The advance of deforestation, illegal mining, fires and infrastructure projects indicate that the Amazon is much more threatened than eight years ago. This is what the new Atlas Amazon Under Pressure from the Amazon Geo-referenced Socio-environmental Information Network (Raisg) indicates, launched on December 8. The publication took an X-ray of the main threats to the world’s largest tropical forest, and noted the progress of its deterioration. The good news is that indigenous territories and protected natural areas remain a shield against devastation.
The intention of the Atlas is to generate information that facilitates its management through integrative public policies that take into account the environmental and climatic connectivity of the entire territory, connectivity that transcends the borders of the countries that contain it. This is the first time since 2012 that the Raisg has decided to bring together all its technical groups to work on a complete portrait of the situation in the Amazon. The Atlas is now updated after the work of 10 technical groups that have generated 23 maps representing the entire region, apart from dozens of graphics and informative tables that facilitate the understanding of the socio-environmental complexity of the region, its conflicts, pressures, threats, as well as its importance for South America and the planet.
The main symptom: deforestation
Although 2003 remains the worst year for Amazon forests since 2000, with a total loss of 49,240 km2, deforestation has accelerated since 2012 after reaching a minimum in 2010 (17.674 km2). The area that is lost each year has tripled between 2015 and 2018. In 2018 alone, 31,269 km2 were deforested throughout the Amazon, the highest annual deforestation since the peak in 2003.
Considering this latest record, we are losing forests in the Amazon at a rate equivalent to 3,500 soccer fields every year. Between 2000 and 2018, the advance of deforestation in the Amazon region accumulated the loss of 513,016 km2 of native forest, a territory equivalent to the area of Spain, 8% of the total area of 6.3 million km2 of forest that existed in 2000.
The regional reality may differ from the national one(2) in each Amazonian country. The trend described for the entire Amazon is strongly determined by the situation in Brazil, which contains 61.8% of the Amazon territory. In addition to Brazil, Bolivia and Colombia are the countries that most closely imitated these trends in recent years, with total deforestation of 425,051, 31,878 and 20,515 km2 respectively. The rest of the countries do not show clear upward or downward trends.
Shields against deforestation
The Amazon has national and local figures for the sustainable management of its ecosystems. These figures vary from country to country in terms of their legal functioning and degree of recognition by the States. The Raisg classifies them for their analysis in Natural Protected Areas (NPAs – aimed mainly at the preservation of ecosystems) and in Indigenous Territories (ITs – with the intention of preserving native Amazonian cultures). The effectiveness of these management figures as barriers to the advance of deforestation can be evaluated based on the findings of the Raisg.
At the regional level, most of the deforestation (87.5%) detected between 2000 and 2018 took place outside of the aforementioned management figures. This trend continues in all countries. These findings are evidence in favor of territorial management figures for conservation purposes and indigenous forest management as effective mechanisms for the conservation of the Amazon.
However, there are differences in this effectiveness between countries, highlighting the need for cross-border policies for the management of the Amazon. Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia and Venezuela should pay particular attention to their Amazonian NPAs and ITs, as they show an apparent weakening since 2015, as deforestation, illegal mining and fires become more common within their boundaries.
Illegal mining boom
Mining has been a constant pressure to the Amazon for several decades and is one of the causes of deforestation, pollution and social conflicts that generates most concern. Amazon Under Pressure also presents an updated report until 2020 of mining in the Amazon that shows an increasing trend, especially of illegal mining. 4,472 points of this illicit activity have been identified. Most of them (83%) affect several hectares of land or directly Amazon rivers. More than half of these points are located in Brazil (53.8%), but notably, 32% of them are in Venezuela, a country that barely contains 5.6% of the Amazon. Venezuela is also the country with the highest proportion of ITs and NPAs affected by illegal mining. In the entire Amazon, there are 664 ITs and 129 NPAs with presence of illicit mining activities.
Although a fire does not imply deforestation, the increase in the annual incidence of burns and fires increases the pressure in this regard. The Atlas reveals the region’s vulnerability to this phenomenon, which has affected 13% of the Amazon surface since 2001, reaching 1.1 million km2. This area is comparable in extension to Bolivia, a country that coincidentally is the hardest hit by the phenomenon, with up to 27% of its Amazonian territory affected. On average, every year since 2001, 169,000 km2 of Amazon have been burned, 26,000 of them within NPAs and 35,000 within IT.
These Raisg analyzes are part of an uninterrupted work assessing the pressures and threats to the Amazon, and constitute one of the most precise data series published to date on the loss of vegetation cover of the most extense and biodiverse tropical terrestrial ecosystems of the planet.
The studies are carried out with a standardized methodology by professionals within the Amazonian countries, capable of adapting the procedures taking into consideration local realities. Systematic evaluations, which incorporate local expertise, are key to understanding the status of the ecosystem heritage of the Amazon region, as well as for the formulation of evidence-based public policies for its conservation. The conservation of the Amazon implies the preservation of the environmental benefits it provides to the entire continent and favors the well-being and sustainable development of its 47 million inhabitants.
The data can be publicly consulted and in greater detail at:
- Atlas: https://www.amazoniasocioambiental.org/en/publication/amazonia-under-pressure-2020/
- Illegal Mining Map: https://mineria.amazoniasocioambiental.org/
- Map Data for Download: https://www.amazoniasocioambiental.org/en/maps/#download
The Amazon Geo-referenced Socio-environmental Information Network is a consortium of civil society organizations from Amazonian countries, oriented towards the socio-environmental sustainability of the Amazon, with the support of international cooperation. The Raisg generates and disseminates knowledge, statistical data and geospatial socio-environmental information of the Amazon, following common protocols for all the countries of the region. This work makes it possible to visualize the Amazon as a whole, the threats and pressures that loom over it and the search for opportunities for the conservation of the region.
Bolivia: [email protected]
Brazil: [email protected]
Colombia: [email protected]
Ecuador: [email protected]
Peru: [email protected]
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(1) The study area considered by the Raisg as Amazonia goes beyond the Amazon River basin and corresponds to an area of 8,470,209 km2 that includes the limits of the Amazon biome in Colombia and Venezuela, the limits of the Amazon basin in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, the limits of the Amazon administrative region of Brazil (which includes but is not limited to the Amazon River basin) and the entire continental territory of Guyana, Guyane Française and Suriname.
(2) Table I: Reference data on deforestation in the Amazon for each country
|Country||Forest area in the Amazon at 2000 (km2)||Percentage of forest area in the country’s Amazon deforested between 2000-2018 (%)||Equivalent area deforested between 2000 and 2018 (approximate)||Period in which the annual deforestation rate was reduced|
|Guyane Française||81,955||0.5||Saint Vincent and Grenadines||2009–2011|
|Suriname||136,757||0.7||Sao Tome and Principe||None|