Tag Archives: Amazon basin

Deforestation Tolerance: Amazon

Guianan savanna. Image from wikipedia

Amazon generates approximately half of its own rainfall by recycling moisture 5 to 6 times as airmasses move from the Atlantic across the basin to the west.  From the start, the demonstration of the hydrological cycle of the Amazon raised the question of how much deforestation would be required to cause this hydrolological cycle to degrade to the point of being unable to support rain forest ecosystems.

High levels of evaporation and transpiration that forests produce throughout the year contribute to a wetter atmospheric boundary layer than would be the case with non-forest.This surface-atmosphere coupling is more important where large-scale factors for rainfall formation are weaker, such as in central and eastern Amazonia. Near the Andes, the impact of at least modest deforestation is less dramatic because the general ascending motion of airmasses in this area induces high levels of rainfall in addition to that expected from local evaporation and transpiration.

Where might the tipping point be for deforestation-generated degradation of the hydrological cycle? The very first model to examine this question  showed that at about 40% deforestation, central, southern and eastern Amazonia would experience diminished rainfall and a lengthier dry season, predicting a shift to savanna vegetation to the east.

Moisture from the Amazon is important to rainfall and human wellbeing because it contributes to winter rainfall for parts of the La Plata basin, especially southern Paraguay, southern Brazil, Uruguay and central-eastern Argentina; in other regions, the moisture passes over the area, but does not precipitate out. Although the amount contributing to rainfall in southeastern Brazil is smaller than in other areas, even small amounts can be a welcome addition to urban reservoirs…

In recent decades, new forcing factors have impinged on the hydrological cycle: climate change and widespread use of fire to eliminate felled trees and clear weedy vegetation. Many studies show that in the absence of other contributing factors, 4° Celsius of global warming would be the tipping point to degraded savannas in most of the central, southern, and eastern Amazon. Widespread use of fire leads to drying of surrounding forest and greater vulnerability to fire in the subsequent year.

We believe that negative synergies between deforestation, climate change, and widespread use of fire indicate a tipping point for the Amazon system to flip to non-forest ecosystems in eastern, southern and central Amazonia at 20-25% deforestation.

We believe that the sensible course is not only to strictly curb further deforestation, but also to build back a margin of safety against the Amazon tipping point, by reducing the deforested area to less than 20%, for the commonsense reason that there is no point in discovering the precise tipping point by tipping it. At the 2015 Paris Conference of the Parties, Brazil committed to 12 million ha of reforestation by 2030. Much or most of this reforestation should be in southern and eastern Amazonia.

Excerpts from Amazon Tipping Point  by Thomas E. Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre, Sciences Advances,  Feb. 21, 2018

Policing the Amazon Jungle

Transamazon Highway, image from wikipedia

The small town of Apui sits at the new frontline of Brazil’s fight against advancing deforestation…  The home of 21,000 people in southern Amazonas state was long protected by its remote location from illegal loggers, ranchers and farmers who clear the forest.  Now those who would destroy the jungle are moving in from bordering states, following the Transamazon Highway, which is little more than a red-dirt track in this part of the rainforest.

First come the loggers, who illegally extract valued lumber sold in far-off cities. The cattle ranchers follow, burning the forest to clear land and plant green pasture that rapidly grows in the tropical heat and rain. After the pasture is worn out, soy farmers arrive, planting grain on immense tracts of land…

Roughly 7,989 square kilometres (3,085 square miles) of forest were destroyed in 2016, a 29 percent increase from the previous year and up from a low of 4,571 square kilometers in 2012, according to the PRODES satellite monitoring system.

Then there are the fires.  Apui ranked first in the country for forest fires in the first week of August 2017, according to the ministry.

At their best the environmental agents can slow but not stop the destruction. They raid illegal logging camps, levy large fines that are rarely collected and confiscate chainsaws to temporarily impede the cutting.  Costa acknowledges that the roughly 1,300 environmental field agents who police a jungle area the size of western Europe have a difficult task, at the very least.

Excerpt from Brazil’s agents of the Amazon fighting loggers, fires to stop deforestation, Reuters, Aug. 20, 2017

Bird Predators and the Survival of Tropical Forests

tropical-bird

[T]he Amazon rainforest contains more than 1,500 bird species. Around a quarter of them are found nowhere else on Earth. Many of these birds have evolved to fill a specific role – whether that means eating particular types of insects, or scattering a certain size of seed….A new paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society explores  the link between deforestation in the Amazon and local bird diversity…[B]ird data was collected in 330 different sites in the Brazilian state of Pará, including arable and pastoral farmland and both primary and secondary forests. Primary forests are the original native vegetation, now increasingly degraded by logging and wild fires. Secondary forests are those which grow back in areas, often farmland, which have been abandoned by people…

The study focused on seed dispersal and insect predation, two ecosystem processes where birds play important roles. Fruit-eating (or frugivorous) birds spread the seeds of forest trees. Insect-eating (insectivorous) birds ensure that any germinating saplings have a fighting chance at survival. ..[S]witching from primary tropical forests to farmland dramatically reduced the “services” birds were able to provide.

