The preparations for my upcoming trip to the Amazon made me think about the role that international summits play in determining the future of rainforests. Preserving forests and the wildlife that inhabit them has been one of the priorities of the international community since 1992, when Member States developed the Forest Principles to recognize the multiple uses of forests and fight against deforestation. However, there is still much to do to preserve them for the posterity.
Forests are not only biodiversity hotspots; they also play a central role in the regulation of climate and sustain the livelihoods of the people that inhabit them. Forests have a close relationship with water resources. They purify river flows and provide protection against natural disasters caused by floods and soil erosion. In other words, forests are important for the prolongation of the world as we know it.
Despite the Forest Principles, worldwide deforestation has not stopped because of land conversion for agriculture, illegal logging, subsistence farming, industrial activities and cattle ranching. Between 1990 and 2000, the area of forest lost was estimated at 8.9 million hectares per year, an equivalent of 0.22 percent per year. Meanwhile, between 2000 and 2005, a total loss of approximately 7.3 hectares per year was recorded. In summary, during the past decade the global deforestation rate was close to 16 million hectares per year. Fortunately, even though deforestation continues, the net loss of forests is decreasing thanks to afforestation and the proliferation of programs such as UN-REDD and REDD+.
The Amazon Rainforest
Brazil has the largest rainforest area in the world thanks to the Amazon. The Amazon Rainforest covers over a billion acres, encompassing areas in Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia and the Eastern Andean region of Ecuador and Peru. Two key facts to know about the Amazon are:
• More than half of the world’s estimated 10 million species of plants, animals and insects live in the Amazon’s tropical rainforests. Thousands of living species are yet to be discovered.
• One-fifth of the world’s fresh water is in the Amazon Basin.
Despite the importance of the Amazon, many factors still threaten the survival of this amazing habitat. Urban sprawl, agricultural expansion, and big hydropower projects are intensifying the pressures over natural resources and creating an Arc of Deforestation. Additional proposals to the Brazilian Forest Code might increase the size of the arc by opening 75,630 hectares for new development. This Arc is expected to keep expanding into protected areas, weakening the ecological equilibrium of the rainforest and slowly transforming it into a savannah.
The Government of Brazil is already taking action to protect the Amazon. Since 1988, they have been monitoring the basin to guarantee that the Forest Code is implemented as a tool to reduce the impacts of deforestation. The law requires landowners to maintain at least 80 percent of forest areas as legal reserves. Additionally, the government has established over 20 million hectares of new federally-protected areas. Brazil also uses advanced remote-sensing programs, such as DETER and PRODES, for monitoring deforestation. Using this technology, civil society representatives can access monthly reports and updated satellite images over the internet.
How can the international community help the Amazon Rainforest?
Because of the importance of forests for our well-being and survival, countries must articulate the need to protect them. So far, the international community has taken steps to show their commitment to forest conservation. Nonetheless, innovative approaches should be developed to effectively promote a sustainable use of our biological diversity and ecosystems. World leaders must recognize the importance of developing capacity-building programs in order to enable conservation programs in regions with valuable ecosystems such as the Amazon Rainforest.”
Olimar Maisonet-Guzman is a 2011 Boren Fellow to Brazil and a member of the SustainUS Youth Delegation that will participate in the Rio+20 Earth Summit. She is currently in Brazil studying water and energy policy, with a particular focus on hydropower development. She also serves as a Rio+20 taskforce member for the UN CSD Major Group of Children and Youth. Read Olimar’s first blog for us here.