By MARCELO DE SOUSA and DAVID BILLER Associated Press
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s government on Thursday proposed that global asset-managers adopt protected areas in the Amazon rainforest in order to curb illegal deforestation ahead of the season farmers traditionally use fire to clear land and brush.
Vice President Hamilton Mourão, who heads the government’s council on the Amazon region, held a video call with representatives of investment firms and said he hopes for financial support from them to support environmental protection projects. Last month, mainly European investment firms sent a letter expressing concern over rising deforestation and demanded forceful action against illegal activities in the Amazon. The 34 firms that have now signed onto the initiative have a total $4.6 trillion in assets under management.
“The Adopt a Park program will permit each of these national and foreign companies to choose one of the 132 conservation units in the Amazon and start financially supporting them, for monitoring, prevention and recovery,” environment minister Ricardo Salles said in a press conference in Brasilia after the virtual meeting. The funding, for example, could pay for security to prevent people from entering the areas.
President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019 with pledges to unlock the riches of the vast Amazon and has repeatedly opposed large territories being reserved for Indigenous peoples. His government faced international criticism last year when deforestation in the Amazon reached it worst level in 11 years. As a result, some members of European legislatures have said they would vote against ratification of a free-trade deal between the European Union and the Mercosur customs union that includes Brazil, which was signed in June 2019 after two decades of negotiation.
Deforestation in the Amazon increased 22% in the first five months of this year compared to the same period of 2019, the government agency that monitors the rainforest reported June 6. Data for the full month of June has yet to be released.
In the video call on Thursday, investors told Brazilian authorities they are monitoring deforestation rates, the prevention of forest fires and enforcement of Brazil’s forest code, among other issues important for their assessments, according to a statement from Storebrand, one of the financial institutions at the meeting.
“We are evaluating, and having a dialogue with the government is a way to try to minimize the risk of divesting,” Jeanett Bergan, head of responsible investments for Norway’s largest pension fund, KLP, said by phone from Norway. “We hope the dialogue can bring forward positive results and progress, we won’t see the same as last year with all the forest fires, and maybe see positive results coming out of this after awhile. It’s a positive first step and we need to continue the dialogue and hopefully we’ll all see some results on the ground.”
Bergan added that KLP’s participation in any Brazilian program would require more details and information.
KLP has about $53 million invested in 58 Brazilian companies. It has already divested from Brazilian meatpacker JBS, mining giant Vale and power company Eletrobras for reason related to either corruption, the environment or human rights.
“A voluntary policy of people adopting a park is good, but there needs to be a plan for conservation, with a budget and investment,” said Paulo Barreto, a forest engineer and deforestation researcher at environmental group Imazon. “There needs to be a clearer general policy that entails resources for those public areas. Of course voluntary donations from people and companies are welcome, but there needs to be a more general plan.”
Brazil already receives money from wealthy nations, namely Germany and Norway, to fight deforestation in the Amazon. Norway alone has donated $1.2 billion to Brazil’s Amazon Fund since its creation in 2008. However, both European nations suspended contributions last year, citing continued deforestation and questioning whether the government wants to stop it.
Foreign affairs minister Ernesto Araújo said the government is trying to improve the nation’s image as a responsible environmental steward. Brazil’s government announced Thursday it has started conversations with Germany and Norway to restart cooperation to protect the Amazon.
The government’s understanding, Mourão said, is that the two main donors to the Amazon Fund want to see deforestation dropping before resuming contributions.
“We will gradually corner those who commit crimes so that deforestation is reduced to an acceptable amount,” he said.