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

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