Sustainable future an urgent, mixed challenge for Americas

By Fernando Gimeno and Carla Samon Ros

Quito/Lima, Jun 2 (EFE).- The Summit of the Americas is pointing the way to a “sustainable future” – a mixed ecological transition challenge in which both the United States, the world’s second biggest carbon emitter, and Latin America, one of the regions most impacted by climate change but which is not managing to halt the deforestation of its territory, are engaged.

In a postpandemic world in which paradigms are changing, greenhouse gas emissions are at almost the same levels as before 2019, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

And despite the commitments to mitigate such emissions adopted by certain countries in the Americas, the impact of the policies implemented to date has been far from enough.

Independent studies cited by the UNEP suggest, for example, that the US and Canada should be making considerably greater efforts to reduce their emissions, and they even forecast that countries like Brazil and Mexico, Latin America’s two largest economies and the ones mainly responsible for emissions in the region, by 2030 will register emissions above those of 2010, just like Argentina.

While the efforts of the Northern Hemisphere should focus on replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, in the South countries are being urged to halt deforestation, the manager of Andes Amazonia programs for the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA), Javier Ortiz, told EFE.

In the Amazon region, often called the planet’s “green lung” and the main tool for mitigating the climate crisis, deforestation continues to break records.

Figures provided by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), which via satellite images estimates that the Amazon region lost 2.3 million hectares (about 5.75 million acres) of forest in 2020, the third-worst yearly total in the past 20 years, and in 2021, it lost another 2 million ha (5 million acres).

Ortiz said that the main causes of deforestation are agricultural expansion and lumbering, but the accumulation of lands and illegal and extractive activities also play an essential role, in particular mining activities.

In that regard, the specialist in rural development and environment said that urgent action is needed to assign a financial value to the forests and reverse the low profitability of producers to prevent them from “compensating” by expanding into new territory.

“As long as the forest doesn’t have a value and doesn’t pay for itself, it’s going to be very difficult to conserve within the context of poverty and social problems,” Ortiz said after mentioning the need to “balance international trade” and noting that barely 10 percent of the final value of the products goes to the producer.

Since 2002, the Amazon has lost more than 27 million ha of forest mainly through deforestation, an area almost the size of Ecuador, not counting the some 6.7 million ha lost to wildfires, as per MAAP estimates.

Specifically, those fires sparked unprecedented world alarm in 2019, but since international attention turned elsewhere the forests have continued to burn, with even more forest destroyed in 2020 and 2021 (436,000 ha).

“With the fires, we thought that the governments were going to take measures, but in countries like Brazil the invasion of – and threats to – indigenous territories increased, just as in Colombia and Peru,” Gregorio Diaz Mirabal, the head of the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (Coica), which includes 511 original peoples from the nine countries sharing the Amazon region, told EFE.

This reduction in the world’s largest tropical forest not only works against the aim of halting global warming but also affects the ecosystem of the planet’s largest reserve of fresh water, a zone that could become the world’s main source of hydrogen, the fuel that may ultimately replace petroleum and natural gas.

Last year, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) launched its H2LAC platform to foster “green hydrogen” projects. However, the Coica chief said that the intention of governments to back clean energy projects are colliding with the facts, giving Ecuador as an example, where the government has said it wants to double the country’s oil production by 2025 to 1 million barrels per day.

For Diaz Mirabal, a Venezuelan of the Wakuenai Kurripaco ethnic group, another example of the lack of action by governments is the recent Escazu Agreement, a document that guarantees the rights of environmental defense organizations, which many countries have had doubts about signing or ratifying, including Peru, where in recent years the murders of indigenous peoples and environmental activists has surged.

“They make agreements on the climate, on the carbon market, they get lots of money supposedly to protect nature in Latin America and, in reality, those of us who are doing this work are not taken into account,” Diaz Mirabal said.

This complaint and other demands, such as respecting prior consultation with local peoples before undertaking extractive activities and the World Labor Organization’s Convention 169, are some of the things Coica wanted to bring to the Summit of the Americas, which starts next Monday in Los Angeles, but the organization has decided not to participate because no forum has been established whereby it can speak directly to leaders and top government representatives.

EFE fgg-csr/gdl/eat/bp

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