A Credible Commitment: Reducing Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, 2003–2012


In the early 2000s, deforestation increased sharply in the Brazilian Amazon, jeopardizing the tropical rain forest’s critical role in mitigating global climate change. In 2003, under the administration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his minister of the environment, Marina Silva, the federal government decided to address the problem. More than a dozen ministries worked together to draft the Action Plan for Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Legal Amazon. Implementation, which began the following year under coordination by the Office of the Chief of Staff of the President, expanded Brazil’s system of protected areas, improved remote monitoring of the Amazon, and increased enforcement of existing forestry laws. By 2007, the deforestation rate was less than half of 2004 levels. In response to an uptick in deforestation in late 2007 and early 2008, however, the Ministry of the Environment shifted tactics. Silva and her team at the ministry published a list of municipalities that bore the greatest responsibility for deforestation. The blacklisted municipalities were targets of increased enforcement operations and sanctions. The federal government also restricted landholders’ access to credit by requiring environmental compliance to qualify for government-subsidized agricultural credit. Brazil’s decade-long effort reduced the deforestation rate in the Amazon region by nearly 75% from the 1996–2005 average annual rate.


Rachel Jackson drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Brazil, in September and October 2014. This case was funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation in collaboration with the Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy program at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Case published January 2015. To learn more about how one local municipality implemented deforestation efforts, see "Controlling Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon: Alta Floresta Works Towards Sustainability." 

Associated Interview(s):  Luciano Evaristo

command and control
land registry
protected areas
satellite monitoring
Marina Silva
Carlos Minc
Izabella Teixeira
Cadastro Ambiental Rural
institutional capacity
spoiler trap
law enforcement
electoral cycles
geographic access
information technology
informal & illegal markets
collective action
credible commitment
forest protection
satellite technology
Focus Area(s)
Natural Resources
Core Challenge
Collective action
Institutional traps (spoilers)
Principal-agent problem (delegation)
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Rachel Jackson