Panelists discuss the international concern surrounding the climate crisis in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest and how to address heightened deforestation.
TERCEK: Hello, everybody. Are we good to go? Hi, my name is Mark Tercek. Until very recently I was the CEO of The Nature Conservancy. I’m really delighted to be here to be the moderator of today’s discussion.
We have a great panel. To my left is Monica de Bolle. She is a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. To Monica’s left is Daniel Zarin, director of programs at the Climate and Land Use Alliance. And then on the screen is my good friend Peter Seligmann, a co-founder and CEO of Nia Tero, a new NGO focused on a lot of the issues that we’ll be discussing today. Peter’s also well known as the founder and long-time CEO of Conservation International, where he continues to be the chairman.
Our topic today is the global impact of the Amazon rainforest we’ve been reading about in the news. Of course, this raises so many issues. First of all, what’s really happening? It’s hard to tell on the basis of the news. How much of this is illegal logging, on industrial ag, or bad government policy, or is climate change itself impacting the forest? Also, a question arises, what happened? Until recently the Amazon was one of the great conservation success stories. Through a great effort the Brazilian government, local government, Brazilian growers, Brazilian ranchers, international companies, international NGOs, one of the great success stories the conservation field used to boast about was bringing deforestation way down in the Amazon. But that’s changed. What happened?
Another question on my mind, important to discuss at the Council on Foreign Relations, is what can the international community do? Who really owns the Amazon? Obviously most of it is within Brazil, not all of it. But its impact on the rest of the world, especially vis-à-vis the climate challenge, is huge. Where are we in terms of tipping points? We know as climate change progresses or worsens, like, it can accelerate bad outcomes. Are we close to that today in the Amazon? And then there are a whole host of other issues. What about the other Amazon countries? What about the role of indigenous people and impacts on indigenous people? Or biodiversity itself?
So we’re going to try to touch on all those issues. I get to ask questions for about thirty minutes, and then we’ll open it up to all of you, OK? And, Peter, are you all set? Can you hear us and everything?
SELIGMANN: I can hear you perfectly. Can you hear me?
TERCEK: OK. Yep. You sound good.
All right, well then let’s start. I’m going to start by asking Dan to just give us an assessment of where things stand. Again, I think it’s hard to know by reading the paper. What’s causing what right now? What is the role of fires, logging, big ag, big ranching, government policy? Where does deforestation stand? And what’s the outlook? Are we near the scary tipping points? What’s going on in your view, Dan?
ZARIN: Thanks, Mark. And thanks for the opportunity to be here with all of you.
I think we’re all here because of these fires and deforestation that’s been in the news in the Amazon over the past several months, peaking in the summer in August. I think it’s important to put these a bit in—these fires a bit in the context. Fires occur all the time within the region, part of land clearing. I think it’s really important, though, to know that in Brazil in 2019 these fires were not induced by climate change. They were not driven by drought. Through the end of August this year, the 2019 dry season, which is over now, was about 50 percent wetter than what we’d seen in the previous few years. Yet, on average we had about 50 percent more fires during the same period. So the fires were not driven by drought. The drought season—the number of dry days were fewer than in the past. The fires—that’s really the first thing I want you to take home from here.
The second thing is that these were fires that were—that occurred deliberately for the purpose of deforestation, for the purpose of land clearing. And most of that—and when I say most, the estimates are 90 percent—of that is illegal. Perhaps 30 percent of that is driven by speculators who are clearing public lands. This is a complex criminal enterprise in Brazil in particular, with many variations that re all aimed ultimately at selling falsely legitimated cleared land at a huge markup.
About another 30 percent occurred on private properties, mostly exceeding limits on deforestation that were agreed to in Brazil in 2012 under a major revision of Brazil’s forest code that was agreed to by all of the major agribusiness associations in Brazil. Another 20 percent as likely small farmer clearing, mostly on poorly managed agrarian reformed settlements. And about 10 percent occurred in areas that have no designated ownership. And like the first category, that’s really all about land speculation. You can find all these data. They’re in two really excellent technical notes prepared by a group called IPAM. It’s the Amazonian Institute for Environmental Research.
Overall, and these are data—official data that just came out this morning, year on year deforestation increased in the Brazilian Amazon by 30 percent this year over last year to nearly ten thousand square kilometers. That’s the official data. It’s the highest in the past decade. And it goes—but it’s important to know that that doesn’t actually even cover the period we’re talking about, which mostly emerged beginning in August, because the deforestation year in Brazil goes August 1 to July 31. That’s August 1, 2018 to July 31, 2019. And we’ve certainly had several thousand square kilometers cleared since then, between August, September, and a bit into October.
The third point I want to make is that this mostly illegal deforestation and the fires associated with it both began and ended with the support of the executive branch of the Brazilian government, which has prioritized—this current government—has really prioritized the undoing of fifteen years of governmental progress in deforestation control. The fires peaked in the second and third weeks of August, following what were deliberately organized fire days in parts of the Amazon, which were pretty much an open secret within the responsible government agencies.
But what happened then was that no one really counted on a huge amount of smoke reaching São Paulo and blackening the skies in the city of São Paulo for about four days. And following that, later that month, following what you’ve all read about, of a lot of controversy in the international fronts, President Bolsonaro sent in the army and declared a sixty-day moratorium on fire in the region. At which point, fires stopped being set. And the first diminished, and ultimately the dry season ended. But government support is both—is responsible for both starting and ending this problem this year. So it’s not climate. Deliberate. Turned on and off by government action and inaction.
Mark asked a little bit for me to say something about this issue of tipping points that has come up in the news quite a lot. And suffice to say it’s a very complex area around the science, but the consensus, as more and more data are emerging, is that we are very, very close, particularly in the southern and eastern parts of the basin, to tipping points where the combination of land use change and climate change will mean that forests won’t grow back. That we’ll be seeing the conversion of large areas of intact tropical forests to savannah-like tropical ecosystems over the coming years.
So having set that depressing stage, Mark, I’ll turn it back to you.
TERCEK: Thank you, Dan.
Let me turn to Monica. Monica, given this challenge what are the options the international community faces, and the Brazilian government? How can this challenge be addressed, in your judgement?
DE BOLLE: So starting with the international community, I think there’s one area where not a lot has been done. Not a lot is perhaps a fairly euphemistic way of putting it. (Laughs.) And that has to do with payments for environmental services. Of course, you know, conserving the Amazon—conserving the Amazon in Brazil and the other countries that the Amazon spans, is a service that is provided to the rest of the world because as a term that has come out and that some people use, and that I particularly like—we can go into the explanation of this term—is that the Amazon is really a carbon bomb, in the sense that it retains a lot of carbon under the soil. And the moment that you start deforesting, this carbon is released into the atmosphere in very, very large quantities. So the service that’s being provided by keeping the forest intact is that of keeping all of that carbon underneath the ground.
And there is an issue of how do you actually set up payment for these kinds of environmental services, which would be very beneficial from the point of view of incentivizing government—in particular governments that have now recently taken different stances on deforestation and on conservation of the Amazon, it provides a powerful incentive for them to change the—to change the policies back to one of preserving and conserving. So I think this is an area where the international community has to think more about and has to do something about because, in essence, we’re talking about, you know, an entire biome that has this characteristic of maintaining carbon underneath the soil, and those services which are—which are global in scale are not being paid for. So that, I would say, is one area that the international community needs to think hard about.
There are other things, like the Amazon Fund, for example, which is chiefly, you know, an initiative that was spearheaded by Norway, and Germany but largely Norway, and which did serve the purpose of, you know, trying to do a few things in conservation and deforestation within the Amazon. But we know that the size of the Amazon Fund is small, you know, in relative terms. And at the moment, there are issues with the Amazon Fund and the government of Brazil. So this is another area where some thought has to go into, you know, sort of what do we do with the Amazon Fund? Do we make it larger? Do we ask for more contributors from other parts of—other parts of the globe? What can they effectively do? How do we set up a good—a good governance structure for this fund, if it is to become much larger? And how do we do this in consonance with what the Brazilian government currently wants? So that’s, I think, another area that needs to be thought much more about and where, you know, a lot of reflection has to go into.
As for the government of Brazil specifically, there are lots of things that—I mean, and Dan referenced some of them—we know that there was this huge period spanning from 2004 until about 2014, or just before 2014, when the rates of deforestation in the Amazon fell dramatically. And they fell dramatically because of specific policies that were put in place. And you—and so we know what to do to reduce deforestation because we tried it in the past and these policies worked. And they involved a number of things, not just, you know, the monitoring—the very sophisticated satellite imagery, monitoring/law enforcement and coordination of the several environmental agencies in Brazil, but also measures like, for instance—and as an economist I particularly like this measure.
The central bank of Brazil in 2008 instituted a resolution that essentially created—because in the Amazon region rural credit is essentially—actually, in a lot of Brazil. But in the Amazon region specifically, rural credit is essentially provided by public banks. And so what the central bank did was institute a blacklist, let’s say, of districts within the Amazon, or municipalities within the Amazon, where deforestation rates were occurring at a much higher pace and where there was evidence that, you know, farmers, local farmers, were not meeting the environmental regulations and the environmental norms.
This blacklist—so anybody who was put on this blacklist was essentially shut off from credit markets. They were not receiving any kind of access to credit. And according to a lot of research that’s been done on this initiative alone, that measure—just that measure—served to reduce deforestation by about 20 percent in different parts of the Amazon, and in the different parts of the Amazon where it was applied. So there are things like this that have already worked. So in essence you’ve got carrots and you’ve got sticks. And you have policies and things that have worked in the past. This central bank resolution that I mentioned is still in effect. So it could be used once again. It hasn’t been revoked. It’s just that the current government is not moving in that direction, is not using these tools that it has available to it. In fact, one of the things that it has done is dismantled, to some extent, the capacity of the monitoring and the law enforcement abilities of the environmental agencies. So that’s where we are.
TERCEK: OK. Thank you, Monica. Let’s turn to Peter.
Peter, there are a lot of additional issues for us to consider. I know you’ve been focusing on them. The other Amazonian countries, the Leticia Pact, the role of China, the role of indigenous communities in the Amazon. How do all those players fit into this storyline?
