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Fighting the Amazon Fires: Biodiversity at the G7 Biarritz Summit

Angela Min Yi Hou and Sofia Lopez, with Duja Muhanna, G7 Research Group
August 24, 2019

Home to more than three million species, the Amazon is the most biodiverse place in the world. The Amazon is now on fire.

The Amazon fires initially gained little media traction. On 22 August 2019, French president Emmanuel Macron tweeted about the burning forest as the Earth's lungs and called for a discussion at the Biarritz Summit on August 24-26, 2019. Since the 1987 Venice Summit, the G7 has addressed biodiversity at every meeting excapt at the Taormina Summit in 2017.

However, Macron's proposal to discuss the Amazon fires this weekend was met with hostile resistance from Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who called Macron's approach "colonial." Some have criticized Bolsonaro's policies favouring development over conservation and infrastructure over forests as causing the illegal logging and deforestation in the Amazon. Data from the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) shows that 35% of forest fires occur in federally controlled areas. The Brazilian government has denied its role in the forest fires, despite claims by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that the fires were most likely human-induced.

The G7's success in addressing the issues of biodiversity and forest fires remains uncertain. At the 1990 Houston Summit, when the G7 summit made its first commitment on Brazil's forest, compliance with this commitment to pilot cooperation with the Brazilian government and protect tropical rainforests scored a record low of zero.

However at Biarritz, G7 leaders can start by reaffirming the Metz Charter on Biodiversity adopted by the G7 environment ministers on 6 May 2019. The Biarritz Summit is also expected to push environmental and social obligations in trade agreements as a global norm. At his press conference at the G20 Osaka Summit in June, President Macron expressed his firm view that France would not sign the Mercosur trade agreement unless Brazil remained in the Paris Agreement on climate change. In light of the Amazon fires, France pulled its support for the EU-Mercosur trade agreement as of 23 August 2019. Ireland announced its intention to takethis stance last Friday. Germany has also stopped its aid to Brazil.

France's G7 presidency is also introducing a "renewed format" to engage international organizations, non-G7 governments and key members of civil society. G7 leaders should take advantage of this opportuniy to strengthen the capacity of civil society actors in enforcing forestry protection laws, especially given that conservation efforts for the Amazon have historically depended on funding from other countries and international organizations. In response to the Amazon fires, Brazil has emphatically expressed its lack of resources and capacity to put out fires in a forest "half the size of Europe." Therefore, G7 discussions on environmental inequality can look to the Amazon as an example of global environmental disparities and address this issue by engaging two sets of core stakeholders.

First, the Amazon fires seriously threaten indigenous communities in Brazil by jeopardizing their land rights. Environmental NGO Global Witness noted that the Amazon is currently "one of the most dangerous regions in the world for environmental activists," including indigenous communities who are targeted for challenging the government's infrastructure development. Thus, the G7 is at a critical juncture to mobilize resources and include indigenous approaches to environmental management through international mechanisms such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Second, international organizations and non-G7 governments can support conservation efforts through increased funding and innovation. Notably, the 2018 Charlevoix Summit committed the G7 to the accessibility and development of earth observation technologies. The Charlevoix compliance cycle shows that examples such as the European Union's Copernicus program have been actively assisting developing countries with disaster risk management by providing satellite imagery. Such technology can keep the Brazilian government accountable and conduct evidence-based assessments of forest fires. This Charlevoix commitment scored an average of 50% compliance by G7 members, indicating that there is substantial room for improvement.

While 95% of deforestation in the Amazon is illegal, the Brazilian government shows low compliance with existing laws. Between January and June 2019, 1,330 square miles of forest cover was lost, a 39% increase compared to the same period last year. At the Biarritz Summit begins, one hopes that G7 leaders will demonstrate ambitious political will to conserve biodiversity and protect tropical forests, both in the Amazon and globally.

G7/8 Comments on Brazil or the Amazon (1975–2018)
Duja Muhanna

2008, Hokkaido Toyako Summit

Statement by the Leaders of Brazil, China India, Mexico and South Africa. G5 Statement

"We the Leaders of Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa, gathered in Sapporo, Japan, on 8 July 2008, have resolved to issue this Political Declaration: 3. Our increasing interdependence demands an integrated and concerted response to these global challenges. We must ensure development and prosperity on a sustainable path, both within and across nations. That is the historical challenge of our generation. To achieve this fundamental goal, we must act in a coordinated manner to ensure equitable growth with care for the environment, taking appropriate account of cross-border interactions in fulfilment of our shared responsibility."

2007, Heiligendamm Summit

Summit Declaration: Growth and Responsibility in the World Economy.

