- However, responses by the governments of Amazonian countries indicate that efforts are under way on concrete action to deal with their environmental challenges.
- The population is increasing, reaching a level of 33.5 million inhabitants in 2007.
- Cities grew at an accelerated rate and there are now three cities with over one million inhabitants.
- By 2005 accumulated deforestation has affected more than 857,000 km2, a 17 per cent reduction in the region's vegetation cover.
- The Amazonian ecosystem is being rapidly transformed by land use changes, infrastructure construction and the establishment of human settlements.
- Climate change is putting pressure on the Amazonian ecosystems making them more vulnerable.
- Food supplies and human health are being affected by increasing deterioration of water quality.
Nairobi/Kenya, Panama City/Panama, 18 February 2009 - United Nations Environment Programme, Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean.
The report, Environment Outlook in the Amazonia: GEO Amazonia, uncovers a revealing panorama of accelerated ecosystem transformation and a marked environmental degradation in this vast region of the South American humid tropics - shared by Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela - which is also the planet's most extensive forest zone. The study, prepared by the 8 Amazonian countries, with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO), is a new publication in UNEP's series of integrated environmental assessments, also known as GEO (Global Environment Outlook) reports, and on which more than 150 experts, researchers, academics and scientists in the countries of the assessed region participated.
During the preparation of this report, the principal stakeholders from the eight Amazonian countries met to discuss the future outlook of the regional environment. They reached a consensus, clearly expressed in the text: "Our Amazonia is changing at an accelerated rate with very profound modifications in its ecosystems".
After more than two years of analysis, the experts affirm that a joint action of the Amazonian governments in the following areas could enable the region to face the challenges (of the changing environment): construction of an integrated environmental vision for Amazonia, and definition of a role of the region in national development; harmonization of environmental policies on regionally relevant themes; design and application of instruments for integrated environmental management; regional strategies that allow sustainable utilization of Amazonian ecosystems; insertion of risk management in the public agenda; strengthening of Amazonian environmental institutions; increased effort on environmental information production and dissemination in the region; promotion of studies and the economic value of Amazonian environmental services; and designing of a monitoring and evaluation system of policies, programmes and projects.
So far, the effort of the Amazonian countries concerning the management of environmental problems has primarily been reflected in progress related to the development of national instruments for planning and management of Amazonia.
Figures to be considered
In essence, the publication points out that the growing environmental degradation in the Amazonia can be seen by the advance of deforestation, the loss of biodiversity, and localized climate change impacts.
The way in which economic activities, infrastructure construction, and the establishment of human settlements are changing Amazonian land use has resulted in an accelerated transformation of the region's ecosystems. By 2005, accumulated deforestation in Amazonia was 857,666 km2, reducing the region's vegetation cover by approximately 17 per cent. This is equal to two-thirds of Peruvian or 94% of Venezuelan territory.
The loss of biodiversity is expressed in an increased number of endangered species. GEO Amazonia, however, points out that, while local information is available on the different countries' biodiversity, there are no statistics or any general cartography available showing the updated information about this problem for the whole region.
Concerning water resources, note is taken of the importance of the Amazonia because of its value in the continental and global water balance, but the publication reports that limited action is taken on the basin's integrated management. The volume of water captured by the Amazonia basin-from 12,000 to 16,000 km3 a year-represents about 20% of the world's total fresh water.
The availability of surface water in the Amazonia basin depends to a large extent on it being properly used and managed in each of the basin countries. These waters are being affected by different anthropogenic activities that damage its quality: mine waste, hydrocarbon spills, use of agrochemicals, cities' solid wastes, and wastes resulting from processing illicit crops such as coca.
The demands of international markets are putting pressure on the region's economic-productive dynamics, which leads to the intensive use of its natural resources. This results in exploiting timber and non-timber forest products (chestnut in particular) and hydrocarbons, and in expanding mining, agriculture and cattle raising to meet the demands for commodities by globalized markets and encouraging the adoption of a production model which, for the most part, takes no account of sustainable use criteria.
The publication mentions that growing populations, expanding economic activities and building infrastructure have led to a significant change in the region's land use, causing ecosystem fragmentation, deforestation and loss of biodiversity. For example, over a 30-year period (1975-2005), in Brazilian Amazonia the road network multiplied by 10, thus encouraging the establishment of human settlements. The study comments that increased biofuel production could accelerate this land use change.
