08 August 2023

Eight Amazon rainforest countries open summit in Brazil

08 August 2023

For the first time in 14 years, presidents of the South American countries home to the Amazon rainforest are converging to chart a common course for protection of the bioregion and address organised crime.

The summit on Tuesday and Wednesday in the Brazilian city of Belem is a meeting of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organisation, a toothless, 45-year-old alliance that has met only three times before.

The Amazon stretches across an area twice the size of India, and two-thirds of it lies in Brazil.

Seven other countries and one territory share the remaining third – Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, Ecuador and French Guiana.

Presidents from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia are attending, plus Guyana’s prime minister, Venezuela’s vice president and the foreign ministers of Suriname and Ecuador.

Massive destruction of the Amazon forest is a climate disaster and all the countries at the summit have ratified the Paris climate accord which requires signatories to set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But that is about as far as their shared policy goes.

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has said he hopes the Belem summit will awaken the long-dormant organisation.

“It has never been so urgent to resume and expand that cooperation. The challenge of our era and the opportunities that arise will demand joint action,” Mr Lula said at the start of the summit on Tuesday.

It is Mr Lula’s second attempt to form an Amazon bloc.

He tried when the last Amazon summit was held in 2009, during his first presidency, but was joined by only one other president from the region, Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana.

Then French president Nicolas Sarkozy also attended.

Then as now, the goal was to present a united Amazon during annual climate talks. It failed.

“The context is totally different today,” Brazil’s environment and climate change minister Marina Silva told The Associated Press.

“President Lula is very determined that this summit will not be just another event with no real outcomes for the decisions that will be announced here.”

Ms Silva said the event goes beyond the climate talks and will also address how countries will prevent the Amazon from reaching a tipping point, in which the former forest releases carbon dioxide out of control.

According to some scientists, this will happen when 20% to 25% of the forest is destroyed.

The resulting decline in rainfall would transform more than half of the Amazon to tropical savannah, with immense biodiversity loss.

Forest protection commitments so far have been uneven. Brazil and Colombia have pledged to stop deforestation completely by 2030, but other countries are reluctant to follow.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro has sought to position himself as a leader in global climate efforts and protection of the Amazon.

At a recent meeting in the Colombian town of Leticia, environment ministers from the eight countries agreed to come up with a joint strategy to prevent the Amazon from reaching a “point of no return”.

Mr Petro has also spoken of the need to shift away from hydrocarbons, one of the main causes of climate change, yet oil is one of his nation’s chief exports.

Peru is seeking not just a declaration aimed at slowing the collapse of the Amazon, but agreements to fight drug trafficking and other illegal activities.

Mr Lula said he hopes a “Belem Declaration” – already drafted – will become the countries’ shared call to arms as they move toward the global climate conference in November in Dubai.

Outside the official summit, some 20,000 indigenous people and others from different Amazon countries have scheduled 400 parallel events.

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