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ENVIRONMENT-BRAZIL: Protecting the Jungle Has a Price

Fabiana Frayssinet

RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 17 2009 (IPS) - Government officials, business leaders and non-governmental organisations agreed in Brazil on the need for rich countries and companies to “pay” the people of the Amazon jungle as “providers of environmental services” for contributing to the fight against climate change by not deforesting.

The idea, which Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had already set forth, was at the centre of a debate in the Latin America edition of the World Economic Forum (WEF), held Wednesday and Thursday in Rio de Janeiro.

The debate on “Managing the Amazon: A Global Responsibility?”, hosted by the British national public broadcaster BBC, started off with alarming statistics and predictions.

The Amazon jungle, which covers six percent of the earth’s land surface, is suffering an “irreversible” process of deforestation, which is having an extremely serious effect on global warming, the participating experts said.

Brazil, one of the eight South American countries that share the Amazon jungle, is the world’s fourth biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, with 48 percent of its gases coming from the burning of the rainforest for the purposes of clearing land for agriculture.

But participants in the debate, including Luiz Fernando Furlan, president of the Sustainable Amazon Foundation, said the problem could be reversed if a “market value” for the rainforest was established and paid.

The responsibility would be shared by local governments as well as businesses and the international community.

The environmental services provided by a rainforest include climate regulation, rainfall generation, carbon storage and the maintenance of biodiversity.

“If rainforests disappear, there will be droughts that will affect agriculture in other parts of the planet,” said Furlan. “That means they have an economic value. In this case, for agriculture, I would say. This is part of the principle that people don’t cut down trees because they want to, but because they have to survive.”

Furlan, a former minister of industry under Lula and chairman of Sadia, one of Brazil’s largest food processing companies, described the Amazon jungle as “a strategic and economic heritage.”

Carlos de Souza Braga, governor of the state of Amazonas, pointed out that his state, which has fewer than four million inhabitants, is 16 times bigger than Great Britain.

The governor, who belongs to the centrist Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB), which forms part of the governing coalition, stressed that 98 percent of the jungle in his state remains intact.

“Our people can’t be punished because they live in a paradise. In exchange for its preservation, we have to ensure them better living conditions,” said Braga, who said deforestation in his state has been cut 70 percent.

Braga, one of the founders of the Sustainable Amazon Foundation, agrees with the need to assign a value to the rainforest.

“If carbon emissions are avoided and an environmental service is thus provided to humanity, a price should be established for that,” he argued.

This could be done, for example, by establishing an international fund, such as the one already suggested by the Brazilian government, which among other things would finance local sustainable development projects, or initiatives to generate alternative sources of jobs.

“This is a question of global sovereignty. The jungle is ours, it belongs to our people, and our nation is providing a service to the global population,” said Braga, who rejected the so-called “internationalisation” of the Amazon.

Pamela Cox, the World Bank’s Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean, said there is still good news to celebrate, even though 37 percent of the Amazon jungle has been deforested.

She noted, for instance, that 40 percent of the Brazilian Amazon is protected in some way.

Cox also said that in the last few years, deforestation has been reduced in the Amazon, an area that is roughly the size of western Europe, with a total population of just 25 million.

The world has to acknowledge that the Amazon has an environmental value, and it should decide how much it is willing to pay for that, said the World Bank official.

Countries should pay if they want jungles to be protected, she added. If the Amazon is the “lungs of the world,” it should be given a value, she insisted.

According to Luiz Carlos de Miranda Joels, director of jungle affairs in the Development Ministry, the Lula administration has managed to reduce deforestation in the Amazon by 60 percent.

“We have shown that we are capable of adequately managing the jungle, but a great deal more could be done with outside help,” he said.

“We need assistance and more funds, and we should be recognised as providers of environmental services,” said the official.

Furlan pointed to the assistance that the Sustainable Amazon Foundation provides to 10,000 families who live in 35 protected areas in the Amazon jungle, which, he said, could be expanded and replicated in similar projects financed by the private sector.

Under the “Bolsa Floresta” programme, the families receive a monthly payment for not participating in deforestation, Virgilio Viana, the Foundation’s director, explained to IPS. “We are paying them for an environmental service,” he summed up.

With contributions from the private sector, the families also receive advice and financing for sustainable development projects, such as rubber-tapping, the harvesting of Brazil nuts and cashews, or fishing.

“That is the way to reduce deforestation to zero. That is the way to make them guardians of the jungle,” said Viana.

The idea of paying to preserve the Amazon is also shared by Greenpeace. Marcelo Furtado, director of the international environmental watchdog’s campaigns in Brazil, said world leaders should be pressured to come up with such funds.

The Amazon “is a global programme, because it is a global problem,” he said.

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