Eight South American countries have agreed to launch an alliance to protect the Amazon, pledging at a summit in Brazil to stop the world’s biggest rainforest from reaching “a point of no return”.
Leaders from South American nations also challenged developed countries to do more to stop the enormous destruction of the world’s largest rainforest, a task they said cannot fall to just a few countries when the crisis has been caused by so many.
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The closely-watched summit of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) adopted on Tuesday what host country Brazil called a “new and ambitious shared agenda” to save the rainforest, a crucial buffer against climate change that experts warn is being pushed to the brink of collapse.
The group’s members – Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela – signed a joint declaration in Belem, at the mouth of the Amazon River, laying out a nearly 10,000-word roadmap to promote sustainable development, end deforestation and fight the organised crime that fuels it.
But the summit attendees stopped short of agreeing to the key demands of environmentalists and Indigenous groups, including for all member countries to adopt Brazil’s pledge to end illegal deforestation by 2030 and Colombia’s pledge to halt new oil exploration. Instead, countries will be left to pursue their individual deforestation goals.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has staked his international reputation on improving Brazil’s environmental standing, had been pushing for the region to unite behind a common policy of ending deforestation by 2030.
The two-day summit opened on the same day the European Union’s climate observatory confirmed that July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. Lula emphasised the “severe worsening of the climate crisis” in his opening speech.
“The challenges of our era and the opportunities arising from them demand we act in unison,” he said.
“It has never been so urgent,” he added.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro urged a radical rethink of the global economy, calling for a “Marshall Plan”-style strategy in which developing countries’ debt is cancelled in exchange for action to protect the climate.
“If we’re on the verge of extinction and this is the decade when the big decisions have to be made… then what are we doing, besides giving speeches?” he said.
The failure of the eight Amazon countries to agree on a binding pact to protect their forests was greeted with disappointment by some.
“The planet is melting, we are breaking temperature records every day. It is not possible that, in a scenario like this, eight Amazonian countries are unable to put in a statement – in large letters – that deforestation needs to be zero,” said Marcio Astrini of the environmental lobby group Climate Observatory.
Beyond deforestation, the “Belem Declaration”, the gathering’s official proclamation issued on Tuesday, also did not fix a deadline on ending illegal gold mining, although leaders agreed to cooperate on the issue and better combat cross-border environmental crime.
Al Jazeera’s Latin America editor Lucia Newman, reporting from the summit in Belem, said Lula da Silva had hoped for a strong commitment from peers at the summit to end deforestation in the Amazon.
“Critics say the final document was full of good intentions but short on deadlines,” Newman said.
“Nevertheless, there did seem to be a greater sense of urgency among the eight Amazonian nation leaders. Deforestation of the world’s largest rainforest has already reached 17 percent and, according to scientists, the tipping point is almost here,” Newman said.
Home to an estimated 10 percent of Earth’s biodiversity, 50 million people and hundreds of billions of trees, the vast Amazon is a vital carbon sink, reducing global warming.
Scientists warn the destruction of the rainforest is pushing it dangerously close to a “tipping point” beyond which trees would die off and release carbon rather than absorb it, with catastrophic consequences for the climate.
Seeking to pressure the gathered heads of state, hundreds of environmentalists, activists and Indigenous demonstrators marched to the conference venue, urging bold action.
This is the first summit in 14 years for the eight-nation group, set up in 1995 by the South American countries that share the Amazon basin. The summit is also being seen as a dress rehearsal for the 2025 United Nations climate talks, which Belem will host.