Region-wide cooperation critical to future of the Amazon

Posted on June, 12 2016

WWF urges the adoption of an Amazon-wide regional approach that integrates conservation and sustainable development...


WWF urges the adoption of an Amazon-wide regional approach that integrates conservation and sustainable development across the countries of the region in order to maintain the ecological functions of the Amazon biome, essential for the region and the world.

More than ever before, the integrity of the Amazon region is under pressure from unsustainable economic activities and is undergoing unprecedented change. Multiple and interconnected pressures are driven by the economic interests of the countries of the region and the rest of the world.  WWF Living Amazon Report 2016 released today, alerts to a dramatic increase in the frequency of enacted legislative actions to downgrade, downsize or degazette protected areas (process known as PADDD) in the Amazon.

Recent analysis of PADDD in Brazil shows that since 2005 the frequency of PADDD events has greatly increased (mostly to make way for hydropower dams), and active proposed PADDD events currently under consideration, if enacted, will affect 6.5 million ha of protected lands in the Brazilian Amazon. PADDD is also taking place in other Amazon countries.  In addition, a series of over 250 proposed dam-building projects across the Amazon risks severe alteration to the hydrology and freshwater ecosystem connectivity of the biome, and over 20 giant road-building projects are pushing through dense forests.  

WWF analysis of forest loss in recent years identified 31 “deforestation fronts” in the Amazon that are putting pressure on forest integrity from all sides.  Agriculture and cattle ranching, currently the greatest agents of change, and fueled by national and international finance, are driving the unsustainable use of Amazon resources and impacting the biome and the climate, many argue, irreversibly. 

The Amazon

The Amazon is unique. It’s the world’s largest rainforest and river system and contains a tenth of the world’s species. More than 2,000 new species of plants and vertebrates have been described since 1999. 

The carbon stored in vegetation and soils is of global importance in slowing climate change and water vapor released from the forest creates vast “flying rivers” in the atmosphere influencing rainfall in central and southern South America. 

The Amazon is home to 34 million people including over 350 indigenous groups, 60 of them living in voluntary isolation. The biome spans eight countries and one overseas territory in South America:  Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. 

Biome Vision

WWF has pioneered integrated, biome-wide and cross-border conservation action in the Amazon region. 

In all its vastness and complexity, the Amazon is essentially a single ecological unit that cannot be conserved via national-level activities alone because of the multi-national and multi-scale nature of the pressures. We must address the inter-dependent parts of the biome as a whole to secure the viability of the entire system and the goods and services it provides to local people, the countries of the region and the world.

Based on the Amazon biome-wide vision, the WWF Living Amazon 2016 report outlines a series of issue-specific recommendations (e.g. protected areas and climate; freshwater connectivity; sustainable financial flows; curbing deforestation) that combine development and conservation, and mainstream this integrated approach into national and regional planning.

WWF has also developed a number of tools and approaches for sustainable planning and development of land and water use interventions, based on a biome-wide perspective. These tools and approaches are designed to offer an opportunity to do things differently and secure a more sustainable pathway for development in the Amazon.

A sustainable future for the Amazon: key principles

A biome perspective: the ‘national parts’ of the Amazon depend on the integrity of the whole biome for long-term ecological sustainability, maintenance of the hydrological cycle, and resilience to climate change. Cross-boundary initiatives are important given that water flows, ecosystems services and species all ignore national borders.

A landscape approach: The biome perspective calls for the adoption of an integrated model of conservation, which combines protection, sustainable management and where necessary restoration in a landscape approach. It requires bold thinking and readiness to work with new partners and to recognize and negotiate the trade-offs inherent in balancing multiple needs. At the heart of the landscape approach lies the integration of productive land use and environmental priorities, and requires a people-centered approach and negotiated outcomes applied at landscape scales. 

The global and regional context: The biome perspective and proposed landscape approach need to be mainstreamed into development plans in the region, in collaboration with global and regional frameworks that provide clear and agreed guidance on the needs and rights of the people of the Amazon and the management of its natural resources (e.g. UN Sustainable Development Goals, UN Convention on Biological Diversity, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UN REDD Programme, UN Watercourses Convention (still not implemented in the Amazon), UN Minamata Convention on Mercury, UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Amazon Cooperation Treaty).  Strategic regional partners include Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organisation (ACTO), REDPARQUES (a Latin American network of protected areas systems) and other key actors.

Political context: Geopolitically, there is a need to strengthen the sovereign and strategic agendas of regional integration and national and regional autonomy, as well as participation of local populations. Key aims include cross-border initiatives in Amazon countries (both politically and economically) in order to achieve multiple conservation and development objectives and the food, water and energy security of the region. The need for an Amazon geopolitical observatory is thus critical to understanding the “big picture” of the Amazon and defining the areas where institutions working in the region need to have effective interventions.

A sustainable future for the Amazon: how to do it?

  • Forests: protecting key areas of forest and their biodiversity, and addressing forest loss through a mixture of conservation and sustainable use, applying the principle of Zero Net Deforestation and Forest Degradation
  • Freshwater: conserving the water balance (precipitation, discharge, evaporation), ensuring water quality in particular through tackling mercury contamination from gold mining, maintaining hydrological flows in priority Amazon rivers and their headwaters, and protecting key wetland sites and their biodiversity
  • Climate: building resilience in the biome and agreeing a regional energy policy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions without destroying Amazon ecology through excessive use of hydropower
  • Marine: maintaining the unique coastal systems produced by the Amazon River, and ensuring that the fluvial sediment supply and river mouth hydrology are maintained within normal ranges 
  • People: strengthening the capacity of indigenous peoples, traditional and local communities to stand up for their rights, resist incursions on their lands and maintain sustainable livelihoods
  • Economy: ensuring a thriving economy for all people living in the Amazon, based on sustainable use of natural resources and careful stewardship of forests and freshwaters
  • Governance: incorporating conservation issues in land use planning and planning processes of economic sectors, local government, and the private sector working in the Amazon
  • Finance: introducing safeguards and best practices to ensure that financial mechanisms avoid supporting unsustainable development options.
Living Amazon Report 2016: A regional approach to conservation in the Amazon
© WWF Living Amazon Initiative
Children in a canoe, Amazon Upland Rainforest, Brazil
© © / Luiz Claudio Marigo / WWF
One Amazon
© WWF Living Amazon Initiative
South American squirrel monkey (Saimiri sciureus), Amazon, Colombia
© Gernant Magnin / WWF-Netherlands