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São Paulo Greenbelt

Contact Information

  • Rodrigo A. B. M. Victor
    Instituto Florestal
    Reserva da Biosfera do Cinturao Verde da Ciudade de São Paulo
    Rua do Horto, 931, São Paulo, 02377-000 SP

Project Institutions

This assessment is coordinated by the São Paulo State Forest Institute. The team for the preliminary assessment phase was drawn from the following institutions: Universidade de São Paulo - USP (Faculdade de Educação, Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo, Escola Superior de Agricultura Luiz de Queiroz, Escola de Engenharia de São Carlos, PROCAM – Programa de Pós-Graduação em Ciências Ambientais), Universidade do Estado de São Paulo – UNESP, Universidade de Campinas – UNICAMP, Universidade Guarulhos, Instituto Geológico, Instituto de Botânica, Instituto de Economia Agrícola, Instituto de Pesca, Instituto Internacional de Ecologia.

The preliminary assessment was funded by UNESCO, São Paulo Forest Institute, and the Environment Ministry, with substantial in-kind contributions from the above-mentioned institutions.

Assessment Focus

The São Paulo Green Belt Sub-global Assessment (São Paulo GB) aims at providing the region’s decision-makers with information on the importance of ecosystem services provided by the Green Belt of São Paulo and Santos metropolises, how the changes generated by urbanization threaten the continuity of these vital processes, the consequences of these phenomena for human well-being, future scenarios and the response options for dealing with these issues.

Time period

São Paulo Green Assessment was divided into 3 phases, as follows:

  • Phase I: corresponds to the preliminary assessment conducted in July–December 2003 and subsequent activities (review of the preliminary assessment, interactions with the MA Secretariat) leading up to the acceptance as an approved MA sub-global assessment.
  • Phase II: assessment outreach and fund-raising activities, expected to be accomplished in 2007.
  • Phase III: The core assessment period is intended to extend from 2007 through 2009.

The following services were preliminarily assessed, fresh and underground water, food, forest resources, climate regulation, run-off regulation, carbon sequestration, sustainable tourism, social benefits. The full assessment shall include more services as more researchers join the process. The list below summarizes the main services and their relevance to human well-being and biodiversity.

Summary of Ecosystem Services preliminarily assessed / to be assessed

Supporting Services

Ecological processes and biodiversity : The Atlantic Forest is one of Earth’s richest biomes in biodiversity; maintaining its biological diversity is an ethical duty of the population and also important for protection of the biological safety of human beings. Locally, the Green Belt (GB) woods are important ecological corridors, true links connecting different forest regions of Brazil.

Provisioning Services

Underground and surface water supply and conservation. Water resources within the GB supply water to over 20 million people. Endangerment of this water supply can lead to a collapse in public supply, whose shortage is already felt today during some dry seasons. There is also a strong correlation between forests and water quality, with serious economic implications.

Food security

Today, 15% of the world’s food is produced in backyards and small land tracts (Ian Douglas, Univ. of Manchester, 2002, persona communication). The GB has this tradition and today is one of Brazil’s top organic produce regions. Besides, the choice for agriculture in areas surrounding cities is regarded as an alternative to the expansion of big cities.

Forest timber / non-timber resources

The forest-originated raw material produced in the Green Belt is representative of São Paulo State’s forest-based economy, mainly as a function of reforestation.

Regulating Services

  • Climate regulation. The GB relates directly to climate regulation in the region, in counterpoint to the urban area that causes temperature to rise (heat islands). It has been suggested that this phenomenon has some linkages to the issue of thermal balance that influences rainfall patterns, leading to heavy floods in urban areas.
  • Soil protection and run-off regulation. The GB controls soil erosion, regulates run-off, minimizes floods and resulting natural disasters.
  • Water Purification. Carbon sequestration and pollutant reduction. The GB has over 600,000 hectares of natural vegetation (most of which under regeneration stages) and 119,000 hectares of reforestation, playing an important role in CO2 sequestration. The role of vegetation as a potential barrier for pollution diffusion is also being investigated.

Cultural Services

  • Tourism: São Paulo Green Belt has a tremendous potential for many sustainable tourism modalities, including ecotourism.
  • Others: religious / spiritual, aesthetic, historical, etc.

Summary of most important drivers of ecosystem change partially assessed / to be assessed

Urban growth

Between 1991 and 2000, the population of the metropolitan region rose by 15.7% in absolute numbers, at a 1.63% annual rate, while shantytown population rose by 57.96%, at a 5.21% annual rate. The process of shantytown dispersion intensifies in metropolitan municipalities. The growth in the past decade confirms the magnitude and aggravation of the housing issue, portraying with precision the ‘peripherization’ of growth in São Paulo’s metropolitan region. Consequently, the environment is subjected to a devastating degree of degradation owing to illegal land parceling and occupation of protected areas and vulnerable land.

Environmental pollution

  • Air pollution. The main pollutants found in the urban and industrial atmosphere of the GB which result from human influence are particulate material, sulfur (SOx) and nitrogen (NOx) oxide, organic compounds and components from photochemical smog, including ozone (O3) and peroxi-acetyl nitrate (PAN). They are all harmful to biological systems.
  • Water pollution. There are several categories of substances that may contaminate water, including solid suspensions, organic and toxic substances, heavy metals, herbicides, detergents, radioisotopes etc. One of the best-documented effects of the impact of man on aquatic ecosystems is artificial eutrophication, which results from a nutrient increase, particularly phosphorus and nitrogen, leading to environmental unbalance, with serious damage to the integrity of aquatic ecosystems, to the economy and to public health.

Solid wastes

The 39 municipalities that form the São Paulo Metropolitan Region registered a daily collection of approximately 22 thousand tons of solid domestic residue, which was disposed in twelve sanitary landfills, five controlled landfills and seven large waste dumps. Additionally, an enormous volume of waste material from building construction is produced daily (São Paulo alone collects 60 thousand tons every month - PMSP, 2002).


Mining acts with variable intensity in 59 of the 71 municipalities fully or partially comprised by the SPGB. Its main feature is the production of mineral goods largely used in building construction, including sand, crushed rock, clay for red ceramics and decorative granite. Some of these materials are destined for use outside the GB region.

Land regulation

The land-related conflicts in the São Paulo City Green Belt Biosphere Reserve region, resulting from inadequate land regulation, threaten the maintenance of the GB and its natural, cultural and historical heritage. These conflicts, specifically characterized by superposing of title to land and inaccuracy in cartographic correspondence, invariably result from the historical difficulties in instituting a reliable registration system for rural property in Brazil. This is especially evident in forested areas where title to land is still unclear and in public domain areas.

Infrastructure Development

The GB is increasingly pressed for the development of infrastructure facilities / constructions (i.e. roads) for city development demands.


Fires, urbanization, and logging cause land cover change and lead to yearly losses of important forest areas.


  • São Paulo Green Belt Summary Report, December 2003, R. Victor et al., ‘‘Application of the Biosphere Reserve Concept to Urban Areas: The Case of the São
  • Paulo City Green Belt Biosphere Reserve,’’. 2003. available at http://www.unesco.org/mab/urban/urbandocs.htm .
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