Climate Action

Living Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho, Anabela Marisa Azul, Luciana Brandli, Pinar Gökcin Özuyar, Tony Wall

Brazilian Amazônia and Climate Change: Barriers and Pathways for Forthcoming Sustainability

  • Thiago Lima Klautau de AraújoEmail author
Living reference work entry


In Portuguese, “Amazônia” is a word with several possible meanings, being able to refer to the Northern Region of Brazil, to the forest, to the biome, or to the economic zone. In English, the expression “Amazon” is even more confusing as it can refer (in addition to those already mentioned) also to the Amazon River.

The Amazônia Rainforest occupies 2/5 of South America’s area or about 5% of the Earth’s surface, concentrating 20% of the planet’s fresh water (IBGE 2004). Its climate is equatorial and tropical. French Guiana (an overseas department of France), Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil together compose the International Amazônia.


Brazil concentrates 60% of total Amazônia’s area, distributed among the states of Pará, Amazonas, Rondônia, Roraima, Acre, Amapá (their full territories), Tocantins, Maranhão, and Mato Grosso (only part of their areas) (IBGE 2004; Fig. 1).
Fig. 1

Brazilian Amazônia highlighted in green. (IBGE 2004; with permission of Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística)

The biome extends to Mato Grosso (in the Center-West Region) and Maranhão (Northeast Region). However, there is a common imprecise concept that the Amazonian biome and the North of Brazil are the same which is not correct. The Northern Region represents 45.25% of the Brazilian territory: 3,853,843.713 km2 (IBGE 2016). Even though Tocantins is a part of this administrative division, this state is composed of 91% of the Cerrado biome and only 9% of the Amazônia biome (IBGE 2004).

Legal Amazônia is erroneously known as the denomination given by the Brazilian government to Brazilian Amazônia. In fact, it was established and regulated in the 1950s with the purpose of grouping similar states for the creation of plans for economic development, reduction of regional inequalities, and territorial integration. This is why Legal Amazônia coincides with the area where actuates the Amazônia’s Development Authority (Superintendência de Desenvolvimento da Amazônia: SUDAM), a governmental agency that finances and supports some projects for the region. Legal Amazônia coincides partly with the Biome area (Fig. 2), and it has approximately 5,020,000 km2 (IBGE 2014a), which corresponds to 58.95% of the territory of Brazil (IBGE 2016). It was created by Law 1806 (Brasil 1953). The regulations were consecutively modified over the years, for example, with the Law 5173 (Brasil 1966). Currently, it is regulated by the Complementary Law 124 (Brasil 2007).
Fig. 2

Legal Amazônia map. (IBGE 2014b; with permission of Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística)

The Northern Region of Brazil had, in 2018, 18,182,253 inhabitants (IBGE 2019). If we consider Legal Amazônia, the population rises to 28,659,306 people, which represents 8.72% and 13.74%, of the 208,494,900 inhabitants of Brazil, respectively (IBGE 2019).

The low population density, isolation of some communities, and population concentration in urban centers are some of the geographical characteristics of Amazônia.

For the framework of this Encyclopedia entry, Amazônia is considered to be composed by the North Region states, as they (with the exception of Tocantins, which emerged from Goiás dismemberment in the Center-West Region) have a common cultural root, as well as several socioeconomic similarities that are not shared by Maranhão and Mato Grosso. In addition to the ecosystem aspects, Amazônia is characterized by a common cultural identity, based on a peculiar relationship between man and nature.

This entry aims to make an overview of environmental, social, and economic contexts of Amazônia, not only by its geographic and natural characteristics. To do so, scientific literature and official data about the region are used and analyzed.

Some of the major problems existing in Amazônia currently are assessed in this entry such as social and environmental degradation, poor health/education conditions, low income, as well as other obstacles. Added to that, a historical contextualization is also included, in order to facilitate the access of a bigger picture about the region to scholars and to nonspecialists.

Although these aspects mentioned have been already analyzed and discussed in several papers (e.g., Klautau de Araújo 1995; Muchagata and Brown 2003; Paulino 2014; Lavelle et al. 2016; Wolford 2016; Silva et al. 2017a, b), this entry approaches several different perspectives that are not always included as components of the environmental researches but interfere on the general results for the environment and local populations.

