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The Forest of Tomorrow

by

Joe Keenan, Sérgio Rial

Executive Vice President, Latin America, The Nature Conservancy; CEO of Santander Brazil and Active member of the Latin America Conservation Council

September 2017

What model of development do we want for our Amazon? There is no way to evade this question. Exploitation of the world's most important forest biome is happening right now, this very second. It is the inexorable march of progress—a word which, for better or for worse, holds the most varied definitions.

The challenge is proportional to the magnitude of the ecosystem. But it brings with it a fantastic opportunity for a sustainably designed approach. We must bring public and private sectors to the same table: rural land owners and environmentalists, banks and contractors, indigenous communities and timber industries. Only together will we create a new paradigm of development and governance.

This is where the discussion that truly matters begins, considering not only economic and social development—so necessary in the Amazon Region—but also a new pattern of production and consumption. We need a model that is capable of reconciling both the conservation of nature and the strengthening of indigenous communities with the wise use of natural resources that benefits society as a whole.

An aerial view of a portion of the remaining dense Amazon rainforest at Sao Felix do Xingu, a municipality in the Brazilian Amazon that has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the country. Photo © Haroldo Palo, Jr.
An aerial view of a portion of the remaining dense Amazon rainforest at Sao Felix do Xingu, a municipality in the Brazilian Amazon that has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the country. Photo © Haroldo Palo, Jr.

Which leads us to a new round of questions: Does such a model exist? Is it possible to make use of the richness of Amazonian fauna and flora without harming its biodiversity? Is it possible to take advantage of hydroelectric potential, extract mineral resources and build roads to transport grain, all while ensuring the well-being of local populations? Further, can this occur without harming the Amazon’s delicately balanced ecosystem that helps regulate the global climate?

The Amazon was devastated when it was viewed as a frontier to be conquered, and predatory extraction was justified by the myth of a demographic void. Nor did the region prosper when it was designated the world’s untouchable “lungs,” condemning parts of Brazil to economic stagnation. Unfortunately, we need to admit that we still oscillate between these two poles, in a limbo that does not benefit anyone.

We will have to be bold if we want to include Amazonian natural capital in a win-win equation. Innovation, research, science and technology are the starting point for the creation of new business models, generated within an agenda that is both productive and responsible. We began this constructive dialogue in an event held on September 5—not by chance the date when Amazon Day was celebrated—at the Museum of Tomorrow, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, that brought together leaders from a range of sectors.

Economic development is only acceptable when accompanied by management of water resources, conservation and sustainable use of forests.

We believe that it is feasible to implement projects with a net positive impact on both natural capital and society by anticipating solutions and planning for best mitigation and compensation strategies for damages. Likewise, we expect no less than a regional, inclusive approach, backed by land-use management policies and practices, and respect for indigenous peoples and traditional communities.

Beyond building visions, we will think of pragmatic and positive actions that generate a shared value. Economic development is only acceptable when accompanied by management of water resources, conservation and sustainable use of forests. This definition of progress only holds true when it generates jobs and increases income and social equity, without destroying ecosystems and cultures. The future of the Amazon is today. Today is the Amazon’s tomorrow, and today needs to be better than yesterday.

This article was translated and adapted from the original in Portuguese “A Floresta do Amanhã,” published in the Brazilian newspaper O Globo on September 4, 2017.


Learn more about The Nature Conservancy's work in the Brazilian Amazon.

Maya Forest, Mexico. Photo © TNC (Alejandro Diaz San Vicente)
Maya Forest, Mexico. Photo © TNC (Alejandro Diaz San Vicente)

Collection: Latin America

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Giant water lillies in Amazon. Photo © Wendell Madeiros
Giant water lillies in Amazon. Photo © Wendell Madeiros

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