A bipartisan group of former U.S. cabinet officials and chief climate negotiators has come together to build support for the Biden-Harris campaign pledge to protect the Amazon rainforests. The group has offered concrete policy recommendations to Congress and Presidential Special Envoy John Kerry, to whom the task of delivering on this promise will fall.
The Climate Principals include three former cabinet officials and four former State Department chief climate negotiators. Collectively, the group’s members have led U.S. climate diplomacy for all Presidential administrations from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to the 2015 Paris Agreement. This is the first time that such a diverse and distinguished bipartisan group has come together to offer concrete international climate policy recommendations for any particular geographic region or economic sector.
The Principals include Bruce Babbitt, former Governor of Arizona and U.S. Secretary of the Interior; Frank Loy, former Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs; Stuart Eizenstat, former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury and Ambassador to the European Union; William Reilly, former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; Todd Stern, former Special Envoy for Climate Change; Tim Wirth, former U.S Senator from Colorado and Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, and Christine Whitman, former Governor of New Jersey and Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Principals have released the Amazon Protection Plan, a set of policy recommendations for how the Biden Administration can deliver on its campaign pledge to mobilise $20 billion to protect the Amazon rainforests, which are said to be disappearing at an alarming rate and are critical to the climate system, public health, human rights, and biodiversity.
The plan promotes policies that raise global ambitions to protect rainforests in partnership with U.S. global allies, South American nations and the indigenous peoples and local communities who have been guardians of the Amazon for many centuries.
Deforestation in the Amazon is a major contributor to global warming. As trees are cut down or destroyed by fires, they release carbon into the atmosphere. If the Amazon were a country, it would be one of the world’s top climate polluters. Annual emissions from the Amazon – which cuts across nine South American nations – are almost as large as emissions from Japan or Indonesia.
The Amazon is also the most biodiverse region in the world, home to millions of Indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities and responsible for regulating rainfall patterns across globally important agricultural regions, both throughout South America and in the United States.
The rate of deforestation in Brazil hit a 12-year-high in 2020 and scientists increasingly are concerned that the Amazon will degrade into a savannah within the next few decades. Finally, deforestation in the Amazon risks triggering a new global pandemic since many new infectious diseases emerge at the forest frontier where people and wildlife collide.
“The Amazon rainforest is absolutely essential to the world. It stabilizes the Earth’s climate and rainfall, sustains many tens of millions of people and is home to more wildlife than anywhere else on Earth,” said Bruce Babbitt, former Secretary of Interior and Governor of Arizona.
“Because the Amazon holds so much carbon and that carbon gets released when the rainforest is destroyed, protecting the Amazon must be an essential part of solving the climate crisis. President Biden deserves credit for pledging to make the Amazon a U.S. foreign policy priority and the policy recommendations we have released today provide a blueprint for mounting an effective global effort,” Babbitt concluded.
“This is a balanced plan aimed at taking urgently needed action to protect the Amazon rainforest based on targeted economic incentives, public and private funding, the sharp reduction of global demand for goods that drive illegal deforestation, and constructive engagement with Brazil that is premised on respect for its national interests and awareness of its desire to participate in various international economic and trade arrangements,” said Todd Stern, former Special Envoy for Climate Change at the U.S. State Department.
“Protecting the Amazon will require action by the private sector,” said Bill Reilly, former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Our Amazon Protection Plan would create powerful incentives for companies and investors to clean up corporate supply chains, increase transparency, reduce corruption and crime, and finance sustainable development in the Amazon region,” Reilly continued.
“Brazil has always been a major player in global climate cooperation, going back to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit,” said Frank Loy, former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs.
“President Biden’s Amazon pledge should be seen by Brazil as a hand of a partner extended in respect and friendship. The world needs Brazil to be a green superpower,” Loy concluded.
The Amazon Protection Plan focuses on four areas where the Biden Administration can act. These include Public & Private Funding, Forest-Friendly Trade, Transparent and Clean Supply Chains, and Robust Diplomacy.
The Amazon Protection Plan is already receiving support and endorsement from voices in Latin America, as well as key climate allies in Europe.
Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the Global Leader of Climate and Energy at the World Wide Fund for Nature, and formerly Peru’s Minister of Environment from 2011-2016, said: “The Amazon is the greatest tropical forest in the world. It is Nature, interconnected in all of its richness and diversity. The climate crisis puts the Amazon at risk. Deforestation in the Amazon worsens the crisis. Protecting the Amazon helps to protect the climate, and all of us. Climate and nature converge. They are inseparable.
“Protecting the Amazon requires leadership from governments, businesses, civil society and indigenous peoples in the region. And we need support from allies, in the US and in the rest of the world. We cannot do it alone. We must work together to tackle the linked problems of environmental crime, green and inclusive development, nature loss and the global climate crisis.”
Joenia Wapixana, Brazilian Congresswoman from the Amazonian State of Roraima, and Brazil’s first Indigenous lawyer, said: “It is essential to invest in the protection of the forest, in programs that protect Amazonia and its biodiversity and natural resources. Consider Indigenous Peoples and their representative institutions as partners, including to receive financial support to develop their ongoing projects, and to hear them and provide space for their participation and creation of plans and actions.”
Germany’s Environment Minister, Svenja Schulze, said: “Germany welcomes President Biden’s commitment to sustainable development and forest protection in the Amazon. The plan put forward today by former US cabinet officials is promising and aligns well with European policy. We look forward to working with the United States and Amazon countries to advance ambitious solutions that benefit all.”
Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment, Sveinung Rotevatn, said: “Norway applauds President Biden’s commitment to Amazon protection. The recommendations shared today by a bipartisan group of former US climate leaders are constructive and consistent with Norway’s approach.
“We look forward to working with the United States to support governments in the Amazon region that are taking ambitious action. We welcome President Biden’s leadership mobilising an effective global response that benefits local people and the planet.”