Back-to-School Event: Deforestation of the Amazon

Back-to-School Event: Deforestation of the Amazon

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Energy and Environment

Franklin & Marshall College Professor Eve Bratman and CFR Fellow Matthew M. Taylor join Editor Robert McMahon to discuss deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. The panelists address deforestation’s impact on climate change, as well the complex economic, environmental, and social challenges in the region.

MCMAHON: Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations Back-to-School event, one of my favorites on the CFR calendar. This event is Livestreamed. That means, for those who missed the live performance, you can also find it—audio, video, and transcript—in perpetuity on I’m Robert McMahon, managing editor of And let me go over briefly the plan here.

So the next hour and 10 minutes or so we’re going to take an epic, vexing international problem, climate change, and try to bring it down to ground level in terms of understanding how this is playing out, what’s being done about it, what are some of the options that are being forwarded to try to get at the vexing issues that we hear about all the time and that we sort of live through every summer now, seemingly, as we set new records for heat and extreme events—extreme climate events and so forth.

To take us on this journey, to guide us on this journey, we are extremely fortunate to have these two experts to my left.

Eve Bratman is assistant professor of environmental studies at Franklin & Marshall in Lancaster—is that right, Lancaster; Lancaster, Pennsylvania—

BRATMAN: That’s correct.

MCMAHON: —and has been living and breathing a lot of these issues across the vast expanse of the Amazon in recent years, was actually a crucial guide for us as we put together that InfoGuide, the InfoGuide we published just at the end of spring, from the Amazon. She was sending in her guidance at various points, so it was a huge help to us.

Also helping us—and also helping us today is Matt Taylor. Matt’s an associate professor at American Universities School of International Service. And he is going to help us walk through the intersection of, sort of, politics, economics in Brazil and the climate issues at play. Eve is going to be dealing with climate and the intersections of climate and policies and so forth.

And so I think we want to start broad, and start out with why does deforestation actually matter in this whole discussion? And so I’m going to start off with a few questions with Eve, actually, to get us into the issues that will then boil down to the ground levels I mentioned. And at sort of ground zero is the country of Brazil in many aspects. Many of the crucial issues that are being discussed and fought over sometimes and decided on in international fora, Brazil has been dealing with.

And so we had an event at the end of last year, a very important event, the Paris Climate Summit. And it’s been said that deforestation—it was a pivotal moment for deforestation being recognized as a crucial part of countering climate change. And it was recognized as such formally in Brazil, the concluding agreements and so forth. There is an acronym that emerged more prominently from that: REDD.

And so I want to ask Eve, why was Paris important for the discussion of deforestation and climate?

BRATMAN: Great question. And thank you for the warm introduction. And thanks to all of you for coming.

The history here I think is really important to keep in mind. Nations have been trying since at least 1992 to take action on climate change. 1992 is important because that was when the first Rio Earth Summit happened. And deforestation was a topic there, where nations of the world tried to get some sort of global agreement together. And basically they couldn’t because there was a heated debate over how much of the deforestation problem was essentially about national sovereignty and how much was actually about common global concern and cooperation.

And Brazil had always maintained that the Amazon was its sovereign territory, or two-thirds of the Amazon anyway was its sovereign territory, and the rest of the international community could basically mind its own business, and should. And I can very much understand where that claim was coming from. I think we in the United States might well say the same thing if we had, say, a national park that we wanted to use for our national development and the rest of the world told us that we shouldn’t do that.

So that longstanding resistance in Brazil and globally around how to handle forests which are of global concern and yet are very much delimited by national boundaries was a discussion that was 25 years in the gestation period until finally, at the Paris agreements, deforestation really became so clear of an issue as far as the carbon contributions that were happening from land use and land cover change. Deforestation is one of the second—I think it’s the second-leading source of carbon emissions.

And so only, finally, through the global climate change agreement have there been the sort of collective imperative adopted then at national levels that implementation plans would happen to begin addressing the issue.

MCMAHON: So let me stop you there really quickly, though. So you mentioned the second-leading source of carbon emissions. Let’s talk a little bit more, first, about what the role of these forests as they’re understood in terms of climate, in terms of carbon sink—

BRATMAN: Oh, sure.

MCMAHON: —as well as, when the deforestation happens, the production of carbon, and maybe talk about this enormous twofold role—and actually more than twofold, but those two things.

BRATMAN: So deforestation matters for a lot of reasons to our climate—to our global climate.

The first big issue is that trees hold a lot of stored carbon. I think you heard mention of that in the earlier video. So when a tree is cut down, a lot of that stored carbon is released into the atmosphere, which is a big source of emissions. The other main issue is that through transpiration there is some good absorption that happens, of carbon.

And so it’s useful, to maintain our climate, to have trees. This is why I’m sure all of you, since you were young children, have been told that, you know, one really good thing you can do for the environment is plant more trees. So not only are cutting down trees problematic but also the necessity to reforest is an important way to keep our climate stable.

And then there are a whole host of other important reasons why deforestation is relevant to a whole host of other environmental issues, including biodiversity and the importance of habitat preservation, including our water resources, which are intricately linked through water cycles and uptake of water that forest ecosystems provide and which then affect rainfall patterns.

In the Amazon, for example, the cloud cover can—the molecules have been trapped, and essentially the rainfall that happens on the Argentinean Malbec wine fields is the same water that started up in the Amazon from the clouds that formed through evapotranspiration.

MCMAHON: So the Amazon absorbs more greenhouse gasses than any other tropical forest, I believe. Is that correct?

BRATMAN: That’s correct, and Indonesia is second.

MCMAHON: So let’s bring it to Brazil, this crucial function that you just mentioned. And Brazil is a study in all sorts of sort of larger-than-life-scale things. But, you know, we saw a little bit in—as you go through the InfoGuide, the CFR InfoGuide, the vast size of it. Even after deforestation there’s still massive tracts of the Amazon that are unspoiled—Amazon rainforest—but a great deal has also been deforested.

