Brazil Demonstrates that Best Carbon Offsets Come From not Cutting Down Trees

Brazillian Forest


June 12, 2014

Slowing deforestation of Brazil’s Amazon is proving that nations can preserve forests and still propel their economies—a lesson with implications for Canada.

Brazil has reduced the destruction of the Amazon by 70 percent during the past 10 years, according to a Science report. At the same time, the country has seen enormous strides in the very agriculture industries that rely on the region’s flat landscape, low elevation, and temperate climate.

By 2011, about 5.8 million hectares of mechanized agriculture were cultivated in the state of Mato Grosso—home to one-tenth of the Brazilian Amazon—compared to about 3.3 million in 2001.

Yet, according to research done at Brown University, most of this expansion was concentrated in the early part of the decade, before then-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva rolled out plans in 2005 for reducing the rate of deforestation by 80 percent over the previous year.

These policies included companies signing moratoria on agricultural products produced on deforested land, as well as withholding loans to all agricultural producers in areas deemed to be in violation of the forest code.

Far from discouraging agricultural activity, these measures have encouraged sectors responsible for past deforestation to develop practices that align with government regulations at the same time as meeting international export demands. Brazil’s beef and soy production industries, for example, in spite of the anti-deforestation policies, have remained among the world's largest.

"The report shows that economic development is not hindered by reductions in deforestation," says Doug Boucher, director of the Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Although a slightly more precarious affair in Canada’s drier climate, farmers in rural Ontario have been experimenting with double-cropping in order to maximize use of Canada’s existing farmland rather than expanding into forested areas.

These developments, along with recent reports of Brazil’s anti-deforestation boon, may put the lie to Stephen Harper and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s recent double-barrel attack against climate policies that “deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their countries.”

Brazil’s reduced deforestation has kept 3.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions locked inside its living rainforest ecosystems, which would otherwise have been released into the atmosphere through deforestation. According to National Geographic, that’s more than triple the emissions reduction that would result if all the cars in the United States stopped for a year.

As a result, farmers have increasingly taken advantage of the temperate climate in Brazil’s northwestern region to innovate farming practices without expanding farmland. These include double-cropping soy and related agricultural products within a single growing season, doubling typical quarterly yields without felling a single tree. Cattle ranchers are also following suit, increasing the number of cattle per hectare as well as intensifying production in preexisting pasture.