Reforestation in Rio: More birds, less greenhouse gases, safer favelas

November 11, 2013


Rio’s reforestation work in slums date back to the mid-1980s. 

Mariana Ceratti / World Bank

  • As a result of reforestation efforts, slum dwellers are less fearful of natural hazards.
  • The reforested areas generate carbon credits that can either compensate for the city’s own greenhouse gas emissions or be sold in international markets.
  • The City of Rio and the World Bank have recently partnered to amplify the reforestation efforts in local hills.

As in a scene of the animated film Rio, animal species that had long disappeared from the steep hills of Morro da Formiga slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, are little by little making a comeback. “I’ve seen so many canaries, bluebirds, toucans, and monkeys lately,” says community leader Nilza Rosa. “And I won’t let anyone imprison them because they are part of this environment.”

The phenomenon Rosa watches in awe comes courtesy of the reforestation efforts undertaken by her husband – 66-year-old Dejair dos Santos – and his colleagues.  “I’ve been working on this for 25 years now, which makes me really proud,” Santos comments. The seedlings he has planted since then prevent soil erosion, which used to cause landslides and deaths when heavy rain fell over the city. 

“In addition, some areas used to catch fire easily, but that hardly ever happens after we replaced the tall grass with Atlantic rainforest tree species,” he recalls. The work carried out by the community dwellers has not only improved biodiversity and reduced the risk of disasters in Rio, but has also helped the city mitigate the effects of climate change. 

Green and fresh

The reforested areas produce a cooler microclimate, which is much needed in a city as hot and humid as Rio. What's more, the trees help reduce hundreds of tons of carbon dioxide. By preventing pollutants from ending up in the atmosphere, the city earns carbon credits that can either be used to compensate for Rio’s own greenhouse gas emissions or be sold on the international market to generate revenue.  

For these reasons, Rio and the World Bank have recently partnered to amplify the reforestation efforts in local hills, where slums are usually located.

Around 1.2 million people (22% of the city population) live there – of which nearly 300,000 face unsafe living conditions as a direct result of urban deforestation.  

To combat this, 950 hectares of degraded lands have been planted with seedlings grown in local nurseries, under Rio’s newest reforestation initiative “Rio Capital Verde” (“Rio Green Capital”), led by the Environmental Secretariat of Rio’s City Hall. 

" I've seen so many canaries, bluebirds, toucans, and monkeys lately. And I won’t let anyone imprison them because they are part of this environment "

Nilza Rosa

Community leader at Morro da Formiga, Rio de Janeiro

“Rio’s reforestation work in slums date back to the mid-1980s, but it takes resources and technical assistance to recover Rio’s highest areas, which are more difficult to reach. Carbon credits can generate additional revenue that makes these expensive efforts more sustainable. The World Bank advises the City of Rio de Janeiro in developing the carbon component of this urban forestry initiative,” says Franka Braun, a Carbon Finance Specialist at the World Bank. 

The Environmental Secretariat is currently assessing the potential for more reforestation within the city’s boundaries that meet the eligibility criteria of the Capital Verde Program and the Verified Carbon Standard. So far, 5,000 additional hectares have been identified. 

As the new trees grow, the Rio Low Carbon City Program, launched by the World Bank and the city of Rio in Rio+20, will measure the climate impact and the carbon credits generated by the initiative. 

For the kids

Rio seeks to lower its carbon emissions by 16% in 2016 and by 20% in 2020 (compared with 2005 levels). Before the city drafted its green strategy, it had long suffered from deforestation and uncontrolled development.

First, much of its forest was cut down to be replaced by coffee plantations that were later abandoned. Then loggers cut vast amounts of hardwood trees to use in construction and shipbuilding. And finally, since the 1940s, the expansion of favelas on the hillsides further exacerbated the problems and increased the rate of deforestation.

Today, as a result of reforestation efforts, the residents of Morro da Formiga are less fearful of landslides, falling rocks and floods. Now they work to assure future generations will take care of the environment.

“After I recently noticed that children were setting fire on the trail leading to a nearby waterfall, my colleagues and I replaced the grass with native fruit trees, and organized a fun walk to raise awareness among the kids. They loved it, and I hope we can carry on with this kind of initiative so we can make a greener future for our community and the world,” Santos concludes.