The Amazon: The Most Important Rainforest in the World

The Amazon (Courtesy of Amazon Watch)

The Amazon (Courtesy of Amazon Watch)

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.

Deforestation in the Amazon (Courtesy photo)

Deforestation in the Amazon (Courtesy photo)

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.”

Amazon word bubble

Amazon word bubble

To learn more about the UN-CSD and my trip to the Amazon Rainforest, you can follow me @Oli_mar or join the UN-CSD Major Group of Children and Youth.

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.

16 thoughts on “The Amazon: The Most Important Rainforest in the World

  1. It shows great sensitivity to be able to identify with problems that you know exist but might only affect you indirectly at the moment. Or else there are situations we are all well aware of, but never speak up against. The development of programs such as DETER and PRODES needs to be encouraged and knowledge about existence revealed. Keep up the fight!

  2. Thank you for this article. We agree that the protection of the rainforests are vital. We are happy to be working with the Major Group of Children and Youth as well as young people globally to raise awareness of the importance of preserving and protecting our biodiversity.

  3. I really like this article because it explains most of the issues regarding the conservation of the Amazon region.
    I wonder…what about the idea of the ecosystem services and paying the local goverments for providing such services? It’s a very complicated topic, but the Amazon is a sink for greenhouse gases that many developed countries are emitting into the atmosphere. If developed countries are not willing to reduce their greenhouse emissions, then, they should pay other countries to take care of the ecosystems that do the work. That was just an example of one of the services…I wonder how it would be like to put a price on carbon or on species diversity…

  4. Debido a la importancia de los bosques para nuestro bienestar y supervivencia, los países deben articular la necesidad de protegerlos. Hasta ahora, la comunidad internacional ha dado pasos para demostrar su compromiso con la conservación de los bosques. Sin embargo, los enfoques innovadores deben ser desarrollados para promover eficazmente un uso sostenible de la diversidad biológica y los ecosistemas. Los líderes mundiales deben reconocer la importancia de desarrollar programas de capacitación con el fin de permitir que los programas de conservación en las regiones con ecosistemas valiosos, como la selva amazónica. Tambien en Puerto Rico, aunque los bosques no son tan grandes como el Amazona, el trastocar el ecosistema pone en riesgos la vida de muchos organismos que son endemicos de la Region.
    Olimar te felicito por que estas llevando tu granito de arena para que nuestro Mundo sea uno mejor

  5. Olimar. El Arco de Deforestación y las cifras de porcentaje de las que hablas en tu articulo, ¿solo incluyen la parte del Amazonas que pertenece a Brazil o también incluye Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador y Perú? También me interesa saber si el Forest Code aplica a Brazil solamente o a los demás paises. Te felicito por tu trabajo, tremendo articulo.

    • Hola Marilyn. El arco de deforestacion solo incluye los estados Brasileros. Alrededor de 20% del territorio original del Amazonas ya ha sido deforestado. Se estima que anualmente el Amazonas pierde alreadedor de 20,000 millas cuadradas. En este mapa ( ) puedes ver especificamente como la deforestacion (amarrillo) es marcada en Venezuela y Colombia. En cuanto al codigo forestal, solo aplica a Brazil. El codigo es la ley federal en Brazil que determina como se manejan los bosques y zonas verdes.

  6. Olimar, me interesa saber si tanto el ¿Arco de Deforestacion como el Forest Code aplican solo a Brazil o también a Venezuela, Colombia, Perú y Bolivia?

  7. La preservación de cuerpos naturales debería ser promovido como patrionio en los países. Además de los asuntos burocráticos, también se debe establecer un sentir de pertenencia entre los habitantes. Así es que próximas generaciones podrán tomar decisiones que beneficien al colectivo en lugar de intereses personales, como ocurre hoy día. Realmente me gustó el artículo, especialmente en la manera que fue redactado.

  8. Pingback: World Youth Declaration for Water | Climate Conversations

  9. Am a Geography teacher in Kenya, i just love nature. Thanks so much for this post which has information on importance of conserving any forested area all over the world.

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