Fire outbreak in the Amazon, near the Tapajós river, in 2017. © Flavio Forner

Stories in Brazil

Fire outbreaks and deforestation alerts are happening in the same areas of the Amazon

To fight fires, we must curb deforestation, ensure legal compliance and invest in more sustainable supply chains.

By Ian Thompson, Executive Director of TNC Brasil

It is true that we are facing an alarming situation and all who care and are afflicted by it are correct. However, the fires in the Amazon, which have shaken the political and environmental scene in recent weeks, are not exactly the kind of disaster they seem to be. Unlike fires that occur in the Cerrado or in regions of drier climate, where the spread of fire is faster, the humid climate of the Amazon region does not favor the occurrence of natural fires. The annual fires are caused by the advancement of illegal deforestation, climate change and unauthorized use of fire in agriculture, based on a view that the forest must be converted to generate wealth.

To better understand the scenario, an analysis by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) based on data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) collected between January and August 2019, cross-referenced deforestation alerts and fire outbreak data. The study found that many of the current Amazon forest fires are going out on their own in about three days and are concentrated in specific areas where there are also many deforestation alerts. So not all of the Amazon is on fire. Fire outbreaks and deforestation alerts are especially concentrated in areas where territorial disputes have traditionally occurred. These are places where it is critical to solve land title issues so that rural properties can be held accountable for environmental compliance. In Pará, for example, over 90% of fire outbreaks are in three municipalities with a long history of deforestation and resistance to national protected areas such as Conservation Units (UCs) and Indigenous Lands (TIs). The dry season will continue for a few months; therefore, it is important to consider the cause of the outbreaks and think about short- and medium-term preventive actions.

Árvore queimada após incêndio na região do Rio Tapajós, no Pará, no ano de 2017.
TREES AND ASHES. Burned tree in a fire in the Tapajós river region, in Pará, in 2017. © Flavio Forner

Scientific studies indicate that there is a limit to forest cover loss in the Amazon, and if we exceed this limit, it is possible that the dynamics of rainfall will change permanently, converting a large part of the region from tropical rainforest into savannah. In addition to the loss of biodiversity, this would drastically affect the essential role of the Amazon in global climate stability and reduce Brazil's agricultural productivity. This limit cannot be exactly determined, but given its huge potential impact, a cautious 20 to 25% loss of coverage has been suggested. Therefore, any initiative aimed at socioeconomic development in the region must avoid causing deforestation.


Any initiative aimed at socioeconomic development in the Amazon must avoid causing deforestation.

We believe that to combat deforestation and work towards the conservation of a region as vibrant as the Amazon, we need a complex and diverse approach. That's why TNC partners with indigenous organizations, farmers, governments, NGOs and the private sector to work on initiatives that help protect the Amazon forest, encourage sustainable supply chains and restore degraded areas. This effort is part of an undertaking to build a shared vision for the region's development, including a discussion between the public and private sectors to reconcile economic activities with the protection of nature.

It is possible to increase productivity without deforesting more areas, as shown by the initiatives we have developed in partnership with leading companies, producers and governments to consolidate soy, meat and cocoa production chains. Indigenous lands and Sustainable Use Reserves should not be treated as a barrier to Brazil's development. We must recognize their rights, their diversity and their important contribution to conserving the viability of the forest, while understanding that there are options for economic activities in these areas that can meet the needs of communities and offer new sustainable business opportunities without deforestation. To protect biodiversity and tackle climate change, we must work at a large scale and recognize the urgency to protect the Amazon for the good of its communities and the planet. The forest must remain standing.