Since 2013, clearing rates have rapidly increased in the Amazon and Cerrado biomes. This acceleration has raised questions about the efficacy of current regional public and private conservation policies that seek to promote agricultural production while conserving remnants of natural vegetation. In this study, we assessed conservation and agricultural outcomes of four potential policy scenarios that represent perfect adherence to private sector, zero-deforestation commitments (i.e., the Amazon soy moratorium—ASM and the Amazon cattle agreements—CA) and to varying levels of implementation of the Brazilian Forest Code (FC). Under a zero-clearing scenario, we find that the extent of croplands as of 2017 within the two biomes (31 MHa) could double without further clearing if agriculture were to expand on all previously cleared land that is suitable for crops. Moreover, at least 47 MHa of land that is already cleared but unsuitable for crops would remain available for pasture. Under scenarios in which only legal clearing under the FC could occur, 51 MHa of additional natural vegetation could be cleared. This includes as many as 1 MHa of nonforest vegetation that could be cleared in the Amazon biome without triggering the ASM and CA monitoring systems. Two-thirds of the total vegetation vulnerable to legal clearing is located within the Cerrado biome, and 19 MHa of this land is suitable for cropland expansion. Legal clearing of all of these areas could reduce biodiversity persistence by 4% within the two biomes, when compared with the zero-clearing scenario, and release up to 9 PgCO2
e, with the majority (75%) coming from the Cerrado biome. However, when we considered the potential outcomes of full implementation of the FC, we found that 22% (11 MHa) of the 51 MHa of vegetation subject to legal clearing could be protected through the environmental quotas market, while an additional 1 MHa should be replanted across the two biomes, predominantly in the Amazon biome (73% of the area subject to replanting). Together, quotas and replanting could prevent the release of 2 PgCO2
e that would otherwise be emitted if all legal clearing occurred. Based on our results, we conclude that ongoing legal clearing could create additional space for cropland and cattle production beyond the substantial existing stocks of cleared areas but would significantly impair local carbon and biodiversity stocks.
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