Miriam Leitao - A specter is haunting Brazil: the internationalization of the Amazon. The deepest nationalist feelings emerge whenever any non-Brazilian authority suggests the idea that the stewardship of the Amazon should be shared, in some way, with the international community. Is this a myth or a real threat?
Pascal Lamy, general secretary of WTO, recently raised this issue, arguing that rainforests should be considered global public goods that the world could help to manage. Though he claims his most recent comments were misunderstood, Lamy has made this argument for a while now. In 2001, in Madrid, he declared: "The forests of the Amazon are a strategic environmental asset not just for the countries belonging to the Amazon Treaty Organization but for the whole planet".
Lamy's words have raised hackles -- and suspicions -- throughout Brazil, feeding the long-standing conspiracy theory that foreigners are out to seize Brazilian riches. Recently three ministers of the Environment, Foreign Affairs and Science and Technology teamed up to publish an article in the Brazilian and foreign press assuring the world that government has made great strides in "taking care of the Amazon".
Are they right? Well, Lula's government has succeeded in reducing the level of annual deforestation from 26 thousand square kilometers a year to 13 thousand km a year since 2003. But nobody can guarantee this will be sustainable. There are plenty of laws to preserve the forest, but enforcement of those laws is another story.
On the other hand, the average Brazilian suspects that the developed world of having destroyed its own woodlands, and is turning to the Amazon to exploit the rainforest's storied biological wealth and biodiversity. Some Brazilians say that they have been doing a fine job protecting the wilderness heritage. In this country's five hundred year history, only 20% of the forest has been cleared, while some 3.3 million square kilometers remain unspoiled, an area almost six times the size of France.
This is an issue of Amazonian proportions. Scientists and environmentalists warn that the modest sounding 20% of the rainforest that has fallen to date is already enough to undermine the health of the Amazonian ecosystem. Worse still, the pace of logging has accelerated dangerously in the last decade. Above all, climate change is a global risk with no national boundaries.
The dilemma for a Brazilian is how to enlist international help to protect this threatened natural heritage without forfeiting national sovereignty over an expanse of land that represents almost half of its territory? How should Brazil protect such a vast area of land with scarce financial resources? It's a quandary Brazil shares with Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname, which together house the 37% of the Amazon not owned by Brazil. And why should the rest of the world pay the Amazonian countries to protect such treasured forests without setting targets and terms of conditionality? How do you think we should solve the sovereignty dilemma, on the one hand, while ensuring credible protection for the Amazon on the other?
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