said that starting next year Brazil will start using satellite monitoring technology to detect illegal logging and slash-and-burn activity and issue fines.

"Over the past several years Brazil has made a huge effort to contain deforestation and the latest figures testify to its success," said Adalberto Verissimo, a senior researcher at Imazon, an environmental watchdog agency. "The deforestation figures are extremely positive, for they point to a consistent downward trend."

"The numbers disprove the argument that deforestation is necessary for the country's economy to grow, he said by telephone from his office in the Amazon city of Belem. "Deforestation has been dropping steadily for the past four years while the economy has grown," he said

"But the war is far from over. We still have a lot of battles to fight and win."

For Marcio Astrini, Greenpeace coordinator in the Amazon region, "the lower figures ... make it perfectly clear that deforestation is not only necessary but perfectly possible."

'But the numbers are still too high for a country that does not have to destroy one single hectare in order to develop," he added.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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