Meeting of Knowledge: The Three Demands of the Nine Amazon Countries

Representatives of the peoples of the Amazon Forest, in concert with other segments of South American societies, gathered at the Meeting of Knowledge in Belém, capital of the state of Pará, in Brazil, between 20 and 23 October 2021. Enriched with contributions from the World Assembly on the Amazon and the Climate Crisis, the signatories of this document inform the Parties represented in Glasgow of three fundamental demands. We will articulate these below, after an introductory justification.

Justification

What follows embraces and expands upon Resolution 48/13 of the UN Human Rights Council, that recognizes the universal human right to a healthy environment. This Resolution was unanimously approved with long and enthusiastic applause on 8 October 2021 by the Assembly of that Council in Geneva by forty-three votes in favor and four abstentions.[1]

The three demands of the Peoples of the Amazon are located at the heart of this Universal Right, but also in a non-anthropocentric view of the world. They start from the following observation: after half a century of destruction by clear-cutting and degradation of the Amazon forest, deforestation has returned to accelerate in recent years. Thus, growing parts of the forest no longer have the environmental conditions of carbon sequestration, moisture, and integrity that allow it to regenerate and survive.[2] The Amazon Forest lives today on the threshold of a tipping point. As numerous scientists, including Carlos Nobre and Thomas Lovejoy, have repeatedly stated: “the turning point is here, it is now. The peoples and leaders of the Amazon countries together have the power, the science, and the tools to prevent a continental scale environmental disaster, in fact, a global environmental disaster”.[3]

“A global environmental disaster”: the Amazon is a critical element of the Earth system[4] and if peoples and rulers around the world allow the devastation to continue for a few more years, the planet will very soon be unable to recover to its greatest extent the remnants of its tropical forests, home to 80% of terrestrial biodiversity. Humanity and biodiversity as a whole will be mortally affected and destabilization of the climate system will accelerate again, greatly reducing our prospects for adapting to life on the planet. Conservation and restoration of the Amazon Forest are absolutely essential to the Paris Agreement’s central goal, which is to contain average global warming “well below” 2 oC in relation to the pre-industrial period. The new NDCs presented at COP26 remain much lower than the minimum needed to contain global warming at levels compatible with the Paris Agreement’s goals and with survival of our societies. Denial and climatic illusionism still prevail, especially in Brazil and in other governments of the nine Amazon countries. The most socially fair, safest, and most immediate -results strategy for curbing greenhouse gas emissions is to protect tropical forests, starting with the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest. And the fairest, most immediate, and safest strategy to protect the Amazon is to provide its inhabitants with the conditions they need to protect it themselves. From these findings and from this perception of an emergency situation, the three fundamental demands of the peoples of the Amazon have arisen.

Demand 1:

The peoples of the Amazon rainforest demand direct participation – as immediate beneficiaries and/or as providers of advice, based on their in-depth knowledge of the forest – in international negotiations and decisions, both public and private, to transfer resources for mitigation and adaptation concerning climate change, especially with regard to restoration of the Amazon Forest.

Concretely, this first claim is expressed below in more detail:

(a) The peoples of the Amazon Forest must have the right to formulate forest conservation and restoration projects that are entitled to such contributions;

(b) The peoples of the Amazon rainforest, through their own organizations, must have a seat, voice, vote, and veto power in the formulation, decision-making, and auditing for use of these resources;

(c) The resources destined to the Amazon through transfer mechanisms foreseen in the Paris Agreement must be explicitly destined to forest conservation, and not to subsidize agribusiness, with its false solution of replanting Areas of Permanent Protection (APPs);

(d) Loans are not transfers of resources. Loans should therefore not be conceptually accounted for as part of the Paris Agreement, as has been the case. These transfers of resources to the most vulnerable countries and peoples, under the UNFCCC, should be an instrument of climate justice, rather than a subterfuge to promote business in the financial sector (private banks or Multilateral Development Banks, such as the World Bank or the Asian Bank). These annual resources of US$ 100 billion to be disbursed by 2025 must come in the form of grants, that is, in the form of direct transfers to projects for protection and restoration of the forest, at the subnational level, in order to, indeed, promote the Paris Agreement’s objectives.

Demand 2

We demand a boycott by the Parties to the Paris Agreement of commodities produced by corporations throughout the Amazon region.

