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The Amazon rainforest is a moist broadleaf tropical rainforest in the river Amazon basin of South America. It spans around 40% of South America and encompasses 7,000,000 km2, of which 5,500,000 km2 are covered by the rainforest.  It covers eight different countries but the majority of the forest (60%) is contained within Brazil, followed by Peru with 13% and Bolivia and Colombia with around 7% each. As such the concerns over deforestation in the Amazon are focused on Brazil, which is the focus of this debate pack.

The rainforest is a key natural resource containing one in ten known species on Earth and half of the planet’s remaining tropical forests. The World Bank notes that:

The Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, is an important constituent of the global biosphere and a global public good that benefits the international community by supporting an array of ecosystem services. It is home to possibly a quarter of the world’s terrestrial species, accounts for about 15% of global terrestrial photosynthesis, provides a major carbon sink, and drives atmospheric circulation and precipitation across South America and beyond. However, the Amazon rainforest is also one of the most threatened environments worldwide, with deforestation a particularly pressing problem, mostly in the form of agricultural expansion.

WWF reports that some 34 million people live in the Amazon, including 385 indigenous groups which depend on its resources and services.

Annual rates of deforestation in Brazil’s Amazônia Legal area fell from more than 2.5 million hectares in both 2003 and 2004 to below 0.5 million hectares in 2012. They have generally increased since then and reached 1.1 million hectares in 2020. This was the highest figure since 2008. Much of the recent increase in deforestation has been in Pará state in the north east of Brazil. This contributed 63% of the total increase between 2017 and 2020.

Global Forest Watch estimates that between 2002 and 2020 Brazil lost 26.2 million hectares of primary humid forest or 7.7% of the total area.

Campaigners have regularly raised concerns about these increasing deforestation rates and criticised the policies of the current Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who came into office in January 2019. For example, the Rainforest Alliance has said that:

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is the result of many different actions, including agricultural expansion (mainly for beef production), but also illegal logging, mining, land speculation, urban development, and more. Because of complex factors—including international trade, financing, and policy decisions by the new government that have crippled environmental enforcement agencies—deforestation in the region has surged.

In May 2021, Mr Bolsonaro wrote  to President Biden recognising recent increases in deforestation rates and committing to end illegal deforestation in Brazil by 2030, highlighting the need for economic support to do so. However, concerns have been raised by campaigners regarding the implications of a number of legislative changes to land and forest laws proposed or supported by the Bolsonaro Government.   

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