Amazon crisis demands global unity

A fire burns a tract of the Amazon jungle in Brazil. REUTERS
A fire burns a tract of the Amazon jungle in Brazil. REUTERS

This past week, images of the flames devouring the Amazon rainforest circulated around the globe and raised alarm for the safety of the world’s largest tropical forest. Since the start of the year, more than 80,000 fires have eaten away at the Amazon, an increase of 77 per cent from last year, which has left environmentalists worried for the planet’s future and world leaders scrambling for solutions.

This is why UN secretary-general António Guterres called for a regional summit on the Amazon emergency, which is due to take place today. The summit is meant to bring together the countries that make up the transnational forest – chief among them Brazil – and resolve the crisis. Surgery will prevent Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro from attending in person (he will participate by video) but it is nevertheless encouraging that the other South American nations with a vested interest in the fate of the rainforest are coming together in Colombia.

Brazil has been at loggerheads with world opinion since the scale of the devastation unfolding in the Amazon this burning season emerged last month. Perhaps not surprisingly, Mr Bolsonaro reacted with indignation to what he saw as high-handed criticism from European leaders attending the G7 summit in France, accusing them of post-colonial meddling and rejecting their offers of $20 million in aid.

But Mr Bolsonaro’s stance over the Amazon is starting to wear thin in his own country, where polls say 51% of Brazilians believe their president has done a bad or terrible job responding to the fires, and 66% oppose his rejection of foreign help.

And poor management of the Amazon is a concern to the whole world, as the rainforest is an irreplaceable engine of oxygen production and a vast carbon sink. Failing to protect it could tip the planet into irreversible climate change. The crisis in the Amazon forest is a reminder that our lives are interconnected and that we must work together to avoid environmental catastrophe. This week’s summit could have been an opportunity for countries to resolve their differences and come up with ideas to rein in the fires. The time has come for world leaders to think creatively and to devise solutions that work for everyone with a vested interest in the Amazon.

Brazil’s economy relies upon its farming, timber and mining industries and, for the sake of the country’s 200 million people, simply demonising them cannot be justified. As Mr Bolsonaro has said, his mission is not to destroy the rainforest, but to save Brazil’s economy.

What the world needs now are imaginative, incentivised solutions that bring all parties on board

Similarly, Brazil’s indigenous peoples rely on the Amazon to support a way of life they have known for millennia and no valid response to the crisis can ignore their primary claim to the territory.

What the world needs now are imaginative, incentivised solutions that bring all parties on board – and there are precedents. With financial aid from groups such as Conservation International and the Andes Amazon Fund, frequently supported by debt-for-nature deals in which foreign debt is traded for conservation measures, countries including Peru, Bolivia, Guyana and Ecuador have all created vast protected reserves.

The most recent, created in June by the Bolivian municipality of Ixiamas, has seen a nature reserve established near the Peruvian border larger than the US state of Connecticut.

Mr Bolsonaro has made clear that he will attend the UN General Assembly meeting in New York on 24 September, at which climate change will be high on the agenda. Indeed, he has vowed to be there, “even in a wheelchair” if necessary, to talk about the Amazon.

The world must embrace it as an opportunity to present imaginative solutions for the preservation of the rainforest that are as attractive to Brazil as they are to the rest of the world.

Published: September 5, 2019 04:38 PM


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