One of the greatest weapons against climate change sits on vast tracts of undeveloped Brazilian land. The country is home to nearly half of Earth’s rain forests, gobbling up 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year — a third of the United States’ 2010 greenhouse gas output. Maintaining, and expanding, what the Economist aptly termed “the world’s lungs” will be essential to fighting global warming, not to mention preserving biological diversity and water systems.
The good news: With the help of satellite monitoring and other tools, Brazil last year slowed illegal deforestation to a fifth of its peak in 1995, when the country lost a whopping 29,000 square kilometers of its rain forest to unauthorized slashing. The bad news: Brazil’s government is weakening its landmark Forest Code, the legal basis for that improved enforcement.
Despite a prominent environmentalist campaign, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff last month vetoed only a few of the most troubling revisions, softening preservation mandates.
Environmentalists argue that there is already plenty of cleared, arable land available in Brazil, and that the goal should be to grow more on it. Yet it is difficult for individuals to profit from holding unused forested plots, and there is economic opportunity in expanding production of Brazilian commodities, such as soybeans and orange juice, to feed the world’s growing population. In other words, it’s hard to preserve forests when international markets do not value them.
World governments must change that. Instead of expecting Brazil and other countries to bear all the costs of preserving ecologically valuable land, fairness and efficiency argue for an international program to turn forest preservation into a source of income.
In its most efficient form, the money to pay for saving forests would come from an international carbon market, not from strapped national treasuries.
But gridlock in international climate talks, mostly relating to issues other than deforestation, has made progress on creating such a program unacceptably slow.
Deforestation, in Brazil and elsewhere, is a massive problem. So Brazil’s legislature should reconsider its new forest code. But the international community must also give developing nations more incentive to preserve their ecological wealth.
The Washington Post