Amazônia is a region that influences many other ecosystems and climate stability around the globe. Its immense biodiversity is also relevant. However, its characteristics, its history, and its current situation are still unknown to a significant part of the world’s population. With this overview, it is intended to raise awareness about the importance of the region to the world and to Brazil, as well to democratize information and knowledge to citizens.

Historical Context

The colonization of Amazônia started for two fundamental reasons, (1) to protect the territory against invasions of other countries and (2) to exploit the backland drugs: cocoa, pau-cravo, achiote, cloves, cinnamon, nuts, sarsaparilla, vanilla, almiscar/breu, resins, oil seeds, and quinine; as the commercial route for Indian spices trading was lost by Portugal, those products were used as substitutes (Rezende 2006; Cardoso 2015); these were the bases that economically supported the settlement of the region by Portugal (Weinstein 1993; Rezende 2006; Cardoso 2015).

Regarding the conquer of Amazônia, Rezende (2006) describes: “The conquest and settling of the Amazon region during the colonization period were state-conducted enterprises, planned and executed with political priority by the metropolitan government, which resulted in the incorporation to the Brazilian territory of approximately 60% of its total present area. It was Portugal’s duty, still under the Iberic Union, under the King of Spain’s orders, the expulsion of the French from São Luís do Maranhão and the foundation, in 1616, of the Forte do Presépio de Santa Maria de Belém (Fort of the Nativity of Saint Mary of Bethlehem). As from that position, both fishermen and English and Dutch tradesmen, who were beginning to settle in the lower Amazon River, were expelled by the Portuguese forces, who then started to control access to the world’s largest hydrographic basin. After the foundation of the states of Maranhão and Grão-Pará in 1621 – autonomous and independent political entity of the State of Brazil – the administration of these territories became directly subordinate to Lisbon’s government, thus triggering an irreversible process of territorial penetration and exploitation throughout the vast Amazon hydrographic network.”

Belém became a reference city in the region, as the main gateway of Amazônia. This was reinforced until the nineteenth century, when the latex exploitation cycle started in the region, which brought wealth and prosperity to Amazônia. At that time, Brazil was already an independent country.

Inspired by the European cities, especially the French ones, Belém was given the nickname “Paris n’América,” due to its urban planning and buildings. It became one of the greatest urban centers in Brazil, being one of the most developed cities of the country (Weinstein 1993; Lisboa 2016; Mourão 2017; Klautau de Araújo et al. 2019). Other settlements on the way between rubber extraction places and Belém (where the rubber was traded and exported) grew and became cities. This happened, for example, with Manaus, which quickly became an important center and also experienced the Belle Époque.

The collapse of rubber prices in the international market was followed by a short period during the first half of the twentieth century, when the latex was again exploited in the region. This occurred because the Malaysian rubber monocultures were dominated by Nazi troops, leaving allies with no raw material during World War II. These two closings of latex production caused a significant slowdown of the Amazonian economy. This stagnation withdrew riches from the region and compromised the strength of the economy. However, it is important to note that due to the difficulty of access to the region and the distance from the major centers, food production and most of the products were made in Amazônia, which maintained the existence of local industry and a relative balance between man and nature.

Projects that tried to implement rubber plantations in Amazônia to meet needs of some companies failed. Mourão (2017) describes it: “It should not be omitted that there have been several official and private attempts to resume and boost the “rubber economy”. Between 1912 and 1945, there were some official attempts to recover the production of latex and invigorate its exports. The first efforts were expressed in the “Rubber Defense Plan”, which did not exceed two years. Another effort was the so-called “Battle of the Rubber”, begun in 1942, with the signing of the “Washington agreements” and which lasted until approximately 1947 (The concession of land in the municipality of Santarém to FORD and other companies (Fordlandia and Belterra) were part of these efforts).” Regarding the context of Amazônia during the war and the dynamics of rubber during this time, see Garfield (2009 and 2010).

In the 1950s, the Federal Government initiated a policy of national integration, based fundamentally on the construction of highways and abandonment of the railway network. Its motivation was to create more demand for the Brazilian automotive industry, recently installed at that point. This policy was maintained and expanded by the military governments: in addition to the construction of roads – many of which have not been completed yet – a policy of agrarian colonization of Amazônia was established.

The option for the highways to the detriment of the railroads decimated Brazil’s competitive capacity in the international market, making products more expensive and the logistics really difficult.