But Brazil is a story—is a little bit of a study in contrast. There was massive development and then there was a reining of development, some of which could be charted to the countries moving out from dictatorship to a democratic country.

So I want to take this moment to bring in Matt. And I should also mention Matt has spent a good deal of time in Brazil. You were in Sao Paulo for a while in a political science faculty there. And Matt’s been writing a lot this past year in his capacity as adjunct senior fellow at CFR on the political crisis in Brazil.

It’s hard to imagine a major democracy, really a country of Brazil’s size anywhere, that’s dealt with the upheaval it’s had now through the course of 2016—just had the impeachment of Dilma. You’ve got Lula, who is also now facing charges related to a corruption scandal. But there are scandals—cross-cutting scandals that are affecting a large section of the populace—excuse me, of the elected bodies in Brazil. The recent municipal elections, I think “none of the above” was the leading vote-getter in Sao Paulo municipal elections, so a little bit of a flavor of the public disgust.

But, Matt, can you tell us a little bit about the country of Brazil now? It’s got this vast treasure that’s sort of—as we’ve heard from the Paris conference, is globally treasured: the Amazon. What’s the state of governance in Brazil right now, and what should we be looking for as a Temer administration moves forward?

TAYLOR: That’s a great question, and we could be here all day if I tried to answer the whole thing.

You know, let me start by saying that I don’t think much will change from the Dilma Rousseff administration to the Temer administration. And the reason for that also helps to understand deforestation in the Amazon.

If you think about Brazil, Brazil is a presidential system like the system that we have in the United States, but it’s one where there are currently 35 parties, 25 to 30 represented in congress at any given moment. So think about that. Think about our Congress, how it works with two parties, blowing that up into 25 parties.

And what that means is that any president who comes into office generally has to put a coalition together that includes his own party, or her own party, with about 20 percent of the legislative seats, but then they have to expand that to get to 60 (percent), 70 percent. And the upshot of that for deforestation is that it requires alliances and allegiances with political forces that may not be the most palatable or perhaps the most environmentally friendly.

Just to give you a sense, the largest bloc in congress is not, in fact, a party. The largest bloc in the Brazilian congress is the so-called “ruralist” bloc, and the ruralist bloc is made up of people who are interested in soy development. The largest crop in Brazil is soy. Brazil is a huge producer of soy but also of sugar and cotton and a lot of other goods.

And traditionally, these are politicians who have had a very strong interest in developing the interior, whether it’s the Amazon or the Cerrado, which is another part of the Brazilian environment or biosphere, or the Pantanal, which is a swampy area southwest of the Amazon. So this is—you know, these are pressures that are present in the political system.

On top of this, as we saw in the enormous corruption scandal that emerged in the course of the past three years, there’s been a very close relationship between construction firms and government. And part of the reason for that is it’s very hard to get elected in a system with 25 parties and so you need a lot of money. And one of the ways that, allegedly, politicians have been getting money is by making deals with construction firms.

And so this is particularly of interest as we’re talking about the Amazon because of the—you have the world’s foremost expert next to me on dams in the Amazon. And one of the most important projects of the last decade in Brazil was the Belo Monte Dam, and I’m sure Eve could talk about that. So I won’t infringe on her expertise except to say that a big dam like this that—I can’t remember—it started out it was going to cost around 5 billion (dollars) whereas it now has cost—

BRATMAN: Sixteen billion (dollars), I think.

TAYLOR: —16 billion (dollars). I thought it was closer to 20 (billion dollars).

But, you know, this is an order of magnitude more than we thought. And the largest beneficiaries of this dam are the large construction firms, who were influential in the last presidential administration, have been tied to politics going back 50, 60 years.

MCMAHON: So let’s keep talking about how this affects, then, the stewardship of the Amazon, again this vast treasure, but also it’s a treasure for the country within which it resides—mostly that it resides.

There are vested interests, economic vested interests. There are other interests, though. There are very strong environmental issues, right? And there are interests on behalf of indigenous people. And there are also people who aren’t indigenous but who live in the Amazon. You helped point out to us there’s, like, 30 million people are Amazon residents who are not indigenous, undiscovered tribes, but in fact have come there—you know, moved there and set up lives there.

Could you talk a little bit, in your travels there, what you see as this intersection? We saw a little flavor of the role of the Amazon in the opening—I think some people panned it, other people liked it—the opening of the Brazilian Olympics, the Olympic Games, where they had this big section on climate and so forth. Can you talk a little bit about the cross-play of these influences in Brazil?

BRATMAN: Sure. And this is a really—another complex question.

MCMAHON: Yeah. Sorry about that.

BRATMAN: So there are so—the Amazon is incredibly complex. And I say that not lightly. The social dynamics are every bit as complex as the cultural mix that is our own country, if not more so because there are 300 indigenous tribes that are still living in the Amazon basin. Plus, over the centuries, many migrants from other parts of Brazil and also around the world came into the Amazon seeking opportunity and seeking to make their lives better through various means.

In the 1930s and ’40s, Ford had a plant in the Amazon and brought in a bunch of workers from Michigan. And even earlier, there were Japanese pepper growers that came into the Amazon. And then in the 1970s things really started to ramp up in terms of the government’s colonization, what they call the colonization scheme. And a lot of that was meant to alleviate other social pressures that Brazil was experiencing for land reform, and to address poverty in the south and in the drought-stricken northeast of the country.

And so the bulk of the initial wave of massive deforestation really begins happening in contemporary times as the government looks to the Amazon and says, look, we’ve got all this huge territory here and it’s all green. And in the words of some Brazilian senator at the time—I forget exactly who—deforestation was seen as a sign of progress, right? Using the Amazon’s resources was seen as a way to catapult Brazil from a less-developed nation into a rising industrial power.

And so moving people into the Amazon and beginning to cut roads through the Amazon and to encourage ranching to happen there was seen as something that would spur the engines of larger economic growth. And the people who came to the region, induced by that vision of progress, were often left disappointed by the lack of resources that were subsequently available to them to make good lives on that land. There were very few hospitals. There were very few schools. The roads weren’t paved, even though they were cut, and so it was very difficult to get anywhere.

