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Summary of past and present deforestation trends in the Amazon and associated implications for climate change and Brazilian private sector companies in the pulp, paper and agribusiness industries.

by Raphael Danglade

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Brazil has always been subject to a lot of covetousness as a result of its rich and diverse natural environment. Over the past fifty years the Amazon, which is considered nowadays as the last forest of continental size has experienced several eras (UNICAMP/NEPAM). These different periods, amongst which many governments succeeded each other, have consequently altered the Amazon biome in various ways. Every government in charge of Brazil over these fifty years has tried to manage the Amazon’s resources as best they could (Becker, 1982), and interestingly following very diverse and most of the time opposing economics and conservation interests.

It is assumed that deforestation in the Amazon started in the 1960s with the construction of the Trans-Amazonian highway (Fearnside., 2005), this project aimed at developing the Amazon region and thus brought large numbers of migrants. These migrants have been defined as the “new colonizer” of the Amazon region (Becker., 2004) and represented significant influx to this uninhabited and extremely humid environment. Receiving fiscal incentives by the government to develop cattle and agriculture in the region, they were the first to massively modify the Amazon (De Mello et al., 2001). This period was under the control of the Brazilian military regime (1964-1988) and is described as ‘the modern period of deforestation’ (Meira Mattos., 1980). An important element to understand is that the colonization of the Amazon was framed under a national security doctrine (Kirby et al., 2006). Colonizing the Amazon for the Brazilian military regime meant avoiding foreign interference and the internationalization of the area (Skidmore., 1988).

However, as early as the 1970s and 1980s, actions towards the development of the Amazon were already controversial and received resistance from Amazon native populations. Various communities such as the ribeirinhos, seringuerios and quilombola and small farmers tried to denounce and fight against the authoritarian practices of the military regime and the unbeneficial and environmentally detrimental policies that were implemented, especially the development of large-scale farming and land grabbing (Marko et al., 2014).

From 1988 onwards, Brazil saw the end of twenty years of military regime and the renewal of democratisation (Viola et al., 1998). This shift embedded profound modifications in terms of environmental policies and was principally driven by a combination of internal and external pressures (Viola., 1998). The 1988 Brazilian constitution marked the beginning of a new era for the Amazon. Policies towards the preservation of the Amazon region were designed, and cooperation with the international community to exchange ideas to solve environmental issues was for the first time put into action (Hurrell., 1991). The colonization of the Amazon was still advancing but programs to reduce the rate of deforestation such as the ‘Nossa Natureza’ were established (Lima., 2009). In 1989, IBAMA – the Brazilian Institute of the Environment, Natural and Renewable Resources – was founded and acted as the country’s environmental police since then (Marko et al., 2014). In 1992, during the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, the PP-G7 (Pilot Program for the Protection of Brazilian Tropical Forests) was created and involved Brazil and the G7 countries (Marko et al., 2014).

Even though these programs appeared at first sight to be beneficial for the reduction of deforestation in the Amazon, they were often blurred by the ambiguity of Brazilian policies. These policies were promoting the development of large-scale transportation networks cutting across the Amazon, thus encouraging the spread of agriculture and timber industries. The ‘Avanca Brasil’ is an appropriate example of such contradiction and represents the confusing and obscure reality of the politics of the Amazon (Laurance., 2004).

Following the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, international scientific cooperation in the biome became well recognized and grew exponentially, influencing the creation of many non-governmental organisations such as Imazon, and IPAM amongst others (Zhouri., 2010). These NGOs played a crucial role in endorsing the various deforestation research of international scientists. Moreover, they contributed through the influence they had amongst civil society to the formulation of public policies for the region (Viola., 1998). Thus shaping how development in the Amazon was perceived and practiced.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the science of climate change emerged as a significant body of work, asserting the relationship that exists between deforestation and emissions of carbon dioxide. It strengthened the interplay that existed between government bodies, civil society and the scientific community, thus shifting the focus that previously concentrated on deforestation to climate change, and rendering climate change related topics extremely relevant to future policy debates (Golden., 1989). It also unveiled a new reality about the drivers of deforestation, which were thought to be mainly resulting from the influx of migrants to the Amazon region, but this time emphasizing the role of cattle and timber industries in the very damaging reduction of the forested environment (Perz., 2002).

