Brazil’s economy has been booming. During the past decade, it grew from the ninth to the sixth-largest in the world. While this growth has brought many socioeconomic benefits, it’s come with a downside: significant environmental impacts. Brazil has the highest rate of deforestation worldwide, while pollution threatens the country’s drinking water supply. Despite a decrease in national greenhouse gas emissions of late, agriculture emissions and energy demand are still rising.
WRI opened its Brazil office in 2013. We work with leaders in business, government, and civil society on issues surrounding cities and transport, climate change, finance, and sustainable landscapes. Learn more about our work in Brazil.
Labeled the “queen of the forest” for its size and beauty, the Brazil nut tree plays an important social and environmental role in the Amazon. During the annual harvest, from November to March, when both its seeds and nuts are collected, the tree also provides a critical supplementary source of income for communities across the region.
While other natural resource management activities risk increasing deforestation in the Amazon, nut harvesting is not harmful to nature, since it depends on the forest’s continued existence. Local company Ouro Verde was created with this in mind, selling Brazil nut products marketed as sustainable, including extra virgin nut oil, nut butter and granulate. Ouro Verde created 47 jobs, and many more new business opportunities in the Amazon region, placing an economic value on the rainforest for local communities. About 1.3 million hectares of rain forest are sustainably managed by Ouro Verde supplier partners.
Ouro Verde is a shining example of the type of company WRI’s New Ventures project was created to support. Founded in 1999, New Ventures identifies, mentors, and provides promising small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with access to investment. New Ventures supports companies in six rapidly growing emerging markets – Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, and Mexico – where the environment and development decisions being made today will impact the entire world. To date, we have facilitated more than $225 million in investment and worked with 346 innovative enterprises.
In 2010, SMEs supported by New Ventures reduced CO2 by 135,021 tons, the equivalent of removing over 112,000 cars from the road for one year. In addition, 1,490,448 hectares of land – an area larger than Connecticut - was placed under sustainable management by New Ventures companies or was conserved by sustainable land use companies in the New Ventures portfolio.
Promoting forest protection and sustainable agriculture in the Amazon region is vital for local livelihoods and biodiversity, as well as for global climate regulation.
In early 2011, the state legislature of Mato Grosso, Brazil passed a controversial new state zoning law (ZSEE) that opened up 50,000 km2 of new forest areas for conversion to agriculture. In February 2012, following a high-profile civil society campaign and a public civil action suit, the law was suspended through an injunction by Mato Grosso’s State Court. The injunction states: “It is true that… there were… vices of form capable of undermining the law… However, more important is that by reason of these vices, there was impairment of natural goods and services and sustainable development, so there is a risk of impairment of human life. This is the strongest argument that… imposes the granting of the injunction.” In March 2012, Brazil’s Federal Zoning Commission ordered the state government to redraft legislation.
The Instituto Centro de Vida (ICV) – a founding partner of the Governance of Forests Initiative (GFI) – led the successful campaign by producing and distributing their analysis of the ZSEE / MT. This analysis was then used by civil society – including indigenous peoples, social movements, and researchers – as well as legislators and prosecutors in Mato Grosso. Civil society used all opportunities—such as seminars, public events, and protest letters—to denounce the new law. Meetings with more 250 people in attendance were convened.
Curbing Forest Loss
Within a month of the Governor sanctioning the new ZSEE, IMAZON, the other GFI partner in Brazil, documented a more than 500 percent spike in deforestation in Mato Grosso. The immediate public outcry, enforcement actions by the state, and the start of the state case in September, however, acted as immediate deterrents, and the rate of deforestation stabilized. However, without the decisions taken by the State Court and the Federal Zoning Commission, this increase in deforestation would likely have lasted longer, as the law effectively sanctioned past clearing and allowed new areas to be cleared.
These decisions marked an important victory for democratic decision-making and government accountability in a region where the rule of law relating to forests and agriculture is sometimes circumvented for political and economic gain.
Making Change Happen: WRI’s Role
GFI is a set of civil society organization partners in the United States, Brazil, Cameroon, and Indonesia dedicated to improving forest governance through evidence-based advocacy.
