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Where is the money? Brazil, Indonesia and Congo join forces in push for rainforest protection cash

Deforestation in Kapuas Hulu, Indonesian Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Deforestation in Kapuas Hulu, Indonesian Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

  • Representatives of the world’s three forest giants – Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo – have signed a cooperation agreement in Jakarta calling for more funding to help protect half of the world’s rainforests.
  • The statement follows a loss of 2.3 million hectares (5.7 million acres) of primary forest in the three countries in 2021, most notably due to skyrocketing deforestation rates in Brazil, responsible for almost 50% of global deforestation last year, according to data by the Global Forest Watch.
  • Critics say the joint statement lacks action and real commitment. Others say it is a step in the right direction, and international cooperation is urgent to protect the world’s rainforests.
  • At COP27, Lula da Silva, Brazil’s president-elect called on rich countries to pay into their 2009 promise of $100 billion for helping less developed countries face climate change and promised to reverse deforestation trends in his upcoming mandate.

The world’s three forest giants — Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) — have signed a joint statement calling for the negotiation of new payment mechanisms to preserve the tropical rainforests that help regulate the world’s climate and house millions of plants and animals.

The announcement marks the beginning of a strategic alliance — nicknamed the OPEC of Rainforests — aiming to lobby richer countries for funding in exchange for protecting the rainforests that help shield our planet against runaway warming and emissions.  An Amazon bloc is expected to follow, according to Colombian minister Susana Muhammad.

The document states that the three countries will “work towards the negotiation of a new sustainable funding mechanism” and that “predictable, adequate and easily accessible multilateral funding” is key to conserving and sustainably managing forests.

Last year, the three countries lost 2.3 million hectares (5.7 million acres) of primary rainforest, largely led by Brazil, which cleared three times more forest than its runner-up, the DRC, and was responsible for over 40% of global deforestation in 2021, according to data by the Global Forest Watch.

Environment analysts expect to see a sharp U-turn in Brazil’s trend of destruction with the election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who vowed to reverse the record-breaking Amazon deforestation under Jair Bolsonaro, the right-wing firebrand who he beat by a tight margin in the nation’s October elections.

Stacks of rainforest timber. Global demand for wood by a rising human population is driving Amazon deforestation, which in turn is driving intensifying climate change. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay

The joint statement was partly organized by Bolsonaro’s current environment ministry led by Joaquim Leite, who worked with Brazil’s most powerful agribusiness lobbying groups for over two decades. But Brazil’s polar-opposite administrations may find some common ground in pushing for international ecosystem service payment schemes.

After declaring that “Brazil was back” on the global stage for climate talks at the COP27 event in Sharm el-Sheikh, Lula echoed the calls for cash to back urgent action.

“We will seek financing mechanisms to stop the advancement of global warming,” Lula said at Egypt’s climate conference on November 16. “Rich countries said they’d raise $100 billion at COP15 in Copenhagen to help the less developed countries to face climate change,” he added, but did not follow through.

A Carbon Brief analysis estimated that the United States of America fell $32 billion short of its “fair share” of that goal, pledging only $8billion from 2009 to 2020. UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed estimated that developing countries would need $300 billion per year for adaptation by 2030.

“The world’s three largest tropical forest basins will now have to receive proportional compensation for the services provided to humanity,” Eve Bazaiba, the deputy prime minister of the DRC and one of the three signatories of the statement, wrote in a tweet.

The Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) is one of the only active funding sources for the Congo basin, for example, offering $500 million for the 10 years between 2021 to 2031. “This is not enough,” Blaise Mudodosi, the coordinator of the DRC-based NGO Actions pour la Promotion et Protection des Peuples et Espèces Menacés (APEM), told Mongabay. “We have a shared interest in protecting the forests and we are stronger if we negotiate together. When the Amazon basin, the Indonesia basin, and the Congo basin talk in the same voice, that would have more impact than each country negotiating alone.”

Lula 2.0: more carrot, less stick?

President-elect Lula da Silva pledged to prioritize the fight against deforestation in his government saying that “destruction will stay in the past,” but he may face opposition from Bolsonaro-aligned local governments in the Amazon region.