Stemming from the science of climate change, climate models also contributed to the understanding of the detrimental consequences that deforestation engendered (Lahsen., 2005). The Amazon became considered a vulnerability hot spot, in which climate change could severely reduce the provision of environmental services and consequently reach a number of tipping points. These include through the alteration of hydrological patterns, the increase in biodiversity loss and the development of infectious diseases (Nepstad et al., 2008).

The government of Brazil (GoB) from 2002 onwards started implementing drastic measures to reduce deforestation and curb the very high rate of the previous years – at an annual average of 21.000km2 in 2000-2004 (Alencar et al., 2004), a national record. This Incorporated the knowledge they accumulated on climate change into environmental policies, especially in the Amazon region. The GoB launched the Program for Protected Areas in the Amazon in 2002, which had the objective to protect 563.000km2 by 2016 (Soares-Filho., 2008). Two years later it created its first Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the legal Amazon (PPCDAM – 2004) (GoB., 2009). The ‘Legal Amazon’ represents the largest Brazilian socio-geographic division and contains nine states in the Amazon Basin. The PPCDAM through the creation of monitoring and surveillance units reduced deforestation by 59% from 2004-2007 and is considered as a success (ISA., 2009).

Since 2005, deforestation reduction in the Amazon has been at the core of the federal GoB program (Violia., 2013). In contrast, prior to this, the GoB refused to discuss mitigation measures related to deforestation, claiming its sovereignty over natural resources (Violia, 2013). The transition occurred as a result of two determining factors, the first one being when Brazil proposed the creation of an international fund to the UNFCCC through which it could receive positive incentives for reducing deforestation (Violia et Macado Filho 2012). Three years later the proposal was approved and the Amazon Fund was established. Secondly, the actions of the environmental and activist non-governmental organisation Greenpeace were key in the transition. In 2006, through the publication of an overwhelming report entitled ‘Eating Up the Amazon’ (Greenpeace., 2006), the NGO denounced the detrimental actions that the agribusiness industry had on the Amazon. Devastating the region to expand the agricultural frontiers over the rainforest, Greenpeace condemned the adverse actions of major soy companies by shedding light on them, and obliged them to take actions to reduce their deforestation footprints. This led to a soy moratorium in 2006 (Rudorff et al., 2011), in which the largest companies from the industry guaranteed that no soy grains would be exported and domestically consumed from deforested areas anymore. This statement has been supported and verified by technological instruments, notably the use of satellite images (Arima et al., 2011). Moratoriums have become quite popular in the Amazon, in 2009 a ‘beef moratorium’ was established (Amigos de Terra., 2009), and last year (2014), a ‘palm oil moratorium’ was also added to the list (RSPO., 2014). In 2007, a new coalition of multi-stakeholders formed, consisting of international and national individuals, NGOs, corporations, scientific community, academics and local governments. Together they influenced the GoB to establish a ‘National Pact for Valuing Forests and Ending Deforestation’ (Violia, 2013) amongst several sectors of the economy. This pact was considered radical because it included the deforestation permitted by the Brazilian forest law – the forest code – and also as critical to the foundation of the Amazon Fund as it encompassed discussions related to the capture of private, domestic and international financial resources that could enable its creation (Ramos., 2009).

In 2007, Brazil under the governance of Luiz Inàcio Lula Da Silva and after the publication of the Fourth Report of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) announced its first National Plan on Climate Change (NPCC) (GoB., 2009), acknowledging that political will is necessary if it is to mitigate the effects of climate change. The NPCC is a significant milestone for the incorporation and coordination of public policies in Brazil and can be considered as ambitious, particularly if compared with other developing countries (Lebre La Rovere et al. 2013). It aims at reducing emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) and thus proposes a series of actions to achieve its goals, claiming that ‘Brazil is responsible for harmonizing its actions in the field of climate change with socio-economic growth processes in the name of sustainable development’ (GoB., 2009). The two main challenges of the plan were to reduce emissions from land use change, which accounted for 61% of Brazil’s GHG emissions; and to continuously increase Brazil’s efficiency in the use of its natural resources (Gebara et Thuault., 2013). The plan had the objective to reduce deforestation in all Brazilian biomes by 40% from 2006-2009 compared to the ten years period 1996-2005, used as reference by the Amazon Fund (see Figure 1). It also stated that from 2009 onwards, the following two periods of four years would each reduce deforestation by 30%, resulting in an overall decrease of 80% in deforestation by 2020 (King et al., 2012). Furthermore, the plan had the objective to double the area of forest plantation by 2020 (GoB., 2009) and therefore eliminate the net loss of forest coverage by 2015.

