Global Shapers Series: Millennial voice on Forests

Blog by: Francisco Javier Zanichelli

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We cannot survive without forests. Forests are the engine for our ecosystem. But within the biosphere, we have also fostered societies and, with them, economic systems, and so we started seeing forests not only as a condition for life itself but also as a source of raw materials, that contribute to livelihoods. On the other hand, our society is destroying forests at a rapid pace. Could there be a correlation between population growth, industrialization, and deforestation? According to a report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, deforestation and population growth variables have been strongly linked since 1800 to 2010, increasing at almost the same rate.

A particular case of this unfortunate relationship is the Amazon Ecoregion. From the Rubber Boom (1850-1920) driven by the rising car demand in the USA and Europe, through the agribusiness boost period during the 80’, to present days, the shrinkage of the Amazon is estimated in a 13.3% loss of its 6.1  million Km2 original rainforest cover. In this respect, the matter is for all of us to ponder such relationship realizing that the Amazon extends over an area of 7.8 million Km2, representing the third part of the world’s rainforests. Thus, it stands as a big challenge for the region.

 

Amazon’s governance and vulnerability 

As a path towards addressing this issue, and as a way to deliver an institutional solution, the eight countries sharing the amazon ecoregion – it extends over the territory of Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Suriname and Guyana – signed the Amazon Cooperation Treaty in 1978 and formed the “ACTO” Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization. The goal was to promote Regional Cooperation for both sustainable and shared development and to coordinate conservation policies. Achieving such significant south-south cooperation international legal tool is always auspicious. Nevertheless, this kind of legal frameworks is still part of the so-called “soft law” (non-legally binding). Actually, almost every instrument of the International Law of Environment is considered to be soft, regarding the practice of creating agreements full of guidelines, future goals, principles, but with no obligations, or duties whatsoever. Thus, facts do not support the treaty’s efficacy.

The Amazon deforestation is not being reduced. Studies conducted by the independent organization Infoamazonia lead to an interactive map, that shows how deforestation areas growth is far from ending. In Colombia only, between 2015 and 2017, almost 275.000 Ha of rainforest were taken away. Hence a question arises: Is this kind of legal approach efficient to address the governance of a 7.8 million Km transboundary biome shared by eight different countries?. I would suggest an approach: according to a United Nations Environmental Program and the “ACTO” joint study, the concept of “Amazonia” as a natural system does not necessarily respect the political-administrative borders from the countries of the region. Yet, the specific legal framework neither creates legally binding law regarding deforestation rates within the eight countries nor designs a transboundary institution for the integral governance of the Amazon Biome. I believe it to be a vulnerability, related to the way countries perceive the Amazonia: as a sovereign share of a natural resources reserve.

 

The leading model of accumulation

 From the logic of accumulation upheld by the extractivist model, the Amazon ecoregion stands as an incredibly rich source of raw materials, owned by states. Furthermore, this model focuses on activities that remove large quantities of natural resources. Several commodities such as wood, mineral, oil, soy, palm oil respond to these extractivist ways of production. However, this practice promotes an unsustainable model of governance, conservation, and development. Additionally, it failed in solving the basic problem of the need for natural goods extraction from the ecoregions for them to represent any value. Thus, it jeopardizes the integrity of ecosystems within biomes. Even further, this extraction areas could be part of bigger entities, like in the Amazonia case. So, what happens when eight countries with different conservation policies, productive matrixes, and legal frameworks, extract rainforest raw materials from a transboundary common pool, with no more limitation than a soft law cooperation-agreement?

Ecoregions are rich in resources that states need. But by taking them with no coordination whatsoever, they are putting the system’s unity in danger. Even further, this logic could be reproduced and lead by both the state alone (neo-extractivism) and in partnership with the private sector.

Moreover, rainforests ecosystems within the Amazon could provide a wide variety of services such as fresh water, soil erosion prevention, soil fertility, and so on. Indeed those not only represent value for the countries sharing the transboundary biome, but they also represent the life quality of their communities. But the key conditions for ecoregions to provide such benefits is the integrity of the ecosystem, in this case, the transboundary Amazon biome integrity. This is only achievable by fostering common and coordinated conservation policies: Real management and partnership.

 

Who is losing?

Apparently, legal frameworks like the Amazon Treaty and the ACTO, won’t help to address regional challenges like the Amazonia conservation, if they do not include a really transboundary approach. If Regional agreements keep upholding fractured ecosystem’s management, rather than the kind of governance that sees them as a unity, it may not be possible to guarantee their sustainable use, conservation, or the services they provide.

Nevertheless, there may be some milestones within International Environmental law from where to start. 1992 Rio Declaration Principles 1 and 7th  have tried to put a limit to the state’s sovereign right to exploitation and to stand behind the idea of ecosystems integrity. But still, boundaries fragmenting big biomes and ecosystems seem to be stronger than the softness of international environmental law.

As a concluding remark, I would like to raise two main questions: Is the logic of political borders jeopardizing transborder rainforests conservation? What kind of regional, south-south, governance institutions do we need to address this issue?

 

About the Global Shapers Community
Born out of the World Economic Forum, the Global Shapers Community is a network of inspiring young people under the age of 30 working together to address local, regional and global challenges. With more than 7,000 members, the Global Shapers Community spans 369 city-based hubs in 171 countries. More information visit: www.globalshapers.org
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the Tropical Forest Alliance.

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