Nature and Biodiversity

Deforestation in the Amazon is up again. But this time big business can help

Sawmills that process illegally logged trees from the Amazon rainforest are seen near Rio Pardo, in the district of Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil, September 3, 2015. The town of Rio Pardo, a settlement of about 4,000 people in the Amazon rainforest, rises where only jungle stood less than a quarter of a century ago. Loggers first cleared the forest followed by ranchers and farmers, then small merchants and prospectors. Brazil's government has stated a goal of eliminating illegal deforestation, but enforcing the law in remote corners like Rio Pardo is far from easy. REUTERS/Nacho DocePICTURE 5 OF 40 FOR WIDER IMAGE STORY "EARTHPRINTS: RIO PARDO" SEARCH"EARTHPRINTS PARDO" FOR ALL IMAGES   - RTX1UUUG

Illegal logging has decimated Brazil's forests in recent years Image: REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Isabella Freire W Vitali
Country director, ProForest Brazil
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Brazil is in a tricky position. It had been doing well to combat deforestation in the Amazon – even managing to increase commodity production at the same time – but recent countrywide economic and political crises have put that progress is at risk.

The problem: deforestation is on the rise again, and it’s not being helped by pressure to relax social and environmental protections in favour of boosting Brazil’s economic recovery. That’s why it’s so important for committed companies and organizations to highlight the economic benefits of sustainability.

How can they do that? One example is the Brazil Coalition on Climate, Forests and Agriculture. The coalition has brought together businesses and non-profits to create a low-carbon economy in Brazil and to work with the government to implement it. When companies and NGOs walk into government offices together and ask for the same things, they can achieve great things. Most importantly, they can change deeply rooted assumptions as to what is acceptable and desirable.

Faced with this combined advocacy, the Brazilian Ministry of Environment has just announced ground-breaking new plans for transparency on forestry activities. Crucially, what this means is a widening of the parameters of the forests under sustainable management. It could even lead to the total elimination of illegal logging.

With a simple change in access to information, it could now be easier to enforce the law over vast areas of forests and allow buyers to better manage their supply chains and put in place effective market restrictions on illegally harvested wood.

How else can the private sector enhance public policies to achieve goals that benefit the country and the forests? One useful action would be to encourage all links along commodities supply chain to comply with the forest-friendly code of conduct. Realizing the importance of regulation when it comes to how private lands are used, a group of NGOs joined forces under the Observatório do Código Florestal to monitor and promote a “forest code”. Under this umbrella, and using their collective knowledge on the matter, Proforest, BVRio and IPAM have been working to help buyers of agricultural commodities in Brazil use the code to assess how well local suppliers comply.

Rondonia, a western Brazilian state about half the size of Ireland, is seen in a combination of NASA satellite image taken July, 19, 1975 (L) and August, 27, 2014 (R). Deforestation of the rainforest in Rondonia in recent decades has gone ahead largely unimpeded. Since 1988, about 16 percent of the state has been cleared. An area bigger than Germany has been razed across the entire Amazon over the same period.  REUTERS/NASA/Handout via Reuters   TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. UNPROCESSED VERSIONS WILL BE PROVIDED SEPARATELY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
Deforestation in the Brazilian state of Rondonia has gone largely unimpeded Image: REUTERS/NASA

It just goes to show what’s possible, that international players can build on nationally developed tools and policies to achieve their sustainability goals and still contribute to local ownership of the results and the long-term governance of natural resources.

There is a worldwide movement for the elimination of commodity-driven deforestation. Companies, governments and civil-society organizations have pledged their intention to join this movement, whether individually or through the Consumer Goods Forum, the New York Declaration on Forests or the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020.

Deforestation in the Amazon is on the rise again and other biomes are in need of attention. Now, support from international market leaders can help Brazilian governments and companies take a sustainable path.

Find out more about the TFA 2020 General Assembly here.

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