This may seem fairly intuitive so far, given that there is a world of difference between a forest and cattle pasture. However, more significantly it was found that the traits were only partially restored in regenerating secondary forests. These areas have been branded as the “forests of the future” but we found them coming up short. These “forests of the future” cannot conserve all the biological interactions realised in primary forests, undisturbed or otherwise, which are essential for biodiversity conservation.  Once large seed-dispersing birds such as guans or cotingas are lost in an area, trees species with large seeds find it harder to recover. Regeneration becomes unlikely or impossible. Research from Brazil’s coastal Atlantic Forest has shown that the loss of such key species is driving the evolution of palm trees with smaller seeds. Some of these links may have been lost before we even knew them….The sorts of generalist insect-eaters that come to dominate farmland aren’t generally able to capture the well-disguised insects found in adjacent patches of forest.

Excerpt from Without birds, tropical forests won’t bounce back from deforestation, the conversation.com, Nov. 8, 2016

National Parks and Interests: Peru

Perú map with vegetation. image from wikimediia

The Sierra del Divisor region in the Peruvian Amazon was identified as a biodiversity conservation priority back in the early 1990s. More than 20 years later and Peruvians are still waiting – some more desperately than others given all the narco-traffickers, illegal loggers and gold-miners in or near the region.

What’s so special about the Sierra del Divisor? It’s the “only mountainous region” anywhere in the lowland rainforest, according to Peruvian NGO Instituto del Bien Comun (IBC), while The Field Museum, in the US, describes it as “a mountain range” rising up “dramatically from the lowlands of central Amazonian Peru” and boasting “rare and diverse geological formations that occur nowhere else in Amazonia.” Its most iconic topographical feature is “El Cono”, an extraordinary peak visible from the Andes on a clear day.

Sierra del Divisor is home to numerous river headwaters feeding into key Amazon tributaries, eco-systems, and a tremendous range of flora and fauna, some of which are endemic, some endangered or threatened – and some with the most wonderful names. Giant armadillos, jaguars, cougars, Acre antshrikes, curl-crested aracaris, blue-throated piping guans and various kinds of monkeys, including the bald – but very red-faced – uakari, all populate the region. Effectively, it forms part of a vast “ecological corridor” running all the way from the Madidi National Park in Bolivia in a north-westerly direction along much of the Peru-Brazil border.

21 indigenous communities and 42 other settlements would benefit from the Sierra del Divisor being properly protected, states the Environment Ministry, while ultimately over 230,000 people in Peru depend on the region for food and water, according to the IBC. In addition, in the absolute remotest parts, it is home to various groups of indigenous peoples living in what Peruvian law calls “isolation.”

In 2006 Peru’s government established a 1.4 million hectare temporary “protected natural area” in this region called the Sierra del Divisor Reserved Zone. Six years later a government commission agreed it would be converted into a national park, and, all that remains now, after a painful administrative process, several key advances made this year and indigenous leaders lobbying various ministries, is for Peru’s Cabinet to approve it and the president, Ollanta Humala, to sign off on it. That is how it has stood since early May 2015 – and still nothing….

Why such a delay indeed, this year or in the past? Might it have something to do with the infrastructure integration plans for the region, such as the proposed – and effectively already underway – road between Pucallpa, the Peruvian Amazon’s current boom city, and Cruzeiro do Sul across the border in Brazil? Or the proposed railway between the same two cities ultimately connecting to Peru’s northern Pacific coast, declared in the “national interest” some years ago? Or the proposed railway running all the way across South America from Peru’s Pacific coast to Brazil’s Atlantic coast, a long-mooted project which has received so much media coverage recently because of Chinese interest in financing it and the visit by China’s premier, Li Keqiang, to Brazil and Peru in May?

Or might the delay be explained by oil and gas industry interests? Perupetro, the state company promoting oil and gas operations, tried to open up what would be the entire southern part of the park for exploration before backtracking in 2008, while the London Stock Exchange-Alternative Investment Market-listed company Maple Energy has been pumping oil for years in a concession just overlapping the west of the proposed park. More significantly, Canadian-headquartered company Pacific Rubiales Energy runs a one million hectare oil concession that would overlap the entire northern part of the park if it was established, and conducted its first phase of exploratory drilling and seismic tests in late 2012 and 2013 in what would be the park’s far north. Clearly, it wouldn’t be good PR for either Pacific or Peru to explore for oil in, or exploit oil from, a national park, although it wouldn’t be the first time a concession and park have overlapped. Indeed, according to the IBC, it has been agreed that Pacific’s “rights” to operate will be respected if the park is created.

