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Quality of life in the Amazon

Quality of life in the Amazon is affected by deforestation

Social progress, deforestation, and global warming are closely linked.

Everything is related and interconnected. Everything is interdependent. Including social progress, deforestation, and global warming. This is demonstrated by the data collected in the 2023 Social Progress Index (SPI), which was released this month of July: the municipalities in the Amazon that suffer the most from deforestation also show the worst indicators of quality of life. And this happens in the same context of an unprecedented increase in global temperatures – because what happens in the Amazon also affects the waters of Florida, where temperatures have reached over 38 degrees Celsius.

Social progress refers to a society’s ability to meet its citizens’ basic human needs and create conditions for everyone to reach their full potential. Other indicators that are more widely known, such as GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and HDI (Human Development Index), reflect economic development well, but they don’t fully capture the quality of life, health, and well-being of people. The SPI, which exclusively uses socio-environmental variables, is an internationally prestigious index created in 2013 that aims to fill this gap.

With the 4th edition of this report produced by Imazon (Institute of Man and Environment in the Amazon), analyzing 47 indicators of quality of life, it was possible to establish that deforestation hinders social progress in the Amazon region. By examining access to healthcare, education, security, and housing, a clear correlation between deforestation and well-being is observed.

In 2023, the average SPI in the Amazon was 54.32, well below the Brazilian average of 67.94. When focusing on the 20 municipalities that most deforested the forest, the score was even lower: 52.30. The direct relationship between deforestation and quality of life is proven through various data cross-references in the study: municipalities with better SPI performance showed an average deforestation of 20 km² between 2020 and 2022, while the 89 cities with the worst evaluations cleared approximately 86 km² in the same period.

São Felix do Xingu, with only 65 thousand inhabitants, is the champion in CO2 emissions

One example of these low scores is São Félix do Xingu, in southern Pará. The municipality devastated over 1.7 thousand km² of forest during the period and obtained an SPI of only 52.56. Not surprisingly, São Félix do Xingu is the municipality with the highest greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil – responsible for the increase in ocean temperatures, measured in Florida and felt in Italy, which is experiencing its hottest summer ever.

But what makes this small Pará city the leader in CO2 emissions? Well, it’s deforestation and cattle ranching. São Félix do Xingu, besides contributing to high deforestation rates, also has the largest cattle herd in the country: 2.4 million heads of cattle, a 5.4% increase in one year. Not surprisingly, the city has lost 28.38% of its population since the last Census in 2010, published by the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics), and now has 65,418 residents – reflecting the low social indicators and lack of prospects for the younger population. São Félix do Xingu currently has almost 37 heads of cattle per person, meaning that 225 tons of CO2 are emitted per year for each inhabitant.

Brazilisthe world leader in deforestation

Last June, a report published by the World Resources Institute (WRI) revealed that Brazil still holds the shameful position of being the world leader in the ranking of tropical forest loss. In 2022, 1.77 million hectares of primary tropical forest were destroyed (17,700 km²), a 15% increase compared to the previous year. This represents 43% of the total forest loss in the world in 2022. These figures not only refer to the Amazon but also to the Cerrado, Pantanal, and Atlantic Forest. However, it resulted in the emission of 1.2 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, two and a half times more than all the CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning in the country. These data come from the annual survey by the Global Forest Watch and the University of Maryland, United States.

In the Amazon, the rate of destruction of primary forests nearly doubled in the last three years, mainly caused by large-scale deforestation for the opening of cattle pastures near major highways. Data from INPE (National Institute for Space Research) produced at the request of the Climate Observatory has already shown that deforestation doubled from one year to the next in the surroundings of BR-319 after the announcement of its paving by then-Infrastructure Minister Tarcísio de Freitas, who is now the Governor of São Paulo. The prospect of the road made Amazonas one of the main hotspots of deforestation in the last four years.

Contrary to what was propagated in the previous government, predatory activities in the forest did not generate more development in the Amazon – on the contrary, they left 27 million inhabitants of the region in even more precarious social conditions. According to BetoVeríssimo, co-founder of Imazon, the illegality of occupations and the informal economy create a difficult business environment, deterring more serious investors committed to environmental causes.

“Economic growth and deforestation trends are dissociated. During the period of the steepest drop in deforestation, from 2004 to 2012, the Amazon’s economy grew. The opposite occurred in the last few years, from 2017 to 2022, when destruction increased, and the economy was in decline,” Veríssimo emphasized.

Another compelling piece of data that proves the correlation between all these seemingly distant pieces of information is the comparison between greenhouse gas emissions and GDP: the Amazon contributed to 52% of Brazil’s emissions but accounts for only 9% of the GDP.

Establishing the interdependence of economic development, forest preservation, CO2 emissions, and the consequent global warming, the researcher concludes that “To promote social progress in the Amazon, it is necessary to drastically reduce deforestation and associated illegal activities, as they degrade the economic environment, discouraging good investments and thus delaying prosperity in the region.”



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