The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest as well as the world’s largest river basin, supplying 20% of the planet’s surface freshwater. Though the basin extends through nine South American countries, the majority lies within Brazil. The region houses a wealth of biodiversity and is home to thousands of indigenous and traditional peoples who have lived in forest communities for centuries. Globally, the Amazon is critically important to the Earth’s climate—both for the role it plays in removing carbon from the atmosphere, and in regulating rainfall patterns.
The Brazilian government has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 37% in 2025 and 43% by 2030. Until recently, the country made significant progress in reducing forest loss while also increasing production of agricultural commodities. Unfortunately, deforestation is once again on the rise in the Amazon, driving biodiversity loss and carbon emissions. And yet the Amazon is no longer the hotspot for land conversion in the country. Brazil’s agricultural frontier is advancing fastest in the Cerrado, a global biodiversity hotspot and home to indigenous peoples, quilombolas (communities established by Afro-Brazilians), and other traditional communities. Between 2008 and 2012, the rate of conversion of the Cerrado was more than double that of the Amazon. Illegal timber, beef and soy production, mining, and infrastructure continue to drive rural conflict and threaten the traditional rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, while the current political and economic situation undermines prior gains in environmental protection.
Despite the threats, the opportunities for climate change mitigation and social and economic progress are very real. Protecting and restoring Brazil’s natural areas offers an opportunity for the country to provide leadership at the forefront of the global response to climate change.