Peruvian Amazon Photo SPDA

Amazon Summit has a crucial role in reversing the Amazon’s point of no return

Next week, leaders of the Amazonian countries come together to discuss the future of one of the most important and threatened ecosystems of the world. The heads of state of the eight member countries of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization will meet in Belém, Brazil, on 8 and 9 August. The main objective of this Amazon Summit is to strengthen the cross-border governance of the Amazon region, where deforestation, environmental crimes and respecting Indigenous rights are major challenges.

Header photo: the Peruvian Amazon © SPDA

Amazon Cooperation Treaty

The summit is a meeting of the Presidents of the Parties to the Amazon Cooperation Treaty (ACT). This treaty is signed by the eight Amazon countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela in 1978. Together they formed the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO), an intergovernmental organisation. An important next step for the parties is the publication of the Belém Declaration, which will establish the regional agenda for sustainable development of the Amazon.

Transboundary impact of changes in the Amazon

Due to the increasing demand for commodities such as beef, gold, and petroleum, the Amazon Rainforest is under pressure. Deforestation threatens this valuable ecosystem with an immense biodiversity, but also the Indigenous peoples and other local communities depending on its natural resources, and whose culture has been connected to this forest for many generations.

According to Rodrigo Botero, director of our Colombian partner organisation FCDS (Fundación para la Conservación y el Desarrollo Sostenible), the Amazon region has undergone a series of transformations in de past decades. Their impact does not stop at country borders, he points out: ‘Huge dams have been created, responding to the energy demand for the metals industry in Brazil, with severe consequences in Bolivia. Hundreds of dredges are situated in the border areas due to the unstoppable gold market, and with an expansionist political legacy of former-Brazilian president Bolsonaro, which is visible more than ever in Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Bolivia.’

Transnational environmental crimes: a key issue

There are clear connections between deforestation and environmental crimes, in particular in border areas. During the pre-summit in Leticia, the Colombian Minister of Environment stated that strengthening transnational investigation is a major challenge. In addition, harmonising cross-border legislation is needed to close the loopholes criminal organisations take advantage. Transnational environmental crimes and their ‘capitals’, are among the key issues at this Amazon Summit.

‘The Amazon is reaching a point of no return, while we need world’s largest forest more than ever in the battle against climate change.’

Liliana Jauregui, IUCN NL

Climate change and water

The Amazon Rainforest, covering 6.7 million square kilometres, is the largest forest on Earth. As forests absorb carbon dioxide, they are an important ally in countering greenhouse gas emissions. The Amazon region is a giant carbon sponge, but due to deforestation the rainforest releases an increasing amount of carbon back in the atmosphere as CO2..

The role of the Amazon region in the continent’s rainfall is less known. The humidity produced in the Amazon plays an important role in rainfall in different parts of South America. The so-called “flying rivers phenomenon” derives from the tropical areas of the Atlantic Ocean and is fed by the humidity that evaporates from the Amazon Rainforest. Protecting the Amazon Rainforest is therefore not only crucial in combatting global climate change, but also to preserve the biodiverse ecosystems of South America.  

Reversing the point of no return

‘The Amazon is reaching a point of no return, while we need world’s largest forest more than ever in the battle against climate change,’ shares Liliana Jauregui, senior expert Environmental Justice at IUCN NL. ‘Despite the many negative trends, there are some small rays of hope.’

A recently published report by IDEAM, a Colombian research institute for hydrology, meteorology and the environmental, Colombia has managed to slow down the trend of deforestation. In 2022, 123,517 hectares Colombian forest were deforested: a decrease of 29.1 compared 2021 and the lowest figure since 2013.

This could be a sign that Colombian forests, of which a large part is the Amazon Rainforest, are benefiting from the policy of the government under President Petro. They aim to control deforestation, which is illegal in the country, and contributing to reversing the Amazon’s point of no return.

‘Drug trafficking, mining, logging, “Carbon cowboys” and the expansion of Colombian armed groups, make Indigenous territories priority areas. Indigenous people, rightly so, claim their space for decision-making and inclusion.’

Rodrigo Botero, FCDS

Integrating Indigenous knowledge

Nevertheless, Indigenous territories have never been more under threat, says Botero. ‘Drug trafficking, mining, logging, “Carbon cowboys” and the expansion of Colombian armed groups, make these priority areas. Indigenous people, rightly so, claim their space for decision-making and inclusion.’

Last month, the environmental ministers of the countries in the Amazon region met in Leticia, Colombia, in preparation of the upcoming Amazon Summit. The meeting in Leticia had the objective to integrate the perspective and knowledge of a variety of people, including those from Indigenous and other Amazon communities.

During the days leading up to the Amazon Summit in Belém, a series of meetings is organised: the Amazon Dialogues. These meetings will have a wide social participation and are focused on themes such as Indigenous rights, management of water resources, biodiversity conservation, and technical cooperation.

Indigenous territories and protected areas

The Amazon Rainforest is not only enormous in size, but also in terms of complexity. ‘The pressure put on the region and its people is related to a web of economic interests and power relations causing many challenges. Protecting the Amazon, for example by officially establishing Indigenous territories and protected areas, is only effective if the challenges are approached in their full, transboundary complexity,’ says Jauregui.

According to Botero, protected areas should not be limited by country borders. ‘It is time to visualise the role of each [protected] area, within a huge mosaic that is preserving diversity, environmental services, and the most important sociocultural territories on the planet.’

Read the full interview with Rodrigo Botero on the website of FCDS (in Spanish).

Joint efforts to protect the Amazon

IUCN NL works with a network of local and international partners to contribute to preserving the Amazon Rainforest. Through the Forests for a Just Future programme by the Green Livelihoods Alliance, for example, we contribute to more sustainable and inclusive governance of tropical rainforests, including the Amazon.

In the Colombian Amazon, we work together with FCDS, Ambiente y Sociedad, and Mongabay, to tackle forest crime and improve the territorial rights and livelihoods of Indigenous peoples and other local communities.

Together with SPDA, and with the collaboration of FENAMAD and CDG, we strengthen the work of environmental defenders, in particular women and youtgh, in Madre de Dios in the Peruvian Amazon.

More information?

Liliana Jauregui
Liliana Jauregui
Senior Expert Environmental Justice