By Chris Lang

In 2011, REDD-Monitor asked “Can REDD save the Amazon?”. Six years later, after Norway has poured more than US$1 billion into REDD in Brazil, it is clear that REDD is not a solution to Amazon deforestation. Deforestation fell from 2004 to 2012, but the reasons were nothing to do with REDD. Now deforestation is going back up.

Norway calculates how much to pay Brazil based on the previous year’s deforestation. Development Today reports that, “The unprecedented increase in deforestation during 2016 will result in a ‘drastic’ reduction in Norwegian climate forest aid to Brazil this year.”

Philip Fearnside is one of the leading experts on deforestation in the Amazon. He works at the National Institute for Research in Amazonia (INPA) in Brazil, and has lived and worked in the Amazon for 41 years. In that time, an area of forest larger than the size of France has been cleared.

In a recent article for Yale Environment 360, Fearnside writes that he was relieved when deforestation fell from more than 27,000 square kilometres in 2004 to 4,400 square kilometres in 2012. “But I had witnessed too much destruction in the Amazon to celebrate,” Fearnside writes.

Unfortunately, these widely publicized declines led not only to the impression among the international conservation community that Amazon deforestation was finally ebbing. It also led to a dangerous illusion taking hold in the capital of Brasília — the belief that deforestation was thoroughly under control, and thus the government could build roads, dams, and other infrastructure at will in Amazonia, without consequences for the world’s largest rain forest.

Since 2012, deforestation has increased. In 2016, deforestation increased by 29% compared to 2015.

Fearnside writes that, “powerful economic and development pressures are bearing down on the Brazilian Amazon”. He notes that control of deforestation is now better than it was in 2004, but argues that much of reduction in deforestation from 2004 to 2012 can be explained by factors other than improved governance.

Market forces

From 2004 to 2007 the reduction in deforestation “is virtually all due to market forces”, Fearnside writes. The prices of export commodities such as soy and beef fell. Meanwhile, the Brazilian real increased in value by 80% compared to the US dollar and exports became less profitable.

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