Even though progress has been made in conserving Brazil’s landscapes, the country still faces serious threats due to its historical land use. Amazonian forests substantially influence regional and global climates and deforesting this region is both a regional and global driver of climate change due to the high amounts of deforestation and habitat fragmentation that have occurred this region.

Brazil has established an extensive network of protected areas which covers more than 2 million km2(25% of Brazil's national territory) and is divided almost equally between protected natural areas or conservation units and indigenous land ("Terras Indígenas"). Despite these measures, environmental protection is still a concern as indigenous tribes and Brazilian environmental activists contend with ranchers, illegal loggers, gold and oil prospectors and drug traffickers who continue to illegally clear forests.


"At bottom right and bottom center, deforestation and cultivation are evident by the regular, rectangular shapes that delineate plots."[1]
More than one-fifth of the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil has been completely destroyed, and more than 70 mammals are endangered.[2] The threat of extinction comes from several sources, including deforestation and poaching. Extinction is even more problematic in the Atlantic Forest, where nearly 93% of the forest has been cleared.[3] Of the 202 endangered animals in Brazil, 171 are in the Atlantic Forest.[4]

The Amazon rainforest has been under direct threat of deforestation since the 1970s because of rapid economic and demographic expansion. Extensive legal and illegal logging destroy forests the size of a small country per year, and with it a diverse series of species through habitat destruction and habitat fragmentation.[5] Since 1970, over 600,000 square kilometers (230,000 sq mi) of the Amazon Rainforest have been cleared by logging.[6]

Cattle ranching

From the mid 1960s to 1970s the devaluation of the Brazilian real against the dollar resulted in doubling the price of beef in reals and gave ranchers a lucrative incentive to increase the size of their cattle ranches. During the same time period plans to expand infrastructure to facilitate greater trade within the Amazon region manifested itself in the building of the Trans-Amazonian Highway. A 2,000 mile wide (3,200 km) highway would effectively connect the entire Amazon and would create huge opportunities for cattle ranching to expand into previously untouched parts of the forest. Widespread use of ethanol, a cheaper gas, gave cattle ranchers every economic incentive to take maximize profits no matter the environmental repercussions. The cattle industry initially struggled to meet domestic demand but soon became export driven. According to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), "between 1990 and 2001 the percentage of Europe's processed meat imports that came from Brazil rose from 40 to 74 percent" and by 2003 "for the first time ever, the growth in Brazilian cattle production, 80 percent of which was in the Amazon, was largely export driven."[7]

Soybean production

After the United States, Brazil is the second largest produce of soybeans. Soybean production, like cattle ranching, requires ample land and because of its profitability and importance as an export, receives large governmental support. As stated in the Constitution of Brazil, clearing land for crops or fields is considered an ‘effective use’ of land and has resulted in massive expansions of infrastructure aimed at providing greater access to unused land. In an effort to address increasing demand of ranching, soybean production and timber, two highways were constructed: the Rodovia Belém-Brasília (1958) and the Cuiaba-Porto Velho (1968). These were the only federal highways in the Legal Amazon to be paved and passable year-round before the late 1990s and contributed greatly to the high rates of deforestation.

With greater infrastructural support and economic incentive, Brazilian soybean production has skyrocketed. Land clearing for greater mechanized farming now contributes even more extensively to deforestation because of the change in land use. Whereas previously the land was either unused or uninhabited and could function as a CO² absorber, mechanized farming could drastically change local climate and effect the rainforest's ability to absorb carbon emissions.[8]


Both cattle ranching and soybean production rely on clear and expansive land to operate efficiently. Large parts of the Amazon rainforest have been cleared to provide for these sectors and the excess timber produced is extremely profitable. The removal of large swaths of trees from this area negatively impacts the environment in significant ways yet only account for trees killed, not necessarily harvested. For example, near Paragominas, Pará, for every tree harvested, 27 trees have been reported killed or severely damaged.[9] With fewer trees the Amazon rainforest cannot absorb as much carbon emissions and greatly expedite the process of Global Warming.

In 2007 Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced at the International Conference on Biofuels in Brussels that Brazil's deforestation rate had dramatically slowed due to efficient fuel production and setting aside over 20 million hectares of forest. Since 2004 Brazil has established more than 200,000 square kilometres of parks, nature reserves, and national forests in the Amazon rainforest.[10] These protected areas, if fully enforced, will prevent an estimated one billion tons of carbon emissions from being transferred to the atmosphere through deforestation by the year 2015.[11]


According to a 2001 report by Rede, or RENC, (Portuguese for "National Network Against the Trafficking of Wild Animals"), wildlife smuggling is Brazil's third most profitable illegal activity, after arms dealing and drug smuggling.[12] RENCTAS believes that the poachers are taking an estimated 38 million birds, reptiles and other animals from the wild each year.[13] The same report claims that police only intercept .5% of smuggled animal wildlife and that it is incredibly easy to successfully smuggle animals throughout Brazil.

