Celebrating 20 years of protecting the Brazilian Amazon

Counting down the five greatest accomplishments of the Amazon Region Protected Areas program

The vast Amazon rain forest helps stabilize the local and global climate, harbors at least 10% of the world’s known species, and provides a home for more than 40 million people. To permanently protect 150 million acres of the Brazilian Amazon, Brazil established the Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA) program in 2002. Created in partnership with WWF and others, the program is the world’s largest initiative for the conservation of tropical forests.

In 2014, WWF helped launch ARPA for Life, an initiative securing $215 million of long-term funding for the program through an innovative conservation finance approach known as Project Finance for Permanence. These projects secure necessary policy changes and funding to ensure that large-scale systems of conservation areas are well managed, sustainably financed, and benefit the communities that depend on them.

Now, two decades after its creation, ARPA continues to play an essential role in the conservation of this invaluable rain forest, preserving biodiversity, reducing deforestation, and supporting local livelihoods.

"Looking back across ARPA's 20 years, it's amazing to think about the profound impact we've had—for the people of Brazil and the Amazon,” said Meg Symington, WWF’s managing director for the Amazon, who played a crucial role in the development of the program. “I treasure the meaningful partnerships we've forged over two decades and consider myself privileged to have been part of ARPA for so long. I can't wait to see what the next 20 years will bring."

Here are just five of ARPA’s most notable achievements:

  1. Created millions of acres of new protected areas.
    ARPA created 57 million acres of protected areas in its first eight years and went on to support the improved management of millions more. ARPA protected areas now total 154 million acres, nearly 1.5 times the size of California, exceeding the program’s initial goal.

  2. Greatly reduced deforestation and associated carbon emissions.
    Reducing deforestation in the Amazon rain forest, an important carbon reservoir, is essential for mitigating climate change. Between 2008 and 2020, the protected areas supported by ARPA reduced deforestation by approximately 650,000 acres. This corresponds to an estimated 104 million tons of avoided CO2 emissions—equivalent to the total emissions by American domestic aviation in 2020, or about 17% of emissions by the global domestic aviation sector.

  3. Preserved the Amazon’s biodiversity.
    Protected areas are recognized globally as one of the most effective strategies for conserving biodiversity. By minimizing threats like deforestation across millions of acres of standing forests, ARPA has safeguarded valuable diversity in the Amazon that may have otherwise been lost.

  4. Reinforced the balance of protection and sustainable use.
    Many people depend on natural resources from forests for their livelihoods, but when resource extraction becomes unsustainable, it threatens the biodiversity and stability of the ecosystem. To meet the needs of people and forests, half of the areas ARPA supports are “integral protection areas,” which strictly limit resource use. The other half are “sustainable use areas,” which seek to balance conservation with the sustainable use of natural resources by local populations.

    For example, the Tapajós-Arapiuns Extractive Reserve is a sustainable use area created to protect residents’ rights to their resources. There, communities practice family farming, hunting, fishing, and more—all with sustainability in mind. Açaí, Brazil nuts, and rubber are among the products extracted at the reserve, which is home to nearly 5,000 families.

  5. Led innovation in management and governance.
    ARPA’s effectiveness can be partly attributed to the program’s management and governance. By establishing continuous and long-term funding, ARPA was able to look beyond short-term objectives. Management training helps ensure ARPA’s team continues to effectively plan, execute, and monitor its goals. And by obtaining the input and support of multiple stakeholders, including local communities, state and federal governments, civil society, and donors, ARPA has made it more difficult for political or economic changes in Brazil to affect the program’s success.

In the past 20 years, ARPA has evaluated and improved these management mechanisms, constantly developing novel approaches to adapt to an ever-changing Amazonian reality. ARPA for Life also became a model and inspiration for the establishment of future Project Finance for Permanence initiatives in Bhutan, Peru, and, most recently, Colombia.

Learn more about WWF’s work on Project Finance for Permanence.