The Amazon in crisis: Forest loss threatens the region and the planet

We must act now to protect the Amazon from catastrophic and irreversible damage

Canopy in canopy at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, Amazon, Ecuador

The numbers are devastating: 17% of Amazon forests have been wholly lost, and an additional 17% are degraded. And data from the first half of 2022 show the loss continuing to grow.

The Amazon is in crisis as forests are threatened by deforestation, fires, and degradation; surface water has been lost; and rivers are increasingly disconnected and polluted. This immense pressure—if not slowed or stopped—will irreversibly damage the Amazon and the overall planet in the very near future.

With the launch of its Living Amazon Report 2022, WWF synthesizes the latest information on the region, its critical global role, the threats it faces, and solutions that require an unprecedented global commitment to stop the Amazon’s destruction.

What’s at stake

As the world’s largest tropical forest and river system, the Amazon is an unparalleled and complex biome:

People: 47 million people live in the Amazon region and depend upon it for their livelihoods. This includes 2.2 million Indigenous peoples from more than 500 different groups.

    Biodiversity and wildlife: The Amazon is home to a stunning array of the world’s species: 9% of mammals; 14% of birds; 8% of amphibians; 13% of freshwater fish species; and 22% of vascular plant species. Many of these species are found nowhere else in the world, and scientists estimate there are places in the Amazon where up to 90% of the species are yet to be discovered.

      Lucinézio Cerdeira de Melo, a teacher; his daughter Louise Sophia; and wife Luciane Melo; are part of the Suruacá village community.

      While there are many free-flowing rivers in the Amazon basin, hundreds of dams within the river network threaten connectivity and water quality.

      Forests: Without its forests, the Amazon region would lose its biodiversity, release massive amounts of carbon, suffer soil erosion, and face hydrological and climatic devastation. Without its ecosystem services, local communities and people around the world would face a loss of livelihoods, well-being, and ecological stability.

      Climate: The Amazon is a major carbon sink that regulates and helps stabilize the planet’s climate. Any loss or degradation of its forests means an increase in carbon emissions. Today, land conversion and fires in the region are already releasing some of that carbon into the atmosphere at record highs.

        Food: The Amazon’s “flying rivers” transport moisture outside of the basin to the southern part of the continent, providing the necessary conditions for agriculture in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and southern Brazil. The health and vitality of the Amazon River basin are also fundamental locally for the millions of people who rely on its waterways for fish.

          Freshwater: The Amazon is the largest free-flowing river in the world. Home to 20% of the freshwater discharged into the Earth's oceans, the Amazon must stay free flowing and healthy. Its connectivity and water quality impact not only the river basin but also human health, food security, livelihoods, and the mangroves and surrounding wetlands the river passes on its way to the Atlantic Ocean.

            Ancestral knowledge: People have lived in the Amazon for more than 12,000 years, making the region a rich repository of human history and ancestral culture.

              The Amazon rivers and forests are home to nearly 10 percent of the world's biodiversity, including squirrel monkeys.

              Acai berries are one of the Amazon's many resources produced for human consumption.

              The health of the Amazon has both local and far-reaching impacts. Losing the Amazon would drastically change the climate of South America, worsening food security, intensifying the climate crisis, and ultimately affecting the entire planet. The global climate emergency would accelerate, as keeping planetary warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius would be impossible.

              Reversing the trend

              As a first step, we must recognize the interdependence between ourselves and the Amazon. Our future hinges on its survival, and the Amazon depends on us and the choices we make today.

              WWF’s Living Amazon report proposes strategies to reverse current losses and ways for governments, the private sector, and everyday citizens to take urgent action for the Amazon and its conservation. This includes the 80x25 initiative, which aims to conserve 80% of the Amazon by 2025. The plan was presented by the Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin, adopted as an IUCN motion in 2021, and supported by WWF, but will require further commitment at all levels to succeed.

              Amazonian countries must agree to and prioritize the protection and sustainable management of the Amazon and its cross-border and interconnected systems. Indigenous peoples must be included in decision-making for the region.

              Corporations that profit from the Amazon’s natural resources should examine their supply chains and ensure sustainable practices are enforced. Consumers can change their consumption patterns and refuse to purchase products that drive deforestation and land conversion in the Amazon.

              Together, we can turn the tide on Amazon loss and shift toward social equity, inclusive economic development, and global responsibility.

              Read the full Living Amazon Report 2022