“We are determined to revitalize the Amazon rainforest,” he said during a public dialogue with two of his South American counterparts, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and President Chandrikapersad “Chan” Santokhi of Suriname. The event was held in the framework of the COP27 climate talks that took place November 6-20 in the Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Petro proposed a meeting early next year among all the countries with territory in the Amazon Basin—including Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Guyana, and Peru, as well as French Guiana—to come up with a plan to restore the “millions and millions of hectares” of rainforest lost in recent decades.
“Those of us who govern in countries that have territorial responsibility in the Amazon rainforest have a responsibility to the world, to humanity to life,” said Petro, who took office in August.
The protection and preservation of the Amazon will take money and a sustained effort over time, he said. Underscoring the critical role of the Amazon as one of the “pillars” of the global climate system, Petro said he hoped the rest of the world would support this initiative.
Given that the Amazon region is a carbon “sponge,” he said, it is also time for South America to engage in dialogue on this issue with the United States, one of the world’s largest CO2 emitters.
Santokhi and Maduro applauded Petro’s initiative and pledged their support. In his remarks, the Surinamese president called the Amazon region “the lungs of the world” and pointed out that Suriname is one of only three countries (along with Panama and Bhutan) considered carbon-negative because they absorb more carbon than they emit.
Santokhi said the “obligation” to protect the Amazon extends to all aspects of it, including forests, waterways, biodiversity, ecosystems, natural resources, the people who live there, and the cultural and spiritual links that indigenous peoples have to the forest.
Santokhi said a scientific study is needed to examine the impact of the climate crisis on the Amazon, so that the region’s leaders can take appropriate actions. He noted that in his own country, parts of the forest are now flooded by heavy rainfall, while other areas are plagued by drought and forest fires.
Maduro, for his part, stressed that South Americans have a responsibility to “stop the destruction” of the Amazon and undertake a process of “forest regeneration.”
The Venezuelan leader said that one of the first steps in this new initiative should be to reinvigorate the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization. The permanent secretariat of that intergovernmental body was established in the Brazilian capital, Brasilia, in 2003, according to its website.
Both Maduro and Petro referred to Brazil’s president-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who will take office on January 1. “Brazil’s entry into this agreement is essential, it’s absolutely strategic,” Petro said.
Several days after the meeting between Petro, Maduro, and Santokhi, Lula arrived at the conference in Egypt and “electrified the gathering,” as the New York Times reported. “Brazil is back in the world,” said the president-elect, who pledged to protect the Amazon rainforest and fight illegal logging and mining in the region.
Brazil’s current president, Jair Bolsonaro, did not attend COP27 but sent an official delegation. During the conference, Brazil, represented by Minister of the Environment Joaquim Leite, signed a forest protection agreement with Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The three countries together are reportedly home to more than half of the world’s tropical rainforests.
During his time in Sharm el-Sheikh, Lula held separate meetings with John Kerry, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, and with China’s Special Envoy for Climate, Xie Zhenhua.
Before COP27, Kerry had expressed optimism about Lula’s commitment to help save the Amazon. “Under the Bolsonaro government, regrettably, the level of deforestation increased in the Amazon, and it is at perilous high levels today,” Kerry said in a briefing to reporters. He said that the 25 million people who live in the Amazon region will need the world’s help.
“They don’t have a lot of income other than, today, cattle or logging. And so we in the rest of the world are going to have to recognize that if we’re going to value this great forest, we have to help them to be able to preserve it. And I think there are many countries ready to step up to do that,” Kerry said.
U.S. President Joe Biden also talked at COP27 about the importance of halting deforestation in the Amazon Basin and elsewhere. Preserving forests, he said, doesn’t require developing new technologies.
“We just have to make clear forests are more valuable when they’re preserved than when they’re destroyed,” he said. “It’s that basic.”