Brazil’s Innovative “Naming and Shaming” Policy: a Success

It should come as no surprise that deforestation is the greatest threat to our planet’s rainforests. The Amazon, which spans eight countries, is home to more than 30 million people (including 350 indigenous and ethnic groups) who rely on the rainforest for food, shelter, and their livelihood. It has often been in the spotlight as a major victim of deforestation due to the rate of its destruction and its great importance to the Earth.

The Amazon accounts for one half of the planet’s tropical rainforest and contains about 10% of the world’s documented species (this does not account for the millions of species which have yet to be documented), including 100,000 insect species, 40,000 plant species, 16,000 tree species, 3,000 fish species, and 1,300 bird species (WWF). Clearcutting the forest can permanently damage these populations and pose a threat to the world’s biodiversity.

Deforestation not only affects the world’s plant and animal life, but also is responsible for about 15% of greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, it is important to remember that when forests are cut, burned, and removed, they can no longer act as sinks and mitigate carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but actually act as additional sources of carbon.

As trees are removed from the rainforest, the relationship between the land and precipitation changes. Soil erosion becomes an issue when there are no more trees or plants to anchor the soil, and huge portions of the world’s arable land are washed away.

In order to begin quantifying and combating deforestation, the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) published their first annual assessment of deforestation across the Amazon in 1989, documenting more than 21,000 km2 of deforestation (virtually all of it illegal).

journal.pone.0136402.g002Brazil, which contains of 60% of the Amazon, has a history of deforestation. However, in 2007, Brazil drafted a policy that has been gaining attention. Decree 6.321, often known as “naming and shaming,” is meant to monitor and control illegal deforestation and prevent land degradation by creating an environmental blacklist that lists priority municipalities or districts that meet specific deforestation criteria.

These criteria include: total deforested area, total deforested area in the preceding three years, and the increase of deforestation in at least three of the past five years. The criteria for blacklisting have only become stricter over the years, with updates added in 2009 and 2010.

The first blacklist was published by the Brazilian Ministry of Environment in January 2008 and named 36 districts. The list is updated annually, and seven districts were added in both 2009 and 2011.

Scientists at the Center for Development Research (ZEF) and the Institute for Food and Resource Economics (ILR) at the University of Bonn have found that “blacklisted districts have experienced distinctly larger reductions in deforestation than comparable non-listed districts,” and that “this difference is partially a genuine effect of blacklisting.”journal.pone.0136402.g003

They calculated that there was a 26% decrease in deforestation due to this policy of naming and shaming. ZEF and ILR also state that no other countries have applied a similar policy in the forestry sector, and that “district blacklisting probably qualifies as the most innovative element in Brazil’s multi-instrument conservation policy mix.”

If this policy of “naming and shaming” could be expanded to other countries, and perhaps target other environmentally destructive activities, our environment and the state of the planet would benefit substantially.

All images from Cisneros, E., Zhou, S. L., & Börner, J. (2015). Naming and Shaming for Conservation: Evidence from the Brazilian Amazon. PloS one, 10(9), e0136402.

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