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

Stories in Brazil

Raging Amazon fires are an urgent call to conservation action

Deforestation, blatant environmental crimes and reduced funding for forest conservation have fueled fires in the Amazon.

  • Rampant deforestation, blatant environmental crimes, and reduced funding for forest conservation have fueled fires in the Brazilian Amazon.
  • The Nature Conservancy believes it is not only possible but essential to reconcile the relationship between development and the environment. One cannot succeed without the other.
  • It is crucial to address environmental crimes and boost investments in environmental education, sustainable production, surveillance and firefighting.

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Wildfires raging in Brazil have hit a record number this year. As of August 19, the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has detected 72,842 fires. The surge represents an 83% increase over last year and by far the highest since records began in 2013. The Amazon, home to the world’s largest rainforest, has been the hardest hit biome.

The Amazon’s “flying rivers”, the massive air currents that transport water vapor from the Amazon forest and provide rainfall for agricultural production, are now carrying toxic fumes and fire particles. The states of Acre and Rondonia have reported health emergencies due to air pollution. The plume of smoke has  already reached the city of São Paulo and other urban centers in the south-central part of the country. Higher occurrence of respiratory diseases are expected, especially in children and the elderly.

For years, scientists have voiced concern over the increased trend of forest fires, and unfortunately, fires are projected to become more frequent and more intense all over our planet. Fire requires three basic elements: fuel (wood, biomass), oxygen, and heat—all of which are present in the Amazon. Deforestation and habitat fragmentation lead to hotter and drier conditions that make it easier for fire to spread.

Although using fire as a tool for land management is legally allowed in many Brazilian states, much more guidance is needed from environmental agencies to ensure proper use. What we are experiencing right now is the intentional, reckless, uncontrolled and generalized use of fire. Just between August 17 and 19, INPE recorded 5,253 fire outbreaks in Brazil; 1,618 in Bolivia; 1,116 in Peru; and 465 in Paraguay.

It is critical to halt environmental crimes and prosecute perpetrators under the Brazilian Environmental Crimes Law. It is also vital to monitor deforestation and boost investments in sustainable production and reforestation.

Rampant deforestation, impunity against environmental crimes and ineffective firefighting have all contributed to this unprecedented surge of fires, which are destroying ecosystems, endangering wildlife and jeopardizing livelihoods.

It is critical to halt environmental crimes and prosecute perpetrators under the Brazilian Environmental Crimes Law. It is also vital to monitor deforestation and  boost investments in sustainable production and reforestation.

The Nature Conservancy believes it is both possible and essential to foster constructive relationships between development and the environment. One cannot succeed without the other. Nature provides the fundamental environmental services that make lands more productive. Amazonian farmers can boost their incomes while conserving their forest. Production can be driven to degraded lands. The expansion of agroforestry systems, which involve growing food crops and native trees together, can improve incomes and food security while replenishing soil, sequestering carbon and nurturing wildlife. It is a win for the Brazilian people and for the environment. This is just one example. There are many solutions to increase sustainable production, but deforestation is certainly not one of them.

We all have a part to play; public and private sectors, multilaterals, local and indigenous communities, NGOs and researchers must come together to chart a sustainable path forward for our planet.

Damage to the Amazon goes far beyond Brazil. This magnificent rainforest is home to 10% of the world's biodiversity and plays a major role in regulating the world’s climate. Losing the Amazon is not in anyone’s best interest.