In 2010, WRI helped ICV to conduct a governance assessment of the Mato Grosso ZSEE process using a diagnostic tool, the GFI Framework of Indicators (v.1), developed by WRI, ICV, and IMAZON. ICV collected information and conducted interviews to compile a record of expert and civil society inputs into the bill’s drafting over 10 years, from 2000-2010. Armed with this evidence, ICV was able to quickly demonstrate the problems with the new law and start the outcry that led to this outcome.
With cities set to house almost 5 billion people by 2030, how urban transport systems are designed will be pivotal for local economies, public health, and the global environment.
In June 2012, Rio de Janeiro blazed a trail for sustainable transport when it launched a 56 km cross-city bus rapid transit (BRT) system. Designed and implemented with technical support from EMBARQ, the high-tech bus route carries 220,000 passengers a day, establishing best practice in bringing improved quality of life while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
BRT systems bring proven environmental, social, and economic benefits to crowded, congested, and polluted cities.
In Rio, the new BRT line, Transoeste, replaces short, fragmented bus routes with a rapid-transit corridor that gives priority to buses and enables passengers to cross the city on one bus instead of several. Pre-ticketing speeds journeys, as do dedicated BRT lanes and high-platform stations in place of roadside bus stops. For the first time, people from the west of Rio de Janeiro without cars can easily access opportunities in the far south.
The result is safer transport, shorter commutes, less pollution, and greater social inclusion. Typical travel time has been cut by at least half for 65 percent of riders. Surveys suggest 90 percent of passengers are satisfied with the new service. “Now I have one more hour to sleep in the morning and more time to play with my kids in the evening,” was one typical comment.
EMBARQ studies show road safety benefits from the BRT corridor. The BRT will save an estimated 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year by 2016, as well as 148 million hours of passengers’ time.
Making Change Happen: WRI’s Role
EMBARQ promotes BRT routes and their critical role in sustainable, integrated public transport systems around the world.
In Rio, EMBARQ Brazil partnered with the Municipal Secretariat for Transport and Mayor Eduardo Paes in providing technical support for Transoeste. In addition to providing design and project management expertise, EMBARQ assisted with marketing the new transport system to residents and the media. We also guide continuing safety audits that will help maximize passenger safety benefits.
By 2016, the year Rio hosts the summer Olympics, city authorities plan to expand the BRT network to 153 km. This expansion would make it the largest BRT network in Latin America, carrying 1.2 million passengers daily. By showcasing the bus transportation of the future, Rio’s actions can help promote BRT scale-up across emerging economies.
The global market for wood and other forest products is changing quickly. The industry has long struggled to address the problem of illegal logging, which damages diverse and valuable forests and creates economic losses of up to $10 billion a year. In some wood-producing countries, illegal logging accounts for 50-90 percent of total production.
But recent developments indicate that we may be turning a corner: Illegal logging rates worldwide have declined by about 20 percent since 2008.
This was the topic on everyone’s minds at the recent Forest Legality Alliance meeting in Washington, D.C. This meeting brought together nearly 100 members and experts representing a wide array of companies, trade associations, NGOs, and governments involved in the harvest, manufacturing, and trade of legally produced forest products.
A growing number of countries and companies now measure and manage their emissions through greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories. Cities, however, lack a common framework for tracking their own emissions—until now.
Thirty-three cities and communities from around the world started pilot testing the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emissions Pilot Version 1.0 (GPC Pilot Version 1.0) last month. The GPC represents the first international framework for greenhouse gas accounting for cities. It was launched in May 2012 as a joint initiative among WRI, C40, and ICLEI in collaboration with the World Bank, UN-HABITAT, and UNEP.
Rachel has been the WRI Brasil Country Director.
Rachel has PhD degree in Public Administration from Fundação Getulio Vargas, São Paulo, Brasil (2011), holds two masters degrees:...
Inspiring, supporting, and mobilizing action to initiate restoration across 150 million hectares of degraded forests and landscapes by 2020.
A unique network of civil society organizations dedicated to promoting transparent, inclusive and accountable decision-making in the electricity sector.
The EMBARQ global network catalyzes environmentally and financially sustainable transport solutions to improve quality of life in cities.