Amazon Summit: Protection of the rainforest, its defenders, and the planet

Amazon Summit: Protection of the rainforest, its defenders, and the planet
Brazilian President Lula at Amazon Summit. Courtesy Al Jazeera.

Latin American countries have been meeting in Belem, Brazil, at the Amazon Summit to explore strategies to address the significant difficulties surrounding the safeguarding of the Amazon Rainforest to mitigate the most severe effects of the climate crisis. 


What should be central to such discussions is the Escazú Agreement, with the increasing ecological and social threats to the rainforest. The ratification of the agreement will help ensure the preservation of the old-growth forest, it’s myriad ecosystems that are not only crucial to the local region, but global climate health. 


The enactment will allow more public participation in environmental matters (including indigenous populations), guaranteeing public access to accurate and up-to-date information, and requires the protection of environmental defenders rights as well as, local indigenous activists and communities.


It is vital to understand that the situation concerning the contemporary environment demands that all outlined points are essential to the maintenance of the rainforest, native communities, and the global climate crisis. 


The geographical area of the rainforest spans across eight countries, hosting 20% of the world’s freshwater reserves, and showcases diversity that its not seen anywhere else on the planet. A staggering 16 000 tree species (so far) have been recorded in the rainforest. 


Of course, due to it’s wealth of extractable materials and it’s vastness, this has left it vulnerable to extractivist capitalist states and entities. Extractivist activities have ravaged the rainforest, and it’s non-human inhabitants, as well as, communities living within the forest. 


As outlined by Human Rights Watch director, Juanita Goebertus;


The Amazon rainforest and its defenders are under serious threat … Governments gathered for the Amazon Summit should show their commitment to preserving a crucial ecosystem for South America and the planet by ratifying and implementing the Escazú Agreement.


Despite it’s coverage, it’s cultural importance, and it’s natural significance, only three of the eight countries have ratified the agreement since it’s introduction in 2018. Nevertheless, both Colombia and Brazil are on track to implementing the necessary measures to ratify the agreement within their respective countries. 


By upholding the rights enshrined in the Escazú Agreement, the nations can significantly contribute to breaking the cycle of violence and environmental devastation in the Amazon. It is of utmost importance that the host country of the Summit, Brazil, acknowledge the role of the previous government in deregulating, murdering and silencing various activists, destroying large swathes of the Amazon under Bolsonaro.


The nation, which includes 60% of the Amazon basin, accounts for more than 40% of deforestation globally in 2022. Should this trend persist, the Amazon will be irreparably destroyed. Alongside the understood impact of the reduction of the ability to process carbon dioxide and the release of oxygen, the Amazon is a huge carbon sink. Billions of tons of stored carbon will be released upon further destruction, into the atmosphere, causing exponential degradation of the global climate. 


Indigenous peoples, communities within the forest, as well as general climate activists have long recognised the importance of maintaining the rainforest and their opposition has been vital to reduction in speed to which it has been destroyed. Of course, the realities of the potential profits to be made from the extraction of resources, mean that activists find significant opposition from within companies attempting to extract as well as, the states themselves. As reported by impACT, in May this year Lúcio Tembé, was shot in the head by armed gunmen in Pará State after vehemently opposing palm oil extractivists, Brasil BioFuels SA adding to rising suspicions concerning corporate assassination directives. Since 2020, over 100 individuals were killed in clashes surrounding the utilisation of the land and its resources, with 78 being in the Amazon region, findings of the Pastrol Land Commission Show. Similarly, in the same period, Colombia has witnessed a severe crisis surrounding it’s indigenous, Afro-descendant, and peasant population. Over 230 individuals have been killed , as outlined in the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office;


“Latin America is the world’s most dangerous region for environmental and land rights defenders”, said Goebertus, “better protection for front-line communities is key to keeping our forests standing - and keeping them standing is key to containing the climate crisis”.


Utilising the Escazú Agreement as a solid foundation, the nation’s gathering this week must take decisive measures to safeguard the environment and offer appropriate remedies for the damage already caused.


impACT calls on the government to take actionable steps to safeguard the vital ecology of the rainforests and its inhabitants by actively enacting the agreement. The prioritisation of cogent methods that allow for indigenous and localised inputs will surely provide adequate initial steps, but these actions must be met with appropriate funding and more importantly, protections against marauding extractivist entities who have, historically, shown little concern for law. Accountability and the public updates of law breakers must become a standard practice. 


Only by committing to this agreement and taking corrective actions, can the cycle of violence against indigenous and environmental activists be broken, and the degradation of the Amazon alongside the global climate be reduced. 


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