Reducing Emissions by Curbing Deforestation

56. We are determined to assist in reducing emissions from deforestation, especially in developing countries. Reducing, and in the long term halting deforestation provides a significant and cost-effective contribution toward mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and toward conserving biological diversity, promoting sustainable forest management and enhancing security of livelihoods. To this end, we will

  1. encourage the establishment of a pilot project dedicated to building capacity, creating and testing performance-based instruments to reduce emissions from deforestation in developing countries, in support of and without prejudice to on going UN climate change discussions. We therefore encourage the World Bank, in close cooperation with the G8, developing countries, the private sector, NGOs and other partners, to develop and implement such a forest carbon partnership as soon as possible.
  2. continue to support existing processes to combat illegal logging. Illegal logging is one of the most difficult obstacles to further progress in realising sustainable forest management and thereof, in protecting forests worldwide,
  3. remain engaged in supporting developing countries to achieve their self commitments for halting forest loss and to implement sustainable forest management, as stated in various regional initiatives, i.e. the Congo Basin and the Asia Forest Partnerships. Good results and good practice in international cooperation have also been achieved through ITTO projects and the Brazilian Pilot Program to conserve the tropical rain forests.

1998, Birmingham


12. The recent devastating forest fires in south-east Asia and the Amazon, threatening not only our environment but even economic growth and political stability, illustrate the crucial importance of global cooperation, and of better and more effective frameworks and practical efforts designed to sustainably manage and conserve forests. In the year 2000 we will assess our progress on implementation of the G8 Action Programme published last week. We strongly support the ongoing work on forests under the auspices of the United Nations, and we look forward to continuing these efforts.

1997, Denver



19. Forests continue to be destroyed and degraded at alarming rates ' in many parts of the world. To reverse this trend, we call upon all countries to make a long-term political commitment to achieve sustainable forest management practices worldwide and to 'join us in the immediate implementation of proposals put forward by the UNCSD Intergovernmental Panel on Forests. We have discussed in Denver and have agreed to support a practical Action Program that includes implementing national programs and building capacity for sustainable forest management; establishing networks of protected areas; assessing the state of each nation's forests using agreed criteria and indicators; promoting private sector management of forests; and eliminating illegal logging. We ask that our officials meet early next year to assess progress in implementing this Action Program and call for a report at our next meeting.

20. At the Special Session of the United Nations, we will work with the active involvement of environmental groups to build consensus on an international agreement with appropriately high international standards to achieve these goals. We welcome the progress made in implementing the Brazil Pilot Program initiated in Houston, and see it as an example of practical international cooperation.

1991, London

Economic Declaration — Building World Partnership

54. We remain concerned about the destruction of tropical forests. We welcome the progress made in developing the pilot programme for the conservation of the Brazilian tropical forest, which has been prepared by the Government of Brazil in consultation with the World Bank and the European Commission, in response to the offer of co-operation extended following the Houston Summit. We call for further urgent work under the auspices of the World Bank, in co-operation with the European Commission, in the framework of appropriate policies and with careful attention to economic, technical and social issues. We will financially support the implementation of the preliminary stage of the pilot programme utilising all potential sources, including the private sector, non-governmental organisations, the multilateral development banks, and the Global Environmental Facility. When details of the programme have been resolved, we will consider supplementing these resources with bilateral assistance, so that progress can be made on the ground. We believe that good progress with this project will have a beneficial impact on the treatment of forests at UNCED. We also welcome the spread of debt for nature exchanges, with an emphasis on forests.

1990, Houston

Houston Economic Declaration

66. We are determined to take action to increase forests, while protecting existing ones and recognizing the sovereign rights of all countries to make use of their natural resources. The destruction of tropical forests has reached alarming proportions. We welcome the commitment of the new Government of Brazil to help arrest this destruction and to provide sustainable forest management. We actively support this process, and we are ready for a new dialogue with developing countries on ways and means to support their efforts. We are ready to cooperate with the Government of Brazil on a comprehensive pilot program to counteract the threat to tropical rain forests in that country. We ask the World Bank to prepare such a proposal, in close cooperation with the Commission of the European Communities, which should be presented at the latest at the next Economic Summit. We appeal to the other concerned countries to join us in this effort. Experience gained in this pilot program should immediately be shared with other countries faced with tropical forest destruction. The Tropical Forestry Action Plan must be reformed and strengthened, placing more emphasis on forest conservation and protection of biological diversity. The International Tropical Timber Organization action plan must be enhanced to emphasize sustainable forest management and improve market operations.

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Angela Min Yi HouAngela Min Yi Hou is co-chair of summit studies with the G7 Research Group, a compliance director with the G20 Research Group and an editor of the BRICS Research Group, all based at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at Trinity College in the University of Toronto. She is starting graduate studies at the Geneva Institute of International and Development Studies.
Sofia LopezSofia Lopez is co-chair of summit studies with the G20 Research Group. She is in her fourth year of undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto, pursuing a specialist in Political Science. Sofia has additionally conducted quantitative and qualitative research on the history of G7 summitry through a country-specific lens. Her academic interests focus on environmental justice and environmental degradation.
Duja MuhannaDuja Muhanna is a research analyst with the G7 and G20 Research Groups. She joined the G7 Research Group in 2013 and has since served as a compliance analyst and lead analyst. She was a member of the field team at the 2018 G7 summit in Charlevoix. Her research interests include Middle East regional security, human rights and international law. Duja graduated from the University of Toronto with an honours bachelor's degree in political science and history with a focus in international relations. She is a certified protocol officer from The Protocol School of Washington, and is currently working as an intern for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.


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