The Climate Risk Hiding in the Shadows
You can’t solve a problem that you don’t understand. Forest Trends helped to put agriculture-driven deforestation on the map back in 2014. This week, we released a new study focused on how much of this deforestation is actually illegal. We also looked at what share of the commodities produced in the shadows on illegally cleared lands end up in global markets.
The results are shocking. Our data shows that nearly 70% of deforestation for commercial agriculture is happening in violation of the law, and the trend is getting worse, not better. Nearly one-third of the resulting agricultural products are exported – ending up on our grocery store shelves, and making us all unwittingly complicit in forest loss.
Illegal deforestation undermines all of the good work being done to stop climate change, end biodiversity loss, and ensure sustainable development for all. It underwrites corruption, abets human rights abuses, and costs governments billions of dollars in lost tax revenue — revenue that could be used to fund basic government services.
Hours after we released our report, the news broke that Brazilian police had raided Brazilian Environment Minister Ricardo Salles’ home and offices, as part of an investigation of whether Salles and a number of other officials had facilitated the smuggling of Amazon timber, among other allegations of corruption. We’ve released a statement about it here. Suffice it to say that I am heartened to see Brazilian government agencies taking the issue of illegal deforestation seriously. In our analysis, Brazil was among the worst offenders, with the data showing at least 95% of agro-conversion between 2013-2019 took place in violation of Brazilian national laws and regulations.
Yet Brazil also shows us solutions are possible: until recently, Brazil had done more than any country in the the world to cut emissions and slow climate change. It can absolutely get back on that path again. Successes in stamping out the illegal timber trade show the international community a way forward for other illegal commodities. Now that we better understand what we’re up against, we can take action.
We’ll be sharing new insights in the coming weeks on what’s going on in Brazil, how illegal deforestation especially hurts indigenous communities in their tireless battle to save their forests, and recommendations for the global community on countering illegal deforestation as we head into climate talks in Glasgow and all of the work ahead.