It's a Jungle Out There

How Brazil Could Save the Rainforest

Brazil nut tree, Brazil. (Marco Simola / Center for International Forestry Research / Flickr)

Brazil-watchers preoccupied with the rocky run-up to the World Cup may have missed a recent move as smart and graceful as any you’ll see on a soccer pitch -- one that sealed a huge win not just for Brazilians but for everyone on Earth.

On May 21, the Brazilian government and its partners secured financing for the Amazon Region Protected Areas, or ARPA. This project is the largest tropical forest conservation effort in history; at 150 million acres, it will preserve an area three times larger than all of the U.S. national parks combined. Further, with innovative funding from across several countries and sectors, ARPA could become the first effort to permanently protect these vast swaths of rainforest, of which an area the size of Afghanistan has been destroyed since 1970.

The story begins in 1998, when Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso pledged to triple the size of the Brazilian Amazon under protection. Four years later, a partnership of Brazil, the World Bank, Global Environment Facility, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and World Wildlife Fund (of which I am president) officially launched ARPA to bring Cardoso’s vision to life. The goal: to secure permanent financing for a system of well-managed parks and reserves that would conserve the natural richness of the Brazilian Amazon and serve as natural boundaries against indiscriminate forest-clearing.

Years of rancorous debate followed, with opposition coming largely from logging and large-scale commercial agricultural interests. But Cardoso and his successor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, pushed forward, adding more protected land to the reserves, piece by piece. For his part, in 2002 Cardoso established Tumucumaque Mountains National Park, a dramatic and pristine area nearly as large as Switzerland that is home to multiple threatened species. In 2005, Lula put an end to deforestation and sometimes bloody land disputes in the state of Para by creating Terra do Meio Ecological Station and Serra do Pardo National Park, which make up more than 9.1 million contiguous acres connecting savannah ecosystems in the south to the rainforests of the central Amazon. By 2011, ARPA included almost 100 protected areas covering 128 million acres.

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