If figures are to be believed, then it would seem that the deforestation of the rainforests – particularly the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil is continuing apace; and is even increasing. Data from Brazil’s Space Agency (INPE) which monitors this, indicates that deforestation for the year 2019 has been steadily increasing, leading to July which shows an increase in deforestation of more than 100% from the same period last year. In reaction to this many international organisations (340) jointly published an open letter to the European Union asking them to halt the Mercosur Trade talks in an attempt to pressure Brazil into reducing deforestation.
No official response was received to the letter from either Brazil or the European Commission – although the Commission spokesperson did say that a free trade agreement could not solve all the miseries of the world! Meanwhile in Brazil, the President Jair Bolsonaro stated that when European leaders contacted him about environmental issues, he had the impression that they didn’t realise that “Brazil is under new direction now.”
This situation demonstrates international bodies trying to exert influence over the ‘assets’ of another nation, whilst the nation in question clearly asserts that its ‘assets’ are its ‘assets’ and not within the purview of anyone else. The common thread across both points however is this: is is accepted that Brazil is responsible for the ecological resources that fall within its geographical boundaries.
The question I would ask then, is whether or not this is an appropriate viewpoint… Does the Amazon rainforest concern only the South American region, or does it concern Europe (and indeed the rest of the world)?
Certainly the ecological impact of the Amazonian rainforest extends well beyond the physical geography of the region; indeed, the rainforest has often been referred to as the lungs of the planet, and is believed to produce around 20% of the oxygen in the atmosphere. This being the case, is it appropriate that it should be ‘owned’ and ‘managed’ by one single nation? After all, if the ecological impact of the rainforest is global, then shouldn’t the responsibility also be global?
Sadly, the society in which we live considers all natural resources to be subject to physical boundaries. Coupled with the consumerist and capitalist system that our society uses, the conclusion can only be that despite the Amazon rainforest being largely responsible for the survival of the human race, it remains a financial asset of Brazil!! And of course, within a capitalist system, there remains the spectre of the opportunity cost of not exploiting an asset (the rainforest)…
Therefore, if we can conclude that the impact and therefore the responsibility for the rainforest should be global, and that we live in a world where everything has a financial value: then it follows that the responsibility for the rainforest should also be supported financially… and that such support should be global!
Therefore whilst using a trade agreement to pressure Brazil into protecting the rainforest may well represent a moral stand, it certainly does not fulfil the financial responsibility that is implicit in a global ownership of the rainforest. It merely demonstrates that the world expects that Brazil will participate in the wonderful world of capitalism and commerce, whilst at the same time expecting Brazil to set aside a substantial part of its capital resources (for the good of humanity) without recompense!
This last statement is not entirely true… the world does not expect Brazil to completely shoulder the financial burden of the rainforests. An UN initiative exists called REDD – which stand for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. This programme supports the creation of national projects to protect against the degradation of forests. As part of this, in 2008 the Amazon Fund was established (a REDD+ mechanism). This mechanism, managed by the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) receives donations and in turn supports projects intended to protect the integrity of the Amazonian rainforest.
Sounds great right?
However, a close look shows, that since its inception in 2008 there have only been 3 major donors: the Brazilian oil company (Petrobras), the Federal Republic of Germany (KFW), and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In fact, the Norwegian Ministry is the main contributor, having donated more than €700m to date (the other two donors having contributed less than €50m combined). All of which means that the ‘lungs of the planet’ are being looked after by less than half a percent of the planet… (together, Norway, Germany and Brazil represent just over 300,000,000 people, from a total population of 7,500,000,000.)
It strikes me a singularly odd that given that there is a mechanism in place to allow the global financial support of the rainforests, that any organisation should choose to use trade negotiations to demonstrate their support rather than simply contribute a fair share? Irrespective of the politics of the situation, it is abundantly clear that there are countries in the world which are being subjected to a combination of moral and financial pressure from richer (although not necessarily more moral) countries.
How many people were aware that there existed a global fund for the protection of the Amazon rainforest? (I wasn’t, until today.) How many of us were happy to simply criticise the Brazilian government for the continuing deforestation? (I was, and although they still share a responsibility, so should I and everyone else.)
There is an inherent hypocrisy in the belief that the rainforest belongs to Brazil, and that only Brazil should bear the financial burden for its survival. Simply put: all people need to breathe oxygen, therefore every government responsible for the well-being of its citizens must ensure the continued availability of oxygen!
Whilst we continue to look at this world through the parochial eyes of ‘our’ region or country we will fail to see the problem: the Amazon rainforest is our rainforest – all of us, not just the people in the Amazon basin. The natural world is a shared environment, therefore so too must be the resources within it.
It is our governments that need to act – not just Brazil.