The United States is hoping to see “a very clear commitment” from Brazil to tackle illegal deforestation in the Amazon ahead of the April 22 world leaders’ summit called by Biden to discuss the environment, a spokesperson for the department said. ‘Report to CNN this week. “We believe it is realistic for Brazil to achieve a real decrease in deforestation by the end of the 2021 fire season,” they said.
But a coalition of 198 Brazilian civil society organizations, including conservationists and indigenous people, are warning the United States not to trust its president on environmental issues. In an open letter released Tuesday, the groups described Bolsonaro as the Amazon’s “worst enemy” and said he should fulfill his existing obligations to stem deforestation first.
“It is unreasonable to expect that solutions for the Amazon will come from closed-door meetings with its worst enemy,” the letter to the US government reads. “Any project to help Brazil must be built from a dialogue with civil society, subnational governments, universities and, above all, with local communities who know how to protect the forest and the goods and services it shelters. . ”
“No discussion should move forward until Brazil reduces deforestation rates to the level required by the national climate change law and until the series of bills sent to Congress containing environmental setbacks are withdrawn, ”the letter also indicates.
Brazil’s foreign ministry told CNN in a statement that the United States and Brazil “are exploring the possibility of deepening bilateral cooperation” on the environment and deforestation and that the talks are “strictly intergovernmental.” Brazil’s environment ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Deforestation in the Amazon
The Bolsonaro administration’s efforts to protect the Amazon so far could be generously characterized as ineffective; critics go so far as to cite his record as evidence of a deliberate intention to weaken environmental protections. In December, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon – often the result of illegal land clearing operations – reached its highest level in 12 years.
The Brazilian president has declared that the forest must be protected and has adopted several decrees to this effect. However, he simultaneously encouraged industrial development there, defeated agencies responsible for preventing illegal logging, ranching, and mining, and supported legislation that would legalize extractive industries like petroleum. and gas on indigenous lands.
Losing more of the Amazon could have global repercussions. As the world’s largest rainforest, it is a vital defense against climate change. The encroachment of human activity in wild places like the Amazon has also been linked to the spread of new diseases, like Covid-19.
Biden has shown a keen awareness of the importance of the forest to planetary health, swearing on last year’s election campaign to mobilize a global effort to pressure Brazil to protect the Amazon, including this $ 20 billion carrot to make Brazil “stop tearing down the forest” – – or face economic consequences. Bolsonaro, a fan of Biden’s rival Donald Trump, took it the wrong way at the time, accusing Biden of “greed” for the Amazon and announcing that he would not accept “bribes” or of “threats”.
Things have changed since Biden became president. “Negotiating teams from the two countries have come together to deepen understanding of the needs and opportunities to improve the Amazon biome and tackle illegal deforestation, among other topics,” Brazil’s foreign ministry told CNN.
“The dialogues have progressed in a coherent manner in areas of Brazilian interest, such as funding and technical collaboration geared towards actions to combat deforestation in the Amazon region,” he added.
The United States sees the country as a vital partner in mitigating climate change and reducing global emissions, the State Department spokesman said, and “supporting and encouraging Brazil’s actions to reduce deforestation and lock down the path to a strong, zero-emissions future “is a” key focus “for the Biden administration.
Doing so will require “solutions that include the engagement of local communities, including indigenous and traditional communities, as well as new technologies and approaches to provide incentives,” the spokesperson also said.
But some conservationists in Brazil are suspicious. According to Marcio Astrini, head of the Climate Observatory environmental network, which signed the protest letter, they have been left in the dark about what the United States and Brazil are planning. “We are really concerned about what is being negotiated now, and what are the bases of the agreement?” Astrini said.
He also pointed out that the Bolsonaro government has not spent existing funds intended for the fight against deforestation, and expressed doubt that any additional money would be put to good use.
In a recent interview with the newspaper O Estado de Sao Paulo, the Brazilian Minister of the Environment Ricardo Salles proposed to allocate two-thirds of a hypothetical new fund for foreign aid to the environment of one billion dollars. to economic development actions in the Amazonian zones. A third would go to stop deforestation.
The United States has not said whether it will offer funds to Brazil for climate cooperation. Neither the State Department nor the White House responded to requests for comment on Salles’ comments.
Reporting provided by CNN’s Flora Charner, Shasta Darlington and Ivana Kottasova.