A better Amazon road network for people and the environment

March 2020

by Thais Vilela, Alfonso Malky, Aaron Bruner, Vera Laísa da Silva Arruda, Vivian Ribeiro, Ane Auxiliadora Costa Alencar, Annie Julissa Escobedo Grandez, Adriana Rojas, Alejandra Laina, Rodrigo Botero


The rapidly expanding network of roads into the Amazon is permanently altering the world’s largest tropical forest. Most proposed road projects lack rigorous impact assessments or even basic economic justification. This study, led by Initiative 20x20 partner Conservation Strategy Fund, analyzes the expected environmental, social and economic impacts of 75 road projects, totaling 12 thousand kilometers of planned roads, in the region.

The authors find that all projects, although in different magnitudes, will negatively impact the environment. Forty-five percent will also generate economic losses, even without accounting for social and environmental externalities. Canceling economically unjustified projects would avoid 1.1 million hectares of deforestation and US$ 7.6 billion in wasted funding for development projects. For projects that exceed a basic economic viability threshold, the authors identify the ones that are comparatively better not only in terms of economic return but also have lower social and environmental impacts.

The authors find that a smaller set of carefully chosen projects could deliver 77% of the economic benefit at 10% of the environmental and social damage, showing that it is possible to have efficient tradeoff decisions informed by legitimately determined national priorities.