18 May 2023

Cattle-related deforestation in the Amazon could have been halved

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If anti-deforestation agreements had been fully implemented, 24 thousand km2 of land could have been saved in the Amazon compared to the 7 thousand actually protected between 2010 and 2018, according to a study from U.S.

by Matteo Cavallito

 

Commitments made by companies to tackle deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon are working. To the point, estimates say, that they have ensured the protection of about 7,000 km2 of forest between 2010 and 2018. The most impressive thing, however, is: a more widespread use of this strategy would have protected an area three times as large while halving the overall impact of the cattle industry on the land. These are the conclusions of a recent study published in the journal Global Environmental Change.

The team of researchers, led by Sam Levy, an interdisciplinary land systems scientist at New York University, thus provided “the first spatially explicit estimates of the market coverage of companies with cattle zero-deforestation commitments (ZDCs) in the Brazilian Amazon.”

Two protection agreements for the Amazon

Livestock farming, the researchers point out, is responsible for about 70 percent of deforestation in the Amazon. Crucial is the role of the companies in the supply chain providing various products such as meat and by-products for the cosmetic industry, such as collagen. It is precisely the actions of these companies, which are often capable of escaping scrutiny, that may undermine the zero deforestation commitments of large corporations, which are in turn accused, in some cases, of not being vigilant enough.

In recent years, in Brazil, companies committed to prevent deforestation have signed, together or alternately, two types of understandings: the so-called TACs and the G4.

The government has promoted the Terms of Adjustment of Conduct or TACs to prevent purchases of livestock raised on illegally deforested land. And it introduced the G4 protocol, judged more ambitious, to require companies to carry out controls on several aspects, such as tackling deforestation, preserving protected areas and defending workers’ rights.

The study

By analyzing supply chains and looking at satellite data on deforestation, the researchers found that “75% of all cattle purchased by slaughterhouses were covered by ZDCs in Pará, Mato Grosso and Rondônia during the years 2010–2018, with 49% of cattle purchased by G4 firms and 26% by TAC firms.”

The market and export impact has grown over time. Specifically, the research explains, “The market coverage of TAC firms increased from 4% in 2010 to 26% in 2018, while G4 market share increased from 43% to 51% over the same period.”

Proving the effectiveness of the agreements is the correlation between them and deforestation levels, which are higher where the agreements are less widespread. “We also found that in Pará, the state that had the highest deforestation rates over the study period, G4 coverage was lower than the other states,” the authors explain. “Our estimates indicate that G4 covered 26% of the market of Pará over the study period, under half of the level found in other states, though coverage by TAC grew throughout the study period.”

(a) Quota di mercato totale delle imprese G4, TAC e non ZDC (Zero Deforestation Commitment) nel periodo e nella regione di studio; (b) quota di mercato totale vs vendite ed esportazioni; (c) (d) (e) quota di mercato totale delle imprese G4, TAC e non ZDC negli Stati di Pará, Rondônia e Mato Grosso. Fonte: Levy et al., “Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon could be halved by scaling up the implementation of zero-deforestation cattle commitments” https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2023.102671, 2023 Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Total market share of G4, TAC and non zero-deforestation commitment (ZDC) firms over time in the study region, (b) Total vs, exported G4, TAC, and non-ZDC market share, and (c) total market share of G4, TAC and non-ZDC firms over time in Pará, (d) Rondônia and (e) Mato Grosso. SOURCE: Levy et al., “Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon could be halved by scaling up the implementation of zero-deforestation cattle commitments” https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2023.102671, 2023 Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Deforestation can be halved

Working out the mathematical models, the authors thus calculated the impact of protection policies by companies by verifying, for example, that without G4, deforestation would have increased by 15 percent. But what would have happened instead if all companies operating in the region between 2010 and 2018 had adopted G4?

“Under the scenario that G4 coverage was 100% over the study period,” the authors explain, “our findings estimate that deforestation would have been reduced by 51 ± 28% conserving 24,000 ± 13,000 km2.”

The effectiveness of corporate protection policies, in any case, has its limits. Other factors, of course, also affect the phenomenon — starting with livestock farming for the domestic market, for which there would be fewer controls – which explains why total deforestation still increased during the period under review. The study, said Levy, quoted by Anthropocene Magazine, shows in any case that “More companies with rigorous zero-deforestation commitments will help reduce the climate impacts of Brazilian cattle and conserve the Amazon rainforest.”