BRASILIA (AFP) – The Brazilian government on Monday unveiled a plan to cut the deforestation of the Amazon by 70 percent over the next decade.
It is the first time Brazil, home to the largest area of tropical woodland on the planet, has set a target for reducing the damage wrought by illegal loggers and ranchers.
Environment Minister Carlos Minc unveiled the initiative in the presence of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and said it would be formally presented at a UN climate change conference underway this week in Poland.
"Just in terms of avoided deforestation in the Amazon, the plan foresees a reduction of 4.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide that won't be emitted up to 2018 -- which is more than the reduction efforts fixed by all the rich countries," Minc said.
The minister said Brazil hopes to use the plan to "increase the number of contributors to the Amazon Fund" launched last August which aims to collect money from around the world to fight deforestation.
The head of Brazil's forestry service, Tasso Azevedo, told AFP that an announcement by Britain that it planned to cut CO2 emissions by 80 percent over the next four decades, and Brazil's plan, "push the ambitions of the Poznan conference (in Poland) to another level."
Brazil's initiative "shows that developing countries can take on aggressive commitments and that developed ones can go much further," he said.
The benchmark against Brazil's plan will be measured is the rate of deforestation recorded between 1996 and 2005, during which an annual average of 19,500 square kilometers (7,500 square miles) of woodland was razed.
The calculation is progressive and worked out on a four-yearly basis, making the real-term goal a deforestation a little under half the current rate, or approximately 12,000 square kilometers per year.
Although the plan is concentrated on the Amazon, it will also apply to other large biomass areas in the country.
Environmental groups welcomed the news, although a few said they would like to have seen the goal be more ambitious.
"Better late than never," was how the director of one organization, Friends of the Earth, Roberto Smeraldi, summed it up.
"It's a modest proposal, which won't give Brazil a leadership role, and I hope they say so in Poznan," added an expert, Sergio Abranches, to CBN radio.
Jose Marengo, a scientist at the Spacial Research Institute which measures Amazon deforestation by satellite, said the move was a step forward "because at least we're talking about targets -- before the government had the position that Brazil wasn't to blame (for greenhouse gas emissions), that they came more from the US and industrialized countries."
He also said that, if deforestation in Brazil continues at the current rate, "from 2040 the Amazon vegetation could collapse in what the English model calls 'savannization', and no longer manage to absorb CO2 but rather become a source of it."
Although Brazil had up to now rejected the notion of targets, it had been making efforts against deforestation that permitted a 59 percent reduction after registering a historic peak of 27,000 square kilometers of stripped forest in 2004.
The announced plan, as well as setting a deforestation goal, covers improved energy efficiency, encouraging alternative energy sources and increasing by 20 percent trash recycling in urban areas by 2015.
"We will surely receive criticism, but we can say that we are presenting a better one (plan) than China or India, and better than others that still haven't signed the Kyoto Protocol," Lula said.