SELIGMANN: Pretty directly. I’d say that, you know, part of the drive of deforestation, of course, as we’ve talked about it, is the demand for agricultural commodities—whether it’s soy, or whether it’s beef. And so if you trace where the fires are being—are taking place, and what commodities are being grown, and where those commodities are going, you can see direct correlation. So there’s an increase in delivery to Europe, and an increase in delivery of soy in particular to China, beef to China, to Russia, to Egypt. So there’s direct correlation between this increase and actually the tariff war between the United States and China, which has resulted in a decrease in the importing of soy and beef from United States to those other countries.
So, number one, there’s a global economic connection. Number two, what’s really intriguing to me is that the Amazon, which is, you know, 880 million hectares, a third of that—or 30 percent of that, actually, is under the guardianship of recognized indigenous protected areas. So the constitution of Brazil is actually very clear as to the rights of indigenous peoples. And as a little bit of an aside, President Bolsonaro has actually stated in speeches that the institute that he admires the most in the United States has been the U.S. Cavalry, because of its effectiveness in eliminating indigenous Native Americans. So what is happening in Brazil now is not only is 30 percent of the—of the Amazon under indigenous guardianship legally, but the government has said: Those forested areas need to be accessed. We know we cannot do it legally, but we will look the other direction.
And so what is happening now is an assault on indigenous people’s rights. And what’s interesting, of course, about those indigenous peoples is that they are very effective in securing the health of these large ecological territories that are their own. In fact, if you look at maps right now that look at an overlay of fires with indigenous territories, the indigenous territories are actually the most secure of the territories actually resisting invasion of fire and agriculture. So indigenous peoples play a very, very important role in securing the health of the Amazon. And I should say, it’s not just the Amazon. You know, about 35 percent of the entire terrestrial Earth is under the guardianship of indigenous peoples. And those are the territories on this planet that contain about 70 percent of the intact ecosystems.
So direct correlation with commodity price. Direct correlation with indigenous peoples. And you know, that’s just the state of the world. So we’ve got some important allies in indigenous peoples. And we also need to be looking at those organizations that are directly involved in the financing and the trading of commodities so that we could actually get at the heart of how do you solve some of these problems?
I’d like to comment just for a second on something that Monica talked about, which is this concept of payment for ecosystem services around the enormous role that Brazil plays in terms of carbon capture and sequestration. About 5 percent of the CO2 that’s human caused is actually absorbed by Amazonian forests. So there is an outsized role that the Amazon plays. And when we look at solutions, we need to look at both what’s in the enlightened self-interest of the Brazilians in terms of not allowing a tipping point so that that forest becomes savannah, which would be devastating to the agricultural, the precipitation and the agricultural productivity within Brazil itself. And so that’s in the self-interest of Brazil to keep that forest standing.
But the waters and the precipitation that emerges from the Amazon doesn’t just stay in Brazil. It actually goes up to kind of atmospheric rivers to benefit the Midwest of the United States. So there is a strong argument that this is a global good and there should be a common—there should be a concerted, thoughtful way to balance the benefits to Brazil and the benefits to the rest of the world. So I would just say that out of those—it’s a complex question, for sure. And it’s a very political question right now in terms of how you address the challenges in Brazil. It’s no less complicated than the challenges we’re facing in the United States in terms of the political world. So I wish there was an easy solution. There is not.
TERCEK: OK, thank you, panelists. Really interesting. So it reminds me, in my time at the Nature Conservancy, the way I used to think about this is, well, we wish—we wish federal governments were doing more to address the climate challenge, but for a variety of reasons they in many cases seem to be backing away. NGOs, I think, are doing everything they can. I think there are limits to how much an NGO can do. And so then I thought about the private sector and said: Well, how can we get the private sector to do more? Well, you know, during the period of success in reducing deforestation, the private sector, both international and Brazilian companies, played a very big role in helping Brazil understand it was in, to use Peter’s phrase, in their enlightened self-interest to get this right.
What can we do—is that a lever that’s available for us now? Can the panelists imagine somehow global multinationals, food companies, commodity traders, and their Brazilian counterparts can take stronger action—boycotts, these kinds of things—because you’d think that would get the attention of the government fast. They care about the economy in general. They care about agribusiness. Is there a potential there? What do you guys think?
ZARIN: So happy to kick off that part of the discussion, Mark. There is this—as Pete and Monica have mentioned—really clear evidence that his is a—there is self-interest, if we’re looking at the level of a kind of national self-interest, public self-interest. This period of decline in deforestation of the decade roughly from 2004 to 2014 in Brazil was accompanied by actual increases in revenue and production from agriculture from the very same places where deforestation was going down. And that’s because the—as occurred in the U.S., you know, a hundred and fifty years ago, you close the agricultural frontier, innovation increases, intensification increases, the production itself actually increases under those conditions.
What that requires, though, is it requires investment and it requires actors that are functioning within the bounds of the—of the legal system that is imposed in a democratic society. What we have now in Brazil is just this huge amount of illegal activity. It’s not that the whole sector is acting illegally. Far from it. There are many, many good actors in this sector. But like any other sector, even here, there is a percentage of criminality that’s in this space. And because of corruption and because of governance challenges, that percentage of criminality is not insignificant. And it is going to continue to be acting in those ways that are in pursuit of self-interest rather than public interest, as long as it’s competitively allowed to do so. And in some cases, even encouraged to do so because of the challenges around corruption that are deeply ingrained in the system.