And so the complexity of Amazonian societies has continued to have a lot of tension between newcomers and old-timers and the first nations, and in addition has involved some real significant social conflict over what progress itself could look like for the region, because many of those people that came seeking opportunity and came to the Amazon hoping for a better life of course still are invested in that but have also managed to think about protecting the forest as something that could also make for viable livelihoods and income sources.

And so, much of the push from environmentalists and people living in the region focuses on how to intensify production on the already deforested land, and how to create markets for Amazonian forest products that otherwise have very little commercial reach. And that’s everything from acai, the miracle fruit which you may have heard about because of its incredible antioxidant content, to coconut oils and to any number of other forest products.

MCMAHON: So you have—as Matt mentioned, there is this big rural bloc that’s a power broker in the country. There’s dams. Hydropower is a big deal there. Not so much hydropower is a big deal in—its impact on the forest is not so much causing direct deforestation but causing infrastructure changes that might affect it.

There are other big interests, you know, so agriculture, mining, dams, some timber. I would imagine there’s some timber concessions as well, it stands to reason. To what extent do any of them get involved in a question—we’re used to hearing it’s still the debate about human-caused climate change and so forth, and sometimes it’s seen as pegged of people funded by the energy industry, you know, making one set of claims versus others.

But be that as it may, in Brazil is there a debate about climate change, about the causes of it, about the severity of it, and about what Brazil should be doing about it? Obviously it’s a pocketbook issue, but could you talk a little bit, both of you, about that?

BRATMAN: I’ll take it first.


BRATMAN: There is significant—society at large is concerned about climate change in Brazil. I would say there’s not the same level of climate doubt or skepticism that—or denialism in the country, and yet the debates are quite significant over what to do about it, and especially what to do when it comes to things like energy for Brazil.

Brazil has huge offshore oil reserves that they’ve been relatively slow to develop but which are now really starting to be productive and attractive for investors. And meanwhile, building dams in the Amazon appears to some to be a source of renewable energy because hydroelectric energy is technically renewable, but then the questions really become something of the devil is in the details. So when you’re building mega-dams, to what extent is this still really sustainable both ecologically and socially, even if the climate emissions are not as significant from that dam, say, as from fossil fuels?

So this dam, the Belo Monte Dam that I’ve been studying, which is slated to be the world’s third most productive hydroelectric dam, which is being built on the Xingu River in the Amazon—that’s X-I-N-G-U—it’s incredibly controversial. And as somebody I interviewed once said: In Brazil, talking about Belo Monte is more controversial than talking about religion or soccer. (Laughter.)

So that gives you a sense of, you know, the heated debates over, you know, what should happen when we think about the bigger strategies for how the nation can stabilize its energy grid and even increase energy production, and at the same time be responsible for the social concerns and the environmental concerns that are inherently involved in dealing with such fragile and complex landscapes.

TAYLOR: There’s, I think, an associated issue that comes up and that has changed behaviors or thoughts about how best to behave in Brazil, and that is the recurring droughts that Brazil has faced.

There was a major drought at the turn of the century that actually led to electric shortages across the country. We’ve talked a little bit about how reliant the country is on hydropower. About 70 percent of its energy comes from hydropower, so a drought is potentially very significant. And this, I think, contributed enormously to the political rise of Lula, the president elected in 2002, in part because Cardoso was seen—his predecessor was seen as having failed to address the drought and to address the electric shortage.

This is very positive in the sense that it drew attention to environmental issues, but it also had the negative consequence of encouraging further construction of dams. And certainly under both Lula and then particularly under Dilma Rousseff there was an emphasis on expanding these dam projects, and so this was kind of a perverse consequence.

One other thing that we haven’t really talked about, though, with regard to the Amazon is nationalism. I think, you know, Eve gave the good example about the U.S. and how we would feel if people were, you know, saying that we shouldn’t exploit Alaskan oil or something like that. But in addition, I think that there is a player that we haven’t talked much about, which is the military.

The military regime from 1964 to 1985 really put a great deal of emphasis on developing the interior, including developing the Amazon itself—

MCMAHON: As a matter of national security.

TAYLOR: —as a matter of national security but also economic development. And so you have, for example, Manaus, the city in the heart of the Amazon. There is a free trade zone there where electronics manufacturers put together and basically assemble—it’s similar to a maquiladora in Mexico, but they basically put together all of the components and then ship them to the south of Brazil.

And it’s a program that’s been around for 40 years now. There are kind of vested interests in preserving that even though, from an economic perspective, it may not be entirely rational to have assembly plants in the middle—in the heart of this jungle. So, just a couple more vested interests that we should have in mind as we’re thinking about this.

With regard to the military, just to finish that thought, you know, even as recently as a few years ago, two or three years ago, as I was putting together a volume on foreign policy—Brazilian foreign policy—I looked at some of the stances by retired officers. Retired officers in Brazil often play the role of sort of spokespeople for the military, and it’s very easy online to conduct a search and quickly come across retired officers saying, you know: The U.S. has its eye on our Amazon.

So we think about nationalism perhaps as not a very strong force in Latin America. We’ve traditionally not had—we’ve had congenial relations for the last 30 years between the U.S. and Brazil, but there is still very much this fear on the national security side.

MCMAHON: So I’m going to ask you each one more question and then we’re going to open it up to your questions. So please start thinking about what you might want to ask the panel.

And I would just like to conclude by bringing us back a little bit to where we started, which is Brazil’s importance on sort of a global sphere.

So we’ve sort of established the local context here, and there’s a lot of cross-cutting influences, but could you both talk about how you see Brazil doing and where you see it going? I mean, as the CFR InfoGuide traced this history, there was actually quite a bit of strides made in some hopeful developments and then there were some very ominous ones. So could you both give your read on where you see things going or what to look for—if not a pure, you know, forecast?