Figure 1: Trends in deforestation rate in the Amazon

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Source: National Plan on Climate Change Brazil, (2007).

With regards to private sector companies, it is interesting to note that several large Brazilian companies started adopting voluntary internal guidelines to address climate change. Prior to the Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen (COP-15) in 2009, twenty-two Brazilian companies presented an ‘Open Letter to Brazil on Climate Change’ urging the government to take the lead in the negotiations, the letter also encouraged the GoB to implement incentive mechanisms for conservation. Companies committed on an annual basis to publish GHG inventories and mitigation actions to reduce their environmental and carbon footprints (Ethos., 2009). Although companies decided to undertake these actions voluntarily, the Federation of Industries of Sao Paulo State (FIESP), comprising 132 industries and representing approximately 150.000 companies dissuaded the GoB not to accept commitments, contending that it is the role of developed countries to assume and carry out such actions (Glickhouse., 2011).

This shows the contradictions that exist between certain leading companies taking the lead with regards to climate change mitigation and the rest, expecting developed countries to act in the first place.

In addition to the voluntary initiative from the private sector and prior to COP15, Marina Silva, a political figure and former Minister of the Environment under Lula’s government (2003-2010) announced her presidential candidacy for the 2010’s election. Marina Silva has been recognised as a significant figure in the transition towards the end of deforestation, from the moment she entered the GoB to her resignation. In 2010, when she presented her candidacy to the presidency and came in third place with 19% of the total valid vote, other candidates and most especially the winning candidate Dilma Roussef understood how significant it was to promote the conservation of the environment and stop deforestation for the Brazilian population (Viola., 2013). It is assumed that Marina Silva brought environmental issues to a new level in Brazil’s political agenda. The elected president, Dilma Roussef therefore decided to maintain Marina Silva’s propositions towards a low-carbon economy and contributed to the continuation of the end of deforestation.

In 2009, Brazil committed voluntarily to the adoption of national actions to reduce emissions of GHG by 36.1% to 38.9% from business-as-usual (BAU) by 2020. Amongst Brazil’s NAMAs, reducing deforestation was part of the central strategy. Even though this ambitious target is voluntary, the GoB integrated it into national law with the Federal Decree No. 7360: the ‘National Climate Change Policy Law’ (GoB., 2009). Following the law, a new Decree No. 7390 was established in 2010 and enumerated a number of mitigation targets for the agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) sectors, considered as the largest emitters (Gebara et Thuault., 2013). This represented a decisive moment for agribusiness, paper and pulp companies as they were for the first time targeted by the government to reduce their carbon footprints (See table below).

Table 1: Brazilian Baseline Projections for 2020 and Estimated GHG reductions

by Sector from Policy Actions (Decree 7.390/2010)

 UntitledGebara et al., (2013)

When in 2012, the Rio+20 conference took place; an unprecedented initiative emerged in which Brazilian private sector companies from different sectors were invited to take part. The Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development (CEBDS) established the ‘Vision Brazil 2050’ (CEBDS., 2012), representing a new agenda for businesses. It is assumed that Brazil has a great competitive advantage in the green race, mainly because of its clean energy mix, which is mostly from renewable sources (45%), and its rich and very diverse biodiversity, and its increasing per capita income (Viola., 2013). Through this initiative the CEBDS aims at combining sustainability with economic development to make Brazilian companies the leaders in the green economy. The ‘Vision Brazil 2050’ is a platform through which companies can receive advice and help each other. The CEBDS has been defending the belief that ‘short or long term economic measures should be integrated with the social and environmental dimensions’. This initiative was launched during Rio+20, a symbolic moment in time. It marked a transition for Brazil whether to live in a better country or to evolve in a scenario of widespread climate change, irreversible loss in all biomes and critical financial crises.

