“… Our house is burning ..” in reference to the Amazon rainforest fires, is what Macron posted on his Twitter shortly before the G7 Summit in Paris. A photo of a rainforest burning accompanied the news. Attention from around the world followed the news, with some calling for a boycott of products from the region. The Brazilian government’s reaction was untimely, claiming that not all published information is true and that there’s international commotion against the country’s competitiveness. An escalation of the Amazon issue precedes this fact by the debate on the financing of the Amazon Fund, financed by Norway, Germany and Brazil, with the suspension of payments by the Europeans. The Brazilian agribusiness meeting at the ABAG Congress at the beginning of August demonstrates its concern for information from its largely misleading consumer market, but of economic impact on its consumer’s perception of the environmental issue. A perfect storm sets in on a highly sensitive geopolitical issue in the midst of a major economic storm over the contradictory signs from the China-U.S. trade conflict, slowing growth in Germany, popular discontent in France and an unorganized Brexit. There seems to be a demand to shift from a central issue to a new level of popular concern that is far from the epicenter of the world economy.
As a businessman from a century-old company in the region that has been preserving the native forest for over 129 years and reforesting for industrial purposes and from fires caused by recklessness, settlements, and so on, I’m more than surprised by the intensity of the explosive escalation of the issue. Each year we fight against fire near the big cities or in more remote areas. Using more advanced resources like drones, satellite controls, brigades for land fire combat, have given us possibilities for faster reaction and more effective damage reduction. Even so, each year we have to face this challenge again the worst in the winter time, when it’s the dry season. Companies like ours are completely committed to sustainability and ethics, because we know about our responsibility, but more than that, we know how sensitive our customers are.
This year, as every year in winter, the region experiences a lack of rain, which gives a much higher incidence of fires than any other time of the year. The Amazon is experiencing more fires this year than previous years partly from drought, partly from controlled fires on farms to prepare for planting crops, and partly from uncontrolled fires from farms to neighboring or uninhabited areas. In addition, some of the fires in forest reserves are caused by irresponsible acts. Satellite monitoring captures them all. Only a deep assessment by scientific technicians and methods gives the correct size of the problem.
One of the problems of interpretation begins whether the data provided by the INPE method is the most appropriate or not. Other data, including NASA, give other answers, which increases the contestation by the parties. The focus of the problem grows when the allegation is that the illegal burning of tropical forests originates from the expansion of Brazilian agribusiness. This simple statement is enough, in the space of a Tweet to make consumers aware of the simple action, “do not consume agricultural products coming from the region and you will eliminate the destruction of the Amazon rainforest”. Clearly, this does not stand up to any further and deeper assessment. Today, 80 percent of products exported from the region are certified by international entities on good environmental and social practices, without which they wouldn’t be able to deliver their products. Nevertheless, there are some who do not adhere to good practices and harm others, simply because they use old technology, low productivity, and have no social and ethical commitments. Illegal settlements are in large proportion hot spots rainforest fires. Interestingly, these reasons were very well identified in the reports of the COFA, which is the Steering Committee of the Amazon Fund in 2018 and before, but could not bring any solution to these reported conflicts. Brazil is the first signatory of the Rio 92, ratified the Kyoto Agreement, and made several international commitments and fulfilled them, as well as signing the Paris Agreement. Environmental and indigenous preservation law protect two-thirds of its territory. The rural property law requires a CAR Rural Agricultural Registry, which is a geo-referencing of all these properties, which need to consolidate in their deed the parts that are APP Environmental Protection Areas and Legal Reserves. It is the world’s largest satellite-controllable digital register in the world. This process has gone through deep debates in the Brazilian Congress for over 10 years.
It turns out that even with all these efforts, the fires increase. Brazil, and not only the federal government, but also the state and municipal governments, failed to establish in its whole territory effective fire controls. In the midst of this, there is still illegal logging, which has links to negligent or corrupt authorities, and a neglected domestic and international buyer market.
Using the pulp and paper companies as an example, we have no chance of exporting, if we do not have the hard and annually renewable FSC seal. Therefore, we have the greatest interest in our properties and, in and around our protected areas, to avoid fires, we suffer from these impacts and yes, we are committed to the greater good, as it will be in the corners of our distant Brazil.
The Amazon, as a remainder, includes eight countries brought together in an international organization by the UN, known as the ACTO, Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, based in Brasilia, which receives neither money nor attention from anyone and could lead projects to serve a population of 25 million inhabitants, integrating scientific knowledge, social and economic projects, and respecting the sovereignty of the countries that are part of it. ACTO includes French Guiana, a territory of France and in that extended sense also of the European Union.
The smoke that comes over the Amazon is too much!
Too much for the reduction of natural forests, too much for those few who do not want to obey the laws and ethics of sustainability, too much for bad faith in harming the whole without taking into account those who have done their right in a right way, too much for neglecting vigilance and tolerating the forbidden, too much for not really helping and making this situation an electoral political advantage. Brazilian society and those of the Amazon region want the best, and it is now worth recognizing the real harmful smoke that we must fight together, without prejudice of origins and ideologies, because too much smoke means we are unable to see the good!
Ingo Plöger is a Brazilian entrepreneur and President, CEAL – Brazilian Chapter