Protecting the Amazon for life

The largest tropical forest conservation project in history is good news for the Amazon and the planet

squirrel monkey Amazon

It has taken millions of years for the Amazon to evolve into the most biologically diverse place on Earth. In just a tiny fraction of that amount of time humans have radically changed our natural world, and not for the better. The government of Brazil, working in partnership with WWF and others, envisioned a better way forward, a bold and aggressive move in how large-scale conservation is achieved.

In 2002 Brazil launched the largest tropical forest conservation project in history known as ARPA (Amazon Region Protected Areas). The goal: take 150 million acres of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest—an area larger than all the US national parks combined—and turn it into a combination of sustainable-use and strict protected areas. No easy task. But in a little over a decade ARPA has protected a California-sized portion of the Amazon across nearly 100 different sites.

Permanent Protection

With national and international funding and the leadership of the Brazilian government, ARPA will achieve its ultimate goal and help protect a place that helps stabilize our planet’s climate, harbors one in ten known species, and provides a home for 30 million people. “There's nothing bigger than ARPA. It's the biggest conservation project of all time,” said Carter Roberts, President and CEO of WWF.

The next phase of this history-making endeavor, known as ARPA for Life, involves the implementation of an innovative conservation finance approach that WWF and its partners envisioned a few years ago. “It’s a collective international force with unbelievable cooperation,” said Adriana Moreira, Senior Environmental Specialist and ARPA project manager for the World Bank, who has been with the project since its inception.

This approach, known as “project finance for permanence,” builds on the success of the ARPA while taking advantage of the growth of the Brazilian economy. As part of this approach, ARPA for Life partners have created a $215 million “transition fund” from which Brazil will receive financing over a period of time that is sufficient for the government eventually to cover fully the significant costs of maintaining ARPA sites. “ARPA for Life wouldn’t have been possible without diverse and unique collaboration among numerous partners, including the Brazilian Biodiversity Fund (Funbio), the Linden Trust for Conservation, the World Bank, KFW, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Global Environment Facility,” said Roberts.

ARPA’s success is also due to the strong participation of those in surrounding Amazon communities who see its benefits and want it to continue to flourish. It is the involvement of people, the determination of a unique partnership, and the use of innovative financing that make ARPA a model of conservation for the world.