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How Brazil grew its economy without sacrificing the environment

• Published on 15 Jun. 2014 • Category : Development • Tags : brasil economy environment

With the 2014 FIFA World Cup in full swing, most reports out of Brazil deal with the home team’s chances of raising the Jules Rimet trophy for a record sixth time. But in recent weeks there have been a couple of other noteworthy reports, and these are worried more about carbon-emission reduction and economic growth instead of wins and losses on the pitch.

According to two different studies released in the first week of June, Brazil now leads the world in something other than World Cup titles. The massive South American nation is also No. 1 in reducing carbon emissions, mostly through its commitment to preventing deforestation. Over the past decade, Brazil has saved around 80 percent of the orginal Amazon rainforest, which translates to 33,000 square miles and, according the team of U.S. and South American scientists and economists, is the equivalent of 14.3 million soccer fields. 

Most importantly, this commitment to environmental sustainability has not compromised the economy of the region. In fact, production of beef and soy from the Amazon states rose over the decade in question.

According to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, deforestation constitutes around 10 percent of global climate emissions, a significant drop from the 17 percent of the 1990s. In the study, Doug Boucher, director of UCS’s Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative, noted the environmental, civic and community benefits of reducing deforestation.

“Successfully reducing deforestation is essential as forests are home to a wide range of plants and animals, and vital to the livelihoods of indigenous communities. When forests are cleared—for palm oil plantations, agriculture or livestock—we lose vital resources, put animals at risk of extinction, and release massive quantities of carbon dioxide stored in the trees and soils.”

Boucher noted that Brazil is just one of 17 who have successfully implemented myriad programs and reforms to protect forests. Across Central America, Mexico, central Africa and southeast Asia, countries seen the economic boon of reducing deforestation and reforestation. 

As with most successful climate-protection measures, the two-pronged approach of technology and regulation played a crucial role. In Brazil, officials used remote sensing technology -- and more recently, satellites -- to pinpoint where in the vast Amazon the deforestation was occurring. Once found, deforesters and landowners have received harsher fines for violating the 80 percent rule.

Since there are fewer acres of land, beef and soy production has increased thanks to increased efficiency and productivity from the farmers in these areas. While there has not been a substantial increase, only a gradual gain, one Brazilian official said the country could eventually “double production without cutting a single tree.” 

This kind of rhetoric suggests Brazil is only just starting its environmental push. The country has plans to implement many of the grants they have received from abroad, and lawmakers continue to pass bills encouraging climate control and environmental protection. Like the other countries showing positive signs on the environmental front, Brazil’s recent rise is only one step of the process. Still, it was a step in the right direction. 

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