BRATMAN: In my crystal ball—


BRATMAN: —Brazil is actually facing some really turbulent times. And I hate to be a, you know, forecaster of gloom and doom. But I think there have been some notable strides in the Amazon, so let me start with the positive.

The commitments that were reached at Paris are incredibly important and give our whole world just that extra bit of hope that we can, in fact, really meaningfully address the climate change issue in a way that is meaningful and serious and that keeps the devastation somewhat in check, although of course we’re already seeing some of the realities of climate change happening on our front doors.

But in Brazil, that commitment is taken very seriously, and the question is now about funding and sustaining the commitment over time. And that’s where my crystal ball gets a little bit cloudier and where I would hope that the seriousness with which the government showed itself in the rounds 2004 to 2006 period to create new conservation areas, to invest in rule of law in the Amazon, to really take serious strides to combat deforestation that was happening illegally—I really hope that that will be part of the government’s longstanding commitments.

Now, I’m a bit skeptical, given the political turmoil and the power of the rural coalition and the tendency that has so far been pushed in Brazilian politics, which is a sort of reliance on an older model of development that was hinging on big infrastructure projects and really thinking about the Amazon as a vast amount of resources that could be exploited to fuel economic growth.

And it’s proving to be a bit shortsighted already, but there’s not a lot within the Brazilian current political reality that gives me reason to think that they’re going to steer a course and sort of radically or differently imagine what development could look like, although I think it’s probably called for and it’s also part of their climate change commitments to do that re-imagining.

MCMAHON: Thank you.

Matt, your take?

TAYLOR: So I’ll start negative and end positive, I hope. (Laughter.)

And I guess the negative is, if you look at the agriculture minister, who is very important in Brazil, Katia Abreu—who was the minister under Dilma Rousseff—was known as the chainsaw queen for her role in deforestation. Her successor under Temer is Blairo Maggi, who is known as the “soy king.” And that’s a very, you know, troubling place to be.

On the positive side, though, I think that what we can see with the corruption investigations that have been so significant in Brazilian politics is the rise of a new actor that is particularly important in Brazilian politics and is playing an increasingly important role in the Amazon, which is the Ministerio Publico, which is the prosecutorial service.

And this prosecutorial service is unlike prosecutors in many parts of the world in that it’s almost an independent branch of government. And we have seen them play a very important role in trying to improve the enforcement of the law. And, you know, even though the laws have been watered down by the rural bloc, by this group of agriculturalists, the fact of the matter is the laws are still not bad laws. They’re decent laws. And they are laws that, if enforced—and this was always the problem in Brazil—if enforced, could make a difference.

And so we’re beginning to see them enforced in a better way, and so I think there’s a hopeful sign there that we should probably be aware of.

MCMAHON: OK, we’ll run with that hope for now.

TAYLOR: Thank you.

MCMAHON: Thank you.

I’d like to open it up now to questions, so please raise your hand. When called on, please stand, state your name and school, and ask a nice, concise question.

I’ll take you in the second row first, please. Wait for the microphone, please, first.

Q: Good afternoon. My name is Vladimir (sp) and I represent Verity College.

I appreciate that you have invited us today here to this special conference. I have a comment and it could become a question at the same time.


Q: We are based and focused right now today in Brazil, in the Amazon, but we also have deforestation when it comes to Malaysia, Nicaragua, Paraguay. We have also the Scandinavian countries, as Sweden and Finland, that they have been incurring these type of acts.

This year in Paris was signed the climate change agreement, right? And everybody is hopefully—I mean, everybody wants to, like, the big and most developed countries apply these type of agreements, right? My question to you is, how do you think that the most developed nations will utilize their big corporations, because those are the ones that come to these less-developed countries and take every single tree out of the Amazon, for example, so they can come into wood, into paper and many other products.

How do you think, for example, big corporations in Germany and the U.S. and other developed nations, they will take in consideration, because it will be less money production at the same time. When you have to cut—you need to respect this international policy in order to save the environment, because we need to be conscious that in this area our students, they don’t have this type of education in school. We don’t get a subject to tell us how we are going to take care of the environment.

So how do you think that, as the example, the developed nations will preach with the example as the first pledge? Thank you very much.

MCMAHON: Thank you.

Do you want to take it?


I actually think that—first of all, to your comment, I tend to agree with the implication that these climate change agreements are not just meant for Brazil. They are meant for the whole world. And every country, whether it has forest resources or whether it just has a lot of cars, needs to really seriously commit itself to putting into action the national plans of action that were agreed upon at Paris, and that’s a serious challenge.

When it comes to deforestation in the Amazon, one of the most, I think, exciting areas—perhaps quite paradoxically, given so much of the history of big corporations throughout Latin America—is that there is some really significant and positive work being done about global supply chain management.

And so, thanks to pressure from organizations like Greenpeace, companies like McDonald’s have very seriously committed to not having soybeans that came from new deforestation, and same with the cattle industry. There were some real pressure points exerted on particular slaughterhouses.

In all of the Amazon, for all of this huge amount of land that is cattle pasture, there were actually only four slaughterhouses. And so the pressure on those particular slaughterhouses to make sure that their beef was coming from farmers that were producing their cattle on legal land was significant enough to actually really change the equation in terms of illegal cattle ranching and that beef getting into the supply chain.

So there have been several agreements around timber production as well as around soybean production and this cattle one that I mentioned, that have started to, I think, really also show the big corporate actors that, without hurting their pocketbooks all that significantly, they can be more responsible and responsive to the policy commitments that have been put in place.

So I think those are some of the areas where we should really be hopeful and where engagement with corporations can actually make a really big difference. There’s still a lot of room to push. You know, that’s not to say that corporations should be let off the hook and that they’re our new best friends when it comes to responding to deforestation and other problems.

I’ll just very quickly mention that there’s a Canadian mining corporation that—right near this mega dam, the Belo Monte Dam, has been built—is about to do a huge gold mine. And it’s not all that significant in terms of the carbon emissions, but in terms of the potential for indigenous peoples to be displaced and for water pollution and for a whole host of other forest resources to be lost in sacrifice of global demand for gold is something that we should keep our eyes on. And again, this is a Canadian company called Belo Sun that has this huge, huge mining claim.

