After speaking at COP27, during which he proposed new policy briefs to help combat deforestation in Amazonian climates, Dr. Carlos Nobre shares how his ground-breaking ideas were born in Bellagio.

Dr. Carlos Nobre is an Earth System scientist from Brazil, whose work focuses on the impacts of deforestation in the Amazon. He is co-chair of the Science Panel for the Amazon and was one of the architects of the Large-Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia (LBA). While at the Bellagio Center in 2017, Carlos conceptualized the Amazonia 4.0 project, which aims to develop a new, nature-based bioeconomy. Carlos created a research center in Brazil in 2011 called the Centro de Monitoramento e Alerta de Desastres Naturais (The National Center for Monitoring and Early Warning of Natural Disasters (CEMADEN)) and is the first Brazilian member of The Royal Society since the 1800s. He has a Ph.D. in Meteorology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Science Panel for the Amazon (SPA) was convened in New York City during Climate Week, September 2019, in order to make a rigorous scientific assessment of the Amazon rainforest. The panel was created by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network in September 2019 in response to the alarming rate of deforestation and wildfires occurring mostly in the Brazilian Amazon, but also in other Amazonian countries. The panel was composed of 240 scientists. Two-thirds of those scientists were from Amazonian countries, including seven indigenous ones. The first report from our research was released at COP26 in Glasgow.

Along with professor Dolos Arment from the National University of Colombia, Bogota, we continued to collaborate with a large number of scientists and produce assessments. We released three of these policy briefs during COP27 in Egypt. One related to how close we are to the tipping point of degradation in a large portion of the Amazon rainforest. The second highlighted how important indigenous territories are to maintaining climate stability, as they store over 75 million tons of carbon. The third policy brief proposed a large-scale forest restoration project we call Arcs of Restoration. One major Arc is in the southern Amazon, the area closest to the tipping point, while another is along the Andes.

  • We are proposing to restore over 0.5 million square kilometers of clear forests and degraded forests. This major project could remove hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide per year, which will be crucial in combating our climate emergency.
    Dr. Carlos Nobre
    Earth System Scientist

With another project I’m now developing, called Amazon 4.0, we’re trying to figure out how to develop a new economy of standing forests and flowing rivers in the Amazon. Because there is, in fact, no need to make these big hydropower dams that produce disturbances in the aquatic ecosystems. This leads to the extinction of species. The potential of renewable energies such as solar panels, wind, and green hydrogen in the entire Amazon is so large that it renders additional hydropower dams unnecessary. At COP27, we proposed the Amazonian Institute of Technology. We want to create an MIT-style Institute of Technology in all Amazonian countries, which will aim to bring about science and the knowledge of indigenous people resulting in technological innovations in order to develop this new economy that will increase the value of what the forest produces.

The Amazon 4.0 project was conceptualized while at Bellagio. Bellagio enabled me to dream about what this new model economy could become. Immediately after my residency, I searched for funding once I returned to Brazil. By the end of 2018, we got the first funding, and in 2019 we started developing the Amazon 4.0 project. So Bellagio was very inspirational.

Conversations with my fellow residents really influenced my work. Saumya Roy, a fellow from India, told me a lot about plants to reduce poverty in India. Susan Gary, Professor Emerita at the University of Oregon, explained to me how large-scale investments work.

Since Bellagio, the Amazon 4.0 project has continued to develop and we are going to take one Amazon Creative Lab for the cocoa-cupuaçu value chain and carry out capacity development for several communities in the Amazon, including Indigenous people. . The Science Panel for the Amazon will continue developing policy briefs. One that we are working towards in 2023 is called Innovation Hubs, which focuses on combining modern technologies with indigenous knowledge; the wisdom found in local communities. The panel is not intergovernmental – we are just a group of scientists. I’m used to working with brilliant scientists, especially young, ambitious ones.

It’s my goal to motivate students, not only to become scientists but to help in developing this new bio-economy in the Amazon. I finished my Ph.D. 40 years ago, so I’m happy to see a new generation of leaders and to know this important work is continuing.

Over the course of my career, I’ve advised around 35 Ph.D. and Master’s students, as well as 12 post-doctoral students. I would say that about 40% of my students went on to become important leaders in research on climate change. One of them is working in partnership with U.K. Universities, such as Exeter, and leading a very important experiment in the Amazon called AmazonFACE (Amazon Free-Air CO2 Enrichment). They’ll be enhancing the carbon dioxide concentrations in a forest for several years to see how the forest responds to more CO2 in the atmosphere.

I started AmazonFACE with my former student, David Lapola. Now, thanks to funding from the U.K. government of £3.5 million, the project will go into the field. This experiment will last 10 years. That’s just one example of a student who became a very important scientist and is leading this significant experiment. One of the biggest challenges of my career has always been motivating students. I want to motivate students to become what we call Ecopreneurs.

Explore more

To find out more about Carlos’s work, you can read about the Amazonia 4.0 project, the Science Panel for the Amazon, and CEMADEN. You can also visit his Google Scholar page.