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The Amazon rainforest: The world's most important ecosystem

Half of the largest rainforest on earth is in danger of disappearing. Our goal is to prevent this catastrophe.

GREEN CARPET: Peru is holds the second largest amount of rainforest of the countries in the Amazon region. This photo was taken in the country’s east.

The Amazon rainforest stretches across 5.5 million square kilometres – an area far larger than the EU. All figures describing some aspect of the Amazon convey the region’s unique status on the planet:

  • The enormous Amazon River, with all its tributaries, contains 20 per cent of the world’s flowing freshwater.
  • Though the Amazon covers only four per cent of the earth’s surface, it contains a third of all known terrestrial plant, animal and insect species.
  • The forest produces more than 50 per cent of all the rain that falls in the Amazon region, and it affects rainfall patterns far outside South America.
  • The Amazon rainforest contains 10 per cent of all biomass on Earth. The forest thus stores vast amounts of carbon that is released into the atmosphere as deforestation takes place. These releases contribute to global warming.

DEPEND ON THE FOREST: The Yanomami in northern Brazil are among the many indigenous groups that find all they need to live in the rainforest.

How we go about saving the Amazon rainforest

Obtaining recognition of indigenous peoples’ right to their traditional lands has proved extremely effective in protecting the rainforest. Forest areas remain standing where their traditional populations secure the legal right to manage them.

For that reason, rights are at the heart of Rainforest Foundation Norway’s approach to preserving the Amazon rainforest. We work together with our local partners on the political level in the various Amazon countries to ensure that the rights of indigenous peoples are strengthened and respected in law.

Our work in the region has one primary goal:

  • The protection of the Amazon, with its current ecosystem intact.

But to attain this goal, we have set an intermediate one:

  • The protection of large, contiguous areas of rainforest in selected parts of the Amazon.

We are therefore collaborating with a number of actors in the protection of seven large, contiguous rainforest areas:

    1. Territorial corridor northeastern Peru and southern Peru and Ecuador
    2. Territorial corridor for indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation in northwestern Peru
    3. Territorial corridor for indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation in southwestern Peru and western Brazil
    4. Integrated management of the Xingu basin in Brazil
    5. Integrated management of the Rio Negro basin in Brazil and Colombia
    6. Integrated management of the Yanomami territory in Brazil and Venezuela
    7. Management of contiguous territories and protected areas in northeastern Brazil

      In these areas we are working exert influence on the authorities to establish new indigenous territories. Where territories have already been established, we provide assistance to the indigenous communities in the sustainable management of the territories; improved living standards; perpetuation of their territorial protections and ensuring that their rights are respected.

      A lush green home

      The Amazon rainforest is home to more than 30 million people. Some 1.6 million of these Amazon dwellers are indigenous, and they belong to more than 400 different indigenous groups. Some are isolated tribes who choose to avoid contact with the outside world.

      Over thousands of years, the indigenous population of the Amazon has managed, protected and enriched the rainforest while being a fully integrated part of it. Today, indigenous peoples have established their own organisations in all nine countries of the Amazon region. The indigenous movement plays an important role in the battle over the survival of this unique forest.

      Deforestation and destruction

      It has taken nature millions of years to create the Amazon rainforest, yet people have destroyed large parts of it in only a few generations. We began eating into the forest when South America's modern states emerged. Since the 1950s, the Amazon rainforest has entirely lost 18 percent of its original forest cover, and up to 50 percent of the forest has been partially destroyed. This is mainly due to:

      • A need for more space to practice agriculture and cattle ranching
      • Oil and gas production
      • Mining and logging
      • A variety of infrastructure projects

      OIL SPILL: The Amazon rainforest is rich in natural resources, including petroleum. Unfortunately, this is all too often what meets the eye when the petroleum has been extracted from the ground. This photo was taken in Peru.

      EXPANDING: The rainforest is suffering from the fact that cattle ranching in the southern Amazon lays claim to enormous areas.

      THE FRONTIER OF DEFORESTATION: The demand for various raw materials is the most important cause of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. Here a soy plantation in Xingu in Brazil.

      The consequences have been dire. The Amazon rainforest is a fragile ecosystem that is totally dependent on its massive size to survive. We do not know how long people can continue damaging this rainforest before we reach the dreaded tipping point beyond which the damage will so severe that the ecosystem breaks down.

      What we do know is that deforestation and forest degradation weaken the capacity of the remaining forest to produce rain. As a result, up to 65 percent of the Amazon is in danger of turning into savannah in the course of the next 50 years. We also know that if all approved and planned industrial and infrastructure projects are realised, half of the Amazon rainforest will disappear.