And so there’s all sorts of reasons to keep the pressure on to make sure that human rights and Brazil’s own environmental and legal protocols are actually followed when it comes to those sorts of investments.

MCMAHON: You mentioned a new soy. There’s actually an agreement that there would be, like, a moratorium on sale of soy produced after a certain year, and it’s had some success in Brazil.

BRATMAN: Yes, absolutely.

MCMAHON: Did you want to add anything?

TAYLOR: Well, I think implicit in your question was, to a degree, what the wealthy nations can do—not just corporations but nations. And I think—I mean, I would start by saying something more explicit even than we have so far, which is Brazil really took a leadership position in the Paris talks, you know, of being the third-largest emitter to commit and ratify, even though it’s not the third-largest emitter in the world.

So this was, I think, a very important stance, and it’s one that has been recognized by both the Rousseff administration and the Temer administration. So this is hopeful, but I would also point to the fact that Brazil has reached agreements with European countries on, for example, carbon offsets, where the Germans, for example, have paid off particular states and—not paid off, excuse me—paid for carbon offsets in some states in Brazil.

The Norwegians committed a billion euros to helping out—or basically saying—encouraging Brazil to take positive steps. And when Brazil did so, they re-upped the commitment for another billion dollars. So this is—a billion euros. So this is very significant, I think, and shows how—you know, I think this is a global problem and it’s one in which the wealthy countries can do a great deal to encourage less wealthy countries to take the steps that they are already inclined to take if they can find the means.

MCMAHON: Thanks.

I’ll take another question. I’m going to this side now. Third row, you right here? Wait for the mic, please.

Q: Hello. My name is Sheila Zakara (ph). I’m from Rutgers University.

So, from what I’ve gathered, there is a clear tie between the political parties and the rural coalitions in Brazil, correct? And the rural coalitions are made up of workers, farm workers, who would have incentives to clear land due to production.

So what I’m getting at is, would law enforcement, you know, enhancing punishments for legal deforestation, be—you know, further enhance the political turmoil in Brazil, or would it be a positive step to deforestation or other factors to consider?

BRATMAN: Do you want to start on the—

TAYLOR: Yeah, so I think on the rural bloc, these are largely landowners, so very wealthy people like Blairo Maggi, who was the “soy king,” who was a senator until he became a minister. And, you know, this is not to say that they are all wholly against any kind of environmental protection, but they certainly are interested in preserving agriculture. And you could see ways to create incentives that would be both protective of the environment and protective of their land use or their land rights. And I think Eve has already talked, for example, about the soy certification program. That’s a great way to align incentives, I think.

But, you know, I think the larger point is it’s very hard to govern Brazil without the support of this agricultural bloc. The exports of agricultural commodities are enormous as a percentage of the GDP, and so obviously there’s a national interest in preserving agricultural production. And, you know, aligning incentives is difficult in any country, especially when those incentives have very strong political representation.

MCMAHON: Thanks.

TAYLOR: I just want to add a little bit of local color to that question, because so much of the—I think there was an element of your question that was actually about conflict, right? And so in the parts of the Amazon where I do some field research, the human rights dimensions of all this are, I think, not to be neglected.

I have seen cases of people who have been kept in basically slavery-like conditions, which is actually quite problematic in the Amazon. And a lot of those basically disenfranchised farm workers don’t have a lot of direct political engagement, but the groups that are fighting to protect them are the ones that are traditionally opposed to the rural coalition.

And so, as we think about ways in which Brazil can increase the protections for—and minimize those sorts of land conflicts on the ground, a lot of it will fall to the local activists—the defenders of human rights, the local forest protectors—who oftentimes are engaged very locally in political struggles but aren’t necessarily filtering up to the federal government and the congressional level.

Those challenges are still really significant. Assassinations in the Amazon keep happening, and largely those are forest defenders. They’re inextricably tied to environmental issues and at the same time social justice concerns about land organizing and the rights of farm workers.

MCMAHON: Thanks, Eve.

I want to go farther in the back for the next one. I’m going to take way back there on this side, if you could please. Yes.

Q: Thanks. I’m Anna (sp). I’m from Yale.

And I wanted to actually sort of follow up on what we were just talking about, about agriculture. And I’m curious about how you see food policy fitting into climate change initiatives, both in Brazil and around the world.

I know Brazil actually has a very progressive aspect of food policy in that they have a local food procurement policy for their public schools. And that has actually had really positive ecological and health outcomes, but I’m curious about whether you think that that fits into Brazil’s climate change-fighting policy more broadly, and also if you see a future for food policy changes around the world having a really big effect on climate change-fighting initiatives.

MCMAHON: A good question.

Do you want to kick off, Eve?

BRATMAN: Wow. Sure. Fun question. And I don’t have enough closeness with Brazil’s—the nuance of Brazil’s national climate policy to know the extent to which the local procurement is connected to the broader climate change strategy, so that’s a great question for future research for sure. Dig in there.

To the best of my knowledge, Brazil is also walking a very interesting line between still having invested a lot in biofuels and also committing itself, especially under the Lula administration, to zero hunger and to all sorts of food support programs.

The main challenge has also been to get those credits and technical assistance and support to the small-scale farmers. Most of the policy emphasis had been in strengthening large-scale agriculture and there wasn’t—there has been some degree of emphasis on also supporting smaller-scale farmers and the local food supply networks, but that’s still sort of a demand of the smaller-scale farm workers and certainly is often called for by the Landless Workers’ Movement and others who are, you know, more deeply steeped in agroecology types of perspectives on the importance of food production.

MCMAHON: Just related to that, how much is the Amazon a breadbasket for Brazil? Like, how much food actually comes from the Amazon, you know, exploited areas there, as opposed to—or deforested areas there as opposed to other parts of Brazil?

