Rios e florestas são principais características da literatura da Amazônia (Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil)

What is the way to reconcile development with conservation in the Amazon?

Agronomist, PhD in Ecology from the University of Stirling (UK). She studies the ecology of the Amazon rainforest. Titular researcher and former director of the Goeldi Museum. Counselor of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC).

Ima Vieira

Translated by Victoria Barboza Cunha, Silvia Benchimol, Ewerton Branco (ET-Multi/UFPA)

Ima Vieira


In the early 1980s, the protectionist paradigm that had dominated nature conservation since the 19th century began to lose steam. It was replaced by a strong notion that poverty reduction and environmental protection should go hand in hand. In the years that followed, various approaches to reconciling development and conservation objectives emerged. 

These approaches include, among others, the commercialization of non-timber forest products (the bioeconomy that is so much in vogue today), the creation and management of protected areas, integrated landscape management, sustainable land use planning, and zero deforestation. However, in the long run, environmental aspects have not been adequately incorporated into infrastructure and land use planning, and this failure is partially due to the complexities of the existing cross-sectoral institutional arrangements in the country.

The Amazon is being affected by world geopolitics, which tends towards an integrated global economy. At the last Conference of the Parties (COP 26), forest protection became a global priority—since the 1992 Earth Summit, forests have taken on a central role in sustainable development, so much so that numerous international forest commitments have been signed, with the promise of eliminating deforestation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, the reality is far from these goals.

The boldest proposals to protect the Amazon Rainforest and impact emission sources in the state of Pará, for example, have achieved few results over the past decade. Studies point out that there are problems of continuity in long-term strategic policies, as well as a lack of articulation and coordination among various state secretariats. In this context, the Pará Government's initiative of February 7, 2023 has proven to be significant in declaring a State of Environmental Emergency in the municipalities of Pará with leading deforestation rates.

Recently, the Amazonian governments joined together to form the Interstate Consortium of the Legal Amazon and seek collective ways to protect and develop the region. Among the Consortium's documents, the following stand out: the Amazon Charter for Climate Security; the Green Recovery Plan (Plano de Recuperação Verde – PRV), with its four axes, namely halting deforestation, sustainable productive development, green technology, and green infrastructure capacity building; and a Cooperation Agreement aimed at stimulating the Amazon bioeconomy. The Amazon Consortium shares the LEAF (Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest Finance) Coalition’s goal of reversing deforestation by 2030, alongside more than 100 world leaders.

In January 2023, this same Consortium delivered to President Lula a series of 33 regional development proposals, 21 of them for the Infrastructure and Logistics axis. Among these was the investment in highways, railroads and waterways for the flow of agricultural and cattle-raising production. It is known that more than 90% of the Amazon forests’ conversion occurred within a distance of 5.5 km from roads and that the foreseen road construction projects in the Pará state have the potential to deforest 7000 km² in 30 years. Well, if large infrastructure projects are one of the vectors of pressure over the forest, how could they be designed without impacting it? What could be considered green infrastructure in this respect? How to ensure zero deforestation with this collective agenda focused on infrastructure works that have little dialogue with ambitious environmental goals?

Undoubtedly, all these commitments made by the Legal Amazon Consortium raise hopes for the protection of the Amazonian forests. On the other hand, it is necessary to recognize that there are concerns about the way in which these commitments will be fulfilled, considering the competing paths with opposite characteristics. Coherence and collective effort will be required from the Amazon states’ governments, under the watchful eye of civil society.