Fight Fire with Trade: How Europe Can Help Save the Amazon

The coronavirus pandemic, suspected of originating in bats and pangolins, has brought the risk of viruses that jump from wildlife to humans into stark focus. These leaps often happen at the edges of the world’s tropical forests, where deforestation is increasingly bringing people into contact with animals’ natural habitats

Small-scale slash-and-burn agriculture is one of the
deforestation problems in Brazil’s Amazon jungle. Credit: Mario

By External Source
Sep 15 2020 (IPS)

The EU is thinking about agreeing to a
€4 billion trade deal
with Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and
Paraguay (known as the Mercosur bloc). In our new academic
research, myself and 21 international co-authors looked at the
details of this deal so you don’t have to. What we
wasn’t pretty.

Even though negotiations took two decades, the deal failed to
include Indigenous groups or local communities in negotiations.
This is crucial given that murders of Indigenous leaders in the
Brazilian Amazon has hit the highest level in
two decades
. Many of these violent attacks are linked to land
grabs for agricultural expansion, and very few of them are
officially investigated

Imports from the Mercosur bloc to the EU already result in
deforestation equivalent to one football pitch every three
Worryingly, this trade deal would guarantee cheaper beef and
ongoing tariff-free soy – the two top drivers of deforestation in
the region. Despite this, the deal fails to provide mechanisms to
ensure that deforestation and human rights violations are not
linked to the commodities imported into the EU, clearly in
contradiction to the goals of the
EU Green Deal

To add insult to injury, Brazil’s government is doing the
opposite of what the country agreed to in the Paris Agreement –
to reduce deforestation. Right now, fires are raging through the
Amazon at the same
startling rate
as 2019, while unprecedented burning is sweeping
Brazil’s wetlands
. Out of control fires in wetlands really
shouldn’t be a thing.

The tide looks like it might be turning on this agreement, with
German chancellor Angela Merkel recently voicing “considerable
” following a meeting with youth climate activists.

Here’s the deeper issue that’s often ignored: even without
this contentious deal, the ongoing problems of international trade
will be left untouched.

The EU is already responsible for hefty imports from the
Mercosur bloc. It imports more than
10 million tonnes
of soy (for livestock feed) and over
200,000 tonnes
of beef every year. Imports from the Mercosur
bloc to the EU already result in deforestation equivalent to one
football pitch every
three minutes
. All while the Amazon nears a tipping
that if reached could trigger a rapid shift from lush
tropical rainforest to a dry savanna. This would be catastrophic
for Indigenous people, the region’s agriculture, and the
world’s climate.

If we are serious about combating climate change and supporting
human rights, we must take urgent action.


Infographic from the academic article published in the journal
One Earth. Laura Kehoe, Author provided


Things could be so much better

First things first: it’s clear that we need to cut down on
foods that have high environmental impacts such as meat. Europeans
eat so much meat that they are not only driving deforestation
abroad, but also causing health problems at home. Excessive meat
consumption is associated with increased rates of coronary
heart disease, strokes
, and type
2 diabetes
, with convincing evidence that red and processed
can cause cancer
. If we ate more delicious plants, we’d feel better and
the planet would too

However, fixing our diets alone won’t be enough to completely
solve this issue. To avoid unintentionally fuelling conflict and
ecocide abroad, Europeans also need to fundamentally fix trade.

Luckily, solving this crisis doesn’t require fancy new
inventions or a technological leap. Our research outlines the
mechanisms needed to transform trade for the better, all of which
are available to us now. For example, we could actually listen to
Indigenous peoples and local communities and work to ensure they
don’t lose their land to illegal invasions. We could trace the
origin of products to make sure they don’t come from areas of
deforestation or conflict. We could introduce legal mechanisms like
collective redress – where vulnerable communities have a means to
seek legal action.

Crucially though, even if we hold every company to account and
trace every soybean, we could still indirectly drive pressure on
South America’s last remaining forests, savannas, and wetlands if
our demand increases. To avoid this, it’s important that we make
trade deals contingent on countries making wider progress towards
international commitments – the Paris agreement being a prime

Imagine if the economic muscle of trade was used to create a new
playing field, where entering the game required genuine progress on
reducing deforestation and supporting human rights. In the case of
Brazil, Indigenous leader Sonia Guajajara
two clear benchmarks of progress that should be met
before considering ratifying any new trade deals:

  1. Substantial progress in ending impunity for violence against
    forest defenders, as measured by the number of these cases
    investigated, prosecuted, and brought to trial.
  2. A reduction in deforestation rates that is sufficient to put
    the country back on track to meet its own targets under the Paris

Ultimately, we need to have the courage to stand up and act in
line with the values we already hold. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to
live in a world that isn’t hellbent on destruction? Where we can
have dinner without worrying about whether our meal has a shady

Our research outlines what’s needed to fundamentally fix trade
– it’s now up to the EU to step up and become a leader in
sustainability that we can all be proud of.

, Researcher in Conservation Decision Science and Land
University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a
Creative Commons license. Read the
original article

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Fight Fire with Trade: How Europe Can Help Save the Amazon

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