Now, that doesn’t mean that there are no points of intervention. The international business community has a huge role to play in this space that should seem self-evident. In response to the fires, in fact, a number of international business coalitions put out a letter that they all signed that was broadly supportive of deforestation control agenda, supporting progressive business in Brazil that was attentive to these issues. And there was an interesting sentence in that letter that said something to the effect of, you know, no multinational company can afford to have illegality in its supply chain—or, the risk of illegality in its the supply chains.
But the fact is that in soft commodity or agricultural commodity supply chains, in precious metals supply chains, they are full of illegality. They say that they cannot have the risk of this, but they are—they have this in their supply chains consistently and seem not quite ready to root it out. We have an experience from a very, very different sector that evolved over the past two decades. I’m sure you and the audience here is all familiar with work done around conflict minerals or blood diamonds, where norms in commerce changed over actually a remarkably short period. So that the conditions of productions associated with precious gems now are considered to be embedded in the product themselves. And it is both a norm as well as a matter—a legal matter to not purchase conflict minerals.
But what we’ve got now are conflict commodities that are in the form of whether it’s precious minerals, like gold, of which about 90 percent is infected with illegality, or soft commodities that are much higher volumes and lower value that have deforestation in addition to the rights violations of indigenous and other peoples embedded in them . That’s just the current business norm that we have, not only in Brazil and other Amazonian countries but throughout the global marketplace around commodities that are coming out of places in the developing world where we don’t have adequate governance.
TERCEK: Well, panelists, how can we get those norms to change? Time’s not really on our side when we think about the climate challenge. Monica or Peter?
SELIGMANN: I mean—
DE BOLLE: Go ahead. Go ahead, Peter. No, I was just going to comment on something that Dan said. Go ahead.
SELIGMANN: What we have right now, which is an extraordinarily power tool, is social media. And social media shines a powerful light on companies that do the right thing and do the wrong thing. And you do not want to be seen as a predator versus a partner. And so that’s really the power of the consumer. And it affects the mood, the sense of value of employees in companies when they are—when their companies are criticized. It’s an enormously important tool. And that tool needs to be deployed. It needs to be focused on who’s financing and who’s buying. And I think that if that were to happen you will see a—that’s how transformation takes place. That’s what happened with the mining industry. It was a clear demand by the public that this was behavior that could not be tolerated.
And I think the private sector plays an enormously important role. If you look at the discussions between the minister of agriculture and the president in Brazil, the minister of agriculture is extraordinarily sensitive to who is going to buy the products that we grow. And if the European market says: We will not buy soy or beef that comes from recently deforested territories, that will affect the behavior of the government of Brazil. And China, which is a very important purchaser, if they were to do the same thing that would push it right over the edge. I don’t expect that to happen, especially in regard to China, because China has a policy of, quote, “not interfering” with international countries. But you know, there are tools that can be deployed, and they have to be deployed. And the consumer has to be part of this, because the consumer’s voice will influence—I mean, American consumers will affect American political actions as well. And so I would just say that there’s an important role to play. And in the United States, the private sector in particular is very, very sensitive to the sounds that resonate in the public and in the media.
TERCEK: OK. I’m going to ask one more question, then I’m going to turn it over to all of you.
Monica, you mentioned payment for ecosystems, which I think everybody understands. The Amazon plays this enormously important role globally in regulating climate. So payment for ecosystems makes a lot of sense. But how do you make this happen? I mean, my understanding is Brazil recently rejected aid from the G-7, which you could view as an offer of payment for ecosystem services. So what are the practical steps here to make this happen.
DE BOLLE: Well, I think there are two issues here. So on the one hand when it comes to aid and what was offered by the European Union there’s this question of sovereignty that’s always very ill-resolved, right? And we were speaking about this as we were having lunch. You know, the way that countries and other governments sort of talk to governments, like the government of Brazil, is very important. You can’t just go in and accuse. You have to engage in a different way, because otherwise you’re directly infringing on this issue of sovereignty, and then you’re actually playing into potentially, you know, a government’s nationalist leanings, which is inevitably going to happen. So that kind of engagement needs to change. It can’t just be about, you know, an accusatory type of dynamic, because that doesn’t work. And I think we’ve seen in the interactions between President Bolsonaro and President Macron of France how that can, you know, go overboard very, very quickly. So I think there’s an issue here that has to be better dealt with.
In the question of payments for environmental services specifically, of course, you know, something like the services that the Amazon provides, which we’re all speaking of, these are services that are in—that economists would call public goods. You know, their benefits accrue to the public at large. They’re not privately accrued. Pricing public goods is one of the things that, you know, the economics profession has grappled with over years. We have managed to find ways of pricing public goods. This is exactly another one of those instances where we need to figure out what is the best way to price this one public good, which is the sequestration of carbon within the Amazon.
It’s complicated. It’s complicated. It’s even more complicated by the fact that you need actual coordination between private sector—the private sector, and the government, and the government of different parts of the world. Yes, it gets much more complicated because of that, because you do need that coordination. And the world today is not really a world where you see much coordination at all. In fact, it’s going sort of the opposite direction. So it’s complicated by all of those factors, but it is something that we know—we do know how to do. We do know how to price public goods. So it should be something that is doable. It should be something that is feasible.
