Millennium Post (Kolkata)
After previously claiming that foreign offers of payment to conserve the Amazon are an insulting infringement on the sovereignty of Brazil, it seems that the Jair Bolsonaro government is finally willing to talk price. Specifically how much money Brazil requires to ‘guarantee’ a reduction in deforestation of the Amazon. The promised reduction? 30 to 40 per cent across one year. Without payment of this amount, the government of Brazil will try their best to hold out against deforestation but ‘cannot promise’ anything concrete. There are economic considerations at play after all. So a few things about this particular offer. First, the amount being ‘requested’ is USD 1 billion, a nice and tidy sum. For one year. Second, the man making this ‘offer’ is Brazil’s Minister of Environment Ricardo Salles, a man that has overseen the most devastating spell of deforestation that the Amazon has seen in decades. A Bolsonaro loyalist, Ricardo Salles has helped his President forge one of the most anti-science climate change policy responses in the world. Bolsonaro and his government have openly baulked at and criticised scientists and NGOs. His cabinet is filled with climate change deniers and sceptics like Salles. And Bolsonaro famously fired the head of his own space agency for publishing official data on deforestation of the Amazon that contradicted Bolsonaro’s claims that nothing was amiss. Under the Bolsonaro administration, the laws protecting the forests and the agencies upholding them were both weakened. The fires burning in the Amazon have grown so exponentially that the international community has responded with increasing alarm and anger. It is safe to say that the Bolsonaro government lost a considerable amount of credibility as a result of this fiasco, both at home and abroad. Brazil responded by lashing out at its foreign detractors. Bolsonaro constantly alluded to the ‘greed of other nations’ in regards to the Amazon and claimed that he would not accept bribes to barter away the sovereignty of Brazil. These particular remarks were in response to a comment Joe Biden had made during one of the US Presidential debates last year. Biden had commented on the situation in the Amazon by saying that he would offer the country USD 20 billion to stop burning the Amazon. He had added that if Brazil did not act to curb the rampant deforestation, it would soon face dire consequences. This perceived threat did not sit well with Bolsonaro who was clearly not a fan of Biden or his politics. And this is why this about-face is so interesting. The sales pitch that Salles is giving is aimed at many different nations and organisations but it is also specifically aimed at the US. There have been reports that Biden is in talks regarding such a ‘pay to not burn’ scheme. These reports have sparked instant alarm amongst many who see such negotiations as a mistake. 199 civil society groups have published a joint letter addressed to the White House stating that the US should not negotiate with the enemy. They have stated that the Bolsonaro government is trying to legalise exploitation and destruction of the precious rainforest. Any negotiations would be tantamount to appeasement. This is because the government of Brazil is literally asking for money so that it does not cut down and burn the Amazon. It is openly expressing that otherwise, it cannot promise anything. There are other risks to this deal as well. Ricardo Salles has given out very few details of this deal. He has indicated that around one-third of the amount will go into updating the monitoring and related policing infrastructure to keep the forest safe. The rest will go into the economic development of those who typically engage in deforestation to diversify them away from their current occupation. The tricky part is that Salles has indicated that it would be the military that would receive the funds rather than appropriate environmental agencies. He claims this is because paying the military is cheaper than hiring new full-time staffers for the Brazilian climate agency Ibama. An agency that Salles has had a role in downsizing. Another suspicious aspect is that Brazil already has access to foreign funds for Amazon. Donations from Germany and Norway equalling some USD 3 billion already exist in a fund for the conservation of the Amazon. Salles had frozen the fund previously as he was unwilling to agree with the strict stipulations the fund put in regards to deforestation. It is unknown how this new deal would be any different than the previous one. Salles, as many observers put it, is looking to monetise Amazon in a big way and this is yet another ploy. He is also known to be exploring the possibility of corporations adopting certain national parks. Regardless Biden may be willing to make the deal even given the risks. There is little time to waste after all. There is emerging research showing that for the first time, parts of the Amazon are emitting more carbon than they are taking in. In this regard, dealing with the Brazilian government would indeed be quicker than establishing some kind of workaround with state governments and NGOs. Not to mention that this kind of side-stepping would be a sure way to antagonise Bolsonaro into belligerence.