More recently, on the 6th of August 2014 in Sao Paulo, another important event occurred amongst private sector companies and the CEBDS. Twenty-four large Brazilian companies launched an initiative with the CEBDS for a ‘Sustainable Country’ (CEBDS., 2014). The objective of this initiative was to influence Brazil’s elections held in October 2014, and to make Brazil’s future leader aware of the determination of companies for achieving sustainable development. To do so, companies working with the CEBDS have elaborated a very unique document, comprising five main objectives and twenty-two sub-propositions out of which climate change related themes such as the sustainable management of biodiversity, water and energy are emphasized. This document represents a turning point in the relations that exist between the public and private sectors in Brazil. The document aims at influencing Brazil’s new elected president from the beginning of their mandate, something companies are hoping for but which is currently hindered by the Petrobras corruption scandal; which many politicians are associated with and that reflects the current and high level of corruption that exists between private sector companies and the Worker Party (PT) to which Dilma Roussef is the leader. Originally, the document sought to establish compliance from members of the government with what are regarded as ‘best practices’ and was thought to be a new way of performing politics.

Figure 2: Annual deforestation and the area of indigenous territories, sustainable development reserves (e.g., extractive reserves), strict protection reserves, and agrarian reform settlements.


Nepstad et al., (2014)

This summary of the different actions that were undertaken demonstrates that Brazil is a worldwide leader in climate change mitigation, imposing on itself very ambitious and voluntary mitigation targets and showing its strength in combating the main drivers of GHG emissions successfully, mainly deforestation (see figure 2). With regards to private sector industry having an impact on the Amazon (mainly paper, pulp and agribusiness industries), it can be said that climate change has been incorporated into their corporate business strategies and that these industries finally decided to apply sustainable and environmentally friendly practices to their productions, therefore reducing their environmental and carbon footprints. Certainly voluntary more than encouraged by the Brazilian federal government, but a limited number of companies in these industries are trying to comply with the objectives of Brazil with regards to deforestation and reducing GHG emissions. Understanding the direct and unexpected effects of climate change helped them recognise that their prospect growth can be compromised.

It is essential to highlight the fundamental role of several actors in this transition with regards to reduced deforestation and the implementation of mitigation actions by private sector companies. One can think of civil societies fighting since the 1970-80s, the rise of non-governmental organisations supported by climate change knowledge, the appearance of ethical consumerism in Brazil and abroad affecting the production chain of these industries, rendering them more transparent and certified with labels and standards. Considering all these pressures, one can understand why the reduction in deforestation is at the core of the federal GoB program and why companies decided to adopt voluntarily internal guidelines to address climate change and promote the conservation of the Amazon basin. However, it is significant to keep in mind that only a limited number of companies undertake actions to mitigate climate change and are representative of this new reality. Better communication between government officials and private sector companies could in the future lead to the involvement of more companies to act responsibly and could represent a solution for other countries that are subject to high deforestation rates.

The case of Brazil can be reproduced in other tropical countries. To achieve this, the same actors that led the transition to end deforestation have to take part, but this also has to involve civil society from all over the world. Media and digital technologies can emphasize the potential role of private sector companies in destroying the natural environment to the public and can  be a channel through which different segments of the economy may be influenced. Thus deciding to adopt specific guidelines respecting the preservation of the environment, mitigating climate change and ensuring the well-being of future generations.

© Raphael Danglade

Suggested citing:

Danglade, R., (2015). Summary of past and current deforestation trends in the Amazon and associated implications for climate change and private sector companies in the pulp, paper and agribusiness industries. [Online]. Available at:  [accessed + date when the website was accessed].


About Raphael.Danglade

Raphael studied Geography and read Environmental Studies before completing a MSc in Climate Change and International Development. His field of interest lies in mitigation and adaptation strategies for social enterprises and corporations. Helping companies to reduce their carbon emissions and compensate their ecological footprints by implementing socio-economic development projects around the world is something he considered as ground-breaking. He had the opportunity to diversify his fascination for such approaches by working for private sector companies and non-governmental organisations. He is now very inclined towards providing knowledge and expertise around such strategies that he knows will become fully integrated to any corporations in the near future.

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This entry was posted on April 6, 2015 by in Climate Change Mitigation and tagged , , .
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