Amazonia has also experienced accelerated and unplanned urbanization. Of the population of 33.5 million (38.7 million if the concept of "Greater Amazonia" is used), approximately 21.3 million-63.6% of the total population-live in urban areas, indicating how important urbanization is to the region's sustainable development strategy.
Climate change and extreme events are putting pressure on the Amazonian ecosystems and making it more vulnerable. The region has been affected by a rise in average temperature, although the extent differs depending on the zone. The level of precipitation has also changed although the trends are not very clear.
GEO Amazonia maintains that deforestation in the zone may be having an affect on the regional climate. If the loss of forests exceeds 30% of the vegetation cover, then rainfall levels will decrease; this will produce a vicious circle that favours forest burning, reduces water vapour release, and increases smoke emissions into the atmosphere, resulting in further reduced precipitation. Because of deforestation, Amazonia is progressively becoming a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
The publication brings together the results of the Nepstad (2007) study projecting that 55 per cent of the humid Amazonian forest will have been lost by 2030 with the subsequent conversion of a large part of Amazonia into a savannah before the end of the 21st century.
The study considers four possible scenarios for 2026 which, along general lines, show that the development style chosen by the Amazonian countries and their citizens is limiting both the options for the region's future sustainable development and the hope of creating an alternative future for the Amazonia. The publication points out that while it will be impossible to entirely conserve the integrity of the Amazonian ecosystems, the different decisions taken today will be of fundamental importance in determining to what degree citizens of the Amazonia would accept exchanging environmental degradation for socio-economic development.
Lines of Action
The publication suggests different ways of proceeding, based on joint action by the Amazonian governments, to allow them to confront the challenges posed by the region. Its main challenges are: have an integrated Amazonian vision and define the region's national development role; harmonize environmental policies on themes relevant to the region; design and implement integrated environmental management instruments; design and implement regional strategies that allow sustainable use of the Amazonian ecosystems; include risk management in the public agenda; strengthen efforts in the region to produce and disseminate environmental information; promote economic valorization studies and action on Amazonian environmental services; and design a monitoring and assessment system on the impact of policies, programmes and projects.
How countries respond
The governments of Amazonian countries have also made efforts to manage environmental problems. In fact, some progress has been made on national instruments designed for the region's management. In general, the countries have sustainable development plans, sub-national development strategies, ecological economic zoning instruments, as well as sub-national programmes and projects for the Amazonian part of their territory. In all Amazonian countries, the Constitution includes an article on the right to a healthy environment, with a clear mandate as to how the environment should be used and managed.
Countries in the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), including Andean-Amazonian countries like Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, have adopted different agreements on the environment, and on promoting national strategies in their respective countries.
In addition, Brazil has a project on monitoring Amazonian deforestation that is one of the world's most advanced on real-time deforestation monitoring. Also to be highlighted is the establishment of the Amazonian Fund with regulations on investing in action to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation.
As far as water is concerned, ACTO has begun a process to discuss and design, together with UNEP, GEF and OAS, a programme to tackle the challenge of regional water resources management
NOTE: The report, Environment Outlook in Amazonia: GEO Amazonia, has seven chapters covering: Amazonia: territory, society and economy over time; Dynamics in Amazonia; Amazonia today; The footprints of environmental degradation; Responses by stakeholders to the Amazonian environmental situation; The future of Amazonia; and Conclusions and proposals for action.
NOTE: The Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO), is an inter-governmental body established in 2003 in Brasilia, Brazil, by the eight Amazonian countries (Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela) in order to promote sustainable development initiatives in this strategic region with the framework of regional cooperation.
For more information:
Rody Oñate, Information Officer, United Nations Environment Programme. Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean - Clayton, Ciudad del Saber - Avenida Morse, Edificio 103, Corregimiento de Ancón - Ciudad de Panamá, PANAMÁ. Tel.: (507) 305-3164 (directo) y 305-3100(conmutador) C.E.: email@example.com / Sitio www.pnuma.org
Cristiane Madeira,Asesora de Comunicaciones Organización del Tratado de Cooperación Amazónica - OTCA SHIS - QI 05 Conjunto 16 Casa 21
Lago Sul - Brasilia DF - Brazil ,Tel.: (55-61) 3248-4119, fax: (55-61) 3248-4238, C.E.: cristianemadeira@ otca.org.br, Sitio: www.otca.info
Elsa Galarza, Centro de Investigación de la Universidad del Pacífico (CIUP), Universidad el Pacífico, Av Salaverry 2020, Jesús María, Lima - 11. Peru, Telef. 511-219-0100. Anexo 2140, C.E. firstname.lastname@example.org