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Bipartisan group recommends how Joe Biden can help save the Amazon

Sunrise over the Amazon rainforest

Sunrise over the Amazon rainforest. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

  • A bipartisan group of former U.S. officials have joined forces to propose a set of policy recommendations to help the Biden Administration deliver on its campaign pledge to put $20 billion toward the protection of the Amazon rainforest.
  • The group, which calls itself the Climate Principals, today delivered its Amazon Protection Plan to the administration’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry.
  • The Amazon Protection Plan has four main pillars: mobilizing funding for conservation from private and public sources, building forest-friendly policies into trade agreements, requiring companies disclose and manage deforestation risk in their supply chains and portfolio investments, and strengthening international diplomacy around forest conservation.

A bipartisan group of former U.S. officials have joined forces to propose a set of policy recommendations to help the Biden Administration deliver on its campaign pledge to put $20 billion toward the protection of the Amazon rainforest. The group, which calls itself the Climate Principals, today delivered its Amazon Protection Plan to the administration’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry.

The Climate Principals include Bruce Babbitt, former Governor of Arizona and U.S. Secretary of the Interior under Bill Clinton; Frank Loy, former Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs under Bill Clinton; Stuart Eizenstat, former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton and Ambassador to the European Union; William Reilly, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under George H. W. Bush; Todd Stern, former Special Envoy for Climate Change under Barack Obama; Tim Wirth, former U.S Senator from Colorado and Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs under Bill Clinton, and Christine Whitman, former Governor of New Jersey and Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under George W. Bush. Members of the group have been involved with climate diplomacy for “all Presidential administrations from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to the 2015 Paris Agreement” according to a statement released by a group.

A tributary of the Amazon River. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

The Amazon Protection Plan has four main pillars: mobilizing funding for conservation from private and public sources, building forest-friendly policies into trade agreements, requiring companies disclose and manage deforestation risk in their supply chains and portfolio investments, and strengthening international diplomacy around forest conservation.

“This is a balanced plan aimed at taking urgently needed action to protect the Amazon rainforest based on targeted economic incentives, public and private funding, the sharp reduction of global demand for goods that drive illegal deforestation, and constructive engagement with Brazil that is premised on respect for its national interests and awareness of its desire to participate in various international economic and trade arrangements,” said Todd Stern via a press release issued by the group.

Rainforest creek in the Amazon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

“Protecting the Amazon will require action by the private sector,” added Bill Reilly. “Our Amazon Protection Plan would create powerful incentives for companies and investors to clean up corporate supply chains, increase transparency, reduce corruption and crime, and finance sustainable development in the Amazon region.”

The plan seeks to calm the political tension that arose out of Brazil after then-candidate Joe Biden proposed putting $20 billion toward Amazon conservation efforts and potentially imposing economic sanctions if the South American nation failed to rein in soaring deforestation. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has a reputation for heated rhetoric, responded to Biden’s comment with an apparent threat to use military force against the United States. Bolsonaro was also among the last of major world leaders to recognize Biden as U.S. president-elect.

“Brazil has always been a major player in global climate cooperation, going back to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit,” said Frank Loy. “President Biden’s Amazon pledge should be seen by Brazil as a hand of a partner extended in respect and friendship. The world needs Brazil to be a green superpower.”

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, which accounts for more than 60% of the Amazon rainforest’s extent, has risen sharply in recent years after a precipitous drop between 2004 and 2012. Government policies — including relaxed law enforcement, dismantling of protections, and incentives for increased deforestation — have been an important factor in the rise. Deforestation last year hit the highest level since 2008.

Annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon from 2008-2020 according to INPE

Scientists are concerned that the combination of rising deforestation and the impacts of climate change could cause vast swathes of the rainforest to “tip” toward a drier tropical woodland. Such a shift would be expected to increase dryness across the region and Southern South America, heighten the incidence of fire, reduce the effectiveness of the region’s vegetation as a carbon sink, and adversely impact biodiversity.

“The Amazon rainforest is absolutely essential to the world. It stabilizes the Earth’s climate and rainfall, sustains many tens of millions of people and is home to more wildlife than anywhere else on Earth,” said Bruce Babbitt in the statement. “Because the Amazon holds so much carbon and that carbon gets released when the rainforest is destroyed, protecting the Amazon must be an essential part of solving the climate crisis.”

“President Biden deserves credit for pledging to make the Amazon a U.S. foreign policy priority and the policy recommendations we have released today provide a blueprint for mounting an effective global effort,” Babbitt added. 

Rainforest tree in the Amazon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

The Amazon Protection Plan was quickly welcomed by government officials from countries that are working to curb deforestation. 

“Germany welcomes President Biden’s commitment to sustainable development and forest protection in the Amazon,” said Germany’s Environment Minister Svenja Schulze in a statement. “The plan put forward today by former US cabinet officials is promising and aligns well with European policy. We look forward to working with the United States and Amazon countries to advance ambitious solutions that benefit all.” 

“Norway applauds President Biden’s commitment to Amazon protection. The recommendations shared today by a bipartisan group of former US climate leaders are constructive and consistent with Norway’s approach,” added Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment Sveinung Rotevatn. “We look forward to working with the United States to support governments in the Amazon region that are taking ambitious action. We welcome President Biden’s leadership mobilizing an effective global response that benefits local people and the planet.”

Flooded forest in the Amazon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler