Climate change takes the stage at the Amazon Summit

The Amazon Summit is back this week, taking place in Belém, Brazil, on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Climate change takes the stage at the Amazon Summit
Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva addresses the audience at the summit of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO), in Belem, Brazil August 8, 2023. Ricardo Stuckert/Brazil Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

The Amazon Basin is the area in South America that surrounds the giant Amazon River and its tributaries, which is also where the heart of the Amazon rainforest lies. This region lies mostly in Brazil and Peru and also parts of Guyana, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Suriname, French Guiana and Venezuela. All of these countries (and the territory of French Guiana) have met in the past for what’s known as the Amazon Summit to coordinate their policies when it comes to the rainforest. But this conference hasn’t been held in 14 years.

The summit is back this week, taking place in Belém, Brazil, on Tuesday and Wednesday. The main focuses are environmental concerns that could affect the Amazon rainforest and organized crime issues (like drug trafficking). All of the Amazon Basin countries are being represented in some way at the talks. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva has been stressing the importance of cross-border collaboration when it comes to moving forward in how South American governments approach Amazonian strategies.

“It has never been so urgent to resume and expand that cooperation. The challenge of our era and the opportunities that arise will demand joint action,” Lula said on Tuesday morning when the summit kicked off.

When it comes to environmental concerns, climate change is, of course, a major talking point–and so is deforestation.

"Are we going to let hydrocarbons be explored in the Amazon rainforest? To deliver them as exploration blocks? Is there wealth there, or is there the death of humanity?" Colombian President Gustavo Petro said in a speech in July. Later, Petro is also quoted as saying, “As heads of state, we must assure the end of new oil and gas exploration in the Amazon.” He’s really not beating around the bush on his push to stop new oil developments in the forest.

At the same time, crime across the Amazon will definitely also drive some discussion.

Some of the border areas between these countries aren’t known for being super well-policed, leading to some drug-trafficking routes taking hold and increasing crime in the Amazon region. Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen drug seizure numbers boost in Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Other problems related to drug trafficking have been on the rise, including local homicide rates, “narco-deforestation” (laundering drug money to buy Amazon land for agriculture) and illegal gold prospecting that pollutes the forest and its waters.

While the countries represented at the summit don’t necessarily agree on how to move forward with Amazonian policy just yet (with some of these countries dealing with different ideologies altogether), a conference like this one could lead to more mutual decisions in the future.