Excerpts from David Hill Peru stalling new national park for unique Amazon mountain range, Guardian, July 29, 2015

see also Oil  Pollution  Amazon Peru

Oil Pollution in Amazon Peru

River Maranon

Hundreds of indigenous people deep in the Peruvian Amazon are blocking a major Amazon tributary following what they say is the government’s failure to address a social and environmental crisis stemming from oil operations.   Kichwa men, women and children from numerous communities have been protesting along the River Tigre for almost a month, barring the river with cables and stopping oil company boats from passing.  Oil companies have operated in the region for over 40 years, and have been linked by local people to pollution that has led the government to declare “environmental emergencies” in the Tigre and other river basins….

The oil concession where the protest is taking place, Lot 1-AB, is Peru’s most productive, but the contract, held by Pluspetrol, expires in August 2015. The government has committed to relicensing it and consulting the indigenous communities involved, but leaders say the contamination and other issues must be addressed first.   “What we want is remediation, compensation, and to be consulted, according to international norms, about the relicensing,” says Fachin. “We won’t permit another 30 years of work otherwise.”…The Kichwas are now they are demanding 100 million Peruvian nuevo soles, from Pluspetrol, for “compensation after almost 45 years of contamination.”

“The state declared an environmental emergency, but hasn’t done anything,” says Guillermo Sandi Tuituy, from indigenous federation Feconat. “It must find a solution to this problem if it wants to relicense the concession.”...Pluspetrol took over Lot 1-AB from Occidental in 2000. It did not respond to requests for comment.

Peru’s indigenous people protest against relicensing of oil concession, Guardian,  Feb, 2, 2012

Peru Gas Pipeline and Indigenous Peoples

camisea peru. Source: Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Administración

Peru’s government said in June 2014 that three companies have qualified to submit bids for a contract to build and operate a multi-billion dollar gas pipeline project in the country’s southern region, the state news agency Andina reported.  State investment promotion agency ProInversion said that two of the contenders for the Southern Peru Gas Pipeline concession are consortia.

The consortium Gasoducto Sur Peruano is made up of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht and the firm Enegas. The consortium Gasoducto Peruano del Sur is made up of France’s GDF Suez, as well as the firms Sempra, Techint and TGI. The third contender is Energy Transfer.  The technical proposals are expected to be submitted on June 26, 2014 and the concession is scheduled to be awarded on June 30, 2014. The bid consists in the design, financing, construction and maintenance of a 32″ pipeline, in three sections.

The Southern Peru Gas Pipeline will extend some 1,000 kilometers, transporting natural gas from the Camisea fields in Peru’s south-eastern Amazon region to the Peruvian coast. The project is expected to require an investment of some $4 billion.  The government says the pipeline is to provide inexpensive gas to southern Peru, helping to spur development in one of the country’s poorer regions.  [However NGOS have argued that the project will harm indigenous peoples living in the region].

According to the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples,, James Anaya (see Remarks on the extension of exploration and extraction of natural gas  in Block 88 of the Camisea project, March 24, 2014)

“[S]everal national and international NGOs have claimed a number of environmental and health problems in relation to the expansion plan of the project, in some cases stating that any activity of extractive industry within the reserve is simply incompatible with its protection goals. The Special Rapporteur has found that in many cases these claims are speculative and vague, and without relation to the information contained in the EIA of the company or the findings of government.”

But the rapporteur stated also that:

“Assessing the impacts that mining activity could have on indigenous peoples within the reserve and to establish effective safeguards, it is necessary to have adequate knowledge beforehand, to the extent possible, these peoples and their dynamics, in observance the principle of non-contact remote villages. However, while there is relatively extensive information on indigenous reserves within the sustained or sporadic contact with settlements, the available information on indigenous peoples in isolation is outdated and incompleteThis information gap has generated divergent opinions and a lack of trust in relation to the protective measures that the Government has demanded that Pluspetrol is committed to implement in the context of extractive activities in the reserve.

