GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 722, 13 August 2023

Amazon Summit: A united front for saving the rainforest
Dhriti Mukherjee

What happened?
On 8 and 9 August, leaders from eight South American countries – Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela gathered in Belem, Brazil, for a summit hosted by the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO). The much-awaited summit, was held afterroughly 15 years, and the countries, all of which are part of the Amazon watershed, gathered to address threats to the ecosystem of the Amazon River. The primary objective that the leaders sought to address was finding ways to end deforestation, illegal mining, detrimental effects on the indigenous community, and climate change. 

During the summit, Brazil's President Lula de Silva, who hopes to end deforestation by 2030, said: "Nature, which industrial development polluted for 200 years, needs them to pay their part so we can revive part of what was ruined. Nature is in need of money." 
The summit ended with signing the Belem Declaration, which Brazil termed "a new and ambitious shared agenda." They recognized the need for protection and acknowledged the rights of the indigenous communities. 

What is the background?
First, the significance of the Amazon rainforests and its abuse. It is fittingly referred to as the "lungs of the Earth" as the forest is responsible for slowing down climate change while producing 16 per cent of the world's oxygen supply. It is also one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet and is considered a carbon sink. Its significance is also linked to it being termed the "pharmacy of the world," as many plants store powerful medicines that benefit humans. However, it was as early as the 16th century when colonizers and imperialists began interfering in the ecosystem,  in search of  timber and rubber. Over time, regional and global countries have misused the rainforest's extensive resources for economic activities like logging, mining, and agribusiness expansion. 

Second, the varying commitments and divergent opinions. The countries in attendance have all ratified the Paris Climate Accord, which seeks to avoid climate change and reduce greenhouse emissions. Despite this shared aim, there has been a noticeable lack of common ground in tackling Amazon's environmental issues. This was proven in the summit where conflicting opinions were exchanged, with the main points of divergence being deforestation and oil exploration. President Lula pushed for zero deforestation by 2030, an aim which Columbia also decided to support. However, getting other countries on board was difficult, like Bolivia, which wants to expand its agricultural production. Colombia's President Gustavo Petro advocating for an end to oil exploration in the Amazon, clashed with President Lula's aim to develop an oil field in the mouth of the Amazon. Petro stated that this was "betting on death and destroying life." The declaration reflected these differences, and the divergence underlined the complexity of forging a cohesive approach among countries with varying economic and environmental priorities.

Third, economic development and environmental preservation. It was evident that finding an equilibrium between environmental harmony and economic advancement was a trying task for most of the representatives. The primary areas of struggle are gold mining and carbon credit schemes, which are growing industries with unregulated markets. The carbon credit industry is posing a problem, with international communities that cause pollution looking at Para, located in Brazil, as an easy way out. The recent entry of the World Bank in this market, where market forces determine the prices of credits, has led to a surge in its potential. Towards the end of the summit, President Lula admitted, "It's not Brazil that needs money, it's not Colombia that needs money. It is nature that is in need of money." 

What does it mean?
First, a milestone in regional cooperation and shared responsibility. The united front the ACTO nations have displayed after decades of a lack of action highlights a departure from past divisions and a movement towards collective commitment. It also asserts how, since the Amazon rainforest is used by multiple nations, these very nations must take up responsibility together. It is not a problem that only a few nations should have to combat. This extends beyond borders, as leaders called on international countries to help in reviving the forest. 

Second, a challenge in finding common ground. The only shared aim that was visible was that of protecting the Amazon rainforest and not the conservation. The differences in priorities, economic needs, and perspectives got in the way of consolidating concrete measures that were unanimously agreed upon. The summit fell short on multiple fronts, by failing to decide on a budget that would be spent to help the forest's revival, as well as deciding on concrete measures that all countries would take.  

Third, COP30 and G20 implications for Brazil. Many have seen the Amazon summit as a warm-up for Brazil, which is also set to hold the COP30 and the G20 in 2024. Although President Lula had vowed to take Brazil to the forefront of climate friendly policies, this summit has acted as a lesson that even with shared interests, having a common goal-oriented outcome is not a necessity. He has stated that the Amazon nations are where "the international community should put their money," but only time will tell if interests will align to shape a stronger agreement.

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