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From eco-catastrophe to zero deforestation? Interdisciplinarities, politics, environmentalisms and reduced clearing in Amazonia


Brazil's rate of deforestation has declined by more than 70% since 2004, a dynamic unimaginable even a decade ago. Even the worst drought in more than 100 years (2010) produced a flat clearing profile from 2009–2010, an unexpected result, since dry periods usually have clearing spikes. While deforestation continues throughout the tropics (and Amazonia), and the recent change in Brazil's Forest Code has produced a modest increase in deforestation, there are significant processes that are slowing clearing and fostering woodland recovery. This paper outlines the multiplicities and interdisciplinarities of political ecologies, policies, politics scientific approaches and technologies that have moderated forest conversion and shaped Amazonia's unusual, and unusually effective development and conservation conjunctures in Brazil's post-authoritarian period. New institutional framings, ideologies, political decentralization, globalizations and an expanded arena for new social movements and civil society provided the context for this transformation. Changing environmental institutions, discourses and the relatively redistributive social pact that underpinned President Ignacio (Lula) da Silva's administration had a significant role in promoting more resilient land uses, monitoring, compliance and new markets, while regional social movements and national and international commodity boycotts affected more damaging ones. Finally, other forms of payment for environmental services, such as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) and REDD+ are changing the value of standing forests. This paper describes how complex interdisciplinarities shaped the politics, policies and practices that slowed forest clearing. However, Amazonia's politics are extremely dynamic: destabilizing processes, violence and indifferent national leadership could still reverse this remarkable turnaround.

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*Correspondence: Dr Susanna Hecht e-mail:
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Environmental Conservation
  • ISSN: 0376-8929
  • EISSN: 1469-4387
  • URL: /core/journals/environmental-conservation
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