Excerpts, Three Contenders for Peru’s Southern Gas Pipeline,  Peruvian Times, June 6, 2014 and the Remarks on the extension of exploration and extraction of natural gas in Block 88 of the Camisea project, March 24, 2014

The Belo Monte Hydroelectric Dam in Brazil: the need for a social pact

These dams [like the Belo Monte] harness the natural flow of the river to drive the turbines, so they do not require large reservoirs, and as a result, less land needs to be flooded – which means less of an impact on the environment and surrounding communities. However, it also means that during dry spells, they do not have the water reserves needed to continue generating electricity at a reasonable capacity.   “We are increasing the installed generating capacity, but water storage capacity has not grown since the 1980s,” which is a cause for concern, said Nelson Hubner, general director of the Brazilian Electricity Regulatory Agency.  The “stored energy” represented by the country’s reservoirs has not kept up with demand, which will make it impossible to maintain the necessary supply of hydroelectricity during a drought year, warned Hubner at the Second Hydropower Summit Latin America, held May 9-10 in São Paulo.  The summit, organised by Business News Americas (BNamericas), a business and economy news service based in Santiago, Chile, brought together dozens of executives from both public and private companies in the sector. Many were highly critical of the model chosen for the country’s new hydroelectric power plants, which they believe will result in greater energy insecurity in Brazil.  “Future generations will demand compensation for the fact that biodiversity was decreased and reservoirs were not created” in current hydropower projects, predicted Jose Marques Filho, assistant director of environment and corporate citizenship at Companhia Paranaense de Energia, a power company run by the government of the southern Brazilian state of Paraná.

By renouncing the use of this “long-life battery”, as another summit participant described reservoirs, Brazil will need to build more fossil fuel-powered thermoelectric plants, which are more polluting but “are not under attack from environmentalists,” complained the hydroelectric dam constructors and their supporters.

Construction began in 2011 on the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon basin. A total of 516 sq km of land will be flooded for the project, but this is only 42 percent of the area that would have been flooded for the reservoir planned in the original version of the project, drawn up in the 1980s.  However, because of this smaller reservoir, the plant will only reach its total generation capacity of 11,233 megawatts during the brief rainy season when the river is swollen to its highest level. During dry spells, output will decrease significantly, since the flow of the Xingú can drop from 30,000 cubic metres a second in March and April to less than 500 cubic meters in a dry month like October.

“We have to get used to hydroelectric dams without large reservoirs because the environment demands it,” said Mauricio Tolmasquim, president of the Energy Research Corporation, which provides advisory services to the Ministry of Mines and Energy. The Amazon region, where most of Brazil’s hydropower potential is concentrated, is primarily flat, which means there are few sites where water can be accumulated and stored without flooding large areas of forest, he explained.  Belo Monte, located at the end of a canyon, is one of these sites. A large reservoir there would flood two indigenous territories which are home to over 200 people. “That was a determining factor” for modifying its design and adopting run-of-the-river technology, Tolmasquim told Tierramérica.  This decision, however, did not spare Belo Monte from becoming the target of the most widespread opposition ever against an energy project in Brazil, with environmentalists, civil society activists, indigenous communities and even local soap opera stars and international celebrities joining forces to denounce its environmental and social impacts.

Tapping the rivers of the Amazon basin for energy production should begin “with smaller hydroelectric dams, with an output of around 500 megawatts,” said Goldemberg, a University of São Paulo professor who has headed a number of state-owned energy companies and was the national secretary of environment when the city of Rio de Janeiro hosted the Earth Summit in 1992…..

The conflicts that sometimes halt the construction of hydropower plants in Brazil pit a small local population of perhaps a few thousand people against a million people who will benefit from the electricity produced, but are far away and geographically scattered, commented Goldemberg.  What are needed are “good projects” that are transparent and attend to the potential social and environmental impacts. In addition, it is up to the government to “mediate and explain” to settle these conflicts, given the disproportionate ratio of opponents to beneficiaries of roughly “one per one hundred,” he said.

There are much more complex situations in Asia, where enormous numbers of people are affected because of the population density of countries like India, he added. Goldemberg learned a good deal about numerous cases like these as a member of the World Commission on Dams, which produced a report in 2000 detailing the damages caused by these projects and the requirements for their construction.

For those in the hydroelectric dam construction industry, the issue of the environment has become an obstacle to the expansion of hydropower in Brazil.  In the meantime, the wind power industry has experienced a significant boost, largely because their competitors in the hydropower sector have been unable to obtain permits from the environmental authorities for years, he observed.  According to Marques Filho of the Companhia Paranaense de Energia, overcoming this impasse will require a “social pact”, based on “a dialogue among all the stakeholders” that cannot be limited to environmentalists on one side and hydroelectric dam constructors on the other.

Excerpts, Mario Osava, Belo Monte Dam Hit by Friendly Fire, Inter Press Service, May 22, 2012