• Rich D'Amaru

Prince Charles: Companies Chased Away from Amazonian Rainforests Now Destroying Plains

This article by Fiona Harvey was originally posted here.

The loss of rainforest in the Amazon has been a familiar cause for activism for more than 30 years, but the partial success of efforts to protect it is moving the spotlight to a new landscape: Brazil’s cerrado.

Environmentalists fear that measures to reduce the exploitation of the Amazon rainforest for commodities such as soy and beef have pushed some of those activities into formerly less exploited regions such as the cerrado, a vast tropical savannah covering more than 2m sq km.

The Prince of Wales highlighted the issue on Wednesday morning when he called for Brazil’s cerrado, and other areas at risk around the world, to receive greater protection. “An increasing concern is the extent to which success in reducing agricultural expansion into forests comes at the expense of the destruction of other wonderful ecosystems such as the cerrado, the chaco and the world’s remaining savannahs,” he told an international audience of government officials and business people. “All of [these landscapes] are also vital for the services they provide and the biodiversity that they sustain.”

At the conference hosted by the Prince at Lancaster House in London, attended by forested countries including Brazil, Gabon and Indonesia, a group of 23 companies signed up to a new resolution to halt the destruction of the cerrado and ensure that any future commercial exploitation of the area is sustainable and well-managed. The companies included major retailers and food groups, such as Walmart, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Carrefour, McDonald’s, Nando’s, Nestle and L’Oreal.

The cerrado is less well-known than the Amazon rainforests, with their richness of plant and animal life, but it is also of vast international importance in terms of biodiversity and potentially as a store of carbon.

It is home to at least 200 species of mammal, 10 unique species of bird, and more than 10,000 plant species, making it one of the most biologically rich areas of savannah on the planet. Jaguars, tapirs, capybaras, giant anteaters and species of wolves and foxes populate the cerrado, which is also important for its role in the water ecosystems of the surrounding areas.

“In some ways, we have been the victims of our own success in trying to protect the Amazon rainforest,” Mike Barry, director of sustainable business at Marks & Spencer, told the Guardian. “Some of the farming, for soy especially, has moved to the cerrado.”

Legal protections for the cerrado are weak, as Brazil’s forest code allows the vast majority of the land to be exploited. The government is mired in controversy and heavily dependent on the agricultural lobby, making progress tricky. However, the government has, nominally at least, pledged to protect the cerrado and to cooperate with organisations wishing to do so.

The companies signing the Cerrado manifesto said they were “committed to halting forest loss associated with agricultural commodity production, and to working with industry, producers, governments and civil society to protect globally important natural landscapes within a framework of good governance and land planning policy.”

They said current laws in Brazil were not enough to halt the cerrado’s destruction on their own and called for a system that ensures that any future agricultural development takes place on land which has already been degraded, rather than converting virgin soil to farming.

The Prince of Wales hosted a conference on deforestation at Lancaster House in London. Photograph: Frank Augstein/PA

Prince Charles noted, ahead of the next annual meeting of the UN on climate change, COP23 in Bonn next month, that new research has shown degraded forests becoming sources of the release of carbon into the atmosphere, rather than sponges soaking up the greenhouse gas.

He warned that despite some successes, the problem of deforestation around the world was still dire. “Notwithstanding all the progress made, it remains indisputably and demoralisingly the case that we are not winning,” he said, noting that at least 10m hectares of forest continue to be lost each year, with “new fronts of deforestation opening all the time”.

Rory Stewart, minister at the Department for International Development, pledged the UK government’s assistance. He said there had been a tendency in the past for the government to “turn up, do some capacity-building and move on”, but that in future aid spending would depend on a deeper understanding of local needs and how to meet them. He also promised that the government would build environmental concerns into its public procurement practices, and the incentives it offers in trade deals.

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