Stop the destruction of the rainforests

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The Independent Online

It is impossible to make a coherent argument in favour of the continuing destruction of the Brazilian rainforest, yet still this indefensible practice goes on. Indeed, the signs are that it is getting worse. The Brazilian government released figures yesterday showing that the amount of deforestation that took place last year was the second worst on record. Some 26,130 square kilometres of rainforest were cleared in the 12 months to August 2004. This was only surpassed in 1995 when an area the size of Belgium was erased.

It is impossible to make a coherent argument in favour of the continuing destruction of the Brazilian rainforest, yet still this indefensible practice goes on. Indeed, the signs are that it is getting worse. The Brazilian government released figures yesterday showing that the amount of deforestation that took place last year was the second worst on record. Some 26,130 square kilometres of rainforest were cleared in the 12 months to August 2004. This was only surpassed in 1995 when an area the size of Belgium was erased.

What makes these figures even more depressing is that they follow an announcement last year from Brazil's government that deforestation would - at last - be brought under control. Brazilian officials were expecting only a modest expansion in the level of clearances this year. Instead, they got a damning 6 percentage point increase on 2003. What this shows is that although Brazil's left-of-centre President, Lula da Silva, may talk the language of sustainable development, he has so far done little to curtail the activities of the loggers, soybean farmers and cattle ranchers responsible for the rampant erosion of Brazil's great green natural resource.

Criminality is at the heart of the problem. Much of the logging that goes on is by gangsters, seemingly beyond the reach of the law. Indeed, the murder earlier this year of the anti-logging campaigner Dorothy Strang suggests that these groups are getting bolder. But President Lula has also been too slow to apply the law. And too often he has given the impression that it is somehow good for Brazil's economy to despoil its natural resources.

The international community also bears some responsibility. Much of the hardwood cut from the world's tropical forests ends up being sold in rich nations, such as Britain. Wyevale, the UK's largest garden centre group, was recently found to be selling furniture made with rainforest wood of dubious provenance. It is in the power of the G8 and the European Union to ban the import and sale of illegally logged timber. They should do so without delay.

Some 20 per cent of the Brazilian rainforest has now been destroyed. If this rate of deforestation continues, the forest will disappear completely by the middle of this century. And it is not just Brazil's rainforests that are under threat. The same thing is going on in Indonesia, Congo and Burma. The consequences will be disastrous: indigenous tribes will be made homeless; entire species of wildlife and plant life will be wiped out, and one of the world's great absorbers of CO2 will be destroyed, intensifying the malign effect of climate change. The rainforests are one of our most precious global resources. Their destruction must end immediately.

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