BRATMAN: A lot of the beef—I don’t have a percentage offhand, but it’s the bulk, I think, of Brazilian beef consumption is actually beautiful grass-fed Amazon beef.


BRATMAN: And it depends a little bit on how you count the state of Mato Grosso, which technically is part of the Amazon ecosystem, and that’s where a lot of the soy is all being produced. But there’s not a lot of forest left in Mato Grosso. It’s pretty much all Cerrado and soy fields at this point.

MCMAHON: Matt, did you want to take the food policy issue?

TAYLOR: No, I don’t. (Laughter.) I think Eve did much better than I could, yeah.

MCMAHON: Thank you.

I’m going to go on this side for the next question, and I’m going to go back a little bit right into the center there. Yes, sir. Yes, please wait for the mic.

Q: Good afternoon. My name is Obansu (ph) and I’m at Yale University.

My question relates to something that you mentioned earlier regarding reforestation. Considering, as I understand it, that it’s very difficult to reforest a particular area in the Amazon because of a lack of nutrients in the soil, I’m curious—my question is actually twofold.

On the one hand, what do you think would be the ideal technical solution to allowing reforestation? And on the other hand, what do you think would be the actual outcome of technical attempts to add reforestation? So, basically, what’s the ideal? What do you think is going to be the practical outcome of those efforts?

BRATMAN: I’ll take a stab at it but I'm no soil scientist or forestry, you know, technician.

So the strategies that I’m most familiar with include agroforestry for reforestation purposes, right? So there are all sorts of ways in which farmers can cultivate cacao at the same time as growing lower-level crops, and where community forest management systems can be put into place to effectively reforest and selectively log trees when they’re trying to do more of a management system that involves getting some income from the forest. It’s not that all deforestation is illegal, right?

So to legalize deforestation and—or the regulation of how trees are cut down, and to insist on replanting some forest is, in fact, I think technically a possibility, which forest engineers and other sorts of technicians know a lot about within that region. So those are the two strategies that I’m most familiar with.

The other dimension here is—which maybe you’re familiar with, but we mentioned early on REDD—R-E-D-D—


BRATMAN: —and REDD-plus. So reducing emissions from avoided deforestation and forest degradation is what REDD stands for. And basically it’s a system of payments to help farmers see that there is value in keeping the forest standing. And to the extent that we can economize the value of any tree, I think the REDD idea is a useful one to allow farmers and rural people who have some forest resources to feel that that’s not just a wasted space economically for them.

And so the idea, you know, has some intrigue and some success in some parts more than others but is certainly one of the other strategies that is situated right there at that intersection of economic utility of the forest, plus really trying to work with local farmers in targeted ways.

MCMAHON: The reforestation remains among the options. In addition to halting the deforestation pace, there is also talk of actively reforesting, right? Is that still viable?

BRATMAN: Yeah. I mean, it is viable to an extent. We’ll never get the—or it will take many hundreds of years, if ever, to have the same incredible biodiversity of the native forest, which is why we should really try as hard as possible to not cut any more of the native forest down.

MCMAHON: Yeah. Right.

BRATMAN: But you can do some reforestation to an extent that, you know, at least trees will be helping in terms of carbon emissions and so on if you can find some species that work.

The Mid-Atlantic rain forest is a kind of interesting example along those lines, where most of the Mid-Atlantic rain forest has been lost but in some places they planted a whole bunch of eucalyptus.

MCMAHON: You mean Brazil’s Mid-Atlantic rain forest.

BRATMAN: Brazil’s Mid-Atlantic rain forest, yeah, so along the state of Rio de Janeiro down to Sao Paulo and even over into the state of Minas Gerais to the west.

And eucalyptus is highly debatable in terms of its utility, but it’s something that then has been used a lot for, you know, furniture-making, for paper, for all sorts of other commercialized forest products, you know, which sort of counts toward being new trees planted. But obviously, the intact rain forest would have been the, you know, preferred solution there, but once it’s down what do you do with it? Well, you try to do as best you can.


OK, I’m going to come back to this side right here, please. Can you please stand and—thanks.

Q: My name is Genesis Rico and I’m a student at Sarah Lawrence College.

My question has to do with international relations mostly. We can see that Brazil is juggling many issues when it comes to the Amazon, such as sovereignty and international obligations to the health of the world, as well as obligation to its own people, such as the farmers that perhaps are sometimes not doing as well as the rest of the nation.

So I wanted to know how much of the responsibility for the Amazon lies in the rest of the world, because we see statements such as that in the CFR interactive guide, that the president, I believe, thinks that we should let the gringos pay for it, and then the comment that we had earlier that something might—the U.S. has its eyes on our Amazon.

So certainly it is a global issue, but the Amazon is largely located in Brazil so perhaps Brazil would not like international organizations or leaders reaching into its land and trying to control development or—

MCMAHON: So how much resentfulness is there on behalf of Brazil—

Q: Yes.

MCMAHON: —saying, well, you’re not going to solve the world’s problems on our backs, so to speak.

Q: Yes.

MCMAHON: Matt, could you maybe kick off with that a little bit?

TAYLOR: Sure. You know, I think we’ve talked a little bit about that.

I think it’s important to remember that Brazil is not “the” Amazon, that, you know, about a third of the Amazon is outside of Brazil and that’s an additional international relations problem. But we’ve talked a little bit about how the rest of the world might encourage Brazil without incurring the sovereignty concerns.

I think it’s interesting to look at how organizations like Greenpeace, the Nature Conservancy, a lot of wealthy world NGOs have managed to finesse the relationship with the Brazilian public over the past 20 years. When initially they arrived in Brazil, they were seen as—you know, I don’t want to exaggerate, but they were seen as interlopers at best and perhaps, you know, interlopers with interests of their own that were not the Brazilian interest.

So they have managed to create relationships on the ground that I think have been very effective, but I also think that this is a Brazilian issue. I mean, it is a world issue, but Brazilians want to own it and they need to own it. And for that reason, I think that the rise of the Ministerio Publico, the prosecutorial service, the creation of agencies like the IBAMA, which is the—which was created in the 1980s for the environment—

BRATMAN: The federal environmental agency.