Invasive species

Native wildlife are threatened by some invasive species. There have been more than 300 documented invasive species in Brazil.[14] It is estimated that invasive species cost Brazil around $49 billion. The most threatening species is the wild boar which destroys crops and natural flora, and can transmit diseases to indigenous animals. Also damaging the natural habitat are African grasses and snails. The Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) has put restrictions on what species may be brought into the country.[15][16]

Endangered Species

Brazil is home to over 6% of the world's endangered species.[17] According to a species assessment conducted by the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, 97 species have been identified in Brazil with vulnerable, lower risk/near threatened, endangered, or critically endangered standing.[18] In 2009, 769 endangered species were identified in Brazil, making it home to the eighth largest number of endangered species in the world.[17] For Brazil, and the countries that precede it, high rates of deforestation, industrialization, and urbanization explain the growing number of endangered species in extremely bio-diverse areas. According to Carlos Minc, Brazil's Environment Minister, protected areas are increasingly populated by humans and preservation areas are lacking the essential protection they need.[19] Industries involved in deforestation play large roles in degrading and destroying lands that are incredibly sensitive to changes in their ecosystem. By 2020, it is estimated that at least 50% of the species resident in Brazil will become extinct.[20]

Conservation efforts

Brazilian Forest Code

From the 1990s through 2004, the Brazilian Forest Code (FC) was the primary and most prolific legal restriction of forest clearing on private lands.[21] The FC established that 50% of each private property must be managed as forest reserve and retain its natural composition. However, in 1996 the minimum required reserve proportion was increased to 80%. While this seemed a protective change, it has been difficult to accurately detect illegal land use, which makes enforcement extremely difficult.[22]

The profitability of soy production in Brazil drastically fell from 2005-2006, which resulted in a reduction in the amount of land planted with soy in the Brazilian Amazon.[21] In 2004, the Detection of Deforestation in Real Time (DETER) was launched, which provided a system for detecting and responding to events of deforestation. The Amazon Region Protected Areas Program resulted in a 68% increase in protected areas and indigenous territories from 2004- 2012.[21] Many of these newly protected areas were created in active agricultural frontiers.

Since 2005 the annual rate of deforestation in Brazil has continued to decline while soy and beef production have continued to rise.[21]

Rise of ethanol

The first use of ethanol as a fuel source came from the emergence of the automobile in Brazil during the 1920s. Ethanol production peaked during World War II because German submarines threatened oil supplies and the Brazilian government, in turn, looked for alternative fuel sources. Gasoline was heavily favored until the 1973 global oil shock made clear Brazil's dangerous dependence on foreign oil. In response, the Brazilian government began promoting bioethanol as an alternative fuel. The National Alcohol Program -Pró-Álcool- (Portuguese: 'Programa Nacional do Álcool'), launched in 1975, was a nationwide program financed by the government to phase out automobile fuels derived from fossil fuels, such as gasoline, in favor of ethanol produced from sugar cane.[23] This large-scale shift to ethanol initially focused on the amount of ethanol mixed with gasoline. The percent of ethanol in gasoline fluctuated greatly from 10% to 22% between 1976 and 1992 until a federal law established a mandatory blend of 22% anhydrous ethanol for the entire country.[24] The percentage of ethanol mixed with gasoline has continued to change throughout the 21st century because of changing supply of sugarcane, making it possible for mixtures even within the same year to differ from 20-25%.[24]

The Brazilian government has worked with both public and private sectors to provide incentive for creative inventions that would make the most use of Brazil's ethanol boom. After testing in government fleets with several prototypes developed by local carmakers, and compelled by the second oil crisis, the Fiat 147, the first modern commercial neat ethanol car (E100 only) was launched to the market in July 1979.[25] In order to establish ethanol as an alternative to gasoline, the Brazilian government provided three important initial drivers for the ethanol industry: guaranteed purchases by the state-owned oil company Petrobras, low-interest loans for agro-industrial ethanol firms, and fixed gasoline and ethanol prices where hydrous ethanol sold for 59% of the government-set gasoline price at the pump. Brazil's increased energy independence has allowed greater competitiveness between foreign oil producers, making gasoline even cheaper for Brazilians.[26]
Brazil has ethanol fuel available throughout the country. Shown here a typical Petrobras gas station at São Paulo with dual fuel service, marked A for alcohol (ethanol) and G for gasoline.

In 2011 Brazil produced 21.1 billion liters of ethanol (5.57 billion liquid gallons), representing 24.9 percent of the world's total ethanol used as fuel.[27] The Brazilian model for success in ethanol, however, is hard to replicate because of Brazil's large amount of arable land and advanced agri-industrial technology. For the past four decades, Brazil has taken serious steps to move towards greater energy security and federal environmental protection by advancing ethanol production as a compliment to oil.

