- Leaders of eight Amazonian nations signed the Belém Declaration on Aug. 8, strengthening regional coordination and laying out a list of intentions to save the rainforest.
- Environmental organizations lament the lack of consensus over zero-deforestation targets among the nations and criticize the failure to mention fossil fuel exploration in the declaration.
- The declaration strongly asserts Indigenous rights and recognizes the need to protect their territories, however, activists expressed frustration that no specific goals or targets were defined.
- Alongside the Amazon nations, the two Congos, Indonesia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines also signed another declaration on Aug. 9 demanding that developed countries fulfill their promises of extensive climate change financing.
On Aug. 9, Brazil’s Amazon Summit drew to a close after eight Amazonian nations agreed to a long list of coordinated environmental measures aimed at protecting the rainforest and its Indigenous and traditional populations. However, reference to limits on fossil fuel exploration was omitted from the declaration, and the nations failed to reach a common goal to end deforestation.
The nations’ leaders and senior representatives, members of the newly strengthened Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO), signed the Belém Declaration on Aug. 8, agreeing to 113 paragraphs that outline intentions to drive sustainable development across the region and prevent reaching “the point of no return” in which the rainforest transforms into a savanna. Assembling an Amazonian Parliament working group was also written into the statement, although what this entails has not been clarified.
Environmental groups describe the declaration as an important beginning for regional cooperation, celebrating in particular the focus on science, the urgency of protecting the rainforest and the recognition of Indigenous rights. However, they also lamented its lack of actionable goals, especially the nations’ failure to agree on zero-deforestation targets and the discontinuation of oil and gas exploration.
“It’s a list of desires, and desires are insufficient,” Marcio Astrini, executive secretary at the Climate Observatory, said in a statement. “The planet is melting, we are breaking temperature records every day. It’s impossible that, in a scenario like this, eight Amazonian countries are unable to put in a statement, in big letters, that deforestation needs to be zero and that oil exploration in the middle of the rainforest is not a good idea.”
Another, smaller pact called United for Our Forests was signed on Aug. 9 by the eight Amazonian countries as well as the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which also had representatives present at the Amazon Summit. Like the Belém Declaration, the agreement’s 10 points fall short on defining common goals for zero deforestation and curbing fossil fuel exploitation within their territories. Instead, it largely urges developed countries to provide climate financing of $100 billion per year plus a guarantee of $200 billion per year by 2030.
“It’s not Brazil that needs money, it’s not Colombia that needs money. It is nature that is in need of money,” Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva told journalists at the end of the summit.
Points of divergence
Achieving zero illegal deforestation is described in the declaration as an “ideal” scenario, leaving each country free to define individual deforestation goals. Environmental groups say that a more unified and action-oriented approach is required to prevent further forest destruction. “It is necessary to adopt concrete and robust measures that are able to eliminate deforestation as quickly as possible,” Mauricio Voivodic, executive director of WWF, said in a statement.
Brazil and Colombia both encouraged strong deforestation targets during the summit. Brazil pushed for a regional agreement to reach zero illegal deforestation by 2030, a goal adopted by Lula since the start of the year, and Colombia embraced the call for protecting 80% of the Amazon by 2025. However, other nations, especially Bolivia, were against setting a single deforestation target.
Oil and gas exploration was also a point of divergence. A veto on oil exploration was advocated by Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who announced at the start of the year that his government wouldn’t approve any new oil and gas exploration projects. On the other hand, despite talks of green industrialization and renewable energies, Brazil seeks to develop an oil field in an area known as the Mouth of the Amazon. “President Lula defends the move to a sustainable economy that guarantees a standing forest, while also continuing to make decisions to explore fossil fuels,” Flávio Montiel, the interim director of the Amazon program at NGO International Rivers, told Mongabay. “It’s a contradiction and one that needs to be revised.”
Oil reserves have also recently been discovered in Guyana — which the World Bank recently reclassified as a high-income country, thanks to its oil and gas boom — and Suriname, which are betting on fossil fuel as an engine of economic development.
In the end, fossil fuel exploration was left out of the declaration altogether. “I’m not sure that an agreement can be reached [between presidents on oil exploration in the Amazon]. It’s not that easy,” Susana Muhamad, Colombia’s environment minister said, according to news outlet Brasil de Fato.
During the civil society Amazon Dialogues summit, held days before the summit, organizations called for a moratorium measure for the implementation of any new hydroelectric plants in the Amazon, which experts say cause devastating effects on the environment and riverside populations. Although there have been no new hydroelectric power plants in the Amazon since Belo Monte, ongoing licensing processes continue and there has been a sharp increase in small hydropower plants in the region, which cause immense cumulative damage. Environmentalists expressed disappointment that hydroelectrics were not included in the final statement. “There was no consensus on the issue of hydroelectrics, which is why it wasn’t in the declaration,” Montiel said.
The Amazonian leaders, however, agreed on other critical issues, including cooperation on combating cross-border environmental crime as well as on water management and sustainable development. In a triumph for Indigenous communities, the declaration acknowledged their rights to traditional territories and the establishment of a mechanism for the formal participation of Indigenous peoples within ACTO.
Max Ooft, a policy officer at the Association of Indigenous Village Leaders in Suriname (VIDS), worries that Indigenous rights policies won’t be applied evenly across all Amazonian countries. Suriname is the only Amazonian nation that has no legislation for Indigenous peoples’ rights and Ooft claims that it could take years to put into law. “We as [Indigenous peoples] have done our homework and demarcated most of our territory, but now it’s up to legislation to recognize those,” he told Mongabay.
The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), the country’s largest coalition of Indigenous groups, say the leaders are acting too slowly in protecting Amazonian populations. “The document should be more ambitious. We understand the diversity of debates involving eight countries, and we recognize the political commitments assumed, but the absence of specific and objective goals related to Indigenous peoples and the environment is frustrating,” Kleber Karipuna, executive coordinator of APIB, said in a statement.
Despite the criticism, conservationists say the summit succeeded in strengthening regional cooperation among the Amazonian nations and better placed the South American countries within the global climate debate. “There is more alignment now between the Amazonian countries regarding international negotiations to come,” Voivodic told Mongabay, especially in regard to negotiating conservation funding and the upcoming global conferences.
“The next step now is a meeting of foreign ministers to define what would be an action plan,” he added. “This moment is perhaps even more important than the statement, because it is then that we hope that there will be strong, short-term actions for some of these issues.”
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