Canada Leading ‘Deforestation Nation’ In Race to Destroy Planet’s Last Wilderness Areas

Canada's tar sands projects visible from space
Canada’s tar sands projects visible from space

Forest Loss Results in Massive Emissions of CO2

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 5 2014 (IPS) 

The world’s last remaining forest wilderness is rapidly being lost – and much of this is taking place in Canada, not in Brazil or Indonesia where deforestation has so far made the headlines.

A new satellite study reveals that since 2000 more than 104 million hectares of forests – an area three times the size of Germany – have been destroyed or degraded.

Since 2000 more than 104 million hectares of forests – an area three times the size of Germany – have been destroyed or degraded.


“Every four seconds, an area of the size of a football (soccer) field is lost,” said Christoph Thies of Greenpeace International.

The extent of this forest loss, which is clearly visible in satellite images taken in 2000 and 2013, is “absolutely appalling” and has a global impact, Thies told IPS, because forests play a crucial in regulating the climate.


The current level of deforestation is putting more CO2 into the atmosphere than all the world’s cars, trucks, ships and planes together, he said, adding that “governments must take urgent action” to protect intact forests by creating more protected areas, strengthening the rights of forest communities and other measures, including convincing lumber, furniture manufacturers and others to refuse to use products from virgin forests.

Greenpeace is one of several partners in the Intact Forest Landscapes initiative, along with the University of Maryland, World Resources Institute and WWF-Russia among others, that uses satellite imagery technology to determine the location and extent of the world’s last large undisturbed forests.

The new study found that half of forest loss from deforestation and degradation occurred in just three countries: Canada, Russia and Brazil. These countries are also home to about 65 percent of world’s remaining forest wilderness.

However, despite all the media attention on deforestation in the Amazon forest and the forests of Indonesia, it is Canada that has been leading the world in forest loss since 2000, accounting for 21 percent of global forest loss. By contrast, the much-better known deforestation in Indonesia has accounted for only four percent.

Brazil's Amazon forest - 2013. Credit_Courtesy of Global Forest Watch

Massive increases in oil sands and shale gas developments, as well as logging and road building, are the major cause of Canada’s forest loss, said Peter Lee of Global Forest Watch Canada, an independent Canadian NGO.

A big increase in forest fires is another cause of forest loss. Climate change has rapidly warmed northern Canada, drying out the boreal forests and bogs and making them more vulnerable to fires.

In Canada’s northern Alberta’s oil sands region, more than 12.5 million hectares of forest have been crisscrossed by roads, pipelines, power transmission lines and other infrastructure, Lee told IPS.

Canada’s oil sands and shale gas developments are expected to double and possibly triple in the next decade and “there’s little interest at the federal or provincial political level in conserving intact forest landscapes,” Lee added.

The world’s last remaining large undisturbed forests are where most of the planet’s remaining wild animals, birds, plants and other species live, Nigel Sizer, Global Director of the Forest Programme at the World Resources Institute, told a press conference.

Animals like Siberian tigers, orangutans and woodland caribou require large areas of forest wilderness, Sizer noted, and “losing these top species leads to a decline of entire forest ecosystems in subtle ways that are hard to measure.”

While forests can re-grow, this takes many decades, and in northern forests more than 100 years. However, if species go extinct or there are too few individuals left, it will take longer for a full forest ecosystem to recover – if ever.

In just 13 years, South America’s Paraguay converted an incredible 78 percent of its remaining forest wilderness mainly into large-scale soybean farms and rough pasture, the study found. Satellite images and maps on the new Global Forest Watch website offer see-it-with-your-own eyes images of Paraguay’s forests vanishing over time.

The images and data collected for the study are accessible via various tools on the website. They reveal that 25 percent of Europe’s largest remaining forest, located 900 km north of Moscow, has been chopped down to feed industrial logging operations. In the Congo, home of the world’s second largest tropical forest, 17 percent has been lost to logging, mining and road building. The Global Forest Watch website also shows details of huge areas of Congo forest licensed for future logging.

