Professors Thomaz Wood Jr, FGV EAESP, and Dafne Oliveira Carlos de Morais, Centro Universitário da FEI, explore the delicate balance between development and conservation in the Amazon region while sharing approaches that work and the ones that don’t.
The Amazon Conundrum: The challenges and opportunities for sustainable development by CoBS Editor Muskan Chourey. Related research: Organizing for sustainable development: A multi-stakeholder project in the Amazon, Thomaz Wood Jr, Dafne Oliveira Carlos de Morais, Journal of Cleaner Production, Elsevier.
Challenges and opportunities for sustainable development in the world’s largest rainforest
The Amazon is characterized by superlatives such as the greatest accumulation of biodiversity in a tropical rainforest on Earth, the largest river basin in the world, and the largest concentration of terrestrial species on the planet. Consequently, its conservation is essential for maintaining the global climate balance. Even though the Amazon receives substantial attention from governments, environmental activists and scholars, the development projects implemented in the region frequently create negative impacts for the environment and local communities.
Besides, the conservation of this huge region is essential for maintaining the global climate balance. Indeed, climate change is seen as a “super wicked problem” due to its exacerbating features, such as the fact that the longer we take to address it, the tougher it will be for us to do so.
What is happening in the Amazon?
The concentration of natural resources in the Amazon attracts both public and private organizations that are interested in the regions’ potential to house large-scale engineering and construction projects such as hydroelectric plants and mining companies. However, these ventures also have considerable social and environmental impacts, including deforestation, pollution, population displacement, human rights violations, lifestyle changes, and extraordinary demands on basic health and education services. The projects affect vulnerable minorities and poor regions.
These projects often involve the clearing of large areas of rainforest and can disrupt the delicate ecosystem and displace indigenous and other traditional communities. There have also been concerns about the ability of these ventures to provide long-term benefits to the local population. Some studies have shown that revenue from these projects is often directed to external companies and investors, rather than being invested in local development.
Additionally, there have been instances where the local communities were not consulted or their consent was not taken properly before the start of the project, leading to conflict and resistance.
Overall, while the projects may have some short-term economic benefits, the long-term environmental and social costs can be significant, and many experts argue that a more sustainable approach is needed for development in the Amazon region.
Problematic practices in current projects
After evaluating these experiences, experts identified a number of practices that posed a threat to the effectiveness of the projects:
- Lessons learned from previous projects were not recorded and shared for future use, therefore, previous practices were not effectively adopted and transferred to new projects.
- There was a disconnect between project planning and implementation.
- Financial resources were misused.
- Revenue generation did not always align with project needs.
- Roles and responsibilities were not always clearly defined.
The need for social actors and territorial governance
The exploitation of the Amazon’s natural resources can generate income but also has a high impact on society and the environment. It is subsequently necessary to have a balance between economic development and preservation of the environment, and this can be achieved by involving a group of social actors who develop a common vision of their territory and seek consensus on objectives and actions.
This is where the concept of territorial governance – the processes, institutions, and actors that shape and manage the use and development of land and other resources within a specific geographic area – comes into play. This can include government policies and regulations, as well as the actions of private individuals and organizations. Moreover, the goal of territorial governance is to balance competing demands and interests, such as economic development and conservation, to promote sustainable and equitable outcomes for all stakeholders.
Consequently, territorial governance maximizes vertical coordination between social and political actors and horizontal coordination between social actors, whether they are public or private or come from nongovernmental organizations. The strong emphasis on territory should raise social awareness of diversity and relevant decision-making and, also, reduce the persistence of rigid jurisdictional boundaries.
An alternative form of organizing for sustainability
In their paper, Profs. Wood and Morais focus on identifying the patterns that emerged from an intervention for providing a sustainable solution in large-scale construction and engineering ventures in the Amazon.
This multi-stakeholder project was led by by the Center for Sustainability Studies (FGVces), from FGV EAESP, and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), with the participation of more than 180 organizations and almost 480 people, including government agencies, multinational companies, NGOs and important minorities. It aimed to address the challenges of balancing economic development, environmental conservation, and social well-being in the Amazon region. To achieve this, the project team used a participatory approach, involving representatives from different stakeholder groups in the planning and implementation of the project.
The authors conclude that multi-stakeholder projects can be an effective approach to promoting sustainable development, but they require strong leadership, effective communication, negotiation skills, expertise in social technology and a long-term commitment to achieve success. *
Learning from the Amazon conundrum: Valuable management lessons
The Wood and Morais study has a number of practical implications for management. Firstly, it stresses the significance of organizing and utilizing past knowledge to tackle challenges in complex contexts. While this might seem like an obvious thing to do at first, many projects encounter problems and unsatisfactory results because they do not consider the issues that have been identified in previous projects.
Secondly, the study shows that involving all relevant parties and using social technology can be crucial for success.
So who knows, by bringing these factors into play – and quickly – the shorter and easier the super wicked problem facing the Amazon will be to solve.
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