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Protecting the world’s lungs in the Amazon

March 2014

Forest-dwelling people could once predict the weather, but man-made climate change has made it much more difficult to find food, and puts their environment under threat.

They play a crucial role in the battle against climate change and preventing the destruction of the Earth’s lungs in the Amazon.

Unpredictable weather

Carlos Printes, a quilombola activist from the Amazon, says: ‘In the past people could read nature’s signs and then knew when it was going to rain, when it would be sunny, what the water levels would be.’

‘Now things happen with no warning, people can’t read the weather anymore, they’re lost. It’s all very confusing. Now, when people go to hunt or collect fruit they have to go further and further afield.’

A quilombola house in the Brazilian Amazon

A quilombola house in the Brazilian Amazon

The Amazing Amazon and its inhabitants

The Amazon represents more than half of the planet’s remaining rainforests, and a quarter of the world’s known land species live there.

It’s also one of the planet’s largest carbon sinks, storing between 80 and 120 billion tonnes of carbon.  The destruction of forests worldwide is responsible for up to a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions - more than every car, lorry, ship and train on the planet combined. 

Before 1970, only 1% of the Amazon was deforested, but 40 years later, in 2011, an area larger than France had been destroyed.

Where indigenous or quilombola (forest-dwelling descendants of escaped slaves) people hold the rights to their forest lands, deforestation stands at about 1%, as opposed to 20% in the rest of the Amazon. 

Our partner, the Pro-Indigenous Commission (CPI), supports these people to win the collective titles to their lands, and to use these to protect themselves and the forest:  local work of profound global significance.

Climate change and mining threats

The quilombolas’ way of life is not only under threat from the effects of man-made climate change, but also from timber and mining companies wanting to get rich by plundering the forest.

With support from our In Their Lifetime programme, CPI has supported 25 quilombola communities to win land titles, and a further 14 are in process.  Having the land title helps the quilombola to fight off threats to the forest.

As one of Brazil’s poorest groups of people, the quilombolas need to find a way of making a living without being forced to make deals with logging companies.  

We are supporting the development of a quilombola Brazil nut factory, to help them make a more sustainable income from this forest crop; contributing to climate change mitigation while helping them work their way out of poverty.

The work of CPI shows how international development will increasingly have to be inextricably linked with climate change mitigation, unless action is taken at a global level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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