Events

Brazil's Other Forest: The Fight to Preserve and Restore the Mata Atlantica

March 30, 2011 // 9:30am11:30am
Event Co-sponsors: 
Environmental Change and Security Program
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Thomas Lovejoy, member of the Brazil Institute’s Advisory Board, opened this event by presenting a brief history of the earth’s climate changes.  He first noted that the greenhouse effect is precisely the reason that the earth is habitable. On a graph mapping the volatile history of carbon levels in the earth’s atmosphere, Lovejoy pointed out the atmosphere’s “unusually stable temperatures” and carbon levels over the past ten thousand years. He also drew attention to a contemporary spike in atmospheric carbon- beginning at the time of the Industrial Revolution- that is heating the planet and bringing us closer to temperature tipping points which, once met, will incite ecosystem failure. 

Lovejoy also highlighted two major planetary events that caused dramatic reductions in levels of atmospheric carbon: first, the emergence of plants, which use photosynthesis to remove carbon from the atmosphere. The second event was the advent of modern flowering plants, which also use photosynthesis, but do so more efficiently.  Given that fifty percent of the contemporary excess of carbon in our atmosphere is due to ecosystem degradation, Lovejoy stressed that we should all “look to biology to reign in carbon.” He also underscored that biology and biodiversity must not be valued solely for their contributions in absorbing atmospheric carbon; biology and biodiversity are essential to human life for a variety of reasons.

Miguel Calmon, of the Instituto BioAtlantica and a member of the Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact, elucidated some of these reasons.  Calmon began his comments, however, with an introduction to the Atlantic Forest, the tropical and subtropical rainforest that spans north to south on Brazil’s eastern coast. This geographic area is home to more than 60% of the Brazilian population and accounts for 70% of the country’s GDP, statistics that reflect both social and economic development.  Yet concomitant with this development came severe destruction and degradation of the Forest: by some estimates, less than 12 percent of the original forest cover remains.  It is crucial, Calmon went on to emphasize, that this forest be restored.  The Atlantic Forest boasts a similar range of biodiversity as the geographically larger Amazon, despite often being overshadowed by the latter in the media. Moreover, apart from its biodiversity, the Atlantic forest also provides essential ecological services like the maintenance of watershed levels and the natural regulation of water quality, as well as climate stabilization, air purification, and soil protection. In light of the importance of the Forest, Calmon introduced the Pact, a movement to restore the Atlantic Forest, which emerged as a result of a two and a half year collaboration of NGOs, Brazilian government agencies, private companies, and research institutions.  The Pact aims to integrate disparate organizations, initiatives, and people into one collective and integrated societal movement that will not only conserve, but also restore 15 million hectares of Atlantic Forest by the year 2050.  As of February 2011 the Pact counted on 168 institutional members. It is divided into Thematic Working Groups, an Executive Secretariat, and Project Implementers, and it is led by a Coordination Board composed of 20 institutions.

Calmon emphasized that the Pact recognizes that its mission will not be possible without an effective monitoring protocol.  Additionally, the total economic value of the forest must be recognized.  Therefore, the Pact has built economic concerns into its main objectives, stating that among other goals, it aims to “expand the local economy by generating jobs and income” and “to mobilize resources and investments… to leverage the current markets for ecosystem services” (see slides 10-11 of Calmon’s presentation).

Clayton Lino, who followed Calmon, spoke of this economic integration and diversification. He noted first, however, that conservation of existing forest patches is not enough. These segments are isolated, and are therefore more vulnerable to weather processes and degradation. Isolated patches are also inherently weaker in terms of genetic diversity because there is no opportunity for gene flow.  Thus, Lino stressed, it is important not only to grow new forest, but to create corridors of forest between existing patches, which will “promote the preservation of natural cycles” and allow the forest to develop to its fullest genetic potential.

In economic terms, the biodiversity represents an underexploited market; while society is aware of guaraná and açai from the Amazon, Lino gave examples of Atlantic Forest products, including the jabuticaba, also known as the Brazilian Grape Tree; pinhão, a nut eaten as a popular winter snack in the South; and other products that are important in cosmetic production.

While the Atlantic Forest provides incredible biodiversity, there is also the potential to develop markets based on the Forest’s socio-cultural diversity. Lino posited that interest in the lifestyles and culture of fishermen in the north and gauchos, or cowboys, in the south could develop into economically viable sustainable and cultural tourism opportunities.  Additionally, the Forest is home to plants that play important cultural roles in daily life, including the erva mate plant, which in Southern Brazil is used to make a tea called chimarrão, or mate.

Lino closed by repeating that without policies and institutions in place to reinforce and support the restoration of the Forest, the concurrent economic potential will not be realized.

Ana Cristina Barros then spoke about the political challenges of Atlantic Forest restoration.  She first introduced the importance of the Forest Code review now occurring in the Brazilian Congress.  The Forest Code is a set of laws first passed in 1965 that stipulate acceptable use of forested lands throughout all of Brazil’s biomes. It currently mandates that landowners must maintain the Atlantic Forest on 20 percent of their land. Barros explained that the potential changes in the Forest Code will be determined by the outcome of dual considerations: first, the amnesty to farmers and landowners for prior and current transgressions; and second, the need to follow conservations metrics.  The result of this debate will determine the quantity of compensation given to farmers for their compliance and the amount of forest restoration that occurs. On a hopeful note, Barros discussed a meeting of 34 NGOs with 30 pulp and paper companies who met for a dialogue and came to a historical consensus on conservation needs and policies.  They presented 16 points to Congress and the Pact is expecting this to positively influence the Congressional discussion.

The second political issue Barros introduced was the need for an environmental governance structure.  States are increasing their activity in environmental affairs, which is also leading to the fusion and merging of different agencies.  However, these agencies are not connecting much with corresponding bodies on the federal level. The main priority and challenge, then, is to create “an overarching national plan that will guide [governmental] restructuring” in order to make environmental efforts and action more organized and allow monitoring to be more effective, since government action and expenditure would presumably be more coordinated. 

Barros concluded her presentation by revealing that the Pact aggregated different sources of funding and now estimates that over 10 years it will be able to count on close to one billion dollars for Atlantic Forest restoration.

 

Drafted by Jillian Macnoughton,

Paulo Sotero, Director, Brazil Institute

 
Event Speakers List: 
  • Senior Fellow, United Nations Foundation; University Professor, George Mason University; ECSP Advisory Board Member
  • Paulo Sotero // Director, Brazil Institute
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Event Documents: 
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