Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is hosting an “urgent” summit on the Amazon Tuesday, urging South American leaders to chart an end to deforestation in the Amazon.
Lula vowed a “turning point” in the fight to protect the rainforest at the two-day meeting of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) in the northern city of Belem, at the mouth of the Amazon River.
The ACTO is an intergovernmental organisation formed by the eight Amazonian countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela.
The leaders are pushing for a new scientific body, like the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to share research on the Amazon.
The panel would produce sustainable development policies for the region while remaining independent of governments, monitoring the impact of climate change on the Amazon rainforest and ecosystem.
It would also seek to determine the limits of what scientists call the “point of no return” when the forest is “damaged beyond repair.”
Brazil’s plan to end deforestation by 2030 is at the heart of discussions
President Lula is pushing to eliminate deforestation in the Amazon by 2030 as part of an ‘Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Amazon.’
Bolivia and Venezuela are the only countries in the region not to make such a commitment.
President Lula emphasised the “severe worsening of the climate crisis” in his opening speech.
“The challenges of our era, and the opportunities arising from them, demand we act in unison,” he said.
“It has never been so urgent.”
Calls for Marshall Plan to cancel debt for climate protection
Colombian President Gustavo Petro has a radical global economic rethink, calling for a “Marshall Plan” in which developing countries’ debt is cancelled in exchange for action to protect the climate.
“If we’re on the verge of extinction, and this is the decade when the big decisions have to be made,” President Petro said, “then what are we doing besides giving speeches?”
Why the Summit is so important
Al Jazeera reports that the Amazon – a massive rainforest twice the size of India that sprawls across eight countries and one territory – is a crucial carbon sink, absorbing carbon dioxide emissions and driving the climate crisis.
It is home to 10 per cent of Earth’s biodiversity, 50 million people, hundreds of billions of trees, and the single most significant driver of global deforestation.
Last month, Wood Central reported that Brazil was responsible for 43% of the world’s total deforestation in 2022.
In Amazonas state, which is home to over half of Brazil’s intact forests, the rate of deforestation has almost doubled over the past three years.
Nowhere is the devastation more sweeping than in the Brazilian state of Para, where Belem is the capital.
According to the Climate Observatory, a network of environmental nonprofit groups, 41% of deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon has come in Para, the leading emitter of greenhouse gases among Brazilian states.
Deforestation in the Amazon is driven mainly by cattle ranching.
However, a murky mix of corruption, land-grabbing and organised crime, including drugs, arms, gold and timber trafficking, also fuels it.
Brazilian officials: deforestation negotiations need more time
The Amazon countries are under increased scrutiny following the introduction of the European Union Deforestation-free Regulation (EUDR).
French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country is present at the Summit as an observer, voiced his support for the cause, tweeting that “it is urgent to end deforestation.”
However, Brazilian officials told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that negotiations may need more time.
Underlining demands for change, hundreds of environmentalists, activists and Indigenous demonstrators marched to the conference venue in Belem, urging bold action.
The Summit is a dress rehearsal for the 2025 UN Climate Talks
The Summit is a dress rehearsal for the 2025 UN climate talks, which Belem will host.
Lula, Petro, Bolivian President Luis Arce, and Peru’s Dina Boluarte were all present.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, absent from an ear infection, sent Vice President Delcy Rodriguez while high-level officials represented Ecuador, Guyana and Suriname.
President Arce urged wealthy nations to help fund efforts to protect the Amazon.
“All the responsibility for the climate crisis and its consequences shouldn’t fall on our shoulders and our economies,” the Bolivian president said.
“We’re not the ones who created the crisis,” he said.
Updates from the Summit
According to Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman, the declaration’s first draft contains “a whole, wide range of good intentions”, including new ways for the countries in the Amazon region to help each other.
But concrete dates have yet to be put forward for the leaders to implement their plan.
“We know, according to specialists, that the Amazonian region is nearing the tipping point,” she said.
The Summit will also seek to establish sustainable development for the region, home to 50 million people, including hundreds of Indigenous groups seen as crucial to protecting the rainforest.
It will conclude with a joint declaration, expected to be “ambitious” and set out “an agenda to guide countries in the coming years”, said Brazilian foreign ministry official Gisela Padovan.
The Lula test
The Summit is a crucial test for the Brazilian president, who previously served as president from 2003 to 2010.
Upon returning to office in January, he vowed, “Brazil is back” in the fight against climate change.
“Brazil has resumed its leading role in tackling climate change after four years in which the environment was treated as an obstacle to the immediate profit of a privileged minority,” Lula said in a post on Twitter, alluding to the policies of his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro.
Indigenous groups — whose lands are crucial buffers against the destruction of the world’s forests, according to experts — urged South American leaders to take decisive action.
“Our struggle isn’t just for Indigenous peoples,” said Nemo Guiquita, head of Ecuadoran Indigenous Confederation CONFENIAE.
“It’s for the entire world so future generations can survive on this planet.”
Wood Central will provide further updates from the Summit.