Amazon forest protection is a global responsibility

In Brazil, a new climate, forestry, and agriculture coalition is promoting public and private partnerships to curb deforestation.

By Adriana Erthal Abdenur & Robert Muggah (Future Perfect)

Published: Sun 6 Oct 2019, 10:57 PM

Last updated: Mon 7 Oct 2019, 12:59 AM

The world is waking up to the climate emergency. But our prolonged slumber is going to cost us dearly. The latest scientific findings indicate that our planet is approaching multiple "tipping points" that could cause irreversible and catastrophic changes in temperature, ecosystems and biodiversity. One country that could help decisively shape the future of the global climate is Brazil, home to over 40 per cent of the world's tropical forests and 20 per cent of its fresh water supplies. Once a promising player in environmental conservation, Brazil has changed stance dramatically as far-right nationalist president, Jair Bolsonaro, and the pro-agriculture and beef lobbies that back him, are convinced that the climate agenda is a conspiracy, driven by hidden interests from abroad. All the while, the forests are burning at rates not seen since 2010.
The Amazon fires that generated global outrage in September are straining the utility and credibility of traditional concepts such as the zero-sum understanding of national sovereignty. A fundamental tenet of international affairs - at least within the tradition of realism - is that each nation state has exclusive control over its own domestic affairs. But what happens within a state - say a government-sponsored dramatic expansion in the exploitation of land for cattle, soy, and mining, along with the emission of millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide - affects global temperatures, cloud cover, ocean currents, and human well-being? It becomes harder to defer to absolutist notions of national sovereignty when global survival is at stake. This is precisely the point raised by Harvard professor Stephen Walt in his recent Foreign Policy article, Who will intervene in Brazil to save the Amazon?
Part of the reason why Walt's article has generated such discomfort is because his arguments inspire memories of the past. The US has a long track record of resorting to military force to achieve its foreign policy goals, and it has a massive military footprint spanning at least 150 countries, including influence in Colombia and a base in Peru. While it's inconceivable Walt's grim scenario could be sanctioned by China and Russia who sit on the UN Security Council, what he imagines is different-a "coalition of the willing" that side-steps the Council.
Efforts to protect the Amazon will require the use of "carrots" and not just sticks. Donors have started looking for new ways to promote forest conservation. President Emmanuel Macron of France recently announced that his country would commit $100 million to protect the Amazon, as part of a larger package of $500 million funded by Colombia, Chile, and donors from outside the region, namely Germany, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.
In Brazil, a new climate, forestry, and agriculture coalition is promoting public and private partnerships to curb deforestation, stimulate land restoration, and increase land-use efficiency. The partnerships include financial institutions, trading companies, beef and agricultural producers, and land-owners who are proactively cleaning-up their supply chains.
There is also a vast network of civil organisations with a successful track record of promoting environmental action and holding criminals accountable. The country's more than 300 indigenous groups are highly organised. International efforts to protect the Amazon need to have a more comprehensive geopolitical vision and prioritise peaceful methods. In the end, there are many ways to build responsible sovereignty around public goods like the Amazon.
-IPI Global Observatory
Adriana Erthal Abdenur is Coordinator of the Peace & Security Division at Instituto Igarapé in Rio de Janeiro. Robert Muggah is the co-founder and Research Director of the Igarapé Institute based in Rio de Janeiro and the SecDev Group in Ottawa

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