Brazil's ethanol fuel program is based on the most efficient method of cultivating sugar cane in the world. Using modern equipment and cheap sugar cane as feedstock, residual cane-waste (bagasse) is used to produce heat and power, resulting in competitive prices for energy. The balance of energy, or the input vs. output of energy, is extremely high when using this method and results anywhere from 8.3 (average conditions) and 10.1 (optimum).[28] This creates an almost negative energy balance that actually reduces more carbon emissions in the atmosphere as the sugarcane is growing than it produces when it is being burned.[23] In 2010, the U.S. EPA designated Brazil's sugarcane ethanol as an advanced biofuel because of its 61% reduction of total life cycle greenhouse gas emissions, including direct indirect land use change emissions.[29]

Brazil's widespread use and production of ethanol has had substantial benefits for Brazil's economy and environment. Studies have shown that up to 85% of greenhouse gas emissions are cut because of the switch from gasoline.[30][31] Land use, with specific regard to growing sugarcane, remains a concern for the environment. As producers of sugarcane continue to mass-produce within the same soil, nutrients that get replenished naturally are harder to come by; soil is not as fertile as it used to be.[30] Though land use for the production of sugarcane continues to be an issue, the EPA has concluded that sugarcane ethanol from Brazil reduces greenhouse gas emissions as compared to gasoline by 61%, using a 30-year payback for indirect land use change (ILUC) emissions.[32] Another 2010 study published by the World Bank found that "Brazil's transport sector has a lower carbon intensity compared to that of most other countries because of its widespread use of ethanol as a fuel for vehicles."[33]

Institutional response: policy solutions

The Brazilian government has responded to decades of high rates of deforestation and extremely environmentally harmful practices with macro level decisions that have impacted Brazil's culture, economy, and environment. While some policies to reduce carbon emissions and deforestation are responses to economic tendencies, such as the rise of ethanol, others are motivated by locally organized non-governmental agencies and citizens alike.

Government and NGOs

The Ministry of Environment is responsible for Brazil's national environmental policy. The ministry's many departments deal with climate change and environmental quality, biodiversity and forests, water resources, sustainable urban and rural development, and environmental citizenship. Other authorities are also responsible for the implementation of environmental policies, including the National Council on the Environment, the National Council of the Amazon, the National Council of Water Resources, the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBIO), Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), Board of Management of Public Forests, and others.[34] The collaborative work of these institutions makes it possible to ensure sustainable growth within the means of the environment.[34]

The development of institutions at the governmental level was stimulated and accompanied by the diffusion and increasing importance of NGOs dedicated to environmental causes and sustainable development. Numerous NGOs throughout Brazil produce documents containing both useful information and criticisms of policies that are continuously harmful to Brazil's environment.[35] NGOs on the ground have held the Brazilian government accountable to their policies of conservation and serve to inform and advocate for the localities they are based in.

Name Foundation Year Mission[36]
SOS Mata Atlântica 1986 Defend the Atlantic Forest areas, protect the communities that inhabit the region, and preserve their natural, historical, and cultural heritage.
Socio Environmental Institute 1994 Defend rights related to the environment, cultural heritage, and human rights.
Greenpeace Defend the environment by raising awareness about environmental issues and influence people to change their habits.
WWF-Brasil 1996 Instruct Brazilian society on how to use natural resources in a rational manner.
Conservation International (CI) 1987 Protect biodiversity and instruct society on how to live in harmony with nature.
Akatu Institute Guide Brazil's consumption habits toward a sustainable model.
Ecoar Institute After Rio-92 Provide environmental education as an effort to rescue degraded areas and implement local sustainable development programs and projects.
Ecoa 1989 Create a space for negotiations and decisions about environmental protection and sustainability.
Recicloteca Diffuse information on environmental issues, especially for the reduction, reutilization, and recycling of waste.
Friends of the Earth-Brazilian Amazon 1989 Develop projects and activities that promote sustainable development in the Amazonian region.
National Network to Fight the Trafficking of Wild Animals (Renctas) 1999 Combat the trafficking of wild animals and contribute to biodiversity protection.
Atlantic Forest NGO Network Provide information about NGOs that work toward the protection of the Atlantic Forest.
Brazilian Forum of NGOs and Social Movements for the Environment and Development (FBOMS) 1990 Facilitate the participation of the public in the United Nations Conference on Environment (UNCED).
Brazilian Foundation for Sustainable Development (FBDS) 1992 Implement the conventions and treaties approved at Rio-92.

National System of Conservation Units - SNUC

A beach in the federally protected Park of Dunes, located in Rio Grande do Norte.

