If the reduction of emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) is to succeed in reducing carbon emissions, it must include policies to limit fire incidence in tropical forests. REDD includes many policies that will curb carbon emissions, but the consequences for fire hazard are poorly understood. Aragao et al. (2010) analyzed satellite-derived deforestation and fire data from the Brazilian Amazon and the results showed an increase in fire occurrence in the area that has experienced reduced deforestation rates, suggesting that fire-free land management reduces fire incidence and that if sustainable fire-free land-management of deforested areas is not implemented in REDD, the carbon emissions decreased by reducing deforestation will be negated by increased emissions from fires. — Abby Cheitlin
Aragao, L. E. O. C., Shimabukuro, Y. E., 2010. The Incidence of Fire in Amazonian Forests with Implication for REDD. Science 328, 1275–1278.
Luiz E. O. C. Aragao and colleagues used all available data from the National Institute for Space Research (INEP) in Brazil to design a pixel-based analysis of temporal trends in deforestation rates and fire incidence. In addition, the annual number of fires between 1998 and 2006 was derived and the frequency distributions of pixel-based fire trends associated with positive and negative deforestation trends were analyzed. These tests were completed in order to evaluate whether the fire incidence was increasing or decreasing.
The deforestation analyses revealed a widespread pattern of grid cells with negative slopes, which indicates that deforestation rates are decreasing in most of the Brazilian forests within this time period. The fire analyses, on the other hand, showed a reverse pattern with the number of grid cells with positive slopes increasing. The researches were able to analyze fire incidence trends in areas with increased and decreased deforestation rates by combining the deforestation and fire trend results. The majority of grid cells with increased deforestation rates overlap grid cells with positive fire trends, which confirms that fire occurrence increases with deforestation; The majority of grid cells with decreased deforestation rates show increased fire frequency. In order to evaluate the potential of land management in regulating fire in the Amazon, a space-for-time substitution analysis was used. From the study, the authors found that fire incidence is higher when land starts to be cleared for agriculture, because once it is completely cleared there is nothing left to burn. Fire incidence shows declining trends when intensive landuse begins to dominate the landscape beyond the 35% cover threshold, however, high fire incidence is maintained with the increase in total agricultural area. Two conclusions about appropriate new policies can be drawn from this study. First, continual expansion of agrobusiness can drive fire increase in Brazil and therefore must be restricted in order to prevent carbon emissions. Second, changing land-management practices in already deforested areas by using fire-free methods can drastically reduce fire activity and reduce carbon emissions. This study suggests that in order for REDD to be completely successful in reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere, fire use in the Amazon region must be regulated and monitored more closely. Failure to tackle fire use may negate efforts made through REDD as carbon preservation through decreased deforestation may be outweighed by carbon losses resulting from fire.