Deforestation starts with road building, often linked to logging and extractive industries, said Thies. In some countries, like Brazil and Paraguay, the prime reason is conversion to large-scale agriculture, usually for crops that will be exported.

The new data could help companies with sustainability commitments in determining which areas to avoid when sourcing commodities like timber, palm oil, beef and soy. Market-led efforts need to gain further support given the lax governance and enforcement in many of these forest regions, Thies said.

He called on the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – a voluntary certification programme that sets standards for forest management – to “also play a stronger role” and to improve those standards in order to better protect wilderness forests.

Without urgent action to curb deforestation, it is doubtful that any large-scale wild forest will remain by the end of this century, concluded Sizer.

First published on IPS

Voice of Youth Ignored by Governments

future policy award

Taking away the voice of the next generation

By Stephen Leahy

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 17 (TerraViva)

Youth and future generations do not deserve a voice in their own future, the Brazilian government appears to have arbitrarily decided here at the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, where the theme is “The Future We Want”.

Representatives of children and youth, as well as the European Union and other countries, want to see the summit conclude with an agreement to create a High-Level Representative for Sustainable Development and Future Generations.

However, Brazil, under its formal leadership of the summit, has deleted all references to this from the “outcome document” currently under negotiation.

It is a bit surprising considering 62 percent of Brazil’s 185 million people are under 29 years of age.

The proposed representative for future generations would act to balance the short-term nature of government electoral cycles by advocating for the interests and needs of future generations, says youth representative Alice Vincent of the World Future Council Foundation in London, UK.

“I strongly believe that a Rio+20 outcome that does not include the creation of such an advocate for the needs of future generations wouldn’t be worthy of the title The Future We Want,” Vincent told TerraViva.Rio+20 logo

Over the past weeks there has been little progress on agreement of the content for the final 20-page “outcome document” intended to serve as the world’s roadmap to sustainable development. It will include details for greening of the global economy and possibly include sustainable development goals and a timetable for reaching them.

Countries were essentially deadlocked over the contents, so the Brazilian government revised the document and presented it to countries this morning saying it is an attempt to “make all delegates a bit happy, and a bit unhappy”. Continue reading

No Magic Solutions for the Extinction of Species that Produce Our Air, Water and Water

Photo: Yann Arthus- Bertrand, GoodPlanet Foundation http://www.goodplanet.org/en/

Is there a middle ground between economic interests, livelihoods and conservation?

By Stephen Leahy

VANCOUVER, Canada (IPS)

The Earth’s life support system, which generates the planet’s air, water and food, is powered by 8.7 million living species, according to the latest best estimate. We know little about 99 percent of those unique species, except that far too many are rapidly going extinct.

What can be done to slow down this process, which could eventually lead to the extinction of the human species?

“The challenge is to find the middle ground between economic interests, livelihoods and conservation,” says Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, the newly appointed head of the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the international agency charged with helping countries slow and reverse the loss of plants, animals and other species.

A native of Brazil, Dias holds a doctorate in zoology from the University of Edinburgh, and worked for many years at the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment, where his last position prior to joining the CBD was as Secretary of Biodiversity and Forests.

An exclusive interview with BRAULIO FERREIRA DE SOUZA DIAS, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity

Q: Why are species going extinct and why does it matter? 
Continue reading

Brazil’s Forest Code and Land Speculators To Amp Up Amazon Deforestation Rates

90% of Forest in Apuí Converted into Pasture But the Real Profit is in Land Sales

By Stephen Leahy*

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jul 28, 2011 (Tierramérica)

Many migrants from southern Brazil who clear forests in Brazil’s state of Amazonas are making their living as small-scale land speculators and not as farmers or as cattle ranchers, new research has found.

This on-the-ground reality and the proposed changes to Brazil’s Forest Code are likely to ramp up deforestation rates again, despite the country’s commitment to reduce deforestation 80 percent by 2020, experts say.

