Amazon deforestation declines, but more still needs to be done, particularly as effects of climate change become increasingly visible

Recent data indicating a significant reduction in deforestation rates in the Amazon has been met with cautious optimism by environmentalists and policymakers. According to the Brazilian government’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the deforestation rate dropped to 11,000 square kilometres in the past year—an area almost exactly the size of Jamaica and a more than 30% decrease from the previous period. This reduction is largely attributed to enhanced monitoring and enforcement efforts, alongside increased political commitment to preserving the rainforest–a commitment which is evidently paying off dividends, with deforestation rates hitting a 5-year-low.

Despite the encouraging news, other research has underscored the fact that the Amazon rainforest remains under severe threat from increasing drought conditions, exacerbated by climate change–and highlighted that, while the forest overall still demonstrates remarkable resilience, it is increasingly struggling to recover from these recurrent and intensifying droughts. A study led by KU Leuven, published in PNAS, indicates that since 2015, the Amazon’s recovery from drought has significantly slowed down–a critical slowing down which signals a potential tipping point, where continued stress could lead to large-scale dieback and transformation of the forest into a less diverse and less carbon-rich savannah. These findings emphasise the urgency of addressing not only deforestation but also the broader climate issues that contribute to these droughts.

Encouragingly, both public and private sectors are mobilising to combat these environmental threats. In Brazil, a comprehensive program has been launched to combat deforestation by partnering with 70 municipalities identified for their high deforestation rates in 2022. This initiative, led by the Ministry of Environment, aims to achieve zero illegal deforestation by 2030. With an allocation of 740 million reais from the Amazon Fund, the program focuses on environmental regularisation, fire prevention, and sustainable development. By emphasising municipal-level engagement and cooperation among diverse local actors, this strategy aims to create significant on-ground impacts.

The private sector is also stepping up. The Mejuruá Project, an innovative initiative, aims to conserve over 900,000 hectares of Amazonian rainforest through sustainable forest management and community engagement. This large-scale project seeks to balance conservation efforts with sustainable economic development, thereby incentivizing local communities to participate actively in preserving their environment.

“With sustainable forest management,” explained Ricardo Gustav Neuding, whose sustainability consultancy ATA Consultoria is involved in the Mejuruá Project, “limited, rotational logging provides job and training opportunities for local residents while allowing time for timber stocks to replenish. Furthermore, the presence of forestry workers provides a first line of defence against illegal activity. This ground surveillance is complemented by satellite imagery to identify illegal logging and agriculture across the area.”

Natura & Co, Latin America’s largest cosmetics company and the fourth largest in the world, is another notable private sector player in the fight to protect the Amazon. By investing over $400 million in the region since 2010 and protecting more than 2 million hectares of forest, Natura & Co exemplifies how businesses can align economic development with environmental conservation​. Their ‘standing forest’ economic model emphasises the value of a living forest over its timber value, supporting local communities while conserving biodiversity.

Natura & Co’s innovative business model involves sourcing ingredients from the richly biodiverse Amazon rainforest. They employ around 7,000 local families, integrating their traditional knowledge with scientific research to create sustainable and high-quality products. This approach not only provides economic benefits to the local communities but also incentivizes them to preserve the forest. One notable success story is the Ucuuba tree. Previously endangered and cut down for timber, the tree is now harvested for its seeds, which are used in Natura’s cosmetics, offering a more profitable and sustainable alternative to logging​.

The concerted efforts by both public and private entities highlight a growing recognition that preserving the Amazon requires a multifaceted approach. Environmental regulation and enforcement are crucial, but so too are initiatives that engage local communities and offer them sustainable economic opportunities. As the Mejuruá Project and the initiatives led by Natura & Co illustrate, integrating forest conservation with local economic development can create a powerful incentive for communities to protect their natural resources.

However, while these initiatives are promising, they must be part of a broader, more comprehensive strategy to address the underlying causes of deforestation and environmental degradation in the Amazon. This includes tackling the global drivers of climate change that exacerbate drought conditions. As recent research highlights, building drought resilience in the Amazon is crucial for the forest’s long-term health and requires global cooperation and commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The increasing threat of drought underscores the fragility of this vital ecosystem and the need for comprehensive, coordinated efforts to protect it. Public initiatives, private sector engagement, and community involvement are all critical components of a sustainable solution. By integrating these efforts and maintaining a strong commitment to both conservation and sustainable development, we can hope to preserve the Amazon for future generations. The stakes are high, but with concerted action, a resilient and thriving Amazon is within our reach.

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