TAYLOR: —right, the creation of an Environment Ministry, all of these things are positive in the long run.

And so, if you look at Brazil over the past 30 years, you’ve really seen an enormous increase in capacity and also in spending on protecting the environment. I’m not saying that it’s as effective as it could be, but we probably shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that deforestation levels have fallen over 30 years, although they’re—you know, it’s still something we need to be deeply concerned about. But this is something that Brazilians have to resolve, but hopefully with some support from outside.

BRATMAN: Yeah, and the basic way that that problem has been addressed in our global agreements—which I think makes actually a lot of sense—is through these national plans of action.

And so the role of other countries has largely been to contribute financially toward the Amazon Fund but also to say: Look, local enforcement and implementation is Brazil’s own responsibility, and we can help through financial contributions or through technical assistance and satellite monitoring programs and stuff of that sort when called upon, but the bulk of the real meat and potatoes of getting—sorry, should I not talk about meat in that context? (Laughter.) The rice and beans of implementation—

MCMAHON: There you go. There you go.

BRATMAN: —is much more Brazil’s own responsibility.

MCMAHON: Thank you.

I’m going to keep bouncing across the room. I’m going to go over to this side right over here, please. Please wait for the mic. It’s coming right around there.

Q: Hi. My name is Alex (sp). I’m a student at Yale University—very glad to be here today.

So my question has to do with carbon pricing, which policy experts tend to agree is one of the most, if not the most, effective policy prescriptions in the fight against climate change. I know Canada, for example, has recently announced a carbon pricing scheme. China, in fact, has announced something similar, and they’re certainly not alone.

To that end, what effect do you think carbon pricing would have on deforestation? And do you see there being a chance of conjuring sort of the necessary political will to introduce such a policy in Brazil?

BRATMAN: I think it could make a really significant difference. The chance of conjuring that up within the political reality that exists at the moment, not so much. The country’s financial crisis is just too severe to even have it be really on the table, as far as I’m aware.

TAYLOR: If I can—I mean, I think that maybe the way to make this work—and I think it has worked initially—is at the local level. To the extent that you can reach out to local or state governments rather than making this a federal issue in Brazil, that may—you know, the incentives to a mayor or to a governor are much greater.

I mean, we’re not talking huge amounts of money here in terms of carbon pricing for the federal government, but at the local level it can add up to a lot. And so I think that may create the good will or the desire to participate. And so we have seen a little bit of this at the state and even in the larger municipalities.

MCMAHON: I was going to say, in Brazil—and to some extent, like, U.S. states, but Brazilian states have shown some willingness to take these matters into their own hands—

TAYLOR: Right.

MCMAHON: —not just government pricing but other issues that relates to the Amazon too.

BRATMAN: That’s true. There’s a Green Municipalities program that has actually been fairly widely adopted in the Amazon that has really kind of pushed the ball forward in terms of local environmental protections and efforts to regularize land holdings and also keep forest intact and create good—better monitoring, anyway.

MCMAHON: OK, thanks.

I’m going to come back on this side, on the aisle right there with the papers in the air. There you go.

MCMAHON: Hi. Fernand Le Fevre from Columbia University.

We’ve talked about the will. We’ve talked about, first of all, pressure as a mechanism, agreements—political agreements as a mechanism. I was wondering if you could speak to any other mechanisms or fora that would be useful, you know, using the WTO, for example, to create kind of incentivizations in trade packages and whatnot.

And conversely, on top of that, with pressure being such a big tool, how do nations, you know, such as the U.S., such as Canada, kind of develop the clout after our history of industrialization to actually put any pressure on Brazil to say, you have to muster up this kind of will?

BRATMAN: That’s a really great question.

Let’s see. The two other dimensions of pressure points that I think we haven’t spent very much time on yet are scientific engagement and really making robust contributions to our knowledge about what is going on and the stakes of particular actions over others as well as civil society pressure.

You know, Greenpeace has come up a little bit here and there, but that is also really about Brazilian civil society and public mobilizations. And as we think about the recent political turmoil in Brazil and the ways in which there have been, you know, really massive demonstrations in the past few years, one thing that’s heartening is that the Brazilian public is, I think, actively getting very fed up with the corruption. And in part that translates into, you know, the Sao Paulo vote of, we don’t want anybody to be in office. But in other part it is still about people having publicly sort of expressing that things need to change.

And it’s really complicated how they should move forward, but those are the two things that I would kind of flag. And Brazilian environmental organizations have really been crucially important almost well beyond the contributions of the international NGOs like Greenpeace and Nature Conservancy and WWF at really playing that important voice for raising awareness in domestic society and in translating the science into policy for potential policymakers.

MCMAHON: And the second part was a bit about—it was kind of an echo of the question about the credibility of actors, of the U.S. being a champion of Brazilian stopping—Brazil stopping deforestation. The extent to which the international fora—is that starting to change a little bit in terms of the dialogue that’s happening in terms of a little bit less resentfulness, or is it still kind of a bit of a tough row to hoe?

BRATMAN: It’s still there.


BRATMAN: I don’t know. I mean, I am always—even as a non-Brazilian speaking about Brazil, I’m like—we, I think, should be very cautious about the roles that we play as scholars and as policymakers in meddling too much. And I think that really being humble and conscious of the work that we have to do in our own domestic sphere is a good place to start to regain some of that confidence and credibility.

Matt, do you want to chime in here?

TAYLOR: You know, certainly if you think about global emissions, China and the U.S. are 40 percent, Brazil is 2.5 percent, so I don’t think we have a leg to stand on.


TAYLOR: I also think, in terms of foreign policy, the U.S. has a checkered history with Brazil. Any pressure we put on Brazil runs the risk of being seen the wrong way, and so I think, you know, the United States really doesn’t gain much by actively pressuring.

