Climate Change and Brazil’s Atlantic Forest

Brazil’s territory is shared by 6 major biomes: the Amazon Forest in the inner part of the south American continent, the Cerrado (savanna), the Caatinga (a dry forest), the Pantanal (freshwater wetland), the Pampa (grasslands), and the Atlantic Forest, which originally covered the country’s Atlantic Coast.


About 7% of the world’s species occur in the Atlantic Forest, 250 mammals, 1023 birds, 197 reptiles, 340 amphibians, 350 fish, and 20.000 vascular plants, 40% of which are endemic. Some of its formations are remnants from Gondwana. Currently the Atlantic Forest is highly fragmented, and 75% of Brazil’s endangered species live in this Biome. 1.300.000 km2 were already suppressed, and the remnants cover about 100.000 km2.

P1030892The Atlantic Forest includes some very ancient formations such as the Araucaria forests.

Cubatao_4Most remnants of the Atlantic Forest are located on the Serra do Mar mountains which border the coastal line of the south and southeast.

Some unusual climatic events have been registered in the area originally covered by this biome lately. In March, 2004, a hurricane hit the south Brazilian coast, causing some deaths and damages in urban areas. Tornados are becoming frequent, although some meteorologists argue that they have always been there but were never noticed.

A temperature increase of 1.5 – 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 would imply a decrease of 28% of the current area covered by the Atlantic Forest, whereas an increase of 3 to 4 degrees Celsius by 2100 would lead to a loss of 60% of the current area covered by the Atlantic Forest.

A projection was made for the future of 38 tree species under rising temperatures. The conclusion was that a rise in 2 degrees Celsius by 2050 would imply that 37 species would lose 25% of their current potential area whereas 1 species would increase 8% of its current potential area. An increase of 4 degrees Celsius by 2050 would signify that 38 species lose 50% of their current potential area, and would also imply mass extinctions in the south and the northeast part of the biome.

So what should be done? Basically 4 strategies should be applied:

1. Establish vegetation corridors
2. Increase protected areas
3. Improve funding support
4. Manage riparian forests

At the moment, the establishment of vegetation corridors is the less developed strategy because it would need the acceptance of private landowners. There is also the question of who would pay for the corresponding costs.

The increment in the number of protected areas depends on the state, which faces budgetary limitations to acquire and maintain these areas.

Environmental funding in the Atlantic Forest Biome has been improved lately through financial cooperation between several Brazilian state governments and Germany.

Another big strategy is the restoration of riparian forests. The government of Paraná state admitted that the costs of bad water quality and flooding were getting out of control and designed a project to plant 90 million trees in these areas, involving the means available to several public authorities. The programme has succeeded quite well so far, although much needs still to be done.

A fifth, brand-new strategy combining environmental & economical benefits was proposed recently by Yamazoe. Basically the idea is to grow native tree species in mixed stands, using a design which will allow the economic exploration of several wooden and non-wooden products. This system is called “Multiple Use Forests”. Currently a pilot project is being implemented in some small properties through a financial cooperation scheme with the government of Japan. Investors are invited to participate in the implementation of this system on a wider scale.

What else should and could be done? Considering the Brazilian conditions, there are some remarkable advances in public awareness regarding environmental issues. On the other hand, the implementation of public policies is not enough by far to meet the current needs in terms of climate & biodiversity protection. So the proposal is to create supra-national agencies in order to propose and implement environmental-friendly policies in the various Brazilian biomes. They would act as reference centres, a “meeting point” for experts, public agencies, the concerned national and international public as well as available resources. Today’s efforts regarding the solution of environmental questions are dispersed. Experts don’t get resources to implement their solutions, and the concerned public does not have appropriate channels to act besides of publishing letters and articles in the media complaining about this or that environmental problem. A reference centre for the Atlantic Forest could have a mission to bring together needs, projects, as well as resources to implement these solutions.

(Speech held at the Symposium on Climate Change and Biodiversity in the Americas, Panama, February 25-29, 2008).

P.S. We support the “Blog Action Day” on climate change – October 15th, 2009.

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