Future

The Amazon Rainforest Belongs To The Planet, Not Just Brazil

Brazilian President Bolsonaro is wrong to think rainforest destruction is purely an internal matter. The patrimony of the natural world is at stake.

The Amazon rainforest in the Brazilian state of Amazonas
Roberto Pizarro

-OpEd-

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro recently told a gathering of the foreign press corps that "the Amazon is Brazil's, not yours." He didn't hold anything back. And then he added: "deforestation figures on the Amazon are false." It was a confirmation of what his National Security adviser General Augusto Heleno Pereira had said months before, that "the idea of the Amazon as global heritage is nonsense. Foreigners must stop interfering."

The Brazilian leader and his adviser are mistaken. Even if it is physically located mostly in Brazil's territory, the Amazon rainforest is part of the global heritage, in large part because it is indispensable in safeguarding the life of the planet and of humanity. This is the largest forest reserve on the planet, "the lung of the world," which extends over 7.4 million square kilometers and contains 60% of the world's biodiversity.

Precisely because it is part of the world's patrimony, the Amazon poses certain unavoidable demands on the Brazilian state. This is especially true today that the environmental balance has come apart, threatening the survival of millions of people. Bolsonaro and his adviser thus have a duty to protect the Amazon and avoid deforestation. Failure to do this would be a violation of human rights and they cannot argue that foreigners have no right to express their opinion on something affecting all human beings. They must keep the world informed on how they are treating the Amazon's animals, plants and native inhabitants.

Deforestation affected 1% of the Amazon in the 1970s, today it affects 18%.

Yet Bolsonaro's environmental policy ignores the heavy pressures currently exerted on natural ecosystems. The government is easing protective rules to favor mining and big farming groups. It wants to double soy production over the next decade, which will lead to more deforestation. All of this is made easier by the fact that the environment ministry became part of the agriculture ministry, which will in turn be responsible for the demarcation of indigenous land, as the government has said that "indigenous people have already too much land."

Local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international agencies are concerned. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) issued a report in October 2018 showing that one-fifth of the Amazonian rainforest had disappeared over the past 50 years. Greenpeace stated separately that while deforestation affected 1% of the Amazon in the 1970s, today it affects 18%. Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) found that Amazonian deforestation was 88% higher in June, compared to June 2018. This is no fake data.

Instead of addressing the gravity of the issue, the Brazilian president prefers to admire the United States' withdrawal from the Paris Agreement to curb global emissions. Bolsonaro imitated U.S. President Donald Trump during his electoral campaign and promised he would take Brazil out of the agreement. That may be why the French president has threatened to block the recent Mercosur-EU trading pact if Brazil does not show a clear commitment to curbing deforestation, which evidently includes staying in the Paris Agreement.

The world is facing serious environmental challenges. The acceleration of industrialization, urbanization and global trade are placing extreme pressure on ecosystems. Species are disappearing and original forests are substantially reduced, with signs that woodlands are absorbing less CO2. Fertilizers and pesticides are applied far above tolerable levels, hurting plants, waterways and fish.

The Amazon, which should be one of the principal bastions of biodiversity, is being destroyed. This will affect Brazil, surrounding countries and people far beyond, over several generations. This destruction will reduce CO2 absorption capacities, boost warming and threaten subsistence worldwide. Bolsonaro will have to answer to humanity for his role in all this.

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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