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Amazon Summit sparks hope for coordinated efforts from the rainforest nations

A week before the Amazon Summit, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva stresses the importance of the meeting between the heads of states to discuss sustainable development in the Amazon. “We are going to take care of our planet,” he says. Image © Ricardo Stuckert/PR Palácio do Planalto.

  • From Aug. 7-9, eight Amazonian nations will meet in Brazil hoping to agree on future joint strategies that will protect the rainforest while sustainably developing the region.
  • A pre-summit in the three days before the event will unite thousands of civil society representatives to thrash out proposals that will be delivered to the heads of state to guide their discussions and decision-making.
  • Experts and conservationists have hailed the event as Brazil’s most critical environment summit so far this year and could be a turning point for the future of the Amazon Rainforest.
  • Some organizations demand greater Indigenous inclusivity in the Amazon Summit debate, although experts believe Amazonian populations will play an important role in shaping policies during the three-day conference.

The heads of eight Amazonian countries will gather in the state of Pará on Aug. 7-9 for Brazil’s most important environment summit of the year, with the aim of reaching an agreement to mutually reconstruct public policies that preserve and develop the Amazon Rainforest. Experts and civil society groups broadly commend the event, although some organizations demand greater Indigenous inclusion in Amazon-related decision-making.

The Amazon Summit, initiated by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, will be held in Belém, the capital of Pará, and unites Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela, as well as other international representatives, with the intent of renewing the Amazon Cooperation Treaty and strengthening the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) between the countries.

Over the three days, the nations will hammer out a consolidated approach to protect the rainforest and its populations, cease crime and deforestation and promote sustainable development across the entire region.

The formation of an Amazonian parliament, with the participation of all nations that share the biome, is expected to be included in the final document, according to Brazilian news outlet g1. Lula aims to present the joint agreement at COP28, which takes place in the United Arab Emirates in November.

The conference has been hailed as “extremely important” and “a window of opportunity to stop the approaching point of no return in the biome” in a WWF emailed statement.

The commitment among the Amazonian countries to work together on tackling urgent rainforest issues is considered a critical step forward in the global climate debate surrounding emissions and deforestation. “The Amazon Basin is shared by nine countries and requires integrated actions for environmental conservation in the region,” Antonio Oviedo, a researcher from Instituto Socioambiental (ISA, the Socio-Environmental Institute), a nonprofit that advocates for the rights of Indigenous and traditional peoples, told Mongabay.

The Amazon Summit looks at shifting from harmful extractive activities, such as mining and logging, and focusing on building a sustainable and profitable bioeconomy that helps sustain the 47 million people living in and depending on the Amazon Rainforest. Image © Christian Braga/Greenpeace.

Before the event, from Aug. 4-6, more than 5,000 people are expected to participate in a pre-summit called Amazon Dialogues, including representatives of Indigenous communities, social movements, academia, research centers and government agencies. According to a government statement, its purpose is to “deliver the voice of the people” to the heads of state to help guide the strategies formed during the Amazon Summit. However, some Indigenous organizations say this isn’t enough.

“Once again we are faced with debates and construction of proposals about our territories without our guaranteed participation,” according to a joint letter signed by several Amazonian Indigenous organizations and entities. “Discussing the future of the Amazon without Indigenous peoples is equivalent to violating our original rights and all the work we do for human life on the planet.”

In an interview with Italian news agency ANSA, reproduced in Brazilian news outlet UOL, the Minister of Indigenous Peoples Sonia Guajajara said “it is necessary to increase Indigenous participation in these discussions of Amazon protection and in decision-making spaces.”

However, experts and conservationists expect the presidents at the summit to place Indigenous peoples at the center of policymaking. “Indigenous peoples and traditional populations play an important role in conserving the Amazon, and we hope the Amazon Summit reinforces this and guides the countries’ public policies for conservation and the guarantee of human and territorial rights for these populations,” Oviedo said.

Among the proposals to be presented during the Amazon Dialogues sessions include a call from Indigenous organizations from across the region for 80% of the Amazon to be protected by 2025, which includes demarcating 100 million hectares (24.1 million acres) of Indigenous territories to help protect 255 million hectares (630.1 million acres) of undesignated Key Priority Areas. “Extractivism is not the path; the Indigenous peoples are proposing a tangible alternative to preserve the planet,” Fany Kuiru, general coordinator at the Confederation of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin, one of the organizations urging the governments to preserve Amazonian territories, said in a press statement.

A cocoa producer from the Manicoré River Sustainable Development Reserve. Blending the knowledge of traditional and Indigenous communities with science and technology is central to sustainably developing the Amazonian region’s bioeconomy, which recent research indicates could generate billions of dollars. Image © Nilmar Lage/Greenpeace.

Forging transnational ties

The summit seeks to strengthen collaboration between the Amazonian countries, which has historically been weak. Lula has already begun laying the groundwork in recent months by thawing frosty relations between Brazil and Venezuela after Brazilian ex-President Jair Bolsonaro cut diplomatic ties with President Nicolás Maduro.

“Here is an opportunity for these countries to find mechanisms for cooperation, integration and collaboration, to effectively protect not only the forest but, above all, the peoples and communities that live in and depend on this forest,” Beto Mesquita, member of the Brazilian Coalition on Climate, Forests and Agriculture, and director of public policies and forests at nonprofit BVRio, told Mongabay.

The summit will likely produce a roadmap to address the increasingly powerful presence of organized crime, especially in the Amazon’s triple border area between Colombia, Brazil and Peru. “One of the biggest problems that these countries have been facing for a long time is the issue of organized crime,” Aiala Colares Couto, a geographer and researcher at the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, told Mongabay. “It is necessary to unify the agenda and create a perspective of jointly fighting it.”

The bioeconomy and sustainable development will also be on the agenda. André Corrêa do Lago, the secretary for climate and environment of the Ministry of External Affairs, told Brazilian news outlet Valor that the Amazon “cannot be reduced to its importance for biodiversity and climate change,” and that it will “play a very important role” in the bioeconomy.

An açaí extractivist in the state of Amapá in the north of Brazil. Açaí is one of the main products that will help transform Amazon’s bioeconomy into a multibillion-dollar market. Image © Diego Baravelli/Greenpeace.

Experts expect the summit will result in a plan of action to sustainably develop the entire Amazonian region. After the G7 meeting held in Japan in May, Lula emphasized the importance of guaranteeing the lives of the 47 million people who live in the Amazon region by finding ways to sustainably exploit the rainforest, as opposed to turning it into a “sanctuary,” according to a government statement.

More than 300 specialists from at least 100 South American organizations put together a document requesting the heads of state at the Amazon Summit to develop strategies for an inclusive bioeconomy and better living and working conditions for Indigenous and traditional peoples. Among their 31 recommendations to create a sustainable bioeconomy include expanding Indigenous and traditional communities’ rights, protecting their territories and actively involving civil society in Amazon discussions.

“The next decade will define whether the Amazon — home to more than 47 million inhabitants, most of whom are indigenous, afro-descendants or traditional communities — can continue with the same economic profile or become the catalyst for a new economy based on forests and preserved rivers for its people and for the world,” according to the document, which will be sent to the presidents of ACTO.

Experts warn that whatever the outcome of the summit, the agreement needs to be supported by civil society and organizations as well. “It will not be just governments that will provide solutions. It is essential that the private sector is also committed to the protection and recovery of the Amazon,” Mesquita said. “And that they also not only comply with the law, but they create incentives that go far beyond their legal obligations so that we can gain scale.”


CORRECTION (8/7/2023): An earlier version of this article stated that Indigenous organizations are calling for 80% of the Amazon to be protected by 2025 — the equivalent of almost 100 million hectares (247.1 million acres). The organizations are actually calling for the demarcation of 100 million hectares (24.1 million acres) of Indigenous territories to help protect 255 million hectares (630.1 million acres) of undesignated Key Priority Areas. The post has now been corrected.

Banner image: A week before the Amazon Summit, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva stresses the importance of the meeting between the heads of states to discuss sustainable development in the Amazon. “We are going to take care of our planet,” he says. Image © Ricardo Stuckert/PR Palácio do Planalto.

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Amazonian countries must act together to reverse rainforest loss, experts say

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