In environmental and climatic aspects, the impact of this option is equally significant. Brazilian transportation system consumes 82.1% of all the diesel oil sold in the country and which 97% of it is exclusively destined to the road modal; just because of the precarious conditions of Brazilian road maintenance, it is estimated that Brazil consumes – without necessity – 832.3 million liters of diesel every year, representing additional emissions of 2.22 million tons of CO2 (CNT; SEST; SENAT 2017).

The socio-environmental impact is even worse for Amazônia. Besides the deindustrialization process that occurred with the opening of the roads (Mourão 1989; Klautau de Araújo 1995), there was an uncontrolled migration movement to the region. Its infrastructure was not prepared – which severely deteriorated the socioeconomic situation of the migrants and local populations; it boosted a large deforestation process and land conflicts (Klautau de Araújo 1995, 2014, 2016, 2017, Klautau de Araújo et al. 2019; Paulino 2014; Wolford 2016).

A Country Inside Another

The region has been separated from the rest of Brazil in administrative aspects for many years. The projects for Amazônia and for the rest of Brazil were clearly different. For instance, Pará was the last state to join Brazilian Independence, only almost a year after the proclamation.

Mourão (2017) pointed out: “In 1751, the seat of the Government of the State of Pará and Maranhão was transferred to Belém. However, its formal political integration to the rest of Brazil only occurred after 1823. The almost parallel existence of Amazônia and Pará during this period created certain difficulties for the reconstitution of its global history, since many fundamental information is unknown to us Brazilians, because part of its documentation is outside the country or destroyed and, if not, is omitted by this and others reasons, by those who have written about it. Nevertheless, a succession of diverse economic, political and social enterprises guide their history to the present day.”

Even after this administrative and political unification, Amazônia and the rest of Brazil cannot be said to be moving at the same pace. The distance from the large centers, the low population density, and the lack of political prestige of the region have always been extremely unfavorable to local interests. This situation persists until the present days.

Weinstein (1993) described this problem in the beginning of twentieth century, when the rubber prices collapsed in the market: “(…) It is essential to consider the political component of the economic obstacles from the region. Since it needs political support at the national level, the elite of Amazônia failed many times in offering support to programs that intended to combat the devastating effects of price fluctuations. Moreover, their appeals for emergency assistance right after the collapse were largely ignored.”

There has been a great concentration of decision-making power in the Federal Government, even when the decision-makers do not know the local reality. This explains, in part, the succession of misguided state initiatives that have exponentially increased the socio-environmental impacts suffered by the region.

Prior to the Amazonian’s cluttered and ill-planned “integration” to the rest of the country, the region suffered from economic and social issues. However, these two were not only greatly worsened but also added to the environmental and ecological imbalance problems.

In a region with strong indigenous influences and consuetude, this imbalance directly affects local populations, interfering with their routine and habits, which harms their quality of life, forcing many families to move to the big cities. Several communities do not work with the traditional logic of capitalism; which, according to Weinstein (1993), blocked the Amazônia’s transition to a capitalist economy during the rubber cycle. Weinstein also reflects on the fact that although this has caused several embarrassments to the local economy, it is possible that if the region had joined a market economy, the environmental impact could have been such that we could now speak of Amazônia as something in the past.

Scenario of Destruction

The region is currently undergoing a very serious process of degradation. This puts the survival of the biome, the climatic stability of the planet, and the quality of life of future generations at risk.

Currently, Amazônia has some of the worst levels of education, public safety, sanitation, and income in the country. It is known that the situation faced by Brazil is extremely delicate but the one in that region is even more serious. These social and economic problems have a strong relation with environmental degradation.

Public Security and Criminality

According to numbers from 2016, Belém (Pará) and Rio Branco (Acre) are the second and the third capitals with the highest homicide rate in Brazil; Pará is the second state with the highest number of robberies followed by death, succeeded by Amapá (Lima et al. 2017). In other data, Belém appears as the most violent capital of the country, with 76.1 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants (Cerqueira et al. 2018b). The trend was the increasing in number of homicides in almost all the states of Brazil – although there is a reduction in some, especially in the Southeast region – but the North has been highlighted by the marked worsening of the numbers; between 2006 and 2016, all states in the region had an increase in homicides: Rondônia (+20.2%), Roraima (+83.8%), Amapá (+88.6%), Pará (+103.7%), Amazonas (+107.7%), Acre (+129.7%), and Tocantins (+152%) (Cerqueira et al. 2018a).