There is a demonstrated incompatibility between the goals of the Paris Agreement and the globalized food system, whose combined emissions, on average, reach between 21% and 37% of global emissions of these gases for the period 2007-2016.[5] It is essential to understand this profoundly serious fact: destruction of the Amazon Forest and its reduction to a lever of the globalized corporate food system must be stopped immediately. This is a task that to which Paris Agreement has not given its due attention. A paper published in the journal Science shows that “even if fossil fuel emissions were eliminated immediately, emissions from the global food system alone would make it impossible to limit warming to 1.5 °C and difficult even to realize the 2 oC target. Thus, major changes in how food is produced are needed if we want to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.”[6]

The main problem in the region is agribusiness, with emphasis on the production of animal feed and the proliferation of ruminants. In the period 1990-2005, the opening of pastures was responsible for more than 80% of the loss of the Amazon forest in Brazil, for more than 60% in Colombia, and almost 40% in Bolivia (actually 80% as a result of the destruction perpetrated by agribusiness as a whole). If governments around the world really intend to contain global warming at non-catastrophic levels, a moratorium on the importation of commodities produced by corporations in the Amazon region is inevitable, as long as there are no valid and reliable mechanisms for the traceability of these products with regard to their association with deforestation. The time is now. Our boycott demand endorses and strengthens other ongoing proposals,[7] the effects of which have not yet been felt in large part by the omission of the Parties to the UNFCCC. Only under strong international pressure will the governments of the South American Amazon, hostages of agribusiness, align themselves with the Paris Agreement’s objectives. And yet, it would be enough for these governments to end deforestation for their NDCs to place themselves among the most ambitious in the world.

Demand 3

Recognize the rights of the Amazon and nature.

The Amazon is the largest tropical forest and the most biodiverse ecoregion on the planet. Stability of the planet’s climate and the possibility of preventing the sixth large extinction of life on Earth depend largely on survival of the Amazon. Governments, the United Nations, and financial institutions must stop treating the Amazon as a simple carbon sink and recognize the rights of the Amazon, its rivers, its forests, its animals, its plants, and all the non-human beings that inhabit it. When we discuss plans for the Amazon, the rights of nature should be considered and promotions of projects to replace a living forest with monoculture plantations should be ended.

The largest ecocide on the planet is taking place in the Amazon and national and multilateral authorities are being direct or silent accomplices of this ecocide. The governments meeting at the UNFCCC should condemn it, propose that the on-going crime of ecocide be recognized by the International Criminal Court, and request that this Court immediately begin trying the case of the Amazon regarding the crime of ecocide. It is impossible to think about solving the issue of climate if the companies, governments, and financial entities that have caused this ecocide are not sanctioned, by action or omission.

The Amazon is not an object but a subject of rights that has to be recognized as such by the United Nations system. We must overcome the prevailing anthropocentric vision, and generate mechanisms so that nature has a voice and representation in climate and multilateral negotiations through science, indigenous peoples, and all the inhabitants who want to save nature and not do business with it. The United Nations must convene an Earth Assembly to rethink sustainable development goals from a non-anthropocentric perspective. To face climate change, we must build democracies and ecocentric multilateral integration processes that consider all the components of the Earth community, because only in this way can we restore the Earth system’s balance.

The national authorities gathered in Glasgow at COP26 now have one last chance to react to governments’ inertia and lack of commitment to the core objectives that motivate this all-important meeting. We, peoples of the Amazon and around the world, have the right to rise up against crimes, existential threats, and the ever greater and more imminent risks caused by global trade in commodities that only benefit corporations and banks to the detriment of preserving the foundations of life on the planet.


 

Notes

[1] Cf. United Nations, UN News, Climate and Environment, 15/X/2021 <https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/10/1103082>.

[2] Cf. Luciana V. Gatti et al., “Drought sensitivity of Amazonian carbon balance revealed by atmospheric measurements”. Nature 506, 2014, pp. 76-80; Luciana V. Gatti et al., “Amazonia as a carbon source linked to deforestation and climate change”. Nature, 14/VII/2021.

[3] Cf. Thomas E. Lovejoy & Carlos Nobre, “Amazon tipping point: Last Chance for Action” (editorial). Science Advances, 5, 12, 20/XII/2019.

[4] Cf. Timothy M. Lenton et al., “Tipping elements in the Earth’s climate system”. PNAS, 105, 6, 2015, pp. 1786-1793; Will Steffen et al., “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene”. PNAS, 9/VIII/2018.

[5] Cf. Cynthia Rosenzweig et al., “Climate change responses benefit from a global food system approach”. Nature Food, 2020.

[6] Cf. Michael A. Clark et al., “Global food system emissions could preclude achieving the 1.5° and 2°C climate change targets”. Science, 6/XI/2020.

[7] See: 1. Declaration of Amsterdam (“Towards Eliminating Deforestation from Agricultural Chains with European Countries”, 2015), signed by the governments of Germany, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom. It urges agribusiness to eliminate deforestation associated with their activities by 2020; 2. “Forest Act of 2021”; see Richard Cowan & Fathin Ungku, “U.S. Congress Democrats target palm oil, beef trade in deforestation bill”. Reuters, 6/X/2021; 3. Laura Kehoe et al., “Make EU – Brazil trade sustainable”. Science, 26/IV/2019.

<https://www.proterrafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/AmsterdamDeclarationDeforestation26Agro-commoditychains.pdf>

<https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.aaw8276>

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