Let me say one final thing that kind of touches on what Dan was saying before. And that has to do with—you know, as you were asking the question about the private sector and what role the private sector can play, there is one crucial issue in the Amazon—in the Brazilian Amazon but in the Amazon as a whole, which is to do with land rights, and who owns what piece of land. To a large degree, with the exception of, you know, what the Brazilian constitution covers and the issues that Peter was raising, that there are areas in the Amazon where land tenure is just not clear. It’s not clear who owns it. And even when it’s kind of clear who owns it, it’s not all that clear. So that is something that the Brazilian government specifically has struggled with for a very long time. It hasn’t really been able to resolve. The Bolsonaro administration says that this is one issue that they want to address, but they haven’t said exactly how.
Addressing this issue also involves one other thing, which has to do with something that Dan said, dealing with, you know, the distorted incentives which currently exist because of this complication in land tenure and land rights, which lead to deforested land being worth more than land that actually has standing forest on it. That is a recipe for speculation, and of the type of land speculation that we’ve seen. Again, it’s an economic design type of thing. You can design policies to correct those distortions. But ultimately you kind of have to do this all within one strategy. And you do have to have cooperation between the private sector and the government.
TERCEK: OK, thanks.
SELIGMANN: Mark, can I just add one thing?
TERCEK: Yes, please.
SELIGMANN: President Duque of Colombia called a meeting in the little town Leticia, which is just adjacent to the Brazilian Amazon but it’s in the Colombian Amazon. And he invited all of the heads of state of the Amazonian nations to attend this. All of them participated. And it was after the recognition that there was an extraordinary increase in fires. The only president who did not arrive was President Bolsonaro. But President Bolsonaro was having an operation. He called into the meeting. And out of that gathering came something called the Leticia Pact, which is now been activated—but not with solutions—but activated in terms of a conversation amongst the heads of state and the ministers of environment in terms of how do they collaborate in terms of addressing the invasion, the burning, the fires, and the damage within the Amazon itself? And so they have—actually President Duque had put together a small taskforce of—a small group of people to actually come up with recommendations as to pathways forward.
And there are a few things that have emerged as kind of essential ingredients for solving these challenges. One is real-time and accurate data. Where are fires, and how do you deploy in real time brigades to put out fires? Another was put together a significant fund for investing in reforestation, because reforestation not only increases the carbon absorption but also creates livelihoods and jobs. A third was really recognizing and securing the rights of indigenous peoples. A fourth was generating the revenues so that the protected areas that exist can really be secured. And the fifth was really having an engagement with the commodities and the agricultural industry to look at what are the incentives for their behavior to shift into one of enthusiastic compliance instead of can we actually get around this in one way or another?
So these conversations, you know, are ongoing. What’s interesting is Brazil has not yet committed to being a formal part of this. And there is a serious amount of pressure being placed on Brazil just acknowledging that if you do not, this could very well affect a flow of foreign assistance. It could affect private sector engagement, as you asked earlier, Mark, in Brazilian commodity markets. So it’s in real time being played out right now. And, you know, we’ll see what the results are. But I just wanted to mention that Duque has really spearheaded this in a very thoughtful way.
TERCEK: Thanks, Peter.
OK, let’s open it up to the audience. Yes, we have mics, don’t we? So here comes the mic. If you could just say who you are and—
Q: My name is Edward Luttwak.
I own a ranch of last twenty years in the Beni in front of Rondônia. I guess in the heart of the Amazon. Part of it is natural forest and nobody touches, because $300 per hectare is to cut down the forest. You can buy savannah for cows for a hundred and fifty (dollars). This is the Beni, Provincia Mamoré, right in front of Rondônia. So some years ago somebody offered me two hundred and fifty square miles of intact gallery forest. So I contacted lots of NGOs, spent a lot of time doing it, asking them to come out. Conservation International sent out somebody called Eduardo Forno, who’s office is in La Paz. He came with an airplane flown by a guy called Justiniano Hermes who’s very well-known for flying around the Amazon, sometimes carrying interesting substances. So Hermes showed up with Forno, who’s a very thoughtful, knowledgeable person.
They overflew my ranch. They found all five kinds of monkeys, other than the golden marmoset, present in great numbers. They found the sometimes semi-extinct Amazonian—so-called Amazonian wolf, which is a—you know, a fox on stilts, and so on. And then they found the largest—they’ve seen from the airplane—the largest alligators they have ever seen. It’s the same one that’s in Florida, but ours grow very big. So again, I said, I am willing to buy the land, give it to you, and you simply look after it. What happened is that Mr. Forno and Justiniano flew off. Nothing ever happened. Every other NGO I contacted, I can’t spend my time contacting NGOs. None of them were willing to do it. And by the way, my neighbors—my neighbor rancher just died. And his sons want to sell their land. It costs appropriately $30 an acre, $35 an acre, depends how you bargain. And you’re getting intact land, where the forest has never been cut, which is full of wildlife.