In the period of the analysis, some states of the Northeast presented a variation in the number of homicides higher than those registered in the North. However, some states in the Northeast managed to reduce or stabilize the homicides, while in Amazônia all states had worse indexes. What differentiates these two cases is not only that state governments have their responsibilities in what concerns to public security policies, but in Amazônia, the continuous neglected interventions of the Federal Government added to insufficient public policies for the region have generated chaos in other areas, affecting security.

Social Indicators of the Region

All of Brazil’s 15 cities with worst Human Development Indexes (HDI) are located in Legal Amazônia; while the HDI of Brazil is 0.754 (UNDP 2016), these municipalities vary between 0.418 and 0.484 (UNDP; IPEA; FJS 2013).

Considering that the HDI is based on criteria related to education, health, and income, it is easy to see why the Northern Region has this indicator below the national average.

Regarding public health, in 2011, from a general score between 0 and 10, the Ministry of Health assessed Brazil with 5.47; The North had the lowest grade in the country: 4.67. Nine out of the ten worst cities’ results are located in Pará and Amazonas. Among the ten lowest state indexes, six are in Legal Amazônia: Maranhão, Mato Grosso, Amapá, Amazonas, Rondônia, and Pará (Ministério da Saúde 2012).

Basic sanitation rates are even worse: in 2015, only 50.3% of Brazilian households had access to sanitation (SNIS 2017), which puts Brazil at 112th place among 200 countries (Benevides and Ribeiro 2014). However, while São Paulo (88.4%), Federal District (84.5%), and Minas Gerais (69.1%) are above the national average, Pará (4.9%), Rondônia (4.0%), and Amapá (3.8%) are in the lowest positions in the ranking (SNIS 2017).

The five worst capitals in terms of sanitation are all located in the North: Rio Branco, Macapá, Manaus, Belém, and Porto Velho; between the 100 largest cities in Brazil, the negative highlight is for Ananindeua, in the metropolitan area of Belém, with only 0.75% of the sewage collected (Oliveira et al. 2018).

Low living standards are also seen in GDP and household income per capita. By 2015, all states in Amazônia had a GDP per capita equal to (or less than) 70% of the national average. If we expand the analysis to Legal Amazônia, Mato Grosso is the only state above the average (110% in relation to Brazilian GDP per capita), while Maranhão has the lowest (38.75% of Brazilian GDP per capita) (IBGE 2017).

In 2017, Brazil’s household income per capita was R$ 1268.00, while the minimum wage was R$ 937.00; all the states of Legal Amazônia have their average below the national standard: Mato Grosso (R$ 1247.00), Roraima (R$ 1006.00), Rondônia (R$ 957.00), Tocantins (R$ 937.00), Amapá (R$ 936.00), Amazonas (R$ 850.00), Acre (R$ 769.00), Pará (R$ 715.00), and Maranhão (R$ 597.00) (IBGE 2018).

Concerning to education, in the 2015 edition of PISA, an international program that evaluates students’ performance in mathematics, reading, and science, the states of Legal Amazônia only achieved a performance equal to (or lower than) the Brazilian average (OECD 2016).

In the Basic Education Development Index (IDEB), by 2015, only Acre matched the national average in the final years of elementary education (4.5 out of 10), and Amazonas reached the national average of high school (3.7 out of 10); all other Northern states were below the average on both situations. Regarding the first years of elementary school, all the states of Northern Brazil were also under the national average, which is 5.5 out of 10 (INEP 2016).


Deforestation is directly related to the political choices made from the 1950s until the present day. In Fig. 3 (IMAZON 2014), four major axes of deforestation beginning in Pará can be identified: in the west/southwest, a line beginning at the border with Mato Grosso is the road BR-163 (Cuiabá-Santarém) – which has not been completely paved yet; the arch in the center is the BR-230 (Transamazônica Highway), also not completed; in the Northeast of the state, two large deforested areas are visible, one around BR-010 (Belém-Brasília), which runs south, entering Maranhão and then in Tocantins, and another, closer to the coast, to the surroundings of the BR-316; the fourth axis of deforestation in the southeast/south of Pará is a mix between the construction of roads, mineral projects, and cattle.
Fig. 3

