Amazon countries sign conservation agreement, critics argue it doesn’t go far enough

What’s happening? Eight Amazon River basin countries, led by Brazil, have committed to conserving the world’s largest rainforest, as per the Belém Declaration. The landmark agreement aims to counter rampant deforestation driven by industrial agriculture and land-grabbing. The pact seeks to mitigate the Amazon’s vital influence on climate regulation by pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The accord, resulting from a meeting convened by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, also anticipates enhanced cooperation among nations with major rainforests. While progress was made, some aspirations, such as ending deforestation by 2030, weren’t fully realised due to political and economic challenges. (New York Times)

Why does this matter? Over the past 50 years, 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been levelled, with a larger proportion severely degraded. More than 75% of the untouched forest has lost stability since 2000, meaning recovery times from droughts and wildfires are prolonged, according to a study in Nature Climate Change. As indicated by a separate study in Scientific Reports, a tipping point in the Amazon is looming. The authors claim that once this threshold is surpassed, irreversible mass dieback will occur in the forest, turning the vast carbon sink into a carbon source. A mass-dieback event would cause a 40% reduction in rainfall in the surrounding areas and alter global weather patterns.

The agreement increases cooperation between Amazon basin countries, allowing greater coordination of law enforcement to combat illegal mining and logging. Banks operating within the region to mobilise development funds will also work more closely to enhance conservation and sustainable employment.

Little common ground – Whilst a positive step, critics argue the agreement is insufficient with a lack of concrete measures. The two-day meeting in Belém, Brazil, was fraught with tensions as several countries disagreed on key points. Brazil’s president, Mr Lula, pushed for a unanimous ban on deforestation by 2030, a pledge already made by six Amazon basin countries. However, this was opposed by Bolivia and Venezuela. Meanwhile, Colombia’s president, Gustavo Petro, pressured Mr Lula to ban oil drilling in the Amazon, which was opposed amid Brazil’s plans to expand offshore oil drilling in the mouth of the Amazon River.

Regional instability – Despite expanding oil drilling, conservation has formed the cornerstone of Mr Lula’s presidential run. Since Mr Lula started his term at the beginning of the year, deforestation has dropped 43% after a series of crackdowns on illegal loggers. However, other Amazon basin countries have less capacity to implement change, and some are suffering political and economic instability. For example, Venezuela is currently under authoritarian leadership and is suffering from an inflation rate of over 100% in 2023, which could reach over 200% by the end of the year. Elsewhere, Ecuador’s president recently dissolved Congress to avoid impeachment and anti-corruption presidential candidate, Fernando Villavicencio, was assassinated at the beginning of August.

Global implications – Without concrete goals and the adequate capacity to implement and enforce them, the Amazon rainforest will continue to be deforested. Should a tipping point be reached in the medium to long term, widespread consequences will be unleashed outside of the Amazon geography. The loss of the Amazon will increase global temperatures and intensify extreme weather events. One study also links deforestation in the Amazon to an increased risk of infectious diseases, threatening public health.

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