By Irina Fedorenko
In the late summer of 2019, the world was alerted to the tragedy of devastating fires in the Amazon. For those who keep a close watch on the health of our planet, the fires were nothing new, but instead an aggressive increase in widespread destruction. Though there is no mistaking that the fires are harmful in many ways, with the increase in destruction came an increased awareness of the issue on a global scale. In Initiatives of Change (IofC), it has reminded us that the most crucial element of healthy ecosystems is not trees, it’s people.
Once, Brazil was a country that managed to reverse deforestation and show the world how effective environmental protection can be. However, this year more than 80,000 fires were recorded between January and August, double 2018 year's number. The smoke from the fires was so bad that it caused an hour-long blackout in Sao Paulo, located almost 1,700 miles away. The clouds are so large and thick that they can be seen from space.
The Amazon is the world's largest rainforest and is home to about three million species of plants and animals, and some one million indigenous people. Unfortunately, the lack of good governance is leading to destruction of the Amazon, by the fires that are mostly of human origin.
The main reason for the fires is ecologically harmful farming practices, largely driven by global increase in meat consumption. Cattle ranchers account for roughly 80 per cent of deforestation in the region, and Brazil's Amazon rainforest is one of the world's largest exporters of beef – accounting for about one quarter of the global market. As the dietary habits change, especially in Asia, the global demand for Brazilian beef is rising and more space is needed for cattle grazing. We already know that beef a resource-intensive meat, and it is especially damaging when forests are being cleared for grazing.
Also contributing, according to activists, is the anti-environment rhetoric of Brazil's President, Jair Bolsonaro, has given farmers and ranchers free rein to cut down trees without impunity. Journalists who are covering such environmental concerns of Bolsonaro’s regime are being threatened and silenced, only adding to the frustration of environmentalists and native people. This is just a few of many complex factors contributing to the increases, not only in Brazil but in other countries as well.
As I attended the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP 25) in Madrid, I witnessed that the battle for the Amazon is central to the international community. Every day at the closing of the Climate Negotiations, civil society activists hosted an anti-award ceremony called 'Fossil of the Day' where a country who blocked negotiations was 'awarded' with a cup of coal. Over two weeks many countries were recognised as 'fossils,' including the US, Canada, Australia, Japan and the EU, but it was Brazil that stood out. On the last day of COP25, Brazil was awarded as the overall 'winner' in the 'Fossil' category.
During the closing of the Fossil ceremony, the activists representing the indigenous people of the Amazon delivered speeches that shed light on how their current government is driving deforestation and erasing native people from their lands. By the end of the speeches there were hundreds of people chanting 'the Amazon stands because we resist'. We know there is a crisis in the Amazon and the consequences of losing this forest are far reaching. The solutions to this crisis are equally far reaching and complex.
However, it is the root causes of these issues that must be addressed to achieve a real reversal of the trend. The lack of communication between community and the government, widespread corruption, and lack of awareness by global consumers all contribute to this problem. What is key is that these causes can all be traced back to one area: a lack of trust. Rebuilding trust within and between communities all around the world is an arduous task, but ultimately can lead to sustainability and prosperity.
We know from best practices that sustainable gazing is possible and can be beneficial in bringing back grassland ecosystems and locking down carbon dioxide. These are the experiences brought to Caux Dialogue on Environment and Security every year by farmers and landowners. They are evidence that that sustainable land management is cheap and effective, while also being profitable, and the largest challenges lies in community support and good governance. During the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security, we find that the consensus in the room is clear. The international community needs to understand that instead of fighting each other, we have one common mission: stop climate change. We need the Amazon, like we need all the ecosystems, to function to sustain life on our planet.
We need to build trust, across all areas and all people, in order to form sustainable solutions. Without trust, no action can be effective in putting out the literal and figurative fires of climate change.