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Messages from Science to the Amazon

In August 2019, organized and criminal fires devastated a significant area of ​​the Amazon. The air pollution generated by these burnings traveled throughout Brazil and reached the Southeast region. In São Paulo, fire pollution associated with a cold front, turned day into night.

Mercedes Bustamante | Carlos A. Nobre | Emma Torres

Translation by Silvia Benchimol, and Ewerton Branco


In August 2019, organized and criminal fires devastated a significant area of ​​the Amazon. The air pollution generated by these burnings traveled throughout Brazil and reached the Southeast region. In São Paulo, fire pollution associated with a cold front, turned day into night.

That year, after the commotion caused by the advance of predatory practices in the largest tropical forest in the world, scientists working in the region came together under the auspices of the SDSN (United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network), and launched the Scientific Panel for the Amazon. The commitment was to produce the most complete synthesis of scientific knowledge about the Amazon, including anthropological, cultural, socioeconomic, ecological and environmental aspects, in order to indicate potential solutions to the socio-environmental crisis that is rampantly worsening in the region with negative impacts on climate stability, biodiversity. and human well-being.

Even in the face of the covid-19 pandemic throughout 2020 and 2021, which so seriously hit the Amazon region, more than 240 scientists – 65% from Amazonian countries and 42% women – worked remotely across different countries, time zones, languages and specialties towards building the first Panel report. In common, these scientists held a strong motivation and sense of urgency to indicate actions aimed at preserving the more than 50 terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems of the region and their peoples (350-400 indigenous groups in addition to quilombola and riverine communities, among others) and to encourage their resilience battling against environmental changes that can definitively compromise the forest as we conceive it today making the planet’s current climate emergency even more serious.

Launched during the COP (Conference of the Parties) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Glasgow in November 2021, the report presented four key recommendations to guide decision-makers – conscious of their responsibility and importance – to change the trajectory of deforestation and degradation observed in all Amazonian countries: (1) impose immediate moratorium on deforestation and degradation in areas close to reaching a point of no return* in southern Amazon; (2) eliminate deforestation, degradation and fires in the basin by 2030; (3) restore aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems; and (4) promote a “healthy standing forests and flowing rivers” bioeconomy based on science, technology, innovation and indigenous and local community knowledges.

Equity, ethics and moral justice are central if we intend to redirect and correct routes in a collaborative process of designing innovative and viable alternatives for the region. Fair and inclusive policies are more easily implemented and accepted by society.

In 2022, we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Brazil's independence. Despite being by the middle of the 21st century, we witness cycles of predatory exploitation of the Amazon Basin and its ecosystems being perpetuated based on the colonial vision that the forest should supply goods and services at the expense of its own survival and of the well-being of its peoples. What science highlights, in line with the knowledge of indigenous peoples in the region, is that the conservation of terrestrial and aquatic environments will be the pillar of sustainable human and economic development in the Amazon and the responsible factor for maintaining significant processes of the planet’s functioning. Additionally, today we are clearly aware that if the forest influences on ecological and economic processes beyond its borders, global changes represent a growing risk acting in synergy with local changes, accelerating the degradation and loss of resilience of its ecosystems.

Recent changes in South American policies begin to signal to the possibility of new arrangements for joint work in the Pan-Amazon. Brazil, as holder of approximately 60% of the Amazon rainforest, is a vital actor and must resume its role as a catalyst for the necessary sustainable transformation. That is why the Amazon needs to be a central theme in the country's majority elections in 2022. The scenario of violence, environmental crime and degradation added public authorities’ neglect that resulted in the sharp advance of deforestation and degradation in recent years will require a national pact for the reconstruction of socio-environmental governance for the Amazon. The time is NOW.


*Deforestation and forest degradation, associated with global climate change and, in particular, the increase in the frequency and intensity of fires and the occurrence of extreme droughts bring the Amazon closer to a point of no return, that is, an abrupt change in forest conditions and functioning, which could lead to up to 70% of the forest disappearing by 2050 and its replacement by open and degraded formations.


About the authors

Mercedes Bustamante is a professor at the Department of Ecology at the University of Brasília. Her research seeks to understand the interactions between global environmental change and the functioning of tropical ecosystems. She is a member of the Scientific Committee of the Scientific Panel for the Amazon and author of chapter 23 of the 2021  Relatório de Avaliação da Amazônia 2021 [Amazon Assessment Report] produced by this Panel. E-mail:

Carlos A. Nobre is co-chair of the Scientific Panel for the Amazon and senior researcher at the IEA - Instituto de Estudos Avançados (Institute for Advanced Studies) at USP (University of São Paulo). He is currently developing the Amazon 4.0 project towards a standing forest bioeconomy for the Amazon. His research areas cover atmospheric science, biosphere-atmosphere interaction, and climate change, focusing on their impacts on the functioning of the Earth system, mainly in the Amazon. E-mail:

Emma Torres is the strategic coordinator of the Scientific Panel for the Amazon. Emma holds a Masters degree in Economics from Universidad Complutense, Madrid and certificates in Environmental Economics and Climate Change, IIED, from Harvard University. She has a long experience at the United Nations, with responsibilities involving management, development of strategic programs and negotiations to promote sustainable development initiatives globally and regionally. Email: