Deforestation: Lukewarm welcome for deal to protect Amazon

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/luoman
Image: Getty/luoman

Related tags deforestation

Eight South American countries have agreed for the first time to form an alliance aimed at reducing deforestation in the Amazon.

Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Venezuela and Suriname agreed the deal – called the Belém Declaration – as the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organisation met for the first time in 14 years in the Brazilian city.

The summit was called by Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who has promised to relaunch environmental protection efforts since winning office in January. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell by 33% in the first six months of 2023 compared with the same period last year, according to data from the country’s national space agency.

The countries issued a joint declaration promising co-operation to combat illegal activity and promote financing of sustainable development.

The declaration sets out a number of areas for cooperation between the Amazonian countries, such as combating transnational forest crime, protecting indigenous peoples, developing the bioeconomy and a separate Amazon-specific scientific panel on climate change tasked with avoiding a ‘tipping point’ – whereby forests are lost for good.

Brazil's Indigenous People Coalition (APIB) welcomed ‘a good deal’ that recognises the importance of indigenous people in the conservation of tropical forests.

No common agreement on deforestation targets

But there are no concrete goals and deadlines and no guarantees, for example, of the right to land for indigenous people.

Lula also failed to convince all countries to adopt his to pledge to achieve zero deforestation in the Amazon by 2030, even though all countries had previously committed to ‘stop and reverse the loss of forests and land degradation by 2030’. The declaration also failed to mention the limitation of exploration for oil and gas in the Amazon directly.

Despite the lack of concrete measures, the plan has the right ingredients to succeed in better protection of the Amazon, said Haug Larsen of the Rainforest Foundation Norway.

“Cooperation is particularly important to combat illegal activity in the region and to improve the land rights of forest people. If the rest of the world rallies behind this plan with financial support and by ensuring that the goods we import are deforestation-free, we have a recipe for hope for the rainforest.”

The cooperation to combat illegal activities in the Amazon is particularly important, he claimed, as illegal activity is the source of much of the deforestation and something that exposes foresters to threats and violence.

“We are also pleased to see an emphasis on the importance of securing indigenous peoples' land rights, including a special mention of uncontacted indigenous peoples,”​ he added. “Two areas that overlap the border between Brazil and Peru form the world's largest contiguous territories of indigenous peoples who have not yet established contact with the outside world.”​ 

These areas measure an area larger than Great Britain, he claimed, but they are not fully recognized as protected areas. “After a summer with record-high temperatures, forest fires and extreme weather, we have to look for quick climate gains, and protection of the Amazon is what can give us the biggest reduction in emissions, the fastest. It is therefore the best place to put your money.”

He lamented a joint concrete target for zero deforestation which would have been an important guideline for the agreement. “The agreement would also have been strengthened by specifically mentioning bans or restrictions on oil and gas exploration and other drivers of deforestation. However, we still believe that good implementation of the agreement will be a big step in the right direction anyway.”

Mauricio Voivodic, Executive Director of WWF-Brazil, added: "It is positive that the heads of state have recognized the point of no return in the Amazon and the urgency of avoiding it. However, it is necessary to adopt concrete and solid measures that are capable of eliminating deforestation as quickly as possible." 

It comes as new EU rules require seven commodities and certain specified products made from them to be ‘deforestation-free’ in order to be sold on the EU market or exported from it. Similar rules exist in the UK.

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