Brazilian Amazon: challenges to an effective policy to curb deforestation

Posted on 09 March 2015

Curbing deforestation in the Amazon Region as a whole is no longer a task for national policies; it requires integrated policies and articulated actions to value the standing forest.
During the past 10 years, Brazil has made efforts to stop deforestation in the Amazon, enabling progress in terms of policies, mechanisms and systems to protect the world’s largest tropical forest.

On the other hand, deforestation and forest degradation in other countries sharing the Amazon Biome – Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana – go on in an alarming way. Twenty-five (25) deforestation fronts were identified which show increasing forest loss, including in the Andean-Amazonian countries. 

Therefore, the Brazilian progress in decreasing deforestation in the Amazon Biome was perversely off set by the increasing Amazonian forest destruction in other countries.  While in 2001 deforestation in Brazil accounted for 81% of total Amazon Biome deforestation, in 2012 this proportion dropped to 44%. In terms of total surface area, this represents vast areas of forest loss.

In spite of the significant decrease, Brazil still appears the top of the global deforestation ranking, having eliminated 4,571 square kilometers of forest in 2012 and 5,891 sq. km in 2013. The indication of a return to growth in the deforestation rates in 2014 calls for an even greater attention to the matter.
A decade past the launching of the Brazilian Action Plan for Deforestation Prevention and Control in the Legal Amazon – PPCDAm (Portuguese acronym for Plano de Ação para Prevenção e Controle do Desmatamento na Amazônia Legal), the Living Amazon Initiative and WWF-Brazil find it necessary to analyze the success and progress of the implementation of this policy to fight the Amazon Forest destruction during that period, in order to determine which factors were crucial and which lessons learned could be assimilated by the other countries in this Biome.
The publication entitled The Brazilian Amazon: challenges facing an effective policy to curb deforestation, which was launched on Monday (March 9) in Brasilia (Brazil), provides an analysis of the Brazilian experience.  It is the answer to a demand identified during meetings with representatives from both governments and non-governmental organizations from five Amazonian countries interested in strengthening the knowledge on the path taken and covered by Brazil in order to curb deforestation.  This analysis -- which was developed by agronomist Guilherme C. Abdala, Ph.D. in Sustainable Development by the University of Brasilia, at WWF’s request -- is not intended to replace previous PPCDAm implementation assessments; its purpose is to provide an instrument for public debate. 

According to Marco Lentini, WWF-Brazil’s Amazon Program coordinator, this analysis is important to provide new focus and approaches which are essential to face Amazon destruction. “In spite of the deforestation decrease, the federal administration slowdown in implementing the environmental policies is still a cause for concern in Brazil.  Today there is a larger dispersion of the Amazon deforestation, with increasing incidence in smaller and smaller areas, while infrastructure and economic motivation providing a perverse incentive to forest destruction keep on continuously changing the region’s dynamics. Nevertheless, we finally have the conditions to better understand the key drivers of deforestation, not just in Brazil but in the Amazon Biome as a whole, and to make progress regarding the cross-boundary discussions and the places where this fight can be done in a more effective way”, pointed out Lentini.

The Brazilian Action Plan for Deforestation Prevention and Control in the Legal Amazon has been criticized for not making progress in actions to promote sustainable production activities.  This means the lack of actions enabling a change from unsustainable land use models (based on deforestation, such as the low productivity agriculture and cattle ranching) to sustainable models -- i.e. the production of goods and services based on green technology, besides mechanisms allowing the actual valuing of ecological services, such as freshwater and carbon. A second line of the Plan, regarding land use planning, although showing some discreet progress since the creation of this policy, has not yet made enough progress at an adequate pace, in order to give real support for mastering and controlling illegal deforestation in the Amazon Region.

According to André Dias, Leader of Living Amazon Initiative’s Global Strategy to Curbing Deforestation and Fostering a Forest Economy, fighting deforestation in the Amazon Region as a whole is no longer a task for national policies; it requires integrated policies and articulated actions to value the standing forest. “There are some trans-boundary deforestation fronts which are driven by the countries uncoordinated actions.  For instance, the deforestation occurring in Northwestern Brazil and in Northeastern Bolivia, or the one along the frontier between Peru and Colombia, or at the triple frontier between Brazil, Peru and Bolivia. It is vital to face those challenges together”, stated André Dias.

The document presents nine recommendations.  They are the result from the lessons learned in Brazil and can be used as an example, as well as an encouragement, to other Amazonian countries also facing the deforestation problem. The highlights are the following: keep the focus on, and encourage, the political will to fight and prevent deforestation; pay attention to the costs and ensure the resources and funds for integrated and inter-organizational action; give persistent encouragement to and intensify the creation and consolidation of sustainable supply chains; and ensure that the plans initiated in the federal government increasingly involve the agents and actors which are closest to the problems in fact, enabling them to play a leading role in those plans.

Deforestation area in the Brazilian Amazon, 2014.
© Zig Koch / WWF