How to develop the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest and Keep it Alive

Amazon river

The Amazon Rainforest is essential to the future of Brazil. By 2030, the main political and entrepreneur leaders of the world will be looking at it. Globally, preserve the rainforest is key of those who want to avoid or even soften a climate catastrophe. Nationally, keeping the Rainforest alive can assure Brazil to emerge as an environmental force. For more about 28 millions of people living in the Brazilian Amazônia, conservation the forest mean generate more prosperity and quality of life. For all this work, it is necessary to change the economic development model followed in the region. To this day, Brazil has treated the Rainforest as an obstacle and has ignored the comparative advantages that the Amazon Rainforest offers. For the next 10 years, it will be up to the country, which has two-thirds of the tropical rainforest, write a new chapter in the region development. For this to happen, we need to map ways to ally the economic development and environmental conservation.

Since the beginning of 2020, a team of more than 60 researchers from Amazônia 2030 project has made a deep diving on Brazilian Amazon. Based on the best evidence available, we proposed the possible ways of developing the region in a low carbon economy approach. The Amazon 2030 initiative led by Imazon, Centro de Empreendedorismo da Amazônia, Climate Policy Initiative and PUC-Rio also relies on the collaboration of several researchers of national and international institutions.

By 2022, we will have published more than 50 technical reports about key issues to sustainable development of the Brazilian Amazon. We will dive into its social, environmental, economic and institutional dimensions. These reports must have the academic knowledge excellency and entrepreneurs, social-environmental leaderships, governments experiences and decision-makers acting in the Brazilian Amazon. The report will collect strategical recommendations which can be applied by companies and governments at the federal, state and local levels.

The project ambition is to answer some key questions such as how to preserve the rainforest and its associated environmental services and at the same time, improve the Amazon rainforest economy? What’s the role of public policies at the federal and state level to organize the territory, improve the command and control and, above all, foment the economic development of the region? What are the most effective public policy instruments to attract investments and develop a low-carbon economy in the Brazilian Amazon?

How can we improve the current public policy framework in order to improve the provision of ecosystem services and improve the well-being of the Brazilian Amazon population? What are the opportunities and challenges for sustainable development in the region based on urbanization? And finally, how to attract and retain human capital in the region?

Part of this immense research effort is already generating results. Over the past few months, we have published more than dozen studies with important insights. You can access all the information on our website.

One of them shows, for instance, that there is a gigantic global market for typical products from the Amazon Rainforest. These products can generate billions to Brazil. They are what researcher Salo Coslovsky, associate professor at New York University, called “forest compatible products”. Ordinary items such as cocoa, black pepper, açaí fruit, tropical fruits, native fish among others on a list of 64 items already exported.

All these products together represent a global market of US$176 billion per year, of which Brazil Amazon occupies less than 0.2%.

In another article, economist Clarissa Gandour, a researcher at the CPI/PUC-Rio, shows how to implement public policies to reduce deforestation. Brazil has already been successful in this task: between 2004 and 2012, the area of ​​deforestation annually decreased at about 80%. An achievement that positioned Brazil as one of the global leaders on the climate and conservation agenda. Unfortunately, deforestation has increased dramatically again, especially from 2018 onwards. Clarissa points out that, for the future, in addition to improving the mechanisms already known, it will be necessary to pay close attention to the process of forest degradation (that is, forests affected by fire and illegal logging): Nowadays, 20% of the Amazon Rainforest has some level of degradation. In practical terms, these are areas of the biome that are the prelude of deforestation, and that could disappear in the coming years if nothing is done. The project also shows that it is necessary to create incentives for forest regeneration.

In this field, there is at least one good news: the Amazon rainforest has a high capacity for natural regeneration. Once deforested, it is able to regain its functionality and physical structure — provided that the minimum necessary conditions have been maintained. A study led by agronomist Paulo Amaral, from Imazon, found that there is an area the size of Ireland in the process of natural regeneration in the Amazon Rainforest. There are 7.2 million hectares of secondary vegetation with more than six years of existence that need to be protected.

Researchers Francisco Lima Filho, Arthur Bragança and Juliano Assunção, from the CPI/PUC-Rio, demonstrate that livestock farming in the Amazon Rainforest — one of the sectors that employs the most in the region — has very low productivity and a lot of deforestation. It is necessary to transform it so that the activity becomes more efficient, more profitable and less harmful to the forest.

These actions point out that it is necessary — and possible — to rethink the economic development model historically adopted in the region. The economy in the Amazon Rainforest has little to do with the forest. When it does, it is common to be destructive and involve the deforestation. Decades of continued deforestation did not assure the region would develop: Nowadays, the Amazônia Legal has some of the worst social indicators in the country. In its large cities, a labor market marked by a high degree of informality coexists with valuable opportunities — such as the presence of a Free Trade Zone in Manaus, whose role in the region’s development can be improved if its ties with the biome are strengthened.

Ensuring that the Amazon Rainforest takes a development leap over the next decade will require profound changes. The Amazon 2030’s ambition is to point out possible directions to achieve them. One thing is certain: to change the region’s history, it is necessary to visualize the forest as an option for development, not as an obstacle. Keeping the Amazon Rainforest alive will be the passport to Brazil’s sustainable development in the 21st century.