A study by the Climate Observatory, a climate action watchdog organization, found that Bolsonaro secured massive electoral support in the 256 municipalities responsible for around 75% of the Amazon’s deforestation, which adds up to more than a third of global forest loss.

IBAMA personnel with seized timber cut at an illegal logging site within an indigenous reserve in Brazil’s Roraima state. During Jair Bolsonaro’s term the Brazilian Amazon has seen soaring deforestation rates, with recent studies warning that without action, the Amazon region might soon reach its tipping point. Image courtesy of IBAMA.

The secret to Lula’s success, experts told Mongabay, could be in harnessing economic incentives for conservation in the region, instead of resuming the severe and widespread punishments for environmental offenders that brought down deforestation rates a decade ago.

“If it goes back to the way it was, command-and-control restrictions and throwing people in jail, there will be a revolt in the Amazon,” says Daniel Nepstad, the Executive Director of the Earth Innovation Institute which estimated that Brazil’s Amazon states could receive $13 to $48 billion for carbon credits by 2030 if emissions drop by 90%.

“We are at an inflection point. Finally, we might soon be talking about billions of dollars a year in finance for tropical forests rather than millions,” he added.

It is still unclear how Brazil under Lula will proceed with the new alliance. Tasso Azevedo, one of the architects of the Amazon Fund, largely considered to be one of the world’s most successful climate financing models, said the joint statement between Indonesia, DRC and Brazil still needs to be backed by meaningful action. “It could represent a step forward if this was a pact with commitments from the three countries,” he told Mongabay. As of now, Azevedo says, “there is no substance.”

No forest, no money. No money, no forest.

Deforestation rates increased in both Brazil and the DRC last year, followed closely by other key rainforest nations like Bolivia. “Globally, the deforestation indicator is not on track,” stated the 2022 Forest Declaration Assessment published last month. “Each year that passes without sufficient progress makes it increasingly difficult to meet global forests goals by 2030.”

According to the 2022 assessment, Indonesia reduced deforestation for the fifth year in a row, with a further 25% drop in 2021 — but still cleared an area larger than the city of London.

Brazil’s Association of Indigenous Peoples says that Indigenous communities’ lack of resources, despite ambitious promises by global leaders, is leaving them vulnerable. “For another year, Indigenous peoples continue being directly impacted by the climate crisis, but without direct access to financial mechanisms to strengthen their actions to fight it,” the group wrote in a statement.

Brazil’s president-elect, Lula da Silva has vowed to put a stop on deforestation in the country. Image courtesy of Ricardo Stuckert.

Of the $1.7 billion promised in COP26 last year, only 7% was allocated to Indigenous organizations, according to a report by the Ford Foundation.

For Marina Silva, Brazil’s former environment minister who is advising Lula’s transition government, financial support should not be a hard condition for conservation.

“We won’t work with Bolsonaro’s logic of blackmail, going to rich countries and saying we will only take care of our forests and Indigenous peoples if you pay us to do so,” she told Mongabay reporter Jaqueline Sordi earlier this month, adding that Brazil committed to contributing resources to lower-income countries as far back as 2007.

Dr. Sassan Saatchi, a senior scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who also leads California-based NGO CTrees and has led research projects in both Indonesia and Brazil, says the joint statement can also ramp up forest protections through shared research and science.

According to him, Brazil and Indonesia can share their technical know-how on monitoring land use activities across large regions with the DRC, who is still catching up. “The implication is good because they will use similar techniques to monitor their forests, and the DRC is catching up,” he told Mongabay. “It will really bring these three major countries closer together.”

Banner image: Indonesia’s deforestation rate has been decreasing over the last few years, but more efforts are needed to protect the country’s rainforests. Image by Rhett A. Butler.

Editor’s note 11/28/22: The original version of this story misprinted Dr. Sassan Saatchi’s name, and this has been corrected.

Read related stories:

Oil exploration in DR Congo peatland risks forests, climate and local communities

Ahead of election, deforestation increased in Brazil

In new climate deal, Norway will pay Indonesia $56 million for drop in deforestation, emissions

COP27: ‘Brazil is back’ to fight deforestation, Lula says, but hurdles await

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