Deforestation (in pink) in Legal Amazônia by 2012. (IMAZON 2014; with permission of Instituto do Homem e Meio Ambiente da Amazônia)

Mineral projects themselves cannot be pointed out as the main responsible ones for deforestation. Even in open mines (such as the Carajás iron mines, which are among the largest in the world), the cut of trees is controlled. However, mineral activity causes environmental and social damage to its surroundings, directly and indirectly. The deforestation of the region started also due to the uncontrolled migration to the places where mineral activity took place. Attracted by new business or job opportunities, hundreds of thousands of people quickly moved to the region, which did not have adequate infrastructure and minimal public services. Migration significantly exceeded the supply of formal jobs and the effective economic boost, marginalizing and making vulnerable great part of the new population. It is similar to Belo Monte Hydroelectric Power Plant case, where the population that immigrated to the region opened roads and increased pressure for natural resources in protected forests: this raised deforestation in the region by 40% (Calixto 2016).

Garrett et al. (2017) point out that the cattle, used as a way to occupy the land waiting for its financial appreciation, combined with outdated techniques of management of this activity is an extremely relevant cause of deforestation in Amazônia.

In the case of Mato Grosso and Rondônia, illegal logging, expansion of soybean plantations (and other monocultures), and incentives to attract people to the region (especially in Rondônia) are some of the reasons which explain the occurrence of deforestation shown in Fig. 3.

The result is violence, poor health/education conditions, and very low quality of life for the native and immigrant populations. This drives to environmental degradation, because without proper government surveillance, people are predatorily exploiting natural resources (or helping big companies to do so) in exchange of money for their survival.

It is not intended to suggest that Amazônia should be isolated from the rest of Brazil, without roads or exploration of its mineral resources. These enterprises are important and could be instruments of environmental preservation if they had been carried out with the necessary planning to reduce the negative externalities and the social and environmental impacts caused.

For example, roads could serve as sanitary barriers against the contamination of rivers and springs or even physical barriers against deforestation. However, due to the lack of care in planning and in surveillance, public authorities did not act against irregular occupations along roadsides, which increased deforestation and polluted rivers. In the case of exploration of mineral resources, currently, there is no due compensation for the damages caused.

A significant part of the predatory initiatives and big projects to Amazônia were justified by the need of economic growth and “assuring” wealth to the inhabitants of the region. The consequences were the opposite, and without proper planning and public policies broader than only to economic growth or higher incomes, the current scenario is worrying and the future perspectives are not promising. Garrett et al. (2017) point out: “Thus, policies based solely on raising incomes may lead to unintended environmental and social consequences, including rebound effects on deforestation and increased social inequality. Instead, it may be more fruitful to focus future development and environment programs on coupling conservation objectives with investments in household assets, particularly health and education, as well as novel mechanisms to promote social status based on the sustainability of land use activities.”

The lack of sustainable alternatives for the population and public policies for the region complicate the scenario even more. There are almost no investments in surveillance and resources to combat deforestation, but the sector is also suffering funding cuts. In addition, the few financial resources end up losing efficiency in their application when they are distributed among several environmental agencies with attributions that are not clear to the population (Klautau de Araújo 2016).

Between 1988 and 2017, deforestation in Legal Amazônia was approximately 428,900 km2 (INPE 2018), which is almost equivalent to the area of Iraq. According to IPEA (2008), the area of accumulated deforestation reached 732,000 km2 by 2007, which is bigger than Metropolitan France and Uruguay together.

The Value of Amazônia

Amazônia has undergone deep interventions made by the Brazilian governments to be “integrated” to the national territory. Klautau de Araújo (1995), Paulino (2014), and Wolford (2016) point out that the process of integration and occupation of Amazônia was driven by a so-called concern of the military governments about the interest of other nations of taking over the resources of the region; national sovereignty was placed as a key factor for the integration project, which had the motto of “integrate not to deliver.”

Regional factors, such as low soil fertility and logistical difficulties, were ignored, and lack of support for agrarian colonization (see Wolford 2016 and Paulino 2014) made the projects not only to fail in their initial goals (to integrate Amazônia and to end the land deficit in Brazil), but it also created new socioeconomic problems. Amazônia was used by governments as a new frontier to where the problems of the great centers could be pushed to and silenced.

Public policies carried out by the governments hindered Amazônia and contribute to the increasing abyss of inequalities between the region and the rest of the country (see Klautau de Araújo 2017). The allocation and distribution of resources, as well as governmental interventions and aspects of the tax system, such as the exemption of the state tax (ICMS), established by Complementary Law 87 (Brasil 1996), on raw materials for export without due compensation have especially affected the states of the Northern Region.

The exploitation of Amazônia’s natural resources is being executed without real compensation for the social and environmental damages caused. Royalties are paid mainly to municipalities where mineral activity occurs but are also divided between the Union, states, and, more recently, municipalities indirectly affected by the activity. These values are very low if compared to the values obtained with the exploration and are insufficient to solve the problems caused and to invest in infrastructure.

The tax exemption established was incorporated into the Constitution, years after the Complementary Law 87. This decimated the investment capacity of states with economy based on the production of raw materials, which is the case of Amazônia. The compensation provided by Law and the Constitution has not yet been properly regulated. Other possible compensations, as the ones from hydroelectric power plants, are given only partly to the cities that suffer the direct social and environmental impact of the enterprise (SEMAS 2016; Calixto 2016).

Combating poverty in Amazônia can be one of the ways of promoting environmental preservation. Samuelson (1976) pointed out that: “When people in a poor society are given a choice between staying alive in lessened misery or increasing the probability that certain species of flora and fauna will not go extinct, it is understandable that they may reveal a preference for the former choice. Once a society achieves certain average levels of well-being and affluence, it is reasonable to suppose that citizens will democratically decide to forego some calories and marginal private consumption enjoyments in favor of helping to preserve certain forms of life threatened by extinction.”

However, governments do not seem to care about the unworthy situation that the Amazonian population lives in. Since the 1950s, the only investments made by governments in Amazônia were to exploit mineral and hydroelectric resources or to ease problems in other regions of the country. The value of the region to Brazilian rulers seems to be irrelevant.

Improving Local Population’s Living Conditions: An Urgent Call for Innovative Climate Actions

The importance of Amazônia to Brazil and to the world is undeniable. Not only because this biome occupies almost half of the Brazilian territory, or because of its immense biodiversity – still mostly unknown – or for the expressive fresh water reserves, or even by several ecosystem services that the forest provides (including the regulation of the rain cycle in other regions of Brazil and South America) but also for its mineral wealth and strategic position for Brazilian national security.

However, public policies have been disregarding the socioeconomic situation of the region as an inseparable component of the success of the initiatives. More recently, environmental and climate change policies were planned and executed with the same mistake: although they have partially improved in interaction with local communities, the focus has remained only on the topic (in this case, the environmental issue), excluding actions that could develop economic and social conditions.

These actions can improve the results temporarily but will not solve the problem. If the local communities are not involved, when there are budget cuts on surveillance, the trend is for the deforestation to rise (e.g., between 2014 and 2016), and when economic activity slows down, the deforestation rates tend to reduce (which might be the case between 2016 and 2017).

Even with policies that led to a decrease in the deforestation rates (especially after 2005), official data shows that the loss of forest cover is still high and unstable, with an increase between 2014 and 2016 (INPE 2018). This instability, with higher and lower rates (but still in alarming levels), can reveal that the model based only on surveillance failed in the Brazilian case.

It shows that environmental conservation and climatic issues are now more dependent on external, political, and economic circumstances than on the success of the public policies for environment.

It was seen that the poverty of traditional and immigrant populations of Amazônia increased the speed of the region’s environmental degradation, but not only that. The local populations’ bad conditions of life contribute for the deforestation to persist, confirming what Samuelson’s work states.

Actions to combat climate change and its effects are urgently needed, as it is already envisaged by national governments and international institutions, such as the United Nations or the European Commission, on its Sustainable Development Goals. However, in order for this to work in the context of the Brazilian Amazônia, efforts must also be made in economic and social matters. Otherwise, the outcomes of the policies executed are seriously compromised.

With better social and economic conditions of the region, the state could enhance the partnership with local communities for environmental conservation. Furthermore, policies centered in the potential of environmental assets for the development of the region could start a paradigm shift to raise the public awareness about the importance of keeping the forest preserved.

Currently, it is really common to find socially and environmentally destructive activities like deliberate fire-setting for agricultural purposes that harm the soil; occupation in the river margins and destruction of the riparian forests that cause silting (or even the disappearance) of some water courses; illegal gold-digging, which contaminates the water with mercury; and illegal logging of endangered species and charcoal production – frequently using workers in labor conditions analogous to slavery.

