Global Environment Facility to Fund Preservation of More Than 91 Million Acres in Brazil’s Amazon Ecosystem

Lands will be strictly protected from environmental encroachment

Released from Washington, D.C.

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(Mohamed El-Ashry, CEO and Chairman of the GEF, will be available for interviews on May 9, 10 and 11. Call 703-820-2244 to schedule.)

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A minimum of ten percent of the Brazil’s Amazon ecosystem — an area nearly the size of Montana — will be set aside over the next ten years in an effort to preserve the region’s extensive biodiversity, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) announced today.

“The Amazon region has been called the lungs of the world and a biodiversity treasure,” says Mohamed El-Ashry, CEO and chairman of the GEF. “It is also one of the earth’s largest sources of fresh water. This project is not just important for Brazil; it is important for the region and the world. If Brazil can eventually protect more than ten percent of the area, the international community should help.”

The program, which was originally conceived in 1998, is now moving forward because of an initial $30 million, four-year commitment made today by the GEF, an independent multilateral financial institution which assists developing countries to protect the global environment.

The government of Brazil and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are cosponsors of the project, known as the Amazon Region Protected Areas Program (ARPA). Brazil will commit $18 million and WWF $5 million toward the cost of the project’s first phase. The World Bank will implement the project on behalf of the GEF.

The total cost of the ten-year program will be $270 million.

The new Brazilian set aside will be the largest single commitment to preserve land in the Amazon region and will be among the most strictly protected land in the history of nature conservation. It will cover more than 37 million hectares (91 million acres) in various parts of the country. No mining or logging will be permitted within its borders. Hunting, fishing and agriculture will be allowed only in extremely limited capacity and will be reserved for indigenous populations only.

Brazil has long been known as the most biologically-diverse country in the world. It contains more than 30 percent of the world’s rain forests and is host to more than 55,000 vascular plants (one fifth of the world total). It is the most plant-rich country in the world, and areas such as the Atlantic forests and western Amazon have been designated as biodiversity “hotspots” because of their floral diversity.

One in eleven of all the world’s mammals (394 species) are found in Brazil, together with one in six of all of the world’s birds (1576 species), one in fifteen of all reptiles (468 species), and one in eight of all amphibians (502 species). Many of these species are unique to Brazil.

However, rare hardwoods and mineral resources found in the region have made it a prime target for logging and mining companies, which have exploited much of what was once pristine wilderness. Clear cutting of forests and unsustainable mining practices have polluted the environment and jeopardized many plant and animal species. Increasing food demands in the region have also led to the conversion of land from rain forests to farmlands.

Selection of Lands

Deforestation in the Amazon has received growing government attention in recent years, driven mainly by an increasing public awareness of the process’ deleterious effects. As a result, federal and state governments are moving toward adopting environmentally friendly policies for sustainable development.

However, the selection of lands for protected reserves has always been a controversial subject. Land and water rights, as well as the interests of local and state governments, local populations and businesses must be balanced with environmental priorities.

Sustainable land use that benefits the primary stakeholders is a top concern for the ARPA project. In 1999, the GEF convened a consortium of social and community organizations, NGO’s, governments and businesses to outline the priorities for choosing ARPA lands.

The interests of local communities will be a particular priority for the project. Groups that live on the perimeter of protected reserves will be involved with the land management. Employment opportunities within the reserves will be offered to members of indigenous communities. The ARPA program will also train them in current best practices for environmentally-sustainable economic and agricultural development.

“We recognize that local and indigenous populations are those best suited to manage the ARPA lands,” says El Ashry. “Their knowledge about the rain forest is superior. In many cases, they have worked and lived in these remote regions their entire lives.”

“We believe that this relationship can be mutually beneficial. These people can provide us better enforcement in protected areas through their intimate knowledge of the regions, and we can provide them with economic benefits through employment, training and education,” he continued.

The process used to select the lands for protection will be based on biological content — areas with the largest number of species and areas with unique species will be prioritized. Areas that are at particular risk of being deforested will also be given priority.

The Brazilian Amazon still has vast expanses of remote and scarcely populated areas rich in biodiversity that are ideal for transformation into protected areas. A significant amount of the Brazilian Amazon (12 percent) is still categorized as “unclaimed government lands.”
Generally, efforts will be made to designate such areas, because of the greater ease with which they can be protected. These areas are also less likely to hold large populations that would need to be taught how to limit their impact on the land.

Three percent of Brazil’s Amazon region is already set aside as protected reserves; an additional 28 percent is reserved for use by indigenous populations. However, neither is as strictly protected as the new project will be. The existing protected reserves have suffered from poor enforcement and substantive threats such as timber extraction, agricultural development, deforestation and mining.

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The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is an independent multilateral financial mechanism that assists developing countries to protect the global environment in four areas: biodiversity, climate change, international waters, and ozone layer depletion. The GEF is jointly implemented by the United Nations Development Program, the United Nations Environment Program, and the World Bank. It currently funds 650 projects in 140 developing countries, having committed $2.5 billion in grants, and raised another $5 billion in co-financing.

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