Brazil's 1988 Federal Constitution promotes an "ecologically balanced environment", as defined in article 225 on the environment, and vests the Brazilian government the responsibility of defending and preserving it. From this constitutional prerogative, Brazil has created the National System of Units of Conservation (Sistema Nacional de Unidades de Conservação - SNUC), through the Federal Law No. 9.985/2000 to devise a plan for sustainable development and land conservation.[37]

Basically, SNUC divides protected areas into two groups: Full protection and sustainable use. Each group contains divers categories of units.[38]

In order to have flexibility on its land use policies, Brazil has created a dynamic system of regulations that promote and require sustainability practices be implemented. These are innovative frameworks as they offer the community the possibility to participate in decision-making and to apply financial mechanisms that make the system viable, as well as encouraging the conservation of natural environments.[39] According to UNESCO's office in Brasilia, Brazil "has a little over 1,600 federal, state and private Conservation Units (CUs) that protect 16% of the continental territory and 0.5% of the marine area, which corresponds to 1,479,286 square kilometers."[39]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ USDA Forest Service website, Forest Service International Programs: Brazil, retrieved February 2007.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Beef Exports Fuel Loss of Amazonian Forest." Center for International Forestry Research. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.
  8. ^ Deforestation of the Amazon Rainforests and CO2. University of Michigan, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2015. .
  9. ^ Deforestation of the Amazon Rainforests and CO2. University of Michigan, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2015.
  10. ^ Fearnside, Philip M. "Deforestation in Brazilian Amazonia: History, Rates, and Consequences." Conservation Biology 19.3 (2005): 680-88. Academic Search Premier. Web. 14 Feb. 2015
  11. ^ "Brazil Demonstrating That Reducing Tropical Deforestation Is Key WinWin Global Warming Solution." Space Daily. N.p., 16 May 2007. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Instituto Hórus de Desenvolvimento e Conservação Ambiental (The Horus Institute for Environmental Conservation and Development)
  17. ^ a b
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ a b c d Nepstad D, McGrath D, Stickler C, Alencar A, Azvedo A, Swette B. 2014. Slowing Amazon deforestation through public policy and intervention in the beef and soy supply chain. Science. Vol 344, p 1118-1123.
  22. ^ Soares-Filho B, Rajao R, Macedo M, Carneiro A, Costa W, Coe M, Rodrigues H, Alencar A. 2014. Cracking Brazil’s Forest Code. Science. Vol 344, Policy.
  23. ^ a b Martinelli, Luiz A., and Solange Filoso. "Expansion Of Sugarcane Ethanol Production In Brazil: Environmental And Social Challenges." Ecological Applications 18.4 (2008): 885-98. Web.
  24. ^ a b Julieta Andrea Puerto Rico (2008-05-08). "Programa de Biocombustíveis no Brasil e na Colômbia: uma análise da implantação, resultados e perspectivas" (in Portuguese). Universidade de São Paulo. Retrieved 2008-10-05. Ph.D. Dissertation Thesis, pp. 81–82
  25. ^
  26. ^ Lovins. A.B. (2005). Winning the Oil Endgame, p. 105.
  27. ^ See pp. 3, 8, 10 22 and 23.
  28. ^
  29. ^ "Greenhouse Gas Reduction Thresholds". U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2010-02-03. Retrieved 2010-02-09.
  30. ^ a b "Get the Facts Right and Kill the Myths." Brazil Sugarcane Ethanol (n.d.): n. pag. Sugarcane.org. Sugarcane.org, 1 Nov. 2010. Web. 1 Feb. 2015.
  31. ^ Macedo Isaias, M. Lima Verde Leal and J. Azevedo Ramos da Silva (2004). "Assessment of greenhouse gas emissions in the production and use of fuel ethanol in Brazil" (PDF). Secretariat of the Environment, Government of the State of São Paulo. Archived from the original on 2008-05-28. Retrieved 2008-05-09.
  32. ^
  33. ^ Briefing Note 005/10 pp. 13–15.
  34. ^ a b "Deforestation: Brazil Is a Success Story for Conservation." The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
  35. ^ Hudson, Rex A., ed. (1997). "The Society and Its Environment: The Environment". Brazil: A Country Study. Library of Congress Country Studies. Retrieved 2011-12-06.
  36. ^
  37. ^ [1], Federal Law Nº 9.985 of 07/18/2000. Regulates article 225 of the Federal Constitution and institutes the National System of Units of Conservation and other provisions.
  38. ^ Socio-environmental Institute, What is the SNUC??.
  39. ^ a b "Biodiversity in Brazil." UNESCO Office in Brasilia. UNESCO, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.

External links

  • Brazilian Amazon Protected areas - Instituto Socioambiental
  • Brazil Wildlife Conservation Partner