-OpEd-

There's something off-putting about negotiations over the Amazon rainforest. It's easy to be cynical, to imagine the commercial interests at stake, the neoliberal machinations.

A natural first reaction here in Colombia may be to say that: "This is our rainforest. There's nothing to negotiate." That's precisely what Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said a while back to members of the foreign press. "The Amazon is ours, not yours." In the meantime, though, Brazil continues to allow the destruction of native reservations as tracts of rainforest are handed over to farmers and miners for short-term profit.

To safeguard the rainforest, it's necessary to show that the palpable benefits of conservation are bigger and better for locals than the short-term profits that motivate Bolsonaro. That's why I suggest that local communities and countries as a whole be compensated for the benefits a forest generates, and that the compensation come from all those who benefit from that forest.

All of this, though, brings us back to the issue of negotiations, and the need to define the key points of those dealings.

In 2015, Colombia negotiated a transfer of funds with the United Kingdom, Germany and Norway with a commitment on its part to eliminate deforestation by 2020. And last year, it renegotiated and agreed to receive $360 million in return to reducing deforestation to 150,000 hectares in 2022, no more than 100,000 in 2025 and zero by 2030.

To safeguard the rainforest, it's necessary to show that the palpable benefits of conservation are bigger and better for locals.

This agreement is a negotiation based on Colombia's capabilities and the costs for the government of curbing deforestation. But these payments are not for the environmental service provided by the remaining forest that spans 55 million hectares in Colombia, 70% of which is part of the Amazon. They are not what is termed Compensation for Environmental Services (CES).

CES is like a rental payment for indirect use. I pay if the way the space is used generates the benefits I expect. For example, imagine that I have a beehive and my neighbor has five hectares of flowers that give her $27 per hectare a year. Except now she has an opportunity to turn the land into a car park that will bring in $32 per hectare. What to do? Simple: I pay her the difference — for my own sake, so that she keeps her flowers and I keep my bee business going.

Member of the Huni Kuin tribe, whose land in Brazil was set on fire by farmers. — Photo: David Tesinsky/ZUMA

The following year, should my neighbor turn one hectare into a car park, I would stop paying for that hectare, but if interested I should still pay for the remaining four hectares of flowers that feed my bees. It is not a stable or permanent accord. It would be revised periodically and adjusted or canceled when conditions change. This applies both to the beneficiary of the environmental service (the beekeeper) and the party defining the use of space (the landowner). It is a voluntary accord with defined terms.

Likewise, it is reasonable for Colombia to demand additional subsidies for preservation efforts that reflect the potential economic gain presented by the remaining forest mass, rather than for marginal variations or annual reduction in deforestation. Our renegotiation of compensations for safeguarding our forests should be part of the country's sustainable, greener economic reactivation.


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