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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Brazil, Indonesia and Congo sign rainforest protection pact

A young man prepares a kiln for the production of charcoal along the Ruki River in Democratic Republic of Congo, March 16, 2022.

By Max Bearak and Manuela Andreoni

The three countries that are home to more than half of the world’s tropical rainforests — Brazil, Indonesia and Congo — are pledging to work together to establish a “funding mechanism” that could help preserve the forests, which help regulate the Earth’s climate and sustain a variety of animals, plants, birds and insects.

The agreement, announced Monday and signed by ministers from the three countries, said they would cooperate on sustainable management and conservation, restoration of critical ecosystems and creation of economies that would ensure the health of both the people and the forests.

The plan has no financial backing of its own and was more of a call to action than a strategy for how to achieve its goals.

The announcement comes as Brazil’s president-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, travels to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, this week for the United Nations climate change summit, known as COP27.

Lula is set to address the gathering Wednesday. He has promised to end deforestation in the Amazon, which spiked under the leader he just defeated, Jair Bolsonaro. Lula does not take office until January but decided to appear at the climate talks, where he is expected to receive a warm welcome.

Lula has also promised to give more representation to Indigenous people and make Brazil an environmental leader on the global stage once again.

But Lula’s promises will be hard to keep. Brazilians elected the country’s most conservative Congress since the end of a military dictatorswhip in the late 1980s. Some of Lula’s fiercest critics are from the Amazon, where local leaders who have profited from weakened enforcement of environmental laws under Bolsonaro protested his victory.

The agreement announced Monday says the countries will press for “payments to reduce deforestation.” It does not say who or what would provide payments, but it builds on earlier initiatives such as a flagship payout program sponsored by the United Nations that rewards countries financially for keeping forests intact. All three countries share their rainforests with multiple neighbors.

Joaquim Leite, Brazil’s environment minister, said the goal of the partnership was to attract private investors who would offer money in exchange for assurances against deforestation.

“The most important point is that we can create a group to present the minimum standards for the asset of native vegetation, and a way to recognize and pay for this asset,” he said.

While reducing fossil fuel emissions is the most important part of tackling climate change, forests play a critical supporting role. Trees absorb planet-warming carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, storing it in their trunks, branches and roots. When trees burn or rot, they release the carbon dioxide. That means standing trees can help temper climate change, while deforestation makes it worse.

The forest agreement also has implications for a U.N. summit next month in Montreal, where nations will gather to hammer out a deal to protect and restore biodiversity. Tropical rainforests are incredibly rich environments that are home to countless species, some of them still unknown to science.

International agreements to protect forests have yet to meaningfully change the trajectory of deforestation worldwide.

The Amazon rainforest alone lost over 13,000 square miles of tree cover between 2019 and 2021, according to the National Institute of Space Research in Brazil.

In Indonesia, forest loss declined by a quarter last year from 2020, according to an April report from the World Resources Institute. It was the fifth year in a row of falling totals. But deforestation continued to rise in the Congo, which lost 1.2 million acres last year, largely as a result of land clearings for small-scale agriculture and charcoal production.

At last year’s climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, 141 nations, including Brazil and Congo, pledged to “halt and reverse” deforestation by 2030.

Tasso Azevedo, who helped create the Amazon Fund, one of the most successful financial mechanisms to preserve the rainforest, was unimpressed with the text of the agreement announced Monday. “There is not one paragraph about action,” he said. “And it’s signed only by ministers, very little impact.”

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