Marina Silva: We must slash emissions to prevent destruction of the rainforest

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The Independent Online

Deforestation is a challenge of enormous proportions, and it is a challenge that is going to permeate this century. Brazil still has 60 per cent of its territory covered by forests. This is a tremendous advantage, and an enormous responsibility. What can we do to protect it?

When I was Environment Minister, I made a great effort to reduce land clearing; concentrating on combating illegal activities we had a 47 per cent drop in deforestation; approximately 1,500 illegal companies were removed from the forest, more than 700 people were imprisoned, and more than 37,000 illegal properties were removed. But deforestation is now increasing and urgent measures must now be taken in order to avoid destroying the forest further.

Our big challenge is how we utilise the areas already opened in an intensive way. In the Amazon we have 160,000 square kilometres of cleared land already abandoned or semi-abandoned. Areas are used for five or 10 years, the land is exhausted and people move further into the forest. If we utilise technology to manage pasture land and recover degraded areas, we can double our production capacity without cutting down a single tree.

Before leaving the government, I put out a plan called "Sustainable Amazon" which is based on five points: developing infrastructure, encouraging innovation, fostering social inclusion – because there are 24 million people living in the Amazon – and combating illegal activities along with conservation, which will result in a reduction of land clearing.

However, even if developing countries reduce every form of illegal land clearing, if developed countries do not reduce their emissions we will face grave damage to biodiversity, and the native populations who live off and protect these forests. Developed countries must also change their energy sources. In Brazil, 45 per cent of our energy is generated from renewable sources and this is being expanded.

Men and women across the world must bring pressure on their governments and businesses to reduce carbon emissions, deforestation and the loss of our biodiversity. n

From a speech given by Marina Silva, former Brazilian Minister for the Environment, to the Royal Geographical Society