The Amazon: Seeing more of the wood and the trees

©Rickey Rogers/Reuters

Did you know that Brazil is among the most biodiverse countries in the world? Along with hosting one-tenth of all-known species of flora and fauna, it is home to the largest rainforest on the planet. 

The Amazon occupies nearly half of the country’s territory, sheltering more than 600 types of terrestrial and freshwater habitats, hundreds of indigenous peoples, and traditional communities such as rubber and other farmers. Illegal logging and land grabbing, driven by unbridled growth, rapid agriculture expansion and unclear legal land tenure, made the region a deforestation hotspot in the 1990s and early 2000s. But a sharp reduction of deforestation in the Amazon has cut Brazil’s carbon footprint by 40% since 2000, an OECD report says. 

Annual deforestation of the Amazon massively declined over the last decade, from 27 000 km2 in 2004 to about 4 800 km2 in 2014–a 75% decline. Brazil still experiences the world’s highest average annual loss in total forest cover though: an area equal to the size of Slovenia is lost every four years. However, progress must continue, as the OECD’s first Environmental Performance Review of Brazil urges.

Much of the credit for the reductions goes to government efforts and the expansion of protected areas over thousands of square kilometres, with the launch of the Action Plan for Prevention and Control of the Legal Amazon Deforestation in 2004 and the implementation of the Amazon Region Protected Areas programme, which has created more than 500 000 km2 of protected areas in the Amazon.

Since then, the forest cover–5 million km2 of Amazon and other Brazilian forests–has been monitored by satellite imaging, run by the National Institute for Space Research. The pillars of government actions over the last decade included restricting access to credit for landholders in municipalities with high deforestation levels, clarifying land tenure to combat land grabbing–thousands of rural land holdings have been granted property titles while hundreds of protected areas have been established–and issuing timber certifications.

In 2012, Brazil continued along this path, approving a new Forest Code: rural landholders are now required to set aside a share of their land for forest conservation or restoration in the Amazon; landholders must also register their lands and set aside areas in the Rural Environmental Cadastre by May 2016, which will be a condition for accessing rural credits as of October 2017. The Forest Code also introduced tradable forest rights: landholders who did not meet their set-aside obligations prior to 2008 can restore their tree cover or purchase an equivalent quota amount.

Besides regulatory tools, economic incentives were also used. The Bolsa Floresta, a conditional cash-transfer programme launched by the state of Amazonas in 2007, compensates rural families for conserving the forest areas they live in. Having provided income to more than 35 000 people so far, the programme has led to less deforestation.

International support has been critical: through the Amazon Fund, created in 2008 and managed by the Brazilian Development Bank, international donors are able to invest in deforestation prevention and forest conservation. Between 2009 and 2015, the fund accumulated more than US$970 million, mostly from Norway and Germany, and supported more than 70 projects.

Business actors have been involved too, through the Soya Moratorium, for instance. In 2006, following pressure from civil society, 47 global companies like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart decided to stop buying soya grown on cleared forestland in the Brazilian Amazon. As a result, the rate of soya field expansion through deforestation in the Amazon region fell from 30% in 2004 to about 1% in 2014.

Such integrated approaches involving government departments and business have helped curb deforestation: protected areas now cover 17% of Brazil’s territory, and only 5% of the deforestation that took place in the Amazon between 2008 and 2012 was within protected areas. The OECD encourages environmentally friendly tourism in protected areas. It also recommends that Brazil continue to fully implement the new forestry code and complement it with programmes for more attractive livelihood options to discourage illegal clearing.

Neïla Bachene

OECD (2015), OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Brazil 2015, OECD Publishing.  

©OECD Observer No 304, November 2015

Economic data


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2017