The fall in deforestation in Brazil is welcome, but our leaders must make a financial commitment to replicating this success
My colleagues in the Amazon office of Greenpeace like to characterise deforestation as a lion, oscillating between periods of slumber and bouts of frenetic and violent activity. New figures released by Brazil's government yesterday suggest that over the past year the lion has slept a little more soundly than usual. This is very good news, but we must not take our eyes off him.
The reported fall in the rate of Amazon deforestation should be kept in perspective. Over the past year "just" 7,000 square kilometres of rainforest was destroyed – which means that an area just a little smaller than Puerto Rico was razed to the ground. Of course the Amazon is also only one of the world's ancient rainforests. The lions of deforestation are on the prowl in the paradise forests of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. In the Congo basin, they are stretching their limbs for the very first time, eyeing up a tasty meal in the world's second largest rainforest.
The key questions we must answer are these: how do we maintain this progress in Brazil, and how can we replicate this success elsewhere in the world?
The fall in deforestation in Brazil can be attributed to a variety of factors, including the global economic recession. Civil society has played its part, by voicing public opposition to changes to the Brazilian forest code, which could have become a charter for industrial logging interests. A pioneering agreement banning deforestation for the production of soya beans also helped remove one of the key drivers of deforestation in the region.
Then, earlier this year, a Greenpeace campaign exposed the cattle industry as the biggest single cause of deforestation in the Amazon. Under pressure from high street brands like Nike, Adidas and Clarks, which were using Brazilian leather, as well as makers of tinned beef products like Princes, the four largest players in the global cattle sector have now committed to "zero deforestation in their supply chains".
These steps, although hugely significant, will not stand the test of time without an international agreement to remove the drivers of deforestation. The situation is urgent, and with a long-term deal on forests at Copenhagen hanging in the balance, a short-term fix must be found.
Earlier this year the Prince of Wales launched a project calling for an interim finance package to slow rates of deforestation in rainforest countries in the next few years. More than 40 countries signed on to the initiative, which has led to the establishment of an international working group which recently suggested that €15-25bn would be needed between 2010 and 2015 to fight deforestation. The UK's share of this would be a few hundred million pounds over a five-year timescale.
The proposals have received broad international support, but no official backing from the UK government in terms of money on the table to help stop deforestation. It's time for our leaders to commit a relatively small amount of financial support to protect an ecosystem that all of us rely on for our survival.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2016