But my experience so far is that there are thousands of NGOs around the world that have conferences, meetings, and so on. Nobody’s actually willing to come and spend thirty-five bucks to buy an acre—it’s actually $150 a hectare. And you can buy and do what I did. Now, I funded with cows in the savannah, which was always savannah, that was never deforested. And by the way, the smoke—I don’t know what happened in Brazil, but the smoke we are getting is a gift from Rondônia, because we’re right on the border, has not increased in recent years, as far as we know, OK? But this is just subjective. So I don’t know what has happened elsewhere.
Final point of factual thing, whoever burns the drippy rainforest, I don’t know how they do it. They must cover it in film. The forest that they’re cutting in Brazil is Cerrado. It is a kind of bosque. It is a wood. You know, it is that kind of stuff that really does dry out. But the actual rainforest, you cannot burn it.
TERCEK: So, well, do you have a question or are you just disappointed in NGOs?
Q: Yes, my question is none of the discussion so far reflects the fact that we have a population of thousands of NGOs all around the world, who have Amazonian in the their name, and none of them do the simplest thing, which is to buy a ticket, fly to Santa Cruz, buy three hectares, and pay somebody like, let’s say, $10 a week to look after it. (Off mic.)
TERCEK: Yeah, I—Peter, I’ll turn it over to you. But, you know, who knows in that particular case why NGOs didn’t step up and buy. But I challenge the idea that that’s the solution at scale here for nonprofit NGOs funded by donors, to raise the capital to buy the Amazon. But Peter, since the gentleman mentioned your great organization, Conservation International, the floor is yours.
SELIGMANN: Thank you.
TERCEK: Hold on, we’re hearing from Peter now. Thank you.
SELIGMANN: OK. So I’d like his email—(laughter)—and I’d like to see if his offer still stands, number one. Number two, the very first—so the Beni is on Bolivia. And the very first initiative of Conservation International in 1987 was to do something that was referred to as a debt for nature swap, where CI acquired Bolivian debt and traded it with the government of Bolivia to create the Beni Biosphere Reserve in Santa Cruz, in the area of the Beni province. So it’s an area of extraordinary ecological importance. And so I’m interested in learning more about that particular opportunity, number one.
Number two, Mark, I think that you’re absolutely right. To get to the scale of solution that’s going to required is not going to be the acquisition of individual’s properties, because you just can’t get—you just won’t be able to get to the scale. You’re looking at a territory, the Amazon, which is about, you know, 880 million hectares. But I also want to say I really appreciate the interest on behalf of the speaker that raised the question, because that approach to—that willingness to engage in a constructive solution is really important. And that’s why it’s important to continue that conversation.
TERCEK: OK. Well-said, Peter. Thank you. I agree with you.
Other questions or challenges? Yes, sir.
Q: So should I have a mic?
TERCEK: Yeah, here comes your mic.
Q: My name is Jon Berg. I’m from the Norwegian Embassy here in D.C.
So when we speak about paying for ecosystems, I need to mention that Norway has paid Brazil about $1 billion for reduced—verified reduced deforestation. And money has begun going to Amazon Fund. And I now come to the question. (Laughs.) So, Monica, you mentioned Amazon Fund. And how do you think we could scale up that? You see it’s too small.
DE BOLLE: So I am deeply grateful. I, and I think a lot of others, are deeply grateful to Norway for—you know, for the efforts with the Amazon Fund, and for, you know, being the main funder, actually. The Amazon Fund is almost entirely Norway. I think the—it is—it is a—when it was set up it was one of the first REDD+ initiatives by the U.N. in the context of the U.N. And I think it has, and it still has, a lot of potential. It would, of course, involve bringing other countries in, given that, you know, Norway has already done a lot of its share and, you know, it’s just—you know, it’s a question of what we want to do with this fund. Do we want to make it into something much larger, where you can actually have an impact? And even, perhaps, address the issues that the gentleman to your right has raised. You know, what do we want to do with it? What’s the strategy?
And I think that question involves to a very large extent what the government of Brazil is thinking of doing. At the moment, they don’t seem very inclined to make the Amazon Fund one of the main sort of mechanisms or vehicles through which or by which you can resolve the conservation aspect and the deforestation aspect. In fact, they seem to be moving in the opposite direction. They’ve recently talked about changing the governance structure of the fund. They’ve recently talked about doing several things to the fund that Norway rightly disagrees with, and so does Germany. So at the moment, there’s a—there’s a divergence of views in terms of those who actually fund the Amazon Fund and provide it with the resources, and the way that the Brazilian government is going about it. So I think we need to find some common ground, because the Amazon Fund really is important. And we don’t need something else to replace it. We already have it. We have it in the form of the Amazon Fund.
TERCEK: Go ahead, Dan.
ZARIN: Maybe I’ll just add to that. I think the Norwegian government’s provided really extraordinary leadership. One of the most remarkable things about it is that it’s persisted from one government to the next in Norway, which is just a completely foreign concept for those of us who are from this country. But it was always viewed—and I’ve been engaged in working with colleagues involved in running that fund for a long time—it has always been viewed as a pilot, as an experiment, not as the thing that was going to solve the worlds’ problems. And one of the challenges that comes up currently, of course, when you look at the kinds of scaling that Monica is talking about, which I think we all recognized is needed, is so who’s going to pay for this, right? Where is the money going to come from? It’s not all going to come from the generous government of a small Scandinavian country that has five million people in it.