I know that this doesn’t quite go to your question, but as I think about hopeful signs going forward—I mentioned this in one of my responses but I think it’s useful to come back to the shift that’s taking place in Brazilian economic policy as a consequence of these scandals. The developmental state, the state capitalism, the crony capitalism between construction firms and the state, that is coming apart.

It’s hard to know what will be in its place, and there is certainly concern about an austerity-prone Temer administration cutting financing to bureaucracies that maybe work in the environmental field, but I do think that it also means that the Brazilian state is going to be engaged in fewer huge projects, and that may have some important consequences and positive consequences in the Amazon particularly.

MCMAHON: Thank you.

I’m going to squeeze in one more question and then we have to wrap. So I’m going to go right here, and then that will wrap us up, so nice, concise question. Here comes the mic right here.

Q: Hi. Thank you so much. I’m Jessica Wilson. I’m from NYU School of Professional Studies.

My question is on the granular level about the impact on the 300 tribes that live within the Amazon that you spoke briefly about. My question is, how has the growing deforestation created intractable conflict between these tribes, and for resources especially? And how has growing deforestation allowed for increased cooperation between communities within the Amazon and outside the Amazon between NGOs and also with the government as well?

BRATMAN: It’s a great question, and I guess my answer should begin with the genocide against Brazil’s indigenous peoples is serious and significant. And it’s pretty incredible that there are still 300 tribes left, considering—and considering—

MCMAHON: Some of which are uncontacted, right?

BRATMAN: Some of which are uncontacted, about 80 if memory serves. And yet there’s also incredible pressures on even those uncontacted tribes as they experience encroachments on their lands. You know, here they are trying to live the traditional lifestyles that they always have in the forest and all of a sudden you start hearing chainsaws in the distance and knowing that there are people encroaching on the land that you need to—you know, to hunt on and fish and so on.

And so I think that the best response is that, rule of law, protecting those indigenous tribes’ land and not only saying, OK, we’re going to create a safe boundary, but also demarcating that boundary and enforcing those demarcated boundaries is a really important step that the government can take to begin to shift things. There are also some hopeful signs of tribes that have worked with REDD payment programs, for example, to be, you know, extra encouraged to protect those forest boundaries and compensated for them.

The flip side is something like the case of the dam that I mentioned earlier, the Belo Monte Dam, where indigenous violations have occurred on a whole host of levels, including violations of free, prior, and informed consent, and where basically buy-offs of acquiescence to these mega projects coming in have happened through inducements like, we’ll give you fancy new boats and motorcycles and TVs and all the rest, and all of a sudden the indigenous cultures are unrecognizable from what they used to be.

So those are very sticky issues and very hard to deal with as the push for building more dams and more mines and paving roads will often continue to present those same threats to those populations. But in the areas that have been effectively demarcated, the evidence is there that this—you know, this works at addressing deforestation.

MCMAHON: We’re going to end it on that note.

This has been a Brazil case study. I want you to sort of think about these issues as you think about climate change as a broader issue. Also, take a look, if you haven’t already, at the InfoGuide, which unpacks a lot of these issues as well.

I want to thank you, for starters. Based on the questions I heard, you are terrific listeners. These were really good questions—


MCMAHON: —almost stumped the panel a couple of times. (Laughter.) That’s great.

I also really want to thank our panel, though, Matthew Taylor of American University and Eve Bratman of Franklin & Marshall.

This concludes this portion of our session. And I’m going to do a pivot now and toss to my colleague, Caroline Netchvolodoff, who is our vice president of education.

Thanks again, everybody. (Applause.) We’re going to exit and Caroline is—(inaudible).

NETCHVOLODOFF: Hello, everyone. And thank you all for that great presentation. I certainly learned a lot.

And I’m, as Bob said, very relieved that I don’t have a question-and-answer session here. I’m basically going to walk you through a couple of things we’ve been up to at the Council in the last year or so and then we’re going to have you take a little quiz. But as Bob said, I’m the vice president for education. I head up the CFR Campus effort at the Council, which is an initiative that builds on the Council’s longstanding academic initiative, which I think most of you are familiar with.

But as part of the CFR Campus initiative, the Council is now creating original content for folks like you, for a broad audience of students and educators, to equip them with what we call global literacy: the knowledge, the skills, and the perspective that are required today to successfully navigate in a very connected global world.

The first of the new resources that we’ve created is called Model Diplomacy. I hope that some of you know what it is, and I hope that by the time you wake up tomorrow morning you might know even better, having visited our site to take a look at it. But Model Diplomacy is a National Security Council simulation. We’ve got 14 very interesting cases. I’ll let you go and find out what those are, and I’ll tell you how to get there after we take the quiz. But it was launched in January and it’s already in 67 countries and 47 different states. So we’re out the chute with some good traction.

But in addition to providing these new resources, the Council is, as part of the CFR Campus effort, attempting to raise the level of conversation about the need to build global literacy. So to this end, about four months ago we fielded a survey with National Geographic that assessed what young people educated at American colleges and universities know about the world.

And as Irina said, just for a little fun we’re going to give you a chance to answer just a few of the survey questions before wrapping up today. So I’m going to just wander around here so I can actually read the questions.

And, sorry, I think you were told the mechanism in your laps at this point, the black clicker, is so that you can enter a response to each of the questions. It’s very easy. You’ll be given five questions and with each one several answers. You just push a 1, 2, 3, or 4, I think, for the most part. There might be a couple of questions that only have three choices. So with that, I think we’ll open it up here.

Question number one: Which of the following is meant by the phrase “nuclear deterrence”? One, launching nuclear weapons against an enemy? Two, preventing a country from acquiring nuclear weapons capability? Three, using the threat of a potential nuclear attack to discourage an enemy attack? And, four, don’t know.

So you have about 15 seconds after each question to answer. And no one will ever know whether you got it right or wrong, so just have at. (Laughter.)

All righty. Oh, good job, everybody. So obviously the green box with 65 percent represents the fact that 65 percent of you got the correct answer, which is number three.



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