Since facing a deforestation crisis in the second half of the 20th century and into the beginning of the 21st, Brazil has staged a comeback by limiting forest destruction and advancing an admirable conservation record.
Now a new study shows that Brazil might be falling back into land use policies that sacrifice the long-term benefits of forests for the immediate gains of industry.
Research published in the journal Conservation Biology shows that Brazil has stripped protected status from 5.2 million hectares of publicly owned land—an area roughly the size of Costa Rica—with 74% of these changes occurring between 2008-2012.
Despite leading the world in establishing new protected areas, Brazil’s decisions to revoke protected status raises concerns about the country’s priorities.
According to the study, most of these changes were related to energy generation and transmission in the Amazon. Between 2010 and 2012 alone, 19 protected parcels of land were reduced in size in order to make room for energy infrastructure.
The changes throw into doubt whether newly protected lands will remain off limits to development in the coming years as Brazil looks to increase its domestic power generation.
Brazil, which relies heavily on hydroelectric power, is planning a slew of new projects including the Belo Monte plant, which is projected to be the world’s third largest hydroelectric plant upon completion. Hesitant to rely exclusively on hydroelectric power, Brazil is also expected to increase its use of natural gas for electricity generation in the near term.
The authors of the study indicted Brazil’s government for failing to fully appreciate the benefits of undisturbed forestland. They said:
If parks and reserves are to maintain their integrity, there will need to be investments in Brazilian protected areas and a better understanding of the benefits protected areas provide.
Tropical rainforests are some of the richest ecosystems on earth, and the Amazon Basin forest is there largest of these.
In addition to harboring countless species of plants, animals, and fungi, rainforests act as an important carbon sink, soaking up carbon dioxide that otherwise would remain in the atmosphere. Human-created atmospheric CO2 is the primary driver of climate change.