And one of—and there is interest in this kind of work emerging from the private sector, where we really need to be able to use public finance to leverage private sector investment in this space. One of the—and it creates challenges. It creates challenges for the environmental community, for the private sector itself, for thinking about where does this problem come from and how are we going to solve it? One of the most interesting experiments going on now is from a space that’s often considered to be the enemies of the environmental movement, from the oil and gas industry. There are a number of energy-sector companies that see the opportunity to actually be funding this kind of work in the forest sector as a means of addressing the fact that they’re selling gasoline to all of us, right? All of us are part of this climate problem. They’re selling gasoline to all of us. That gasoline is contributing to the climate change problem.
An example of this is Shell Oil now in the Netherlands has been experimenting with allowing people to pay an extra euro-cent per liter of gasoline, which when you do the math adds up to pretty much the same amount that the Norwegian government is paying—has been paying into the Amazon Fund, which is $5 a ton. They’ve expanded the program now to encompass a large number of people who are—who buy gas frequently from Shell in the U.K. They’re using that money to buy credits from the highest quality projects that are contributing—that are helping to reduce emissions from forests in Southeast Asia and in Peru, that’s two examples. They’ve got tens of millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars they’re planning to invest in this space. And it’s not only them. There are others as well.
The modalities, the structures for this kind of an emergent market that could be very large scale around these kinds of payments are just starting to get formed. And it’s largely in this space of experimentation now, but I would surmise from just what we’ve seen seeing over the past decade or two decades is that it’s not going to happen based on foreign aid. It’s not—this is not going—this is not a problem that foreign aid is going to solve. It’s a problem that we’re all part of, because we’re all consumers. And via the companies that service our needs, we’re going to need to be part of the solution. It’s not going to be governments alone that address it.
TERCEK: Thanks. Thanks very much.
Yes, ma’am. Can we have a mic up here?
Q: Katherine Marshall from Georgetown University.
One actor you haven’t mentioned in this is the pope. And broader interreligious, with the rainforest—Interfaith Rainforest Initiative, the Amazon Synod just earlier this month. I have two questions. One is, first of all the sort of moral voice and what more could be done on that. And then secondly, whether you see practical steps that what is after all an enormous transnational force that might be mobilized to do something about the—something that they’ve actually addressed as a priority issue.
TERCEK: OK, great question. Any panelists? Peter, you want to talk about the pope?
SELIGMANN: Sure. Sure. I have extraordinary admiration for the pope and for his standing, and his push, and his commitment. So I don’t know yet whether the extraordinary inspiration that he provides to people is going to actually be converted into transformations in the way governments are going to behave, or if it’s going to result in a change in the behavior of agricultural commodities and exploiters of forest. I do know that the synod is inspiring indigenous peoples, and it’s inspiring environmental activists, and it’s inspiring young people to become engaged. And I think that the most hopeful part of this moment, and perhaps the most hopeful part of the climate week that took place in New York a couple of months ago, was the raising of the voice of young people. And their inspiration and their impatience. And the raising of the voice of indigenous peoples, and their impatience. And I think when you get these forces coming together, and when you add to that the power and the voice of the pope and the synod, it feels to me that there is actually a tipping point going in the right direction, despite all the bad news that has been going in the wrong direction.
So it’s hard to quantify. But I feel globally that there is a change in the winds, and a change in the directions. We are going to have to use that power and that voice as well as we can. And that means how we vote and how we consume. And if we could activate those two forces, then we have a chance of actually changing the way capitalism and the market forces play.
TERCEK: Thanks, Peter. You know, I’ll just add about the pope, the Nature Conservancy, my former organization, had a very ambitious plan—this will seem small relative to these grand issues—but we had a plan to bring so-called green infrastructure to Washington, D.C. to deal with the stormwater runoff challenge. And to do that, we needed a real estate owner, a big real estate owner, to be our partner. And we struggled with the real estate community. And then the Catholic Diocese stepped up, was a superb partner. That program is alive and well. And when I had to go to the ceremony to thank the bishop and—I guess cardinal overseeing this, he attributed it to the pope’s encyclical. And he said: When the pope speaks, we respond. So we need—I think we really need more leadership like that, obviously.
Dan, go ahead.
ZARIN: Yeah. I want to endorse everything Peter just said, and I want to add something else, because I think it’s really important to keep in mind the sort of macro trends that are happening. So we’re talking primarily about Brazil here, although other Amazonian countries as well. Brazil is on the cusp of becoming a majority Evangelical country. And it is a particular kind of Evangelism that is predominant, that is neo-Pentecostal Evangelical Christianity, which does not have the same value associated with Laudato si’ and the pope’s emphasis on the natural world, and on the relationship between people and nature. And in fact, is a particular approach that looks at the end times as a good thing, that we might want to cultivate arriving at the end times, right? So understanding these dynamics in the religious space is extremely difficult. There are trends pulling in very different directions. And this demographic shift, and certainly this—the current government in Brazil is—has that Evangelical base as a core part of its political support. So we have a complex set of issues with respect to religion.
TERCEK: Yes, ma’am. Go ahead.
