Amazonia Against the Clock: Regional Assessment on Where and How to Protect 80% by 2025

  • September 13, 2022
Map 1: Amazonia: Key Priority Areas: Intactness, low degradation, high degradation and transformation. Image credit: RAISG
Map 1: Amazonia: Key Priority Areas: Intactness, low degradation, high degradation and transformation. Image credit: RAISG


Where are we at now?

The Amazonia is in the midst of a tipping point crisis as deforestation and high degradation combined have already reached 26% of the region.  The tipping point must be understood as the beginning of a metastasis or the irreversible destruction of the ecosystem.  As a result, savannization is already taking place in both countries.  However, preserving 80% of the Amazon by 2025 is still possible, 2030 presents a challenge given the current state of the region. This goal [80%] requires urgent measures to safeguard the remaining 74% (629 million hectares) of the Amazon that are Intact Key Priority Areas (33%) and with Low Degradation (41%).

The research addresses the problem at the national level in the nine countries of the basin and shows that 34% of the Brazilian Amazon has entered a process of transformation. This is true for 24% of the Bolivian Amazon, 16% in Ecuador, 14% in Colombia and 10% in Peru, which are the countries with the highest rates. Savannization is already a reality in the southeast of the region, mainly in Brazil and Bolivia, countries that concentrate 90% of all combined deforestation and degradation in the region. The data shows that both countries are responsible for 90% of the deforestation and degradation of the entire region and that they share invasions or subjugation as the main cause of deforestation. This problem puts the States and their legal frameworks at the center of the solutions.

Graphic 2: Current state of the Amazon by country (in percentage) Image credit: RAISG
Graphic 2: Current state of the Amazon by country (in percentage) Image credit: RAISG

Indigenous Rights

This research corroborates the critical role of indigenous peoples in protecting the Amazonia. Indigenous Territories (IT) and  Protected Areas (PA) are vital to protect the region.  Both regimes represent nearly half (48%) of the Amazon.  86% of the deforestation took place outside national PA and IT.   The other half (52%) are undesignated areas that are in danger of disappearing and without which it is impossible to avert the tipping point.

The level of conservation of the Indigenous Territories is comparable and even higher than that of Protected Areas and the overlapping areas between both regimes.  Yet,  Indigenous Territories do not have budget allocations from their governments.  The worldview and knowledge of more than 500 distinct indigenous peoples who have inhabited the Amazonia for millennia living  in harmony with nature is what keeps the forest standing. Recognizing indigenous rights on which the integrity of ecosystems is based is a differentiating factor to face the climate crisis that must be integrated into conservation policies.

Graphic 3: Current state of the Amazon by country (in percentage) Image credit: RAISG
Graphic 3: Current state of the Amazon by country (in percentage) Image credit: RAISG


Indigenous peoples safeguard the remaining 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity. The Amazonia is megadiversity: it is the habitat with the greatest biodiversity in the world, hosting 5 of the 17 megadiverse countries on the planet. The presence of at least 16,000 tree species in the biome is estimated. There are regions like the Yasuní National Park in Ecuador that register, on average, around 260 species of trees in one hectare (Pérez et al. 2014).  By including the different groups of organisms, the region has 25% of all terrestrial biodiversity and more than 10% of all known species on Earth (Mittermeier et al. 2002; Prance & Lovejoy 1985).

About 137 living species are driven into extinction each day in Amazonia due to habitat loss (Müller in IPOL EU 2020, 13).

Deforestation Drivers

66% of the Amazon is subject to some type of fixed or permanent pressure.  Current legal frameworks create conditions for states to grant licenses in intact forests or ITs without the free, prior and informed consent of the populations that inhabit the region.  The restorative capacity of the Amazon is running out. An immediate transition is necessary.

The agricultural sector is responsible for 84% of Amazonian deforestation. Invasions as well as fires, are directly related to the expansion of the agricultural frontier. PA and IT were not exempt from the problem. The expansion of the agricultural frontier grew within the PA 220% between 2001-2018 and in the IT it grew by 160% in this same time period.  In both cases, forest was replaced. The cattle industry is the biggest driver of deforestation in the Amazonia. Deforestation caused by cattle ranching in the Amazon rainforest accounts for nearly 2% of global CO2 emissions annually.

Mining is present in all the countries of the Amazon, affecting 17% of the region.  9.3% of all mining activity is located in PA and an additional 9% in IT. 85% of the mining activity in IT occurs in already recognized IT.  Currently, half of the mining areas in AP and 68% of those present in TI are in the application phase, which means that they could be reversed.  Illegal mining that lacks registration is expanding throughout the basin.

Oil blocks occupy 9.4% of the surface of the Amazon (80 million hectares).  43% of the oil blocks are located in protected areas and indigenous territories. 89% of the crude oil exported from the Amazonia comes from Ecuador and its main destination is the US. More than half (52%) of the Ecuadorian Amazon is an oil block, 31% in Peru, 29% in Bolivia and 28% in Colombia.

Of the 350 hydroelectric plants (CH) that operate in the basin, 483 are projected for future build-out, adding up to a total of 833 potential hydroelectric plants. The construction of hydroelectric projects alters the free flow of more than 1,100 tributaries that make up the Amazon basin.

Conditioned Debt Forgiveness

The debt must be understood as a systemic problem that intertwines all the activities of the countries of the South and the North. Analyzing separately climate change, poverty, food insecurity, debt, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, violence and the economy in general, reveals a bias that inhibits the possibility of responding to the crisis that is one with various symptoms. Debt is one of the structural causes of the destruction of the Amazon and other vital ecosystems for humanity.

During the pandemic, the Amazon States faced serious levels of indebtedness: Brazil 101% of GDP, Ecuador 65% of GDP, Colombia 61% of GDP, among the highest.  At the end of 2021, Latin America was the most indebted emerging region on the planet. This result of the pandemic shock adds to five decades with at least 50 sovereign debt crises and sovereign debt restructurings.  According to ECLAC data (CEPAL 2021), gross government debt averages 78% of regional GDP in Latin America. Total debt service alone represents 59% of its exports of goods and services.