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To Whom Does the Amazon Belong?

In the past week we have witnessed two interesting cases regarding national sovereignty:  Donald Trump was wanting to buy Greenland, and was most put out when Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said that the largest island in the world is not for sale. Responding to that unfriendly reluctance to kowtow to the ‘strategic interests’ of the USA, Trump cancelled a planned visit to Denmark. This might be regarded as a further episode in the farce that is Donald Trump, if it weren’t so typical of a basic lack of respect for weaker nations.

A related, but substantially different scene is playing out between Brazil and the G7 nations. Let us leave aside the personal differences between Presidents Jair Bolsonaro and Emmanuel Macron, and the attractiveness of their respective wives. I see the issue relating to whether the Amazon rain forest is a universal good or the more restricted property of the citizens of Brazil. Clearly the most of forest is within their national territory, and the country has traditionally reaped the economic benefit from the (un)sustainable exploitation of the forests. However, does the recognition of the global importance for the future health of the planet of the tropical forests, including the Amazon, the Congo Basin, New Guinea, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and others, in some way change the status of these vast green lungs of the world? Does the ownership become more universal than national? Has their stewardship imperceptibly become a universal responsibility or concern? Is this the subtext of President Macron and the G7?: The forest is so precious to the whole of humankind, (most of whom believe in the threat of global climate change) that we are willing, if not obliged, to help you (Brazil) to bring under control the fires that are ravaging the lung of the world. This is not just a national crisis. It is a crisis for all humankind.

Of course this may be perceived as a new kind of imperialism (I call it ‘eco-imperialism’). It raises ire in Brazil – as it would (and will) in the Congo Basin and New Guinea, etc., when the time comes: What do you mean that the forest is not our exclusive patrimony? We have lived off these forests for generations. We know how to take care of them. We don’t want your grasping hands undermining our sovereignty.

With the growing awareness of the centrality of assets, like rainforests, biodiversity, clean oceans, etc. for the good of all humanity, there should be greater awareness of, and adherence to international mechanisms a) to allay the fears of those nations in which these assets lie, and b) for the whole world to contribute to their stewardship and preservation. For example, there is the, under which signatories pledge not to add to the plastic burden of the oceans. The United Nations has a Forest Instrument by which signatories undertake to manage their forests sustainably and even expand areas of protected forest for the economic benefit of forest-dependent people. There is also a Convention on Biological Diversity, with 195 party states. The UN has declared 2021-2030 the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Through mechanisms like these, the G7 might approach nations like Brazil to offer assistance in a less threatening manner. Of course, they are glacially bureaucratic. Perhaps each mechanism should have provision for emergency, focussed channels of assistance. At every level, the Church should also be involved in these mechanisms. After all, not just the Amazon, but this common home belongs to us all.