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Impact of environmental law enforcement on deforestation, land use and natural regeneration in the Brazilian Amazon



Change log


Barbosa De Oliveira Filho, Francisco Jose 


Humankind is facing one of the most challenging periods in its short history on Planet Earth. These challenges have largely arisen as a result of climate change and the loss of tropical forests. Indeed, these challenges present two of the greatest environmental challenges of all time. Nevertheless, Brazil has recently adopted policies that have greatly reduced forest loss over the past decade or more. A strong combination of different policies and actors have made this achievement possible, and environmental law enforcement is thought to have played a key role. Therefore, the central questions for this thesis is to determine the influence of environmental law enforcement, mostly ground operations in the Brazilian Amazon region, on reducing deforestation, reshaping land use change, through livestock, agriculture and natural restoration, and the persistence of natural regeneration. First, I assess the influence of law enforcement on forest loss reduction through a spatial analysis at the municipality level. The results confirmed that law enforcement, along with other factors, is an important influence on reducing forest loss. However, law enforcement also has to tackle some administrative limitations, as a shift and modernization of the environmental police strategy is imperative to face the new challenges, and the appropriate implementation of the rural environmental registry policy will be crucial. Second, I explore the possible influence of law enforcement on reshaping land use change, focusing on annual crops, livestock and natural regeneration, using a difference-in-differences with an entropy balance approach at the municipality, private property and settlement levels. I have evaluated the priority municipality policy implemented in 2008 that led to an intensification of law enforcement on target municipalities. The results show an increased persistence of agriculture and clean pastures, as a substantial increase in natural regeneration occurs through abandonment, a reduction of dirty pastures, and suggests an influence of law enforcement on this land use dynamic. Annual crops, mostly soy, turned to be an agglomerated economy in the central area of Mato Grosso, while extensive pastures are more widespread with low levels of occupation and also as part of land speculation. Both activities are showing signs of intensification and land sparing, at least for natural regeneration. So, conservation policies based on law enforcement have contributed to the reshaping of land use systems in the Brazilian Amazon. Although certainly not alone, but in combination with other policies and initiatives. This study shows that law enforcement became a stronger component of farmers’ land use investments and decision-making processes. Thus, while pockets of illegality still prevail, environmental and land tenure law enforcement will be mandatory. Only with this will it be possible to ensure the effectiveness of a sustainable intensification, reduction in forest loss, and fulfil the role of spare lands for conservation, agriculture and ultimately achieve a balanced land use system. Third, I present results of the possible influence of law enforcement on the persistence of over 41,000 km2 of natural regeneration during the past 10 years of this study. This question has received much less attention than the others, and it is not clear what is driving this persistence of regeneration. Therefore, this thesis sought to investigate if this persistence could be a co-benefit of the environmental police actions against deforestation. The results suggest a positive effect of command and control on the persistence of natural regeneration. This observation has important implications for the Brazilian climate change policies and restoration commitments under the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, it could represent a substantial contribution to the global restoration targets established at CBD, Bonn Challenge and New York Declaration on Forests. I conclude where I started, with the conviction that is possible to balance conservation and production. The results of this thesis are encouraging and suggest the strong influence of law enforcement, as catalyst, on reshaping land use system dynamics towards intensification, forest loss reduction and increased natural regeneration persistence in the Brazilian Amazon region. However, it is also clear that this can be an unstable balance and any political and/or policy perturbations may cause big losses and quickly reverse the consistent advances seen during study period. So, the challenge ahead is to make this balance consistent and stable, and less vulnerable to perturbations.





Leader-Williams, Nigel


Amazon, Deforestation, Landuse, Natural regeneration, environmental law enforcement, econometric, difference-in-differences, entropy balance


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Cambridge Trusts (including overrun fund), Corpus Christi College (overrun fund)