- Jochen Flasbarth, state secretary of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, spoke to Mongabay about new cooperation with the Brazilian government.
- According to him, the COP28 climate summit in Dubai will be an opportunity to strengthen relations between the two countries and set targets for reducing deforestation in the Amazon.
- “Once the government is committed to forestry and environmental policy, of course we’ll be ready to support it,” Flasbarth says.
Germany was among the donor countries that welcomed the revival of the Amazon Fund at the start of the year, seen as an important conservation measure by Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. Now, Germany is looking to further strengthen cooperation with Brazil on the environment at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, says Jochen Flasbarth, state secretary at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.
An experienced negotiator on global climate policy, Flasbarth will meet the Brazilian delegation in Dubai. In an exclusive interview with Mongabay, he says the whole world appreciates the goal of a deforestation-free Brazil, and emphasizes that respect for Indigenous peoples is fundamental to maintaining cooperation.
Flasbarth says Lula needs to give Brazilians who feel abandoned an economic perspective and align it with ambitious climate policies. Rich countries like Germany, for their part, should reward Brazil for its ecosystem services within a reformed donor structure, with more contributions from emerging countries such as China and fewer colonial demands from the Global North.
The following interview was translated from Portuguese and edited for length and clarity.
Mongabay: Will you be meeting with Brazil at COP28? If so, what will be the topics for cooperation?
Jochen Flasbarth: Yes, I’m sure we’ll meet. I already met with my good old friend Marina Silva at the last COP in Sharm el-Sheikh, before she took office [as environment minister]. Everything was ready for the transition to begin, so we took a look back at our formal cooperation and discussed how to revitalize collaboration with Brazil.
We never stopped cooperation completely. But given the situation under the previous government, support for the Amazon Fund was suspended. That’s what we restarted directly after the elections, because, at the time, president-elect Lula announced that he would establish the Amazon Fund properly. So we organized ourselves to make the remaining funds available because we wanted to send a clear sign. Once the government is committed to forestry and environmental policy, of course we will be ready to support it.
So, returning to your question, the conversation always has two aspects. One is that we take the opportunity to look at our bilateral cooperation. But, of course, at COP28, we will also see if we can broaden common views on the issues at stake: the loss and damage fund, the dynamics of the global balance, the global call for adaptation and future financing.
Mongabay: What are Brazil’s expected commitments at the COP?
Jochen Flasbarth: We have no expectations of partners. We invite them to collaborate and we already appreciate that very much. I think this will be an issue at COP28 because the current government wasn’t in place at the last COP, so in a way, all the announcements are new. For example, the goal of a deforestation-free Brazil is appreciated by everyone in the world. The Amazon has gone from being a sink to a source [of carbon dioxide emissions] in recent years and is moving in the other direction.
We’ve already seen positive developments in recent months. I’ve been working with Brazil for a long, long time, and I know that the amount of deforestation is very much linked to the application and implementation [of environmental legislation]. Once you stabilize and strengthen authorities like IBAMA [the environmental protection agency], you will immediately see results. If you let it go or even encourage people indirectly to continue deforestation, it will happen.
Mongabay: Can dangerous domestic policies on Indigenous rights and oil exploration in the Amazon impact cooperation?
Jochen Flasbarth: Respect for Indigenous peoples is absolutely key and an essential part of the policy of the [German] Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. Normally, the rights of Indigenous peoples and the interest in, for example, sustainable forestry and environmental integrity are absolutely aligned. But sometimes there is conflict if, for example, protected areas are too strictly regulated and local communities feel negatively affected. We are also discussing this with the Brazilian government.
Fortunately, we’re not at a stage in development cooperation where donors say “take it or leave it.” There is always some kind of discussion about where we need to go. President Lula’s task is to give perspective to those who feel abandoned — also an economic perspective — and to align it with ambitious environmental and climate policies. This is really a challenge. I believe in him, we trust him, but at the same time it’s clear that it’s not easy because President Lula is challenging traditional Western partners. In many cases, we are looking through a looking glass to overcome our old colonialist patterns. He knows how to point that out.
Mongabay: How do you see Brazil’s desire to become a leader in the climate agenda, especially in the Global South, and put pressure on rich countries for more funding?
Jochen Flasbarth: Brazil has always been fundamental. Unfortunately, in the last government, under president [Jair] Bolsonaro, it wasn’t in a constructive and positive way. Everyone took a breath after the [2022 presidential] elections because the doors opened to a new phase. Looking at the political agenda of President Lula and his government, it’s very clear that he has the ambition to be a global leader. This is appreciated and is not limited to the Amazon. Brazil has a huge agricultural sector that can provide a lot of food in a relatively sustainable way, and the ambition to be a highly industrialized country with steel and manufacturing.
We also need a new structure of donors. When we discuss the loss and damage fund, it is unimaginable to me that China, the largest emitter today and, in a few years, the largest emitter in historical terms, is not on board. This isn’t 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. It’s 2023 and former developing countries are now immensely wealthy, or at least in a much better position than other countries.
Mongabay: Does Brazil fit in with the countries that should do more or those that should receive more funding?
Jochen Flasbarth: A bit of both. The needs for transformative financing in Brazil are enormous, which is why Brazil is one of our biggest partners. We also have regional development banks like the IDB [Inter-American Development Bank] and the World Bank. We need to use all these instruments. At the same time, Brazil is gradually reaching a position where there may be those who want it to also be on board with these instruments to help others.
Mongabay: Brazil calls biodiverse nations “service providers” to the world. Is this terminology well-received by Germany?
Jochen Flasbarth: It’s fair to look at it that way. Because it reflects exactly the ecosystem services that these countries provide, and they need support for that. But just as a traditionally industrialized country like Germany doesn’t have the right to pollute the world, neither do [these nations] have the right to deforest.
If we just look at the past, [saying] “Look what you and Europe did to your forests, and you cleared them,” yes, that’s fair. That’s why we feel an additional and special responsibility to support others. But considering the needs of the whole world, we all have an obligation to do what we can, and a country with many forests can protect them. It’s not that I, as a representative of the German government, can formulate a demand for Brazil. It’s not a demand, it’s just an invitation. We’ll look into it mutually.
Mongabay: If Brazil accepts this invitation, could donations via the Amazon Fund increase?
Jochen Flasbarth: Yes, we will do more.
Banner image of the Amazon Rainforest by Rhett A. Butler.