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Economic power of Amazon rainforest could give big boost to GDP and job creation

In a new study, more than 70 researchers quantified the value of conserving the Brazilian jungle and meeting environmental criteria by 2050

María Mónica Monsalve S.
A group of young people walk in an Amazonian village in the State of Pará (Brazil).
A group of young people walk in an Amazonian village in the State of Pará (Brazil).Eraldo Peres (AP)

There is an alternative for the Brazilian Amazon. The rainforest is not condemned to the environmental debacle human activity is leading it toward. If, by 2050, the region meets certain criteria, such as eliminating deforestation and achieving low emissions, it could not only be sustainable, it could also be transformed into a bioeconomy powerhouse. That is the conclusion of a study titled New Economy for the Brazilian Amazon, in which more than 70 researchers from the country participated under the World Resources Institute (WRI) and New Climate Economy, and which was presented Tuesday in the Amazonian city of Belém.

To reach this conclusion, the team created a model with four possible scenarios that the region could undergo between now and 2050, adding and subtracting different variables. In the first, called the reference scenario, the Amazon region would continue on its current path of degradation. In the second, deforestation would cease but greenhouse gas emissions would continue. A third scenario would be the reverse: keeping emissions low but failing to tackle deforestation. The fourth scenario would be a combination of both: stopping deforestation and limiting emissions so that Brazil can meet its climate commitments under the Paris Agreement.

When comparing the scenarios, the economic data were surprising. The last case — the optimal scenario — showed that by 2050 the standing Amazon could generate up to 312,000 additional jobs in the region, plus some 365,000 jobs in Brazil in the bioeconomy sector, and another 468,000 focused on forest restoration. Moreover, these would particularly benefit Black and indigenous communities.

“A new economic model in the Amazon, guided by the valorization of the natural and social attributes of the region, can generate countless opportunities and inclusive jobs. This format, which will make the Amazon region the great catalyst for the decarbonization of the entire Brazilian economy, is the greatest opportunity for economic and social development in the country’s contemporary history,” said Rafael Feltran-Barbieri, senior economist at WRI Brazil and one of the authors of the study, during its presentation. In fact, the fourth scenario could add up to 40 billion reais ($8.4 billion) per year to the national economy by 2050.

But it’s not just about the money. The optimal scenario also carries several benefits at the environmental level, such as that a standing forest of 81 million hectares could be maintained, since some 22 million hectares would be restored and the deforestation of another 59 million hectares would be avoided. Water loss in the forest would also decrease by 13% while 94% fewer net carbon emissions would be generated, on top of a 19% increase in carbon capture.

“The Amazon is at a point where there could be a general degradation. And it is impossible to know how much time we have left, so we must use the precautionary principle: anticipate and generate a new economic structure,” Feltran-Barbieri told EL PAÍS.

One of the most interesting points of the study is that achieving this scenario would not require major innovations, but rather scaling up existing knowledge. As Ani Dasgupta, president of WRI, said, it is not “rocket science,” but being able to replicate and expand the productive arrangements already existing in the territory. The answers are already there. Providing the Amazon with an alternative, in the end, is about understanding how to guide it to its optimum point.

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