By Elton Alisson | Agência FAPESP – Biodiversity and ecosystem services, such as the supply of water, fresh air and food, are fundamental to the construction of a prosperous and sustainable future for the Brazilian population, with growing employment and incomes and less social and economic inequality.
However, these goals can be achieved only if the contributions of biodiversity and ecosystem services to economic and social development are acknowledged and encouraged and if investments are made in the conservation and restoration of ecosystems.
These are some of the findings of a group of researchers who have published the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the First Assessment Report on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services for Brazil. The report, produced by the Brazilian Platform on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services (BPBES) with support from the FAPESP Research Program on Biodiversity Characterization, Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use (BIOTA-FAPESP), was launched on November 8, 2018, at the Museum of Tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro.
“We conclude that Brazil stands only to gain from the economic standpoint if it abandons the existing system whereby native vegetation is replaced with agricultural areas. It’s much more advantageous for the country to have multifunctional landscapes, with arable areas and conservation areas, so that ecosystems can work far better and essential ecosystem services such as groundwater recharge and the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere can be maintained,” said Carlos Joly, Full Professor at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP), and a coordinator of both BPBES and BIOTA-FAPESP, in an interview given to Agência FAPESP.
According to the report, biodiversity and ecosystem services are widely seen as obstacles to economic development in Brazil. In fact, however, they are key to any effort to address socioeconomic and environmental crises at home and abroad because they offer new development opportunities. They should, therefore, be taken into account by the nation’s development policies.
Well-conserved biodiversity creates business opportunities in the cosmetic, pharmaceutical, food and tourism industries, among others. The concentration of poverty in territories with a substantial amount of native vegetation represents a major opportunity to reconcile the conservation of wildlife and human development, according to the report.
Some 40% of Brazil’s plant cover is found in 400 municipalities, which constitute 7% of the total number of municipalities in Brazil. Thirteen percent of the poorest members of the population live in these territories. The removal of plant cover and the conversion of native vegetation to croplands or pasture would not improve the lives of these inhabitants. Research shows that in recent decades, the introduction of farming in once-forested areas has not led to a significant increase in the Human Development Index (HDI), according to the report.
“This happens because the people who live in these areas don’t benefit from the introduction of agricultural activities where there used to be plant cover,” Joly said. “They end up joining the rural exodus and are driven to the outskirts of major cities, where they live in far worse conditions than they faced in the countryside.”
People can be persuaded to stay on the land in these forested areas and improve the conditions under which they live if more measures are taken to generate income from well-conserved nature, such as the federal government’s existing Policy to Guarantee Minimum Prices for Sociobiodiversity Products, which applies to nontimber forest products mostly harvested or extracted by traditional communities and family farmers.
“It’s possible for local communities to market forest products sustainably so that the forest can improve their lives, instead of replacing the forest with a production system that won’t benefit the local population,” Joly said.
Limited window of opportunity
According to the report, the window of opportunity to leverage sustainable uses of biodiversity and thereby boost social and economic development in Brazil is limited in terms of time and faces critical obstacles. These obstacles include ensuring compliance with the existing laws via regulatory mechanisms and incentives in line with Brazil’s global sustainability undertakings.
Among the international agreements signed by Brazil are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Aichi Biodiversity Targets (adopted as part of the CBD’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020) and the 2015 Paris climate accord.
“Achieving the goals presented to the Paris climate conference, for example, would enable Brazil to reduce or completely halt deforestation, which would be extremely important for us,” Joly said. “The forest is worth far more if left standing in the medium to long term than if it’s converted into a soybean plantation, which will be productive only for a certain time and will benefit only the owner or a group of people, without yielding returns for society as a whole or for the people who used to live there.”
On the home front, Brazil has a wide array of policy instruments and socioenvironmental governance options. Inefficient control and management, as well as a lack of incentives to ensure compliance with the rules, entail risks to the consolidation of a sustainable future for the country, according to the report.
Despite the downtrend in the last decade in the annual rates of habitat loss due to deforestation in Brazilian biomes, especially the Amazon, the conversion of natural ecosystems has proceeded rapidly. The Cerrado (Brazil’s savanna) lost 236,000 km² of forest between 2000 and 2015, for example, while 45% of the original plant cover has been lost to conversion in the Caatinga (the semiarid part of the Northeast region). In the Atlantic Rainforest biome, deforestation amounted to some 29,000 hectares between 2015 and 2016 alone – far more than the area restored in the same period.
Deforestation has surpassed the promised restoration by at least threefold in recent years, the report stresses.
In the most degraded biomes, the enforcement of the Native Vegetation Protection Law (or new forest code) should lead to the restoration of native plant cover via the implementation of the Rural Environmental Register (CAR) and the Environmental Regularization Program (PRA), with benefits for biodiversity and ecosystem services, including water conservation and carbon sequestration.
Compliance with this law is expected to restore an estimated 20 million hectares. The landowners concerned will benefit from higher productivity, new business opportunities and “green” job creation, according to the report.
“Several bottlenecks have prevented implementation of the new forest code from advancing as much as we’d like, and important points such as the width of permanent protection areas were missed when it was discussed,” Joly said.
“But if we succeed in implementing what passed Congress, Brazil will be in a position to achieve what we propose in this assessment and fulfill its promises to the international community.”
The Summary for Policymakers of the First Assessment Report on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services for Brazil was launched less than a week before the opening of the 14th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 14), held in Egypt on November 17-29.
Because it has not ratified the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which came into force four years ago, Brazil did not take part in decision making on these matters at COP 14.
“Brazil’s failure to ratify the Nagoya Protocol to date is irrational,” Joly said. “If and when we finally decide to ratify it, important issues for our country such as cross-border sharing of benefits will already have been sorted out, and the solutions may not be in our interest.”
“Brazil has more biodiversity than any other country and stands to gain the most from benefit sharing. Not ratifying the Nagoya Protocol for fear of losses in border areas or with regard to economically important genetic resources, most of which are outside the scope of the Protocol, is extremely shortsighted.”
The Summary for Policymakers of the First Assessment Report on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services for Brazil can be downloaded in Portuguese from: www.bpbes.net.br/produtos.