From: Axel Bugge, Reuters
Published December 9, 2004 12:00 AM

Amazon Burning Makes Brazil a Leading Polluter

BRASILIA, Brazil — Burning of the Amazon and other forests accounts for three quarters of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions and has made the country one of the world's leading polluters, a long-delayed government report showed Wednesday.


The report is the first official recognition by Brazil of the vast scale of burning of the Amazon, the world's largest tropical forest and home to up to 30 percent of the planet's animal and plant species.


Environmentalists said the findings in the report would probably make Brazil the world's sixth largest polluter. They said it could give impetus to rich countries' calls for leading developing nations to share in the burden of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global warming.


The report, or inventory greenhouse gas emissions, showed Brazil produced 1.03 billion tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent in 1994, up from 979 million tons in 1990. "That figure represents about three percent of total global emissions," Science and Technology Minister Eduardo Campos said, adding that the responsibility of slowing global warming "substantially" falls on rich countries.


"It is now clear that Brazil's quickest way to reduce its contribution to global warming is fundamentally to change the process of occupation and land use in the Amazon," Greenpeace said in a statement.


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Brazil had to produce the inventory as a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol to curb greenhouse gasses, but as a developing country it does not need to cut emissions under the treaty.


Great Tracts Up in Smoke


Still, the report is likely to ratchet up the pressure on Brazilian authorities to find ways to curb destruction of the Amazon that has reached alarming new levels in the past few years. Initial data shows that this year alone, an area the size of the U.S. state of New Jersey was destroyed.


Environment Minister Marina Silva said Brazil would not "escape from its responsibilities" to protect the environment. "The effort by the government to fight deforestation has to be significant to hit illegal activities," she said.


Still, environmentalists have criticized the government for doing little to enact a plan to fight deforestation. Greenpeace said the latest deforestation figures confirmed "the historic inability by government to stop deforestation."


"This is the most serious ever," said David Cleary, head of the Amazon program of the Nature Conservancy in Brazil.


"We haven't had three consecutive years of this level of deforestation since the middle of the 1980s, and even then it was slightly lower and that was at the height of the bad old days of Amazon destruction."


The fact that Amazon burning is also responsible for most of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions is likely to accelerate calls for measures to reduce destruction of the forests.


In Brazil, pollution from industry is relatively low because of the country's wide-scale use of clean hydro-electric power. In some parts of the Amazon during the burning season, however, thick smoke hangs on the horizon.


Brazil has long argued that rich, developed countries need to make the greatest sacrifice to cut greenhouse gas emissions, as rich nations started the process of polluting years ago with the industrial revolution.


The United States has not signed the Kyoto Protocol, saying that big, developing countries like China, India and Brazil need to assume commitments to cut pollution as well.


United Nations climate change talks are taking place in Buenos Aires this week where Brazil will present its inventory of greenhouse gas emissions.


Source: Reuters


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