[Politico] Under pressure from the EU to rein in deforestation or face trade restrictions, Amazon countries must figure out how to bring prosperity to the region without destroying the forest. And that’s proving difficult.
At a two-day summit in Belém, starting Tuesday, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is looking to corral countries to speed up efforts to stop deforestation and decide on a common strategy to save the rainforest.
But it’s likely to be an uphill climb, with countries disagreeing on whether they should commit to a zero deforestation goal and on whether oil and gas drilling should be banned in the region.
The summit comes as the EU is rolling out new rules to ban commodities’ imports driving deforestation abroad and is asking countries to police their supply chains against environmental and human rights violations.
That’s increasing pressure on the Amazon region — and particularly on Brazil, one of the largest exporters of agri-food products to the EU and home to 60 percent of the rainforest — to commit to ambitious action at this week’s meet-up.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro has argued that phasing out fossil fuels is essential for the forest’s protection. “Even if we get deforestation under control, the Amazon faces dire threats if global heating continues to climb,” he wrote in an op-ed last month, adding that “to avoid the point of no return, we need an ambitious transnational policy to phase out fossil fuels.”
But Lula isn’t pushing to phase out fossil fuels domestically, highlighting a tension between conservation efforts and ensuring economies stay on track.
The Brazilian leader told local media ahead of the summit he wants to “keep dreaming” about drilling in the region. His comments come as Brazilian oil major Petrobras is looking to open new fields near the mouth of the Amazon River despite receiving a negative opinion from the national institute for the environment.
If fossil fuels are kept underground, Amazon countries will need alternative activities to keep their economies afloat. Observers have suggested using this week’s summit as a way to promote greener farming and sustainable forest management, as well as discuss potential schemes to pay farmers and indigenous people to help protect the forest.
“The bioeconomy is the key to unlocking the region’s economic potential while preserving its ecological heritage and, as such, needs to be at the center of any sustainable and inclusive development plan for the Amazon,” said Vanessa Pérez, global economics director at the World Resources Institute.
Indigenous groups are also watching the summit closely, and want their contribution to climate protection, as well as their rights and territorial claims recognized by country leaders.
“It is not possible to plan the future of the Amazon without indigenous peoples, without guaranteeing our territorial rights,” said Ângela Kaxuyana, political adviser at the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon.
The outcome of the summit is a major political and diplomatic test for Lula, who has pledged to achieve zero deforestation in the Amazon.
Since taking office last year, Lula has stepped up efforts to crack down on illegal miners, protect indigenous groups and boost conservation efforts in the Amazon, with the government reporting a 66 percent drop in the rate of deforestation in July compared to the same month last year.
But not all Amazon countries are ready to commit to a similarly ambitious goal; Bolivia and Venezuela failed to sign a pledge made at the COP26 climate talks to end global deforestation by 2030.
Scientists have warned that the continued deterioration of the Amazon, a major carbon sink, is likely to have a profound impact on global climate efforts.
“If [Lula] doesn’t come out of this summit with agreement from other countries that they also see this goal as important, it really undermines Brazil’s efforts to reach this [zero deforestation] goal,” said Diego Casaes, campaign director at the NGO Avaaz.
The regional meet-up is also a key opportunity for Lula to assert his credibility as a climate leader both domestically and internationally as Brazil prepares to host the COP30 summit in 2025, Casaes added.
The outcome is “a test of how far Lula can go given the constraint that he has from the congress,” he said, given the Brazilian legislative body has pushed back against measures to boost policing and protection of the rainforest.
European lawmakers will be looking for signals for how the region is preparing to adapt to new rules to police imports driving deforestation, tackle human rights abuses and green trade.
Under the EU Deforestation Regulation, imports of commodities like soy and beef produced on deforested land will be forbidden from 2024, while under the new corporate sustainability due diligence rules companies will be forced to scrutinize their supply chains for environmental damage and human rights abuses.
And although the trade deal between the EU and the Mercosur countries isn’t officially on the agenda, it will certainly come up.
That’s because the EU is currently negotiating a sustainability addendum to the trade deal with his Latin American counterparts, which should give reassurances — notably to France — the agreement will not have negative consequences on the environment and worsen deforestation.
The summit is an opportunity to see whether Amazon countries “are able to coordinate efforts” and to ensure policies related to the forest “are aligned with [global] climate goals,” said Caseas.