Imprimir Republish


The price of deforestation

Inventory ranks Brazil amongst the largest polluters in the world

JEFF SCHMALTZ, NASA/GSFCBrazil was amongst the five largest emitters of greenhouse gases between 1990 and 1994, according to the inventory published at the end of last year by the federal government. In this period, the emission of carbonic acid gas increased from 976 million tons to 1.03 billion. Over 70% of  these emissions are related to changes in land use and to the conversion of  forests for agricultural use. The emissions of carbon dioxide by the consumption of fossil fuels, particularly in the sectors of  transports and industry, come in second place, since the share of renewable energy in the Brazilian energy matrix is high. The emissions of methane gas are also significant, above all in cattle raising, which, in 1994, added up to 13.2 million tons.  And, lastly, the emissions of nitrous oxide, which are caused by the use of fertilizers in agricultural soils.

The first Brazilian inventory was made public in Brazil and presented at the 10th conference of parties – United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-10), in December, in Buenos Aires. Its results did not surprise the specialists. The problem lies in the future they forecast.  “We know that the number of outbreaks of  fires has increased a lot in the last ten years, and it is possible that the country may occupy today an even worse position amongst the world-wide emitters of greenhouse gases”, reckons Paulo Artaxo, the coordinator of the Millennium Institute of the Large Scale Biosphere – Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia (LBA).

The United States, responsible for 36.1% of the emissions of greenhouse gases, is the champion amongst the polluting countries,  followed by China, with 18%, and Russia, with 17%. Despite the uncomfortable position of  Brazil in this ranking, the major part of the emissions of carbonic acid gas in the country is not the result of the burning of  fossil fuel by industry, which, perversely, is a factor generating wealth and well-being for the population.  “On the contrary, the emissions of carbon dioxide are a result of the destruction of the Amazon”,  Artaxo points out.

Relative advantages – The Kyoto Protocol, which comes into force on February 16, provides for a reduction of  5.2%, by 2012, of the emissions of greenhouse gases recorded in 1990. The industrialized nations are the main ones responsible for meeting this target. Brazil, just like other developing nations, is not part of this group, but the results of the inventory place the country in a delicate position from 2013 onwards, when a second period of reductions will come into force, which will be negotiated in the next few years.

The fact that deforestation is the factor chiefly responsible for the emission of carbon dioxide gives Brazil a “relative advantage”;  after all, controlling emissions from burning the forest does not require heavy investments and brings enormous environmental advantages to the country. “In the United States or in Europe, the reduction of emissions has to be achieved by means of cuts in consumption and in production, in general with significant costs”,  Artaxo observes.

Together with the report on emissions, the Brazilian government has published a set of mitigating measures. According to the Minister of  the Environment, Marina Silva, Brazil has been managing to reduce, for example, the pace of the destruction of the forests.  In 2003,  she claimed, the pace of growth of deforestation fell back 2%, and in 2004 she forecasts a scenario of stability, and then, a reduction. The launch of the program for the commercial use of biodiesel and the use of ethanol as fuel in automobiles, according to the Minster of Mines and Energy, Dilma Roussef, should also contribute towards the reduction of the emissions in Brazil. “Brazil has to exploit properly all the possibilities for reducing emissions, and the game is in the hands of the government, which has strategic tools for reducing quickly the emissions of greenhouse gases”, Artaxo emphasizes.

Clean development – The Kyoto Protocol  allows the developed countries to exchange the reduction of the emissions of gases in their territories for investments in carbon absorbing projects in developing countries, by means of Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM). They may also finance projects for renewable energy, to mitigate polluting effects. The measure will benefit countries like Brazil, which, according to Artaxo, has great potential for the exploitation of carbon dioxide sequestration.