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Fighting fire with trade: how Europe can help save the Amazon

Small-scale slash-and-burn agriculture is one of the problems of deforestation in the Amazon jungle of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS
  • Inter Press Service

Even though the negotiations lasted two decades, the agreement failed to include indigenous groups or local communities in the negotiations. This is crucial given that the killings of indigenous leaders in the Brazilian Amazon have reached an all-time high in two decades. Many of these violent attacks are linked to land grabbing for agricultural expansion, and very few of them are officially investigated.

Worryingly, this trade deal would ensure cheaper beef and soybeans without ongoing tariffs – the two main drivers of deforestation in the region. Despite this, the agreement does not provide mechanisms to ensure that deforestation and human rights violations are not linked to products imported into the EU, which is clearly at odds with the objectives of the EU Green Agreement.

To add insult to injury, the Brazilian government is doing the opposite of what the country agreed to in the Paris Agreement – reducing deforestation. At the moment, fires are raging in the Amazon at the same time surprising rate like 2019, as unprecedented burns sweep through Argentina and Brazilian wetlands. Uncontrollable fires in wetlands really shouldn’t be a thing.

The tide seems to be turning on this deal, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently saying “considerable doubts“following a meeting with young climate activists.

Here’s the deeper problem that is often overlooked: Even without this contentious deal, current international trade problems will remain intact.

The EU is already responsible for significant imports from the Mercosur bloc. It matters more than 10 million tons soy (for livestock feed) and more 200,000 tons of beef each year. Imports from the Mercosur bloc to the EU are already causing deforestation equivalent to a football pitch every three minutes. As the Amazon approaches a tipping point which, if achieved, could trigger a rapid shift from lush rainforest to dry savanna. It would be catastrophic for indigenous peoples, the region’s agriculture and the global climate.

If we are serious about tackling climate change and supporting human rights, we need to act urgently.

Things could be so much better

First of all, it is clear that we need to reduce foods with a high environmental impact like meat. Europeans eat so much meat that they not only cause deforestation abroad, but also health problems at home. Excessive meat consumption is associated with increased rates of coronary artery disease heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes, with convincing evidence that red and processed meat can cause cancer. If we ate more delicious plants, we would feel better and the planet too.

However, fixing our diets alone will not be enough to completely solve this problem. To avoid unintentionally fueling conflicts and ecocides abroad, Europeans must also fundamentally regulate trade.

Fortunately, solving this crisis doesn’t require fancy new inventions or a technological leap. Our research describes the mechanisms needed to transform commerce for the better, all of which are available to us now. For example, we could actually listen to indigenous peoples and local communities and work to ensure that they do not lose their lands due to illegal invasions. We could trace the origin of the products to make sure they do not come from areas of deforestation or conflict. We could introduce legal mechanisms like class actions – where vulnerable communities have a way to take legal action.

Most importantly, even if we hold every company to account and track every soybean, we could still indirectly put pressure on South America’s remaining forests, savannas and wetlands if our demand increases. To avoid this, it is important to condition trade agreements on countries making more progress towards international commitments – the Paris Agreement is a prime example.

Imagine if the economic power of trade was used to create a new playing field, where stepping into the game required real progress in reducing deforestation and defending human rights. In the case of Brazil, indigenous leader Sonia Guajajara suggests two clear benchmarks of progress to be respected before considering ratifying any new trade agreement:

  1. Substantial progress in ending the impunity of violence against forest defenders, as measured by the number of such cases being investigated, prosecuted and adjudicated.
  2. A reduction in deforestation rates sufficient to put the country back on track to meet its own goals under the Paris Agreement.

Ultimately, we must have the courage to stand up and act in accordance with the values ​​we already hold. Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world that is not doomed to destruction? Where can we dine without worrying about whether our meal has a shady past?

Our research describes what is needed to fundamentally repair trade – it is now up to the EU to step up and become a leader in sustainability that we can all be proud of.The conversation

Laura Kehoe, Researcher in land use and conservation decision science, Oxford University

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

© Inter Press Service (2020) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service


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