Skip to content

Brazilian Amazon Conference

An email from Foreign Policy magazine described the conference held by Brazil on the Amazon. It says:

This week, Brazil hosted a summit on conserving the Amazon and other rainforests around the world. The event, which included rainforest countries from across the global south, showcased how President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s approach to environmental policy has evolved since he last led the country—and become part of Brazil’s foreign policy.

From 2003 to 2010, Lula embraced a carrot-and-stick approach for managing deforestation in the Amazon: Brazil provided financial incentives for legal land use and imposed penalties on would-be deforesters. A landmark moment for Brazil’s clout on rainforest protection came in 2009, when Brasília announced a dramatic 45 percent drop in annual deforestation as a result of Lula’s initiatives.

Still, Natalie Unterstell, the president of the Talanoa Institute, a Brazilian climate policy think tank, told Foreign Policy that although Brazil took strong actions at the national level during Lula’s previous time in office, it has not coordinated closely with neighboring Amazon countries on forest protection since then. It also opted not to join a global bloc of rainforest countries pushing for greater financial contributions from rich countries in U.N. climate talks.

Under the Jair Bolsonaro administration, Brazil weakened enforcement for environmental crimes; Amazon destruction shot up as a result. After winning reelection in 2022, Lula pledged to revert that slide—so far, with success: Satellite monitoring shows that between Lula’s Jan. 1 inauguration and the end of July, deforestation fell 42.5 percent in comparison with the same period in 2022.

In this light, this week’s summit represented not only a renewed domestic prioritization of forest protection but also its elevation as a broader foreign-policy priority for Lula. According to Unterstell, the fact that Lula is now coordinating both with neighboring countries and with global forest-rich nations reflects a positive shift in Brazil’s climate policy.

The first day of the two-day summit focused on the eight countries home to the Amazon: Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela. The group has a wide range of track records on Amazon deforestation—a particularly bad offender is Bolivia, where primary tropical forest loss jumped 32 percent between 2021 and 2022. Still, all signed on to a commitment to prevent the forest from passing a “point of no return.” Some scientists have warned of an Amazonian tipping point of around 20 percent to 25 percent of forest loss, at which point they believe the forest could transform into a woody grassland.

The group also committed to law enforcement cooperation for fighting organized crime in the Amazon, affirmed the importance of Indigenous people being at the forefront of forest policy decisions, and announced plans for cooperation among Amazonian universities to promote research that could lead to technological advancement and sustainably produced goods that create income for Amazon communities.

On the summit’s second day, forest-rich countries from elsewhere in the world—Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Republic of Congo—joined South American countries in a joint declaration that voiced their commitment to forest protection and called for more funding from rich countries for climate efforts.

The declarations from both days of the summit criticized “unilateral” environmental protection measures that they said amounted to disguised trade restrictions, a reference to laws either being passed or debated in European and other wealthy countries that would restrict imports of products linked to deforestation. Brazil joins countries such as Indonesia and India by arguing that such measures are too strict on poor countries given their differing levels of development.

But while the event revealed new geographic dimensions of Brazil’s forest protection efforts, it also highlighted its contradictions.

At the summit, a multinational coalition of Indigenous groups as well as Colombian President Gustavo Petro called for an end to new oil exploration in the Amazon. Petro’s verbal appeal applied most immediately to Brazil, whose state oil company has sought a license to drill at the mouth of the Amazon River basin. Elsewhere, public opposition has put pressure on governments to halt drilling projects. In Ecuador, for example, the prospect of drilling in an Amazonian national park faced so much Indigenous pushback that the country will hold a referendum on it on Aug. 20. But in Brazil, activist pressure has not prompted Lula to change his pro-drilling stance.

The Amazon countries’ declaration was noncommittal on the issue: It merely said that countries would start a dialogue about “the sustainability of sectors like mining and hydrocarbons,” frustrating Colombia’s hopes for more ambitious action. For now, Petro’s goal of reducing the prominence of oil in Colombia’s economy remains unique among South American countries, many of which are instead planning on ramping up production.

Despite their differences over oil exploration, Brazil and Colombia shared a key goal going into the summit: to get all eight Amazon countries to sign on to a commitment to eliminate all deforestation by 2030. (All but Bolivia and Venezuela had already committed to this goal.) Yet the summit failed to convince either country to budge.

In all, the major achievements of the summit “ended up being more about processes”—such as new efforts to monitor crime in the forest and cooperate on scientific research—“than concrete targets,” Diego Casaes, a campaigner for the activist group Avaaz, told Foreign Policy.

But, said Unterstell, the fact that the summit introduced new scrutiny on the environmental records of countries such as Bolivia and Venezuela represents potential for progress. Often, those countries are in the news for their political and economic crises rather than for their environmental policies; engagement by neighboring countries could make a difference for forest protection.

“The most positive thing that we saw from this summit is the recognition from all of these countries that they can’t keep destroying the forest like it’s never going to run out,” Unterstell said.

Brazil is expected to host the 2025 U.N. climate conference in Belém, the same city as this week’s summit. Until then, if the throngs of Indigenous and environmental activists this week are any indication, the pressure to protect the Amazon is only likely to increase.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *