Signs Point to Growing Environmental Crisis in Brazil

Statement by Sharon Smith, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Aug 16, 2017

OAKLAND, Calif. (August 16, 2017)—New data was quietly released earlier this summer by Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment showing nearly 9,500 square kilometers were deforested in the Cerrado in 2015, surpassing the rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon that year, despite the fact that the Amazon is more than double the size of the Cerrado.

The Cerrado covers about a quarter of Brazil’s land mass and contains an estimated five percent of the world’s biodiversity, including many species found nowhere else on Earth. From 2013 to 2015, nearly 30,000 square kilometers–an area about the size of Belgium–were deforested in the Cerrado.

Below is a statement by Sharon Smith, Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative campaign manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists and an expert on sustainability policies related to tropical commodity supply chains.

“This summer, Brazil’s hard work to fight climate change is going up in flames. Soy growers in Brazil’s Cerrado region are needlessly destroying forests and savannahs, threatening extinction of species found nowhere else on Earth and spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

“Why does this assault on the world’s forests and atmosphere continue? Because major agribusiness traders Bunge and Cargill–suppliers to brands like Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Walmart and McDonald’s–continue to buy from South American farmers who clear natural ecosystems, often using fire, for industrial-scale soy cultivation.

“Yet, scientific experts have demonstrated there is enough cleared, agriculturally viable land in Brazil–45 million acres–to expand soy production without having to clear additional acres of native vegetation. 

“The global retailers that buy soy from the region are complicit in this deforestation. As the U.S. under the Trump administration abandons its leadership role on climate change, it is more important than ever to shine a light on what the private sector must do to reduce global emissions.”

The three municipalities with the largest amounts of deforestation to date are in Bahia: São Desidério (337 sq. km.), Jaborandi (295 sq. km.) and Formosa do Rio Preto (271 sq. km.). In these areas, agribusiness giants Bunge and Cargill are the two largest soy exporters. Both have committed to sustainable soy production yet have failed to take decisive action to curb deforestation.