Q: Thank you. Cassia Carvalho. I’m with the Brazil-U.S. Business Council.
Just a piece of information, I have a question. So the Brazilian government has reached out to us to initiate a dialogue that we kicked off in Brazil last week on sustainability and resource efficiency. But the Brazilian government is putting at the table the Amazon issue and asking us to help to bring—with the dialogue with the private sector. And it’s been very positive. Monica, to your point, it’s how you engage with the Brazilian government that is extremely important. And issues of investment, sustainable investment, is part of this dialogue that we have with the Brazilian government.
But my question is the following: What is the real narrative here? Because I keep getting confusing information. You mentioned that deforestation was on the decline over the years, when I continuously see graphs, such as the one on the handout, that says deforestation has been rising for the past fifteen years. So what is the real story? Was deforestation really on the decline or is it really rising?
TERCEK: OK, Monica I know your recent paper was super clear about this.
DE BOLLE: Yeah, so—yeah, my recent paper is very clear about this. So for those who are interested I have a paper published at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. It has Amazon and carbon bomb in it, so googling it is fairly easy. I have the data on there from the Brazilian National Space Institute, INPE. And if you look at the historical data that INPE collects, it starts off in 1988. And it shows a very clear pattern. So there was an increase in deforestation until 2004. And then that trend—in 2004 we reached a critical point. And from that point onwards the governments that followed were all looking at the issue of deforestation and putting in place policies to reduce it. So then between 2004 and 2014, what you see is this very dramatic reduction in deforestation of over 80 percent, starting from the base point of 2004.
And what’s happened since, when you look at then—you know, from 2014 onwards, what has happened to deforestation, the rates of deforestation began to rise again in 2015. So 2015 and 2016 were two years where deforestation picked up, especially in Brazil. Remember that those two years Brazil was in recession, so a lot of the—a lot of the—there were a lot of budget cuts to the environment agencies that were responsible for monitoring and law enforcement. And that, of course, had an effect on deforestation. By 2017-2018, the situation in Brazil specifically, the economically situation, was still not solid. So you still saw, you know, a relative uptick in deforestation. And then in 2019, it really takes off. So it’s just a matter of looking at the data. It’s all there in the paper.
TERCEK: There you have it. And I’m afraid we have time for one question. Yes, sir.
Q: Steve Brock, Center for Climate Security.
I would also like to commend Norway for the tremendous role that you played in a really creative way facilitating the Colombian peace process with your commitment to the rainforest and the Amazon in Colombia. So my question for the panel is, how is the vast tracts of rainforest that are now open to economic development two years on, since the Colombian peace process, the first peace treaty that had sustainability and rural economic development at its core, how is that going, since the FARC has laid down their arms and opened up that area for agriculture and other things?
TERCEK: OK, who wants to talk about deforestation in Colombia post-settlement with the FARC?
DE BOLLE: Peter.
TERCEK: Peter, are you on that? I don’t know the data.
SELIGMANN: I have a couple of comments on it. The first is that I wanted to just comment on Norway, just quickly. Norway has done an extraordinary thing in providing the funding for Liberia, Guyana, Brazil, other countries, Indonesia, to really take on deforestation. And that is a really important—that has really been transformative. We’re now seeing some real resistance, especially in Brazil. And so I would like to encourage Norway to think about a different approach, which would be to begin to explore the possibility of relationships with subnational actors, like different states in Brazil as opposed to just dealing at a national level. So that you can engage Amazonas, Pará, Rondônia, some of the other states that—Amapá—that are massively important for rainforest health and are ready—and have governors that are willing and able to engage. So I’d like—I know there are complications, but there should be a way to be able to do that.
I would also like to suggest that one way to increase the amount of resources available, since this is such a powerful and potent issue today—the health of forests, rainforests for climate and for biodiversity—is for the government of Norway to actually make these funds available on a crowdsourcing—the challenge crowdsourcing for matching, so we can actually double the money. I’d like to be able to—and I think we need to begin thinking creatively how do we leverage the funds from Norway. That was my—kind of my—that’s one thing. I know that has nothing to do with Colombia.
Colombia, it’s really been intriguing because although the peace treaty has resulted in the laying down of arms, it has also resulted in a lot of people coming back to their territories, to their homelands, and to their home areas of Colombia and looking for work. And so one of the results of searching for work has been searching for the opportunity. And one of those opportunities has actually been logging and deforestation. So that Colombia’s kind of caught betwixt and between. There has been a great impact on peace. There’s been a great interest in the creation of larger protected areas by President Santos, and now by President Duque. So we’re seeing a real increase in the number of protected areas. But at the same time, what we’re seeing is an increase in deforestation.
So one of the things that’s happening in Colombia, led by the government of Colombia and by the military in Colombia, is trying to provide employment opportunities to those people that have laid down their weapons for reforesting. And there is an area, Putumayo, which is in the western side of Colombia where there’s a major reforestation effort that is actually being financed by the IDB. CI’s involved in it, other organizations are involved in it, to create employment opportunities for those people that laid down their weapons are now looking for good employment.
TERCEK: OK. The Council insists we stop on time, so we have to bring this lively conversation to an end. Lots to talk about. Please join me in thanking our panelists for their great info. (Applause.)