Amazon: a baseline report sets out concrete steps to limit deforestation

Call to action 7 December 2021
With 1000 pages and 200 authors from the Science Panel for the Amazon, a recent report, The Amazon We Want, can be seen as a reference as regards deforestation in the Amazon. Its third part, to which CIRAD contributed, is specifically intended for local and international policymakers. It sets out a series of steps to halt the destruction of the world's largest tropical forest while enabling local people to continue to make a living.
Amazon forest canopy © L. Blanc, CIRAD
Amazon forest canopy © L. Blanc, CIRAD

Amazon forest canopy © L. Blanc, CIRAD

Barely a month ago, at COP26, Brazil promised to halt deforestation by 2030, to halve its greenhouse gas emissions. That announcement directly contradicted current trends. The figure for the area deforested between July 2020 and August 2021 was the highest for any single year over the past fifteen years, according to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

The most exhaustive analysis of the Amazon so far

In response, the Science Panel for the Amazon (see box) recently published a detailed analysis of the causes and consequences of and the solutions to the destruction of the Amazon forest. Over a thousand pages, the report (Amazon Assessment Report 2021 - The Amazon We Want) claims to be both the most comprehensive and the most in-depth ever published on the topic. It was produced under the aegis of the UN Sustainable Development Solution Network and published on 12 November, during COP26.

Riches, threats and protection plans

The first part of the report is a detailed inventory of the biodiversity of the Amazon Basin and its natural and sociocultural riches. The second deals with the impacts of deforestation and of climate change on the Amazon, while the third and last contains an inventory of concrete steps to limit the deforestation and degradation of this unique ecosystem. Three CIRAD experts contributed to this last part: Plinio Sist, an ecologist specializing in tropical forests who is the lead author of three chapters, plus Camille Piponiot, a forest ecology researcher, and Patrick Caron, a geographer.

"Savannization" of territories

In the Amazon as a whole, 17% of the original forest has already been converted to other uses, while at least the same proportion has been significantly degraded. "In the Southeast, the deforestation is even nearer 25%", Plinio Sist points out. "The problem is that this level of deforestation is a tipping point, beyond which the Amazon becomes savannah." This in turn disrupts rainfall, and signs of this have already been seen in recent years. Rainfall is less abundant, more irregular and more intense.

Calls for a moratorium, to prevent a domino effect

This would have many consequences for the Amazon Basin as a whole: loss of biodiversity, more intense soil erosion, longer droughts, repeated forest fires, dwindling agricultural yields, etc. "To avoid this type of domino effect, the panel of experts has called for an immediate moratorium on deforestation in those parts of the Amazon that are close to the tipping point, and for zero deforestation by 2030 in other, less affected parts", Plinio Sist summarizes.

The authorities have it in their power to reduce deforestation

"Steps to reduce deforestation can be effective provided the political will is there. This was the case between 2004 and 2012, when deforestation declined spectacularly in Brazil", the researcher recalls. Among the first measures required to slow the destruction of the Amazon, Plinio Sist stresses the need to boost the means available to bodies such as IBAMA, in charge of fighting deforestation.

More generally, the panel's experts are calling for massive, simultaneous investment in education, science, technology and innovation. While it is essential to apply the law strictly, with financial penalties for those who fell trees in indigenous reserves and protected areas, alternatives must be proposed alongside such sanctions, for the hundreds of thousands of smallholders who have no other choice than to clear forest to make a living.

Prospects for forest conservation and restoration

One of the main levers for action in this respect that the report highlights is the restoration of the millions of hectares of agricultural land that have eaten into the forest but that are now too degraded for cultivation. "To take the pressure off intact forest zones, which still make up 83% of the Amazon, while offering its inhabitants new economic opportunities, we must rehabilitate degraded areas by encouraging agroforestry, rebuilding pasture, and embarking on a real forest transition in the worst affected zones", Plinio Sist explains.

Recent initiatives to promote forest restoration as part of the Bonn Challenge, and the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) are opportunities to rapidly begin this type of agricultural and forest transition.

Some deforestation is imported

"The strategy of fighting imported deforestation recently launched by Europe could play a major role, by encouraging importing countries to work with Amazon countries to develop sustainable production alternatives that do not involve deforestation", the ecologist adds. "Fighting deforestation effectively will mean the systematic traceability of goods from the Amazon Basin." This process will no doubt be complex to implement, requiring prior constructive talks between exporting and importing countries.

The Science Panel for the Amazon associates more than 200 scientists, mostly from the nine countries straddled by the Amazon forest (Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Surinam, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Guyana, and French Guiana). It defends the ideal of a living Amazon that favours conservation and restoration initiatives that respect and recognize natural qui respectent et reconnaissent les cycles naturels et les droits de l’homme, en particulier ceux des peuples autochtones et des communautés locales.