The rate of deforestation in the Amazon has slowed down according to figures released by the Brazilian government today. About 13,000 square kilometers (5,019 square miles) of rainforest were destroyed in the 12 months between August 2005 and 2006. This is about half the rate reported during the same period between 2003 and 2004, and the second lowest rate since recordkeeping began in 1988.
The Amazon rainforest represents about one half of the world's remaining rainforest and has been described as the lungs of our planet because its dense vegetation continuously recycles carbon dioxide into oxygen. Expert consensus suggests one-fifth of the forest has been logged or cleared for farming and development, although precise estimates vary - NASA puts the figure at 16 percent while WWF cites 17 percent.
The region is inhabited by about 2.5 million insect species, tens of thousands of plants, and some 2,000 birds and mammals. But aside from protecting the rainforest's rich biodiversity, curbing deforestation is also important in the fight against emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, which are linked to climate change.
Around 75 percent of all Brazilian greenhouse gas emissions are a result of forest fires, which are set to clear large tracts of rainforest for agriculture. As a result, Brazil ranks fourth in the list of countries that contribute to global warming.
Brazilian deforestation tends to mirror the economic health of the country. A decline in deforestation from 1988 to 1991 paralleled the economic slowdown during the same period. A surging rate of deforestation from 1993 to 1998 matched Brazil's period of rapid economic growth.
Ranchers and developers cannot afford to rapidly expand pasturelands and operations during tough economic times, while the government lacks funds to sponsor highways and grant tax breaks and subsidies to forest companies.
"We can’t continue to be held hostage by such isolated actions to conserve the Amazon," Hamu said. "We need to strengthen the national plan to combat deforestation."
WWF-Brazil says that will only happen when clear, public forest policies are implemented and financial resources are made available to tackle deforestation, stimulate sustainable forestry activities, and encourage state governments in the Amazon region to better cooperate when tackling environmental issues.