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Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest - BrazilDeforestation in the Amazon Rainforest – Brazil
Photo Credit: Manchete Online


On September 23, over 900 leaders from government, business, finance, and civil society came together at the United Nations Headquarters in New York for the 2014 Climate Summit. Judging from the Summary of their most significant announcements, they issued more promises “to galvanize transformative action in all countries to reduce emissions and build resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change.”

Promises are easy. Following them through is another story.

The pledge to halve deforestation by 2020 and reach zero deforestation by 2030 is ambitious. Since trees release carbon when burned, such a move would secure an additional 4.5 to 8.8 billion tons of carbon yearly. This is equivalent to carbon emissions from one billion cars on the roads worldwide.

In addition, the pledge to restore forests and croplands worldwide is expected to cover an area the size of India.

Named the New York Declaration on Forests, this pledge is merely a non-legally binding political declaration. One hundred and fifty participants signed the Declaration. Brazil refused to sign it. This is bad news. The country’s Amazon Rainforest is the world’s second-largest forest region…after Russia.

In a statement to the Associated Press, Brazil’s Environment Minister claimed that they were not invited to contribute to the terms of the Declaration. A UN representative said they received no response to their efforts to reach Brazilian government officials.

Brazil’s major contention is the target of zero deforestation within the next fifteen years. The country’s legislation permits quotas for sustainable forest management and the felling of trees for agriculture. The Declaration makes no distinction between legal and illegal deforestation.

During discussions at the UN Climate Summit, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff supported a global effort to increase investments in fighting climate change. She recognized that the costs are high but the benefits more than compensate. Reminding other leaders present that the developed nations built their economies on high carbon emissions, she added:

“We don’t want to repeat this model, but we will not renounce our imperative to reduce inequality and raise the quality of life of our people. We, the developing countries, have equal right to wellbeing and are demonstrating that a socially just and environmentally sustainable model is possible.”

Brazil’s record of reducing deforestation testifies to the country’s commitment in cutting its carbon emissions. Over the last ten years, deforestation has fallen by 79 percent. Between 2010 and 2013, this meant a yearly average carbon reduction of 650 million tons.

“Brazil, therefore, doesn’t announce promises, it shows results,” President Dilma said.

To deal with natural disasters caused by climate change, the Brazilian government plans to launch, by the end of this year, its National Plan of Adaptation, together with its national policy for prevention and monitoring of natural disasters.

Confronting climate change demands a global response. Brazil wants a new global climate agreement that will respect the differences between rich and developing nations. Will the world’s leaders succeed in reaching a consensus? Unfulfilled pledges will not buy us time.