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April 14th, 2016
Energy • Justice

Reducing Deforestation in Brazil

The gradual destruction of the Amazon rainforest has been one of the most publicised of global environmental disasters. In 2003, the incoming government of President Lula da Silva created a coordinated plan to tackle illegal logging and other activities that threaten the rainforest’s existence.

The initiative

Lula da Silva asked the committee of ministers to produce a coordinated plan to reduce deforestation. In March 2004, the committee unveiled the Action Plan for Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Legal Amazon. The action plan was to be implemented in three phases:

  • The first phase (2004-08) would involve the expansion of the number of protected areas and implement command-and-control policies to improve the monitoring and enforcement of forest protection.
  • Within the first phase came the drafting and enactment of Law 11284/2006, establishing the management of Public Forests, the Brazilian Forest Service and the National Fund for Forest Development.
  • The second phase (2009-11) was to focus on tightening the cooperation between the federal agencies and state and local governments, and deal with existing economic incentives that encouraged deforestation, such as the rural credit system for producers.
  • The third phase (2012-15) included efforts to build more sustainable development and production chains and encourage agricultural intensification rather than expansion.

Implementation to address the problem began in 2005 and was coordinated by the Office of the Chief of Staff of the President. It “expanded Brazil's system of protected areas, improved remote monitoring of the Amazon, and increased enforcement of existing forestry laws”. [3]

The challenge

“In the early 2000s, deforestation increased sharply in the Brazilian Amazon, jeopardising the tropical rain forest's critical role in mitigating global climate change.” [1] It had appeared to be “an intractable problem for many years, with little progress in reducing it, despite many government and NGO projects and widespread global concern”. [2]

In 2003, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, together with his minister of the environment, Marina Silva, decided that it was time for the federal Brazilian government to tackle the challenge head-on.

The public impact

The statistics indicate that progress was relatively swift and positive. By 2007, the deforestation rate had fallen by 59 percent from 2004 levels. “Data from 2009-2010 showed that Brazil’s area of deforestation, which averaged 19,508 square kilometres per year during the baseline decade of 1996–2005, had dropped 67 percent, to just 6,451 kilometres.” By 2014, the government had “cut deforestation in the Amazon by 70 percent, compared to the average level in 1996-2005, making zero deforestation by 2020 – or even sooner – a feasible goal”. [4]

Stakeholder engagement

There were many internal and external stakeholders engaged in making the deforestation prevention plan a success:

  • The federal government members, such as the President, his chief of staff, the minister of the environment, and the director of the National Forest Programme.
  • National and international organisations such as the National Commission of Forests, the National Institute for Space Research (to monitor progress via satellite) and the World Bank (to help fund the initiative).
  • Private associations like the Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries and the National Association of Cereal Exporters.
  • Congressional representatives, business, scientists, indigenous community representatives and Brazilian civil society, who were strongly supportive of the plan and came together to help draft the 2006 Law, under the aegis of Tasso Azevedo, the director of the National Forest Programme.
  • International donors of results-based financing, such as the Norwegian government.

Political commitment

Individual politicians from President Lula da Silva downwards were profoundly committed to the action plan. “Many actors deserve credit for the accomplishment. They include Presidents Lula da Silva and [his successor, the embattled] Dilma Rousseff, the Environment Minister/Green Party candidate, Marina Silva, state governors, [and] independent public prosecutors.” [5]

The environmentalist Carlos Minc replaced Marina Silva as minister in 2008. He continued the anti-deforestation policy as the action plan went into its second phase. This phase “called for Minc and his team at the Ministry of the Environment to bring state and municipal governments into the fight against deforestation”. [6] This fact shows the strong evidence of political stability and enduring commitment.

Public confidence

The public confidence in the Brazilian government was very low in 2003, when the plan was first considered:

  • “‘In 2003, when we got to the ministry, there were a lot of letters and calls saying there was corruption in the process,' Azevedo said.” [7]
  • “In a country where an estimated 50 million people live below the poverty line, grassroots organisations naturally protested against implementation of ... orthodox economic policies.” [8]

Clarity of objectives

The ultimate overall objective was to achieve zero deforestation, something that is considered to be feasible by 2020 (see Public impact above). The means of achieving it were set out clearly in the Action Plan for Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Legal Amazon, which covered the period 2004-2015. There were certain goals in the third phase that are associated with sustainability and a more qualitative, while others operate at a more granular level of detail, such as the goal of mapping 300,000 rural properties for registration.

Strength of evidence

The policymakers drew some evidence from similar existing practices in Brazil and in other nations to control deforestation. “Many of the proposals had been inspired by Silva and her team's recent experience in tackling the illegal mahogany trade, as well as their decades of experience in civil society organisations.” [9]

They also consulted the reports of reliable sources, such as Greenpeace, to frame their strategy. “The 2006 release of Greenpeace's report, Eating Up the Amazon, proved to be a key step in scaling up pressure. The report linked the soybean industry to deforestation, global warming, water pollution, and even the use of slave labour to clear land. It focused particularly on two multinational companies: the giant grain trader and exporter Cargill and the world's largest fast food chain, McDonald's.” [10] This report was from a reliable source and provided strong evidence to take action.


President Lula da Silva set up a powerful committee to design the plan, and there were domain experts and skilled staff for each activity. “They divided into subgroups in four priority areas: (1) territorial planning and land tenure ... (2) monitoring and enforcement ... (3) fostering of sustainable production activities ... and (4) infrastructure... ‘The most important thing about the committee was that it presented short-, medium-, and long-term solutions to the problem of deforestation,' said Juliana Simões, a project manager at the Department of Deforestation Policy in the Ministry of the Environment, who served on the technical committee. Based on those projections, the committee developed an implementation schedule.” [10]

The attack on illegal logging was backed up by heavy fines imposed by a determined agency, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis or IBAMA), the enforcement agency of the Ministry of the Environment and the state environmental ministries.


A sound monitoring system was deployed by the government from the beginning of the initiative, and IBAMA was also monitoring the impact of its practices through a monitoring centre. To measure the success of the initiative, policymakers used many parameters, such as the rate of deforestation, which could be measured by any increase in the area of protected land less the deforested areas. It used the federal space agency's new satellite monitoring system to identify those areas that had suffered (and were suffering) deforestation.

Brazil and Norway agreed a measure for assessing the results-based financing for the initiative. “The ‘REDD+' (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) system that Norway negotiated with Brazil is simple and straightforward. [11] The rate of compensation for reductions (the “carbon price”) is $5.00/ton of CO2 ... To date, over $670 million in compensation has been paid to Brazil under this agreement.”


The various actors' interests in achieving the plan's objectives were well aligned. They collaborated in many ways, for example:

  • Azevedo worked with the National Commission of Forests, scientist, and representatives from the private sector, civil society and the indigenous community representatives to draft the 2006 Law.
  • The federal police and the Ministry of Justice collaborated effectively with IBAMA in enforcing fines.
  • The NGOs persuaded the government and the relevant industries to impose the 2006 soy and 2009 beef moratoria.
  • “Marina Silva, as minister of the environment, led the effort to reduce deforestation from within the government, but was also willing to leave that government and join the social movement when it was necessary for the struggle against deforestation.” [12] This demonstrates that actors like Silva were highly motivated and well aligned with achieving the objective.
  • The federal public prosecutors, especially in the heavily afforested states of Pará and Mato Grosso, were an important link between voluntary business actions (e.g., using only non-deforested soy) and government enforcement.

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