All these activities have a significant impact on Amazônia and on a global scale. Its indirect consequences are also really substantial in climatic aspects for the imbalances it causes. Extreme natural events become even more dangerous as the poor living conditions marginalize communities and reduce their capacity to be resilient or to adapt to climate change, as well as it jeopardizes the mitigation of the damages already caused.

Laws and environmental surveillance are not enough to avoid these situations to happen. It is necessary to go beyond and to bring real solutions for the local people’s problems.

Top-down decisions did not work in practice, and the attempts which not include popular participation on environmental conservation and restoration are failing as well. The incentives for participation need to include better living conditions for local people and development for the region.

Garrett et al. (2017) analyzed the persistence of poverty in Amazônia and the environmental degrading land uses. The authors pointed out that the extensive cattle raising, although strongly predatory, does not provide high incomes to the people that still use it as the main activity. Other options (as fruit and horticulture production) would generate higher incomes and would be less harmful to the environment. However, still according to the authors, there are many reasons that interfere on this paradigm shift, as the lack of transport structure in the region, cultural background of the farmers, their conceptions of happiness and priorities of life, high initial costs to change to other types of plantations, and also lack of technical support, techniques, and information. The authors state that “Our research suggests that past efforts to promote changes in land use in the Brazilian Amazon have been stymied by a mischaracterization of well-being in purely economic terms and a misunderstanding of the factors that motivate farmers’ decisions including social context, nonmonetary objectives, and asset and access limitations. In the future, households should be identified and discriminated based on a broader set of attributes than are traditionally applied. Decision makers should work closely with local communities to frame “development” goals with a better understanding of households’ nonmonetary objectives” (Garrett et al. 2017).

Forty percent of the forest cover in Brazil is located in 400 municipalities (around 7% of total number of Brazilian cities) where 13% of the poorest people of the country live (BPBES 2018).

Fighting against bad living conditions of these populations is urgent, because the inhabitants of the region are getting more vulnerable to the climate change effects and the extreme climate events and also because the predatory actions are causing inestimable damage to nature, to the ecosystems, to climate stability, and to biodiversity.

In other words, improving the condition of life of the populations is also a way of taking climate actions. Amazônia plays a vital role in the climatic stability of the globe. Different and innovative strategies are needed to obtain better results in climate actions and environmental conservation policies.

Future Perspectives

In such a bleak scenario, it is unlikely that significant changes in Amazônia’s social and environmental framework happen in a short term. The situation in the region is unknown to most Brazilians, and it is necessary to disseminate data and information so that there is awareness of the serious process of degradation that is taking place.

The most promising scenario for Amazônia seems to be directed to two paths: the sustainable use of Environmental Assets (see Klautau de Araújo et al. 2019) and the construction of a productive chain of the products explored (see Klautau de Araújo 2017).

With a vast biodiversity, sustainable exploration of Environmental Assets is the main potential of the region, and it has the advantage of changing mentalities about environmental preservation: forests can be more valuable alive than felled. This is the regional vocation (Klautau de Araújo 1995).

Ecotourism, use of medicinal plants and their substances, fruits, herbs, and carbon absorption projects are some of the Environmental Assets that Amazônia has, and they may stimulate the economy without interfering in the livelihoods of local populations.

On the other hand, the creation of a productive chain would make it possible to create jobs and to develop the economy of the region, reducing the pressure on natural resources. For example, cattle raising in Amazônia has been one of the reasons for deforestation. However, oxen are transported alive, which – in addition to the cruelty to the animals – makes the state lose the opportunity to create jobs with the processing of meat, leather, bones, and a multitude of products from these raw materials.

Without strong production chains, Amazônia loses forest and emits high levels of greenhouse gases without developing the region. There would be environmental impacts from the creation of these industries. However, over time, reducing the pressure on nature, improving the population’s quality of life, and reducing deforestation would not only offset these impacts but would also be a better framework.

Both alternatives still need to be better studied and evaluated in future research. Amazônia is still an illustrious unknown, and all the interventions to be made in it must be carried out with the utmost care and planning.



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biology and Centre for Environmental and Marine StudiesUniversity of AveiroAveiroPortugal

Section editors and affiliations

  • Anabela Marisa Azul
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Neuroscience and Cell BiologyUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal