Media & News

What ILUC? Amazon Deforestation Rates Hit Lowest Point Since at Least 1988

May 28, 2013


Five years have passed since Timothy Searchinger famously wrote in Science magazine, "Higher [crop] prices triggered by biofuels will accelerate forest and grassland conversion [in Latin America] even if surplus croplands exist elsewhere." Despite the fact that Searchinger's speculative findings were roundly rejected by the scientific community, the paper continues to be used by biofuel opponents to perpetuate the myth that U.S. ethanol growth is somehow causing "indirect land use change" (or ILUC) in the Amazon. And, unfortunately, some policymakers and regulators rushed to judgment and included trumped-up ILUC penalties against biofuels in important policies like the Renewable Fuel Standard and California Low Carbon Fuel Standard. Time and experience have exposed Searchinger's ILUC theory for what it really was—a pseudo-scientific hoax designed to cloud the policy debate over biofuels and stop their expansion. Just recently it was revealed that deforestation in the Amazon has fallen to its lowest rate since the Brazilian government began tracking it in 1988. Based on analysis of satellite imagery, Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) recently announced deforestation in 2012 amounted to 1,798 squarer miles—down 27% from 2011 and less than one-fifth of the deforestation rates seen a decade ago. The 2012 data marked the fourth successive annual reduction in deforestation rates (and the seventh decline in the last eight years). After surging in 2004, deforestation in the Amazon has fallen dramatically in response to the enactment of government policies and agriculture industry-led protective measures. All of this has occurred as U.S. ethanol production has increased dramatically. In fact, ethanol production has more than quadrupled since the 2003-04 timeframe, when deforestation rates were at their highest. Indeed, the correlation between U.S. ethanol production and Amazon deforestation has been almost perfectly inverse since 2004—given the anti-ethanol crowd's long history of assuming correlation implies causation, do you think they'll actually credit U.S. ethanol expansion for the sharp decline in deforestation?! Amazon Deforestation Graph Sources: Brazil National Institute for Space Research & U.S. Energy Information Administration The latest deforestation figures are just one more example of the better information and data that is now available to policymakers and regulators regarding ethanol's true land use impacts. As it did here and here, RFA will continue to encourage regulatory agencies to take notice of these new developments and make revisions to their obsolete ILUC analyses.