Public policy plays a fundamental role in protecting the native vegetation of the Amazon Forest. It guides the actions of the several different players needed for forest conservation, bringing together evidence-based approaches that are grounded in the use of state of the art technology and in the application of robust technical knowledge. Brazil is fully capable of developing and implementing a public policy agenda for Amazon protection that is innovative, strategic, and effective — it has done this before.
Over the past two decades, while the country gained broad experience in the use of policy instruments to protect its native vegetation, academia produced a robust body of empirical evidence on these instruments’ effectiveness and impact. This report consolidates the main findings of the academic literature that rigorously evaluates policies aimed at combating deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Additionally, it draws on empirical evidence to propose ways of strengthening Brazil’s policy agenda for protecting the Amazon Forest whilst promoting the region’s sustainable development. The report thereby aims to contribute to the design and implementation of an effective policy framework for Amazon conservation.
What Works to Protect the Amazon Forest?
Public policy efforts to combat deforestation significantly contributed to the Brazilian Amazon deforestation slowdown, when the rate of forest clearing fell by more than 80%, decreasing from 27,800 square kilometers in 2004 to 4,600 square kilometers in 2012 (INPE 2021a). The strengthening of environmental command and control was pivotal to this. In a context in which the bulk of deforestation was illegal, the pioneering use of near-real-time remote monitoring technology to detect forest loss and target environmental control operations greatly increased law enforcement’s capacity to apply binding and costly penalties to offenders. Monitoring and law enforcement inhibited illegal practices and curbed deforestation at scale. The evidence suggests that the reduction in forest clearings did not jeopardize local agricultural production. It also indicates that the policy was cost-effective and that it contributed to the expansion and permanence of secondary vegetation in the Amazon.
In addition to enhanced monitoring and law enforcement, public policy innovations introduced targeted action in critical areas and conditioned the concession of subsidized rural credit upon proof of compliance with environmental and land tenure regulations. Both helped reduce forest loss in the Amazon. Brazil also started using territorial protection as a barrier to the advance of deforestation. Protected areas and indigenous lands in regions under high forest clearing pressure effectively shielded forests, but it is unclear if they significantly contributed to the reduction in the aggregate level of deforestation
These different policy efforts were carried out within the scope of a federal plan to combat deforestation in the Amazon, which has been highlighted in the academic literature as a central element for planning and coordinating strategic actions. Although there is still room to deepen understanding about the impacts of these multiple policies, there is a consensus that they were effective in reducing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. However, they were not the only forest protection measures implemented in Brazil within the last two decades. Several other policy efforts were enacted during this period, but the available empirical evidence on their causal effects is still limited. Examples include payment for environmental services mechanisms, supply chain agreements for zero deforestation, and subnational initiatives. Although this report addresses these efforts in less detail, this should not be interpreted as an indication that they are not relevant for the protection of the Amazon Forest. Rather, this is an acknowledgment of the weak empirical evidence currently associated with them, and a suggestion of relevant topics for future research.
The academic literature delivers a clear message: public policies are an effective way of protecting native vegetation in the Amazon. Brazil must use this knowledge to ensure the continuity of what has already proved effective, fill in the gaps in its understanding of forest conservation policy impacts, and seek innovative solutions for the challenges that remain.
Strengthening Amazon Forest Protection
After a strong reduction between 2004 and 2012, deforestation in the Amazon Forest started trending upwards and, as of 2019, has shown signs of acceleration (INPE 2021a, 2021b). Conservation policies enacted over the past two decades were effective in containing forest clearings, but these policies are no longer enough. In addition to improving its efforts to fight deforestation, Brazil must incorporate new dimensions of forest protection to its policy agenda for Amazon conservation. This report proposes three critical courses of action for strengthening Amazon protection:
Deforestation: It is imperative that Brazil eliminate the impunity currently associated with illegal forest clearings. To that effect, it is critical to uphold environmental governance that supports effective environmental sanctioning procedures and penalties, both of which are central to law enforcement’s capacity to inhibit illegal practices. Strategic efforts to combat deforestation should also target priority areas.
Forest Degradation: The country must deepen its understanding of forest degradation. How does it contribute to a process of forest loss in the Amazon? How does it relate to economic activity? How does it respond to public policy? Brazil can draw on this understanding to adopt a strategic approach to fight forest degradation in the Amazon and thereby enhance the impact of conservation efforts in the region.
Secondary Vegetation: Brazil must urgently monitor secondary vegetation in the Amazon. Although tropical forest regrowth covers vast areas, it remains invisible to forest monitoring systems. The country has the technology and technical expertise needed to develop the systematic monitoring of its secondary vegetation, but this requires support from public policy. Monitoring forest regrowth in the Amazon is vital both for its protection and for advancing the understanding about this phenomenon. This is key to incorporating secondary vegetation into a strategy for large-scale restoration of degraded ecosystems.
Amazon Forest Protection Requires Solid Support from Public Policy
Brazil has a unique opportunity to align the interests of diverse government entities, productive sectors, and civil society around a single effort. As it takes steps to better conserve its native vegetation, the country protects this precious environmental asset, along with all forms of life that depend on it directly or indirectly — but that’s not all. It also boosts production capacity and gains a competitive edge in global markets, while combating illegal activity and moving towards a position of global leadership on climate action.
Protecting the Amazon demands solid political leadership and an unwavering commitment to an evidence-based public policy agenda. In this context, the government is responsible for planning, supporting, and coordinating strategic activities across different spheres of action, thematic areas, and segments of society. The country knows what must be done and is fully capable of doing it. Brazil must treat the protection of its Amazon Forest with the necessary urgency.