This past week Brazil was in the spotlight around the world with the visit of Pope Francis on his first international pilgrimage. Rio de Janeiro’s most famous postcard, the statue of Christ the Redeemer, with arms open wide embracing the beauty of nature and the city below, was a perfect backdrop for the papal trip.
The iconic art deco statue was more than religiously symbolic for the visit of the man who took his papal name from St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the environment: The statue sits atop Corcovado Mountain in the middle of the lush and vibrant Tijuca National Forest, the largest urban rainforest in the world.
The Tijuca Forest is not native. Over one hundred and fifty years ago - three centuries after Portuguese colonization - the forests surrounding Rio were cleared to make way for vast coffee plantations, impacting the city’s water supply and climate. At the order of the Emperor Dom Pedro II in 1845, the area of over 12 square miles was replanted as forest, and in 1961 was declared a National Park. Today, the Tijuca National Forest is home to spring-fed waterfalls, ponds, peaks and hundreds of species of flora and fauna found only in the Atlantic Forest and threatened with extinction.
While the destruction of the Atlantic Forest and of the Amazon is a legacy of the country’s colonization and economic growth, the exuberant recuperation of the Tijuca National Forest stands as a shining successful example of the result of placing a value on nature. And despite substantial progress in recent years in curbing Brazilian deforestation, industries including agriculture, logging and ranching remain responsible for deforestation and degradation of an annual area equivalent to over nine million soccer fields, of which only 3% is reforested annually across the country.
Nike seeks to bring together a committed and visionary team of partners in the Mata o Peito Initiative to raise funding and awareness for the strength of join actions to protect and replant forests throughout Brazil. To date over $35,000 has been raised through the generous contributions of individuals and corporations via retirement of carbon credits to offset their carbon footprints. All funds will be pooled to seed the Mata no Peito Fund, which will provide investments in selected innovative forestry projects throughout Brazil that demonstrate scalability, economic sustainability, community engagement and enhanced livelihoods.
As eyes turn to Brazil as the host of the approaching 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic games, we hope to replicate Dom Pedro II’s legacy reforestation project throughout the country as an example to the world. We remain eager to confirm additional Mata no Peito coalition partners to help raise awareness of the importance of forests to address climate change, sustainable livelihoods and biodiversity.