Forum Institutional

Why business and finance should prioritise a nature-positive Amazon

A recovered anteater is released in Amazon forest after receiving veterinary treatment by a veterinarian of the state environmental police Marcelo Andreani and the owner of the veterinary clinic Clinidog Carlos Henrique, near Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil, August 19, 2020. The anteater arrived with a broken left paw after a clash with a fierce porcupine. The patient had been found hiding in a garage and, again, the vets think it might have been fleeing fires as anteaters rarely turn up in the city. The fracture required surgery. Under anaesthetic, a giant tongue rolled out of the anteater's mouth, earning it the affectionate nickname Linguaruda, or Long-tongue. After surgery, one of the vets took Linguaruda home to keep a closer eye on her recovery. In five days, Linguaruda was strong enough to return to the wild - the best outcome her rescuers could wish for. Linguaruda was freed near a forest trail, where it eagerly clambered among the trees once more.

A living Amazon is vital for global stability. Image: REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino.

Kirsten Schuijt
Director-General, WWF International
Fabio Colletti Barbosa
Chief Executive Officer, Natura & Co
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Climate and Nature

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • Accelerating deforestation and environmental degradation threaten to push the Amazon beyond the point of no return.
  • Left unaddressed, the local and global impacts of climate and ecosystem breakdown in the Amazon will be catastrophic.
  • We should prioritise the pursuit of nature-positive, equitable, net-zero business and finance.

A living Amazon is vital for global stability, not least because of its role in storing carbon and regulating global climate. It is also an ecosystem in grave peril.

Around 17% of the Amazon’s forests have already been lost, while an additional 17% are highly degraded. And its rivers and water bodies are in sharp decline. Now, accelerating environmental deterioration threatens to push the Amazon beyond an ecological tipping point, making it a net carbon source, and permanently degrading the forest ecosystem.

Left unaddressed, the local, regional, and global impacts of climate and ecosystem breakdown in the Amazon on economies, rainfall, and water and food security, will be catastrophic – affecting 47 million people and 511 Indigenous Peoples groups in the region alone who all depend on healthy Amazon ecosystems.

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The world needs a living Amazon. This means taking radical action, including ending deforestation, scaling sustainable production, restoring degraded lands and free-flowing rivers, and recognizing the rights of Indigenous Peoples, whose lands and waters make up much of the forest, and whose leadership is integral to the Amazon’s survival.

If there’s one place on the planet where we should prioritise the pursuit of equitable, net-zero, nature-positive business, revive cooperation in a fragmented world, and deliver on global climate and nature goals, it’s the Amazon.

Sustainable business models

The sectors whose unsustainable practices are destroying the Amazon – agriculture, mining, infrastructure, and natural resource use – all offer business and finance tangible opportunities to support a new model of development that benefits people and nature.

Making agriculture sustainable includes producing commodities such as beef, palm oil, and soy without habitat conversion, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, empowering farmers, and upholding human rights. As a priority, companies and financial institutions should follow Accountability Framework guidance to rid supply chains and portfolios of deforestation and conversion, and incentivise producers, traders, and smallholders to switch to nature-positive supply chains.

Despite the relative success of some past initiatives such as the Soy Moratorium, there is still a massive gap between private sector aspiration and delivery with opportunities for investors to accelerate better practice. Agri-commodity traders in particular must step up and embrace a 2025 deadline for action.

Mining sector impacts on ecosystems and communities in the Amazon are ubiquitous, not least the mercury pollution that threatens the health of rivers, biodiversity, fisheries, and people across the basin. At a minimum, business and finance should support efforts to eliminate mercury from gold supply chains, promote certification by the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance or the Alliance for Responsible Mining, and shape global demand for more socially and environmentally responsible mining.

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What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?

Better still, pursuing and encouraging circularity through reusing minerals already in supply chains, could significantly reduce the need for conventional mining. Manufacturer Northvolt, for example, has produced a fully recycled battery cell using 100% recycled nickel, manganese and cobalt and is now setting up Europe’s largest battery recycling plant.

Poorly planned transport and energy infrastructure causes conflict and significant social and environmental impact. In Brazilian Amazonia, 95% of all deforestation occurs within 5.5km of a paved or unpaved road. Built in service of one sector, whether mining, logging, or ranching, roads then facilitate others and accelerate deforestation and fragmentation. Similarly, some large hydropower development severely disrupts free-flowing rivers in the Amazon, undermining the diverse benefits they provide, not least freshwater fisheries that provide food security for millions.

The private sector must account for the impacts of infrastructure created in service of business and commerce, and wherever possible, promote investment in natural infrastructure that enhances, blends with, or replaces built solutions. An integrated approach that supports rights, traditional territories, and local priorities could improve infrastructure development and support inclusive economic growth. Colombia’s Green Road Infrastructure Guidelines, for example, offer a framework for good practice. And cancelling economically unjustified projects in the Amazon could avoid 1.1 million hectares of deforestation and $7.6 billion in wasted funds.

Natural resource management

In natural resource management, the private sector must develop and invest in enterprises and communities that sustain nature and natural systems. The new RobecoSAM Biodiversity Equities fund, for example, is investing in companies that use natural resources sustainably, and technology that reduces biodiversity loss. And companies could emulate Natura &Co by adopting business models that address the climate crisis, protect the Amazon, embrace circularity and regeneration, and ensure equality and inclusion, including fair and equitable benefit-sharing for use of genetic resources and traditional knowledge.

Across all sectors, business and finance can shape action for nature using a growing range of pioneering approaches. These include assessing climate- and nature-related risks and opportunities, setting science-based targets for nature, respecting human rights, and supporting a just transition.

Taken together, such approaches offer a foundation for economic and financial transformation – but scaling private sector change that secures the future of the Amazon also requires that governments play their part, including offering a vision for change, repurposing harmful subsidies, and investing in people and nature-based solutions.

Encouragingly, Brazilian president Lula da Silva’s recent zero deforestation pledge at COP27 and proposal for an Amazon rainforest summit with developed nations interested in its conservation, together with the announcement of a formal alliance between Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, signal renewed leadership on addressing the climate and nature crisis from the world’s three largest rainforest nations. And outside the region, the EU’s new law preventing products linked to deforestation from entering the EU market also offers opportunities.

More specific opportunities for companies include partnering with governments through the Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership, dubbed the “OPEC of Rainforests”, seeking to reduce forest loss, finance restoration, and support sustainable development; and the new ENACT Partnership seeking to unlock private investment in nature-based solutions that enhance resilience and protection for at least a billion vulnerable people and up to 2.4 billion hectares of natural ecosystems. Hosting the COP30 climate summit in the region would lend further impetus for scaling integrated action on nature and climate.

We urge companies and financial institutions to engage in these initiatives and others, such as Amazon Concertation, that offer fresh perspectives on the region’s future, and we invite them to join WWF, Natura, and the many other organizations working to secure a nature-positive future for the Amazon and protect 80% of the rainforest by 2025. There is not a moment to lose.

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