Help restore Brazil’s governance of globally important ecosystem services

To the Editor — Since 2005, successful conservation policies have made Brazil a global example of environmental governance, in particular expanding Protected Areas and Indigenous Lands, developing advanced monitoring systems to detect vegetation loss, and intervening in soy and beef supply chains1. Now, the administration of president Jair Bolsonaro is dismantling the country’s social–environmental policies2, jeopardizing the governance of globally important ecosystem services3 (Supplementary Table 1).

Brazil is a country with an immense responsibility towards humanity. First, because it contains the largest portion of the Amazon rainforest, a critical element stabilizing the Earth’s climate system4. Second, its well-conserved terrestrial ecosystems store immense amounts of carbon and 12% of global water resources5. Third, its terrestrial and marine ecosystems harbour 10% of the world’s biodiversity5, including many species useful for food, medicine and construction (Fig. 1). Moreover, Brazil’s cultural diversity includes over 300 ethnic groups that preserve ancient Indigenous Ecological Knowledge5 and have historically provided essential services for societies5,6.

Fig. 1: Ecosystem services as opportunities for global sustainable development.

Carbon sequestration, Banksia films; climate regulation, extreme event regulation, biodiversity, medicine, crop genetic diversity and non-timber provision, Pixabay; cultural, spiritual and inspirational values, Bernardo M. Flores (left image) and Gleilson Miranda / Governo do Acre, Flickr, under a Creative Commons license CC BY 2.0 (right image); timber provision, Carolina Levis.

Compared to other countries, Brazil has large amounts of ecosystem assets, as shown by the global map of terrestrial and marine ecosystem assets. Map adapted with permission from ref. 10, United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

To help Brazil restore a resilient and participatory governance system, we suggest three main priorities aligned with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD, Aichi Targets), the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement.

Develop sustainable agro-industry

Biodiversity and ecosystem losses in Brazil are mainly driven by commodity production, implying that the agribusiness sector has a pivotal role in determining the fate of ecosystem assets7. The enhancement of productivity without further ecosystem loss could be achieved by: (1) promoting the strategic use of incentives to expand biodiversity-based production systems and low carbon agriculture; (2) eco-certification; (3) strengthening local public systems for sustainable agricultural development; (4) strengthening local public systems for pesticide use control; and (5) investing in science, biotechnology and innovation based on native biological diversity.

Protect and restore terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems

It is essential to invest in the protection of well-conserved ecosystems and the restoration of degraded ones to enhance ecosystem assets5,6. This requires: (1) implementing, maintaining and expanding protected areas; (2) strengthening the resilience of ecosystems and local societies to global changes; (3) strengthening the public system for socio–environmental management at all levels, to enforce environmental laws; (4) promoting the sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystem assets by local communities inside and outside of Protected Areas; and (5) developing supply and value chains of locally managed biodiversity assets with sustainable infrastructure logistics that connect remote communities and markets.

Strengthen indigenous and traditional peoples’ rights

Indigenous peoples and traditional communities have been interacting with their environments for millennia, playing a fundamental role in ensuring the protection of ecosystems5,6. To maintain their participation in environmental governance requires: (1) the constitutional demarcation and non-intrusion of indigenous and traditional lands; (2) strengthening the resilience of indigenous food production systems; (3) protecting cultures and their local ecological knowledge; (4) effectively including indigenous and traditional peoples in decision-making and public socio–environmental management; and (5) strengthening public policies for indigenous peoples and traditional communities.

The global consequences of the newly degraded governance system in Brazil imply that all stakeholders share a common interest: making Brazil’s ecosystems resilient. International markets can exert pressure on how farmers produce commodities in Brazil1, helping to place the country in the global trend towards sustainable agriculture8. Countries can support companies committed to SDGs through strategic use of incentives, while state and municipal governments in Brazil can stimulate the production of sustainable and biodiversity-based agriculture, attracting external investments9. Opportunities also lie in new political connections, such as the Brazilian Coalition on Climate, Forests and Agriculture, as well as the Parliamentary Fronts for the Environment (222 members), Indigenous Rights (237 members) and Science (207 members). Among Brazilians, 91% want stronger policies for nature conservation9, implying that integrating policies with global targets, such as the SDGs and the Aichi Targets, is of public interest. Recent scientific efforts can help boost participatory governance, such as the MapBiomas project, the Plataforma Brasileira de Biodiversidade e Serviços Ecossistêmicos (BPBES)5 and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)6, which are continuously assessing the status of biodiversity and ecosystem assets.

The 1,230 signatories of this essay, who represent a broad cross-section of the Brazilian science community, as well as indigenous and traditional community members, call on international trading partners, state and municipal governments, members of parliament and concerned citizens to pressure the Brazilian government to reverse its destructive agenda and support this constructive agenda, before humanity loses critical ecosystem services.


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We thank all 1,230 signatories for supporting this article; a full list of signatories and their affiliations appears in Supplementary Table 2. We also thank UNEP for providing the ecosystem assets dataset. C.L. thanks CNPq for a post-doctoral fellowship (CNPq 159440/2018-1). B.M.F. is funded by São Paulo Research Foundation Grant FAPESP 2016/25086-3. M.H. and B.M.F. acknowledge the project grant from Instituto Serrapilheira/Serra-1709–18983. N.P. thanks CNPq for a productivity fellowship (CNPq 310443/2015-6). C.R.C. thanks CNPq for a productivity fellowship (CNPq 303477/2018-0).

Author information




C.L. and B.M.F. conceived and designed the work; C.L., B.M.F., G.G.M., A.P.M., J.V.C.-S., P.B.A., N.P., M.H. and C.R.C. interpreted the data; C.L. and B.M.F. drafted the work and G.G.M., A.P.M., J.V.C.-S., P.B.A., N.P., M.H. and C.R.C. substantively revised it.

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Correspondence to Carolina Levis or Bernardo M. Flores.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Table 1 - Consequences of policy changes; Supplementary Table 2 - List of Signatories; Supplementary Text - Portuguese version.

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Levis, C., Flores, B.M., Mazzochini, G.G. et al. Help restore Brazil’s governance of globally important ecosystem services. Nat Ecol Evol 4, 172–173 (2020).

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