Deforestation in the Amazon, fuel-efficient futures, shark by-catch: 3 stories you may have missed

© Flavio Forner

Editor's Note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. Under Brazil's far-right leader, Amazon protections slashed and forests fall

Deforestation has increased exponentially in Brazil as President Jair Bolsonaro scales back on enforcement measures for illegal forest-related activities.

The Story: The Brazilian Amazon has already lost more than 2,100 square kilometers (1,330 square miles) of forest cover since the inauguration of populist President Jair Bolsonaro in January, reported Letícia Casado and Ernesto Londoño for the New York Times. Bolsonaro’s administration is easing enforcement measures related to illegal logging, ranching and mining and emphasizing the revenue potential of exploiting the Amazon for economic development. Ignoring pleas from environmental organizations and European governments such as Germany and Norway, Bolsonaro has expressed plans to continue easing back on environmental regulations.

The Big Picture: More than half of the Amazon rainforest is contained within Brazil’s borders, absorbing and storing vast amounts of the carbon that contributes to the climate breakdown. While stopping deforestation is critical to halting climate change, any conservation efforts to protect the Amazon's remaining trees must also involve and benefit the local communities who rely on it daily, explained Daniela Raik, Conservation International's senior vice president of the Americas. “We are supporting efforts to better manage timber and non-timber forest products, as well as to restore degraded areas,” she said, “activities that are bringing income to people, which government officials at all levels — including the federal level — support.”

Read the full story here.

2. Major automakers strike climate deal with California, rebuffing Trump on proposed mileage freeze

Four of the world’s largest automakers signed a deal with California to produce more fuel-efficient cars in the coming years, following the regulations set during the Obama administration.

The Story: Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen agreed to a fuels initiative deal with the California Air Resources Board to produce fleets averaging 50 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2026, reported Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis for the Washington Post. This deal undercuts the Trump administration’s climate policy rollbacks, which would freeze mileage requirements for cars and light trucks at a 37 mpg average . The four companies credited their motivation for this decision to maintaining predictability and affordability for customers, while acting as environmental stewards in the automotive industry.

The Big Picture: This deal enables the companies to meet both federal and state regulations while “continuing to ensure meaningful greenhouse gas emissions reductions,” which the group emphasized in a joint statement. California’s government leaders have been outspoken in their commitment to enforce strict regulations under the Clean Air Act , often directly at odds with the Trump administration . Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen are four of the largest automakers in North America, signaling the potential for broad implications for the transportation industry, which accounts for more than 20 percent of the nation’s carbon output.

Read the full story here.

3. Sharks have few places to hide from fishing, study shows

Despite the vast size of the ocean, sharks have very little refuge from deadly human activity, according to new research.

The Story: After tracking more than 1,500 sharks and tens of thousands of fishing vessels around the world, researchers determined that around 24 percent of the space frequented by sharks overlaps with longline fishing hotspots each month, reported Nell Greenfieldboyce for NPR. Longliners set lines that can extend up to 15 miles and are covered with hundreds of bait hooks, often catching non-target fish species — including sharks — as a result. Massive data collection during this study showed just how little undisturbed ocean space there is available for sharks avoiding these lines.

The Big Picture: As apex predators, sharks play a critical role in balancing ocean ecosystems. Without refuge from fishing vessels, shark populations continue to decrease — but the data from this study could inform governments on better management conservation techniques in fishing hotspots.

Read the full story here.

Kiley Price is a staff writer for Conservation International.

Cover image: Deforestation in the Amazon of Brazil (© Flavio Forner)

Further reading