Seven Latin American countries have agreed to co-operate on satellite monitoring, disaster responses and reforestation in response to this summer’s wave of fires, which have devastated thousands of hectares of Amazon rainforest.
The commitment by leaders of Amazon nations at a meeting in Colombia’s jungle town of Leticia on Friday was a response to heavy international pressure to stop the surge in deforestation, including a discussion by world leaders at this year’s G7 summit in France.
Some international companies have halted purchases of Brazilian leather until it can be shown to be free from environmental harm, a move that has sparked alarm among the country’s powerful agro-industrial lobby.
The presidents of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Colombia, and representatives from Guyana and Suriname attended the summit. Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, whose country hosts almost two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest, phoned in via a video link because of impending surgery.
The 16-point Leticia agreement did not announce any specific financial pledges. It laid out areas for planned co-operation, including monitoring fires and other disasters, restoring and reforesting burnt areas, and a commitment to research, education and awareness-raising activities on the role and function of the Amazon.
“Our words will be worth very little,” Ecuadorean president Lenín Moreno warned. “Starting with this pact, we must take fundamental action.” His Peruvian counterpart, Martín Vizcarra, echoed this sentiment, saying: “Goodwill alone is not enough any more”.
This year tens of thousands of fires have incinerated large swaths of the forest, particularly in Brazil and Bolivia. Satellite data indicate that there has been an increase of nearly 70 per cent in the number of fires compared with last year. Most of them have been started intentionally to clear land for agriculture and mining.
Colombian president Iván Duque said before signing the pact that it “will live on as a co-ordination mechanism for the presidents that share this treasure — the Amazon”.
“We’re showing we’re not just taking up this issue because of current events, but because there’s a structural need to attend to a region that represents so much for the planet.” The pact commits leaders to seeking funds from multilateral organisations to help fund the initiatives.
Representatives from neighbouring Venezuela, the other major country home to the rainforest, were not invited because Colombia, like the US, the EU and most other Latin American nations, has severed relations with the revolutionary socialist government of Nicolás Maduro.
Martín von Hildebrand, a Colombia-based anthropologist who serves as the president of Gaia Amazonas, a non-governmental organisation, described the summit as a positive first step.
“Just working together is an important step in recognising the Amazon as a single unit, that although many countries have their sovereignty, they come together to protect the forest.”
Mr Bolsonaro has received harsh criticism for his response to the fires in the world’s largest rainforest, often called “the lungs of the planet”. Many say his push to open up areas of the Amazon for development and sharp cuts to the budget of enforcement agencies has given a green light to those looking to cut down and burn the forest.
Following international criticism, Mr Bolsonaro has deployed the country’s army to combat the fires. At Friday’s meeting, the Brazilian leader urged each country to maintain sovereignty over its portion of the Amazon and “not leave it in the hands of other countries.”
The seven countries plan to evaluate the Leticia pact again at the UN’s Climate Change Conference in December.