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South American leaders convene to forge Amazon rescue strategy

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Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and fellow South American leaders are under intense scrutiny as they kick off a summit aimed at charting a comprehensive path to save the beleaguered Amazon rainforest. The summit, inaugurated on Tuesday, brings together the heads of state from various South American nations to address the dire situation facing the world’s largest rainforest.

The Brazilian government is taking a stand to combat deforestation and is aiming to establish an ambitious roadmap during the two-day gathering of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization. This high-stakes meeting is being held in Belem, situated at the mouth of the Amazon river.

This significant summit marks the first gathering of the eight-nation consortium in 14 years. Formed in 1995, the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization unites the countries bordering the Amazon basin: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela.

Housing an estimated 10 percent of the planet’s biodiversity, the Amazon rainforest is home to 50 million people and hosts billions of trees. Its role as a crucial carbon sink significantly contributes to curbing global warming.

However, scientists caution that rampant deforestation has brought the Amazon dangerously close to a tipping point. Beyond this threshold, trees would cease to thrive, releasing carbon instead of absorbing it—a scenario with catastrophic ramifications for the climate.

With unwavering determination, the countries within the region aim to avert an irreversible decline of the Amazon. Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva highlighted this commitment during a ministerial meeting preceding the summit.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira revealed that the summit will culminate in a joint declaration that outlines instructions for the eight nations to adopt “new targets and new tasks” aimed at safeguarding the rainforest from further deforestation. Vieira noted that the drafting process was remarkably swift, concluding in just over a month.

Deforestation’s driving force primarily stems from cattle ranching, often exacerbated by a web of corruption, land encroachment, and organized criminal activities. This intricate network extends its reach into illegal trades involving drugs, arms, timber, and gold.

Brazil, as the world’s foremost exporter of beef and soy, and home to 60 percent of the Amazon, has already lost approximately one-fifth of its rainforest cover. Environmental organizations are pressuring all eight nations to adopt Brazil’s commitment to eliminating illegal deforestation by 2030. Nevertheless, host nation officials suggest that such negotiations may require more time, acknowledging the unique dynamics of each nation.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro has proposed an oil exploration ban, urging other countries to follow suit. This stance is particularly delicate for oil-rich Venezuela and Brazil, where the state-run oil company Petrobras is controversially seeking to explore new offshore areas near the Amazon river’s mouth.

The summit serves as a pivotal moment for Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a seasoned politician who previously held office from 2003 to 2010. Returning to power in January, Lula is determined to reposition Brazil as a climate change advocate after the Amazon faced a surge in destruction during the tenure of his far-right predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro.

Among Brazil’s objectives for the summit is the establishment of an international police task force for the Amazon region and a scientific research group fashioned after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a pivotal advisory body to the UN climate discussions.

This gathering also acts as a rehearsal for the COP30 UN climate conference, which Belem is slated to host in 2025. The outcome of this summit holds significant weight in determining the region’s commitment to climate action and has prompted US-based activist group Avaaz to underscore the necessity for concrete outcomes.

Indigenous communities, who serve as critical buffers against deforestation, have urged South American leaders to take bold steps. Nemo Guiquita, leader of the Ecuadoran Indigenous confederation CONFENIAE, stressed that their struggle transcends local concerns, aiming to secure a sustainable planet for generations to come.

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