Governments recognize the urgency of avoiding the point of no return in the Amazon

Posted on 09 August 2023

Despite the progress during the Amazon Summit, there is great concern at the lack of a common goal to end deforestation in the region, writes Izrael Muhamad

Belém do Pará, BRAZIL (9 August 2023) – At a Summit held in Brazil, eight Amazonian countries signed the Belém Declaration bringing an important political message: we must act now to prevent the biome from reaching the point of no return. Science underscores the fact that the Amazon is dangerously close to reaching that point. Within the next 10 years, the forest could enter a process of irreversible degradation if there is continued loss of the region's forests and other ecosystems at the current rate. This will have catastrophic climate, economic and social consequences for all of Latin America and the world.
WWF recognizes the importance of the Belém Declaration as a political moment for the Amazon. Despite not reaching concrete goals for some critical issues in the region, the mere fact the leaders met to discuss how to avoid the point of no return is notable, says WWF. But while the leaders understand what scientists say, and understood the call of society, it must clear that the Amazon is in danger, and there is not much time to take action.

So it is regrettable that the eight Amazonian countries, as one front, did not reach a common decision to end deforestation in the region. Brazil and Colombia committed to stopping deforestation by 2030, but this goal was not accepted by the other countries - Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, Venezuela. Instead, the leaders agreed to create an "Amazon Alliance to Combat Deforestation." But even with that, there was no agreement on a unified goal between the countries, despite the imperative to avoid reaching a tipping point.
WWF-Brazil Executive Director, Mauricio Voivodic, said, “It is positive that the heads of state have recognized the point of no return in the Amazon and the urgency of avoiding it. But it is necessary to adopt concrete and solid measures that are capable of eliminating deforestation as quickly as possible.”
The eight leaders did agree to "work jointly in the implementation of actions to eradicate the illegal exploitation of minerals and related crimes, including money laundering." This is a necessary and urgent measure, says WWF. Recent studies show that a great part of the Amazonian population, including Indigenous Peoples and traditional communities as well as those living in urban areas, are exposed to mercury contamination. Transnational policies and mechanisms for prevention, regulation, control, alerts, response, and remediation of environmental crimes and other illegal activities, including illegal gold mining, must be adopted. Voivodic noted that, “combating and eliminating illegal gold and mercury contamination, which have become an environmental and public health problem in the region, requires equal attention and urgency.”
The declaration included an agreement to strengthen the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) as a key institution for articulation and cooperation for sustainable development in the region. This is something to be optimistic about, since it will not be possible to carry out the implementation agenda of this summit without a more agile and politically supported body, said WWF.
The declaration recognizes Indigenous Peoples and local communities’ rights to the territory, urging countries to move forward with the demarcation, titling, and protection of their territories, which provide immense ecosystem services to all societies. There is still a lack of commitment from the Amazonian governments on how to harmonize national legislation and improve the guarantee of territorial rights in countries where these have not yet been developed. Indigenous Peoples and local communities are the true guardians of the Amazon and their involvement in the development of a sustainable economy is fundamental for the region, said WWF. The recognition of the important role of protected areas and the definition of common actions for their expansion and effective management are also pending. As well as the strengthening of other conservation measures - including indigenous territories - comprehensive landscape approaches and ecosystem and cultural connectivity, there needs to be a guarantee to conserve 80% of the Amazon.
“It is imperative to increase protected areas and indigenous territories. As ACTO emerged strengthened, which helps in the rapid implementation of effective actions in the fight against deforestation, mercury, and illegal mining, as well as in the expansion of protected areas and indigenous territories," Voivodic said.
In the coming months, the strengthened ACTO must work on an action plan, with defined dates, goals, and resources to put the agreements of this summit into practice. ACTO's efforts should be integrated into the commitments on the international agenda in the various multilateral processes in the future. Society organizations, including WWF, will be ready to help in any way possible, as the challenge of avoiding the point of no return belongs to all of us and it is now.

Activists marched in the streets of Belem, Brazil, during the Amazon Summit, where leaders from eight Amazon countries discussed how to save the Amazon from reaching irreversible tipping points.
© Jacqueline Lisboa/WWF-Brasil