Forests are often called the lungs of the planet, providing us with oxygen and storing the greenhouse gas CO2 in their branches, leaves and roots. Tropical rainforests in particular are the world’s treasuries of biodiversity and a major storage of CO2.
Rainforests serve as the air conditioning of the planet. As rainwater continuously evaporates, this water vapour cools down the air over the rainforest. This directly influences the local climate as well as the global climate in the long run.
These forests also provide a large part of our fresh water: the Amazon River alone accounts for one fifth of all fresh water in the world.
The importance of forests to their inhabitants
Over 150 million indigenous people are dependent on the forests where they have lived for centuries. Besides their home, the rainforest is their source of sustenance, medicine cabinet and spiritual inheritance. Thanks to their care, the rainforest can continue to provide its crucial eco-services – from clean air to fresh water – to the whole world.
Many local, non-indigenous communities are also inextricably linked to the forest. For example, small-scale farmers in or near the forest who are threatened by the advance of large-scale agriculture and mining companies.
Despite this …
Rainforests are being cut down by the hour, leaving wide open, scorched spaces, immense farmlands and heavily polluted mining areas. Governments readily flood larges surfaces of rainforest to build mega-dams.
Deforestation is taking place at the highest rate in the tropical rainforests of Latin America, Southeast Asia and Central Africa.
The major causes of deforestation are logging (legal and illegal), the expansion of arable land and extractive industries. Logging companies penetrate deep into the jungle to cut down highly valuable age-old trees. Soy and cattle farmers, palm oil and paper businesses, quickly follow their trail. For multinational extractive industries, jungle soil is literally a goldmine, or a rich source of oil. Waterways and roads facilitate even more destruction: 95 percent of all deforestation in the Amazon takes place within a 50 km radius of a road.
In Latin America, indigenous communities have in the last few years acquired formal titles to the land they have marked as their territory. According to international law, they must be properly informed of new ‘developmental projects’ in their area in advance, and then must either approve or disapprove freely. In practice however, these laws are often ignored or temporarily put on ice by governments at will.
Hivos and Greenpeace have initiated All Eyes on the Amazon because we believe that the ability of citizens to influence decisions that affect them is not only essential for government accountability and a democratic society, but also for the future health of our planet.