- A new decree intends to protect all of Brazil’s biomes and promote sustainable development in arguably one of the country’s most ambitious environmental policies to date.
- The mandate establishes action plans for the Amazon Rainforest, Cerrado savanna, Atlantic Forest, semi-arid Caatinga, Pampas grasslands and Pantanal wetlands, based on past strategies in the Amazon that have already proven successful against deforestation.
- Environmentalists have welcomed the decree amid the country’s surging deforestation levels and rising greenhouse emissions during the past four years under Jair Bolsonaro’s rule.
- The decree’s implementation won’t be easy, experts warn, and its success depends on coordinated action across all levels of the government, increased personnel in struggling environmental enforcement agencies and highly tailored plans for each biome.
Between 2004 and 2012, Brazil was able to slash deforestation by nearly 84% with a series of policies known as PPCDAm, a major instrument in reducing environmental destruction in the Amazon Rainforest.
Built on a three-pronged strategy centered on land-use planning, environmental monitoring and fostering sustainable production, PPCDAm created 44 million hectares (108.7 million acres) of Indigenous lands and 25 million hectares (61.8 million acres) of conservation units, and it also reinforced a crackdown on environmental crime, which led to the issue of more than 41,000 fines totaling $3.9 billion.
Thanks to these measures, deforestation rates in the Amazon fell from 27,772 square kilometers (10,723 square miles) in 2004 — the second-highest rate since monitoring began in 1988 — to 4,571 square kilometers (1,765 square miles) in 2012, the lowest level ever recorded. A study from the University of Brasília found that the implementation of PPCDAm saved a total of 196,000 km2 (75,676 mi2) of forest from being cleared between 2005 and 2015, an area equivalent to more than twice the size of Portugal.
Now, Brazil’s new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and his environmental and climate change minister, Marina Silva, are applying the logic of PPCDAm to all local biomes — the Amazon rainforest, Cerrado savanna, Atlantic Forest, semi-arid Caatinga, Pampas grasslands and Pantanal wetlands — in a new decree that went into effect on Jan. 1.
Silva described the decree in a statement to Monbagay as a “necessary measure for Brazil to face the serious problem of deforestation and, consequently, be able to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as laid down in the Paris Agreement.”
Each biome will have its own action plan to tackle urgent issues such as deforestation, degradation, fires, land regularization, environmental crime and the promotion of sustainable economic development within each region.
“Other biomes suffer from the importance given to the Amazon, and this is an attempt to balance this,” José Augusto Morelli, an environmental analyst who used to run the Air Operations Center responsible for environmental monitoring at Brazil’s environmental agency IBAMA, told Mongabay by phone. “I’m very optimistic about what lies ahead if Brazil is able to effectively implement these plans.”
The Permanent Interministerial Commission for the Prevention and Control of Deforestation and Burning, chaired by Lula’s cabinet chief and composed of representatives from 19 ministries of the federal government, is responsible for ensuring the plans are implemented. The commission met officially for the first time on Feb. 8 to establish working subgroups, which have 45 days to present the strategy to reduce Amazon deforestation and 90 days to define the plans for the other biomes. The goal of the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change is to have all sectoral plans in place by August.
One of the main goals for the commission this year is to strengthen the weaknesses of the 2004 PPCDAm plan, namely the promotion of economic alternatives to destructive exploitation of the Amazon. This includes improving the ABC program, which provides financial incentives for producers to adopt sustainable practices, and expanding forest concessions.
Experts laud the mandate as a triumph for the country’s fight against deforestation, but implementing it represents a major challenge after four years of destructive policies by former President Jair Bolsonaro, who dropped the PPCDAm in 2019 as part of a relentless campaign to roll back environmental protection in favor of agribusiness.
“The decree is an important first step — but it’s not enough,” Suely Araújo, senior specialist in public policies at the Climate Observatory, a network of civil society organizations, told Mongaby by phone. “The current scenario is really bad, a complete lack of control of environmental policy. The government has to take effective and urgent measures that show effectiveness and results soon. It will not be simple.”
Environmental destruction increased across Brazilian biomes after Bolsonaro took office in 2019 before his defeat in the 2022 elections. The Cerrado saw a rapid surge in vegetation clearing since 2020 for cropland and pasture expansion, and the Amazon experienced a 60% increase in deforestation in the four years of the Bolsonaro regime compared with the previous four years. The Pantanal also registered record levels of fires in 2020, when a third of the wetlands was reduced to ashes.
“Today, you have difficulties due to the state of chaos left behind by the Bolsonaro government. The new government is picking up from all of that,” Araújo said.
Built on a successful past
The PPCDAm’s tried and tested guidelines will now serve as an example for drafting the other action plans. “Based on the lessons from PPCDAm, Brazil is expanding this approach to other biomes,” according to a report by the International Partnership on Mitigation and MRV, a coalition focused on the global climate agenda. The report claims that the successes achieved in PPCDAm can be applied to other biomes, such as coordinated federal and state efforts to develop and implement each action plan, and provide financial incentives to producers to encourage long-term sustainable farming practices.
“You don’t have to invent the wheel; you can count on something that has already been done,” Morelli said.
Replicating the PPCDAm in other biomes has worked in the past. Its success inspired the development of the PPCerrado in 2010 to reduce environmental crime and deforestation in the Brazilian Cerrado, South America’s largest savanna. Drawing from the lessons learned from PPCDAm, the PPCerrado relied on the participation of at least 10 ministries and the coordination of federal and state governments, civil society and the private sector to implement the similar strategies in the Amazon Action Plan. After a clampdown on illegal extraction of charcoal in the region and rural credit programs to encourage sustainable agriculture activities, the Cerrado region saw a 62% drop in deforestation rates and a reduction of 38% in fire alerts over a nine-year period.
Alongside the PPCDAm, the PPCerrado is also enshrined in the new decree. However, implementing similar models in other biomes will be a “gigantic challenge,” Morelli said, due to years of environmental budget cuts undermining the efficiency of environmental agencies. “There is a lack of employees in all environmental agencies,” said Morelli. “[They currently] have one-third of the staff they had when PPCDAm was first implemented,” Morelli added.
The differences in land ownership within each biome also impose new challenges to implementing widespread protection and control actions. “Most of the land in the Cerrado is privately owned,” said Morelli. “It means this biome will require an entirely different action program.” This also applies to the Pantanal, where 80% of the land in the wetlands belongs to private cattle ranchers or eco-lodges, in comparison with the Amazon, where just over a third is privately owned, 40% is legally protected, and the rest is unallocated public land.
“It’s [a] complex [process]. Deforestation rates won’t be zeroed overnight. There is a deforestation curve that has to be reversed and the government has to deal with areas that have been invaded, both Indigenous lands and protected areas,” Araújo said. “But I think everyone is committed to moving in the same direction. It won’t be easy. But we’ll make it.”
Banner image: President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva with his environmental and climate change minister, Marina Silva on his first day in office on Jan. 1, when he introduced an unprecedented environmental decree that intends to protect not just the Amazon Rainforest but all Brazilian biomes. Image by Ricardo Stuckert/PR via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
West, T. A. P. and Fearnside, P. M. (2021). Brazil’s conservation reform and the reduction of deforestation in Amazonia. Land Use Policy, (100). doi: 10.1016/j.landusepol.2020.105072
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