The Amazon rainforest is a moist broadleaf tropical rainforest in the river Amazon basin of South America. The basin spans around 40% of South America and the rainforest covers around 5.5 million square kilometres.
The rainforest is a key natural resource containing one in ten known species on Earth and half of the planet’s remaining tropical forests. The Amazon rainforest has long had an important role as a carbon sink but this sink is in decline as a result of factors such as deforestation and climate change. Research published in 2021 found that Amazonia is now emitting around 1 billion tonnes more carbon dioxide a year than it is able to absorb.
The majority of the Amazon forest (60%) is contained within Brazil, followed by Peru with 13% and Bolivia and Colombia with around 7% each. As such the concerns over deforestation in the Amazon are focused on Brazil, which is the focus of this debate pack.
While deforestation rates in the Amazon rainforest fell in the decade up to 2012, they have since increased. Annual rates of deforestation in the Amazônia Legal area fell from more than 2.5 million hectares in both 2003 and 2004 to below 0.5 million hectares in 2012. Rates have generally increased since then and reached 1.3 million hectares in 2021. This was the highest figure since 2006.
Forest fires in the Amazon rainforest have caused concern. Since 2001, some 103,079–189,755 square kilometres of Amazon rainforest has been impacted by fires. The scale of fires in 2019 and 2020 caused particular concern and 2021 saw only marginal decreases in fires. Fires have potentially significant impacts on a large proportion of species, including threatened species, living in the forest. Brazilian Government forest policies have been strongly criticised for their impacts on illegal deforestation and on fires. Research published in 2021 concluded that:
In Brazil, forest policies that were initiated in the mid-2000s corresponded to reduced rates of burning. However, relaxed enforcement of these policies in 2019 has seemingly begun to reverse this trend: approximately 4,253–10,343 km2 of forest has been impacted by fire, leading to some of the most severe potential impacts on biodiversity since 2009.
At the start of the COP in November 2021, Brazil committed to end illegal deforestation by 2028. Brazil was also one of 140 countries to sign up to a Declaration on Forests and Land Use which pledged to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. However, stakeholders remain concerned about a number of legislative changes to land and forest laws proposed or supported by the Government led by President Jair Bolsonaro.
UK Government position
The UK Government has said that protecting the Amazon is a priority for the UK. Minister for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, Wendy Morton said that:
Tackling climate change and biodiversity loss is our No. 1 international priority. Climate change and biodiversity loss are inseparable. We cannot stop climate change without protecting the natural environment, and we cannot protect the natural environment without tackling climate change. Conserving the Amazon is a crucial piece of the puzzle.
The Government has committed to double the UK’s international climate finance to £11.6 billion over the next five years, of which at least £3 billion would be in solutions to protect and restore nature. It has also said that it is working with the biggest producers and consumers of the commodities that drive deforestation—cocoa, cattle, soy and palm oil.