The Forest Code (Law 4771) was adopted in 1965 and has undergone numerous reforms, the most recent in 2001. This past May 24, an overwhelming majority in the Chamber of Deputies voted in favor of a bill to relax its requirements with regard to forest conservation. The bill is currently under study in the Senate. [Update Dec 28 2011]

A detailed study conducted in the municipality of Apuí along the Transamazon Highway in Amazonas found that many families in the region earned little income from cattle.

Instead, they were clearing the land in order to claim land titles to sell the land to large corporate ranchers, according to the study “Forest Clearing Dynamics and the Expansion of Landholdings in Apuí, a Deforestation Hotspot on Brazil’s Transamazon Highway”, published in the journal Ecology and Society in June.

From the early 1990s the population of Apuí has tripled, and the municipality has had some of the highest rates of deforestation in all of the state of Amazonas. Approximately 90 per cent of the area has been converted into pasture, the study found.

“These families are always moving into new forest areas to deforest so they can claim land title. And after a few years they sell it for a much higher price,” said study co-author Gabriel Carrero of the Institute for Conservation and Sustainable Development of Amazonas (IDESAM). Continue reading

Persistent La Niña Is Back Again — And Driving Up Food Prices

By Stephen Leahy *

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Oct 11, 2011 (Tierramérica)

La Niña is back less than three months after the end of its last appearance, a particularly strong event that contributed to driving up global food prices.

The new La Niña will continue the largely dry conditions in important agricultural regions in Brazil and Argentina as well as the southern United States and hurt yields of soy and wheat, experts say.

“Multi-year La Niñas are not uncommon,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder and director of meteorology for Weather Underground, the web’s first commercial weather service.

“The last was between 1998 to 2001 with a few months of neutral conditions like this year,” Masters told Tierramérica.

La Niña and El Niño are, respectively, the cold and warm phases of the famous El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world.

ENSO is part of the system that regulates heat in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean and is driven by changes in surface ocean temperature and air pressure.

“ENSO is undoubtedly being affected by climate change,” said Masters.  Continue reading

China, India, Brazil Doing More to Cut Carbon Emissions Cuts Than USA, Canada, Australia

By Stephen Leahy

BONN, Jun 17, 2011 (IPS)

Negotiations over a new international climate agreement are on the brink as new analyses show that carbon emission reduction promises by industrialised nations are actually lower than those made by China, India, Brazil and other developing nations.

Even with all the promises or pledges added together they are still far short of cuts needed to prevent global temperatures from rising two degrees Celsius, experts reported here.

“It’s a very sad picture we see here,” said Marion Vieweg of Climate Analytics, a German NGO that analyses climate science and policy.

This independent environmental journalism depends on public support. Click here learn more.

“The rich nations are doing nothing to improve their emissions pledges,” Vieweg told reporters during the final hours of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiating session here in Bonn. These meetings are intended to work out the details for a new international agreement for government ministers to consider at the 17th Conference of the Parties under the UNFCCC in Durban, South Africa in late November.

Continue reading

10 Years in the Amazon: The Forest Vanishes Before Your Eyes

Amazon Forest 2000 - The state of Rondônia in western Brazil

The state of Rondônia in western Brazil — once home to 208,000 square kilometers of forest (about 51.4 million acres), an area slightly smaller than the state of Kansas — has become one of the most deforested parts of the Amazon. In the past three decades, clearing and degradation of the state’s forests have been rapid: 4,200 square kilometers cleared by 1978; 30,000 by 1988; and 53,300 by 1998. By 2003, an estimated 67,764 square kilometers of rainforest—an area larger than the state of West Virginia—had been cleared. Source: Amazon Deforestation – NASA

See also: Amazon Drought Accelerating Climate Change   The REAL Amazon-gate: On the Brink of Collapse Reveals Million $ Study

Amazon Forest 2010 - The state of Rondônia in western Brazil