Talks between Biden and Lula spark hope for the Amazon
Realizing US president Biden’s rainforest pledges and regulating the import of deforestation products to the US will be important concerns going forward.
Update 11.02.23: United States joins the Amazon Fund
US President Joe Biden today promised to support Brazil's efforts to preserve the Amazon, including contributing to the Amazon Fund. The promise occurred in connection with Brazilian President Lula's visit to the United States.
"The Amazon Fund is a key part of the Norwegian rainforest initiative, which has produced great results. Support for the fund has for several years contributed to cutting emissions equivalent to half of Norway's total greenhouse gas emissions," says Toerris Jaeger, executive director of Rainforest Foundation Norway.
"It is very promising that the US is announcing that it will contribute support, which follows in the wake of Germany increasing its support to Brazil last week. We hope this is the start of an international mobilisation for the rainforest in Brazil and support for Lula's promise to stop deforestation by 2030. The rainforest is crucial for both the climate, biodiversity on this planet, and for millions of people who are dependent on the forest. The promises made by President Lula are a unique opportunity, but he is dependent on financial support to succeed. Norway should therefore contribute additional support to Brazil, " says Toerris Jaeger.
Expectations are high for the meeting between the leaders of the two largest and most significant countries in the Americas, scheduled for Friday, 10 February in Washington D.C. During his election campaign, Biden promised that slowing the destruction of the Amazon rainforest would become a focus of US foreign policy. He called for a global fundraising effort among wealthier nations to drum up a collective US$ 20 billion to «stop tearing down the forest». The lack of action would have significant economic consequences, Biden warned at the time.
Golden opportunity for change
No such financial support to Brazil from the US has been made to date. Neither from the global US$ 20 billion Biden said he would mobilize for the protection of the Amazon during his presidential campaign, nor from the US$ 9 billion he promised in Glasgow.
"The political shift in Brazil and momentum for rainforest protection is what Biden needs to realize his pledge. Lula demonstrates both will and action to end deforestation, but his budgets are tight. Biden now has a golden opportunity to facilitate real change," says Toerris Jaeger, executive director of Rainforest Foundation Norway.
President Lula da Silva has inherited a Brazil where most of the protection mechanisms for the rainforest and indigenous people have been dismantled. Crime is rife in the forest and the very robustness of democracy is crumbling. Not unlike the situation Joe Biden inherited from Donald Trump.
«Biden’s green deal package relies on the same situation as the one Lula is facing now. Supporting democracy is necessary to protect the rainforest, protect nature and curb global warming. We won’t manage one without the other», says Toerris Jaeger.
Financial support must be combined with regulation
Although hugely important, financial support alone is not sufficient to stop deforestation. The global demand for high-risk commodities like meat, leather and soy continues to drive forest destruction in Brazil. The US is a large importer and consumer of several of these high-risk products. In January 2022, the U.S. imported a record 100 million pounds of Brazilian beef, the cattle industry having the largest deforestation footprint in Brazil. The US is also the second largest importer of hides and skins from Brazil.
"To substantially support Lula’s efforts to stop deforestation, the U.S. must combine its financial support with domestic regulation. Following Europe’s lead, the U.S. should ban the import of all deforestation commodities, with real financial incentives for the industries to comply, " says Toerris Jaeger.
At the end of 2022, the EU passed a ground-breaking anti-deforestation law with the opportunity to cause structural change to a substantial part of European imports. European companies will now have to ensure that the products they import into Europe have not been produced on land deforested after 2020. The financial incentives to comply are high. Perpetrators risk a penalty of up to 4 % of their annual turnover.
Such regulation would force US agro-giants like Cargill, ADM and Bunge, who have failed to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains, to comply. On the contrary, previous signals from the U.S. agro-giants have been to postpone the cut-off date for deforestation, essentially encouraging increased deforestation in the coming years.
“Voluntary commitments from the private sector have so far failed to stop ongoing deforestation. To ensure that global climate and nature commitments are met and that American businesses do not sabotage financial support to Brazil, it is time for the U.S. to introduce legislation that would make a real difference,” says Toerris Jaeger, executive director of Rainforest Foundation Norway