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Thursday / March 23.

Amazon alert: Global businesses need to step in to unclog the lungs of the Earth

By Isabella Freire W Vitali

Brazil is in a tricky position. It had been doing well to combat deforestation in the Amazon – even managing to increase commodity production at the same time – but recent countrywide economic and political crises have put that progress at risk.

The problem: deforestation is on the rise again, and it’s not being helped by pressure to relax social and environmental protections in favour of boosting Brazil’s economic recovery. That’s why it’s so important for committed companies and organizations to highlight the economic benefits of sustainability.

How can big companies and organizations bring change?

Photo courtesy: As provided by the author

One example is the Brazil Coalition on Climate, Forests and Agriculture. The coalition has brought together businesses and non-profits to create a low-carbon economy in Brazil and to work with the government to implement it. When companies and NGOs walk into government offices together and ask for the same things, they can achieve great things. Most importantly, they can change deeply rooted assumptions as to what is acceptable and desirable.

Faced with this combined advocacy, the Brazilian Ministry of Environment has just announced ground-breaking new plans for transparency on forestry activities. Crucially, what this means is a widening of the parameters of the forests under sustainable management. It could even lead to the total elimination of illegal logging.

With a simple change in access to information, it could now be easier to enforce the law over vast areas of forests and allow buyers to better manage their supply chains and put in place effective market restrictions on illegally harvested wood.

How else can the private sector enhance public policies to benefit the country and the forests?

One useful action would be to encourage all links along commodities supply chain to comply with the forest-friendly code of conduct. Realizing the importance of regulation when it comes to how private lands are used, a group of NGOs joined forces under the Observatório do Código Florestal to monitor and promote a “forest code”. Under this umbrella, and using their collective knowledge on the matter, Proforest, BVRio and IPAM have been working to help buyers of agricultural commodities in Brazil use the code to assess how well local suppliers comply.

Deforestation in the Brazilian state of Rondonia has gone largely unimpeded.| Photo courtesy: Reuters

It just goes to show what’s possible, that international players can build on nationally developed tools and policies to achieve their sustainability goals and still contribute to local ownership of the results and the long-term governance of natural resources.

There is a worldwide movement for the elimination of commodity-driven deforestation. Companies, governments and civil-society organizations have pledged their intention to join this movement, whether individually or through the Consumer Goods Forum, the New York Declaration on Forests or the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020.

Deforestation in the Amazon is on the rise again and other biomes are in need of attention. Now, support from international market leaders can help Brazilian governments and companies take a sustainable path.


Isabella Freire W Vitali is currently the Country director at ProForest Brazil. Previously, she was leading WWF UK’s Livestock and Soy Programme.
This article was originally published on World Economic Forum.
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