Symposium Conclusions

[ download as PDF ]

On the occasion of the VIth Religion, Science and the Environment Symposium, convened in Amazonia July 13th to 20th 2006, under the patronage of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and His Excellency Kofi Annan, Secretary- General of the United Nations, distinguished participants from many countries, having benefited from the wisdom and insights of the religious, indigenous people, national and regional authorities, scientists, environmentalists and other experts, consider that:

International cooperation to combat climate change is the greatest challenge ahead for the global community and preservation of the integrity of the Amazon ecology has to be a priority focus.

The Amazon forest is the source of the highest diversity of life on Earth, stretching out over the nine countries of Amazonia. This “Green Ocean” has a central role as a pump in maintaining climate stability, hydrological cycles and biodiversity, not only in the region but on the planet as a whole. The health and well-being of Brazil, Latin America and humanity at large will suffer seriously if these crucial environmental services are lost.

This unique and finite biological diversity is inextricably linked to the extraordinary wealth of cultural diversity in the region. The cosmology and mythology of those who came at the beginning of history to inhabit Amazonia, their intimate knowledge of, and respect for, the diversity of life, and their practical skills in sustaining the ecology of this part of the world make the indigenous peoples the true guardians of the region. Having been brutally mistreated in the course of history, they are now officially recognized. In Colombia, for example, the Constitution gives title to most of the Colombian Amazon to the indigenous communities. This role can of course only be exercised in conjunction with the responsible government authorities and with committed civil society. We salute the bravery of those who fight for justice in the Amazon.

Domestic and global forces, primarily of an economic nature, have caused and are causing serious deforestation in Amazonia. Destruction of the forest is the primary source of emissions of greenhouse gases from this part of the world. Thanks to active government policies the rate of deforestation has slowed but illegal deforestation continues. New infrastructure initiatives to connect Amazonia with export markets for soya beans, meat, timber and proposals for biofuels, prompted by growing concerns about global energy supply, will increase deforestation.

In parallel, greenhouse gas emissions are undermining ecological integrity and the climatic and hydrological cycles of the Amazon. The most immediate impacts will be felt in the most highly developed areas of the continent, from Sao Paolo to Buenos Aires, which depend for their agriculture, hydro-electricity and drinking water on rainfall induced by the Amazon system. Similarly, if the forest pump fails to suck in water from the southern North Atlantic, droughts will prevail in the Amazon and hurricanes be more intense in Central America and the Caribbean.

Local and international environmental and social movements, the churches, religious institutions, the media and individuals have a vital role to play in changing attitudes so that the behavior of consumers, citizens and members of the church is in harmony with the requirements of ecology and equity elsewhere in the world. Systems to certify and label products with a sound environmental and social origin should be promoted. Illegally produced goods should be banned. Eco-services should be properly remunerated.

The interdependence of ecosystems and sustainable livelihoods for the inhabitants, as well as the sobering reality that the consequences of global warming are manifesting in real-time its devastating impacts, have to be highlighted. This is vital, not only to deepen our collective understanding of the complex web of climatic interconnections but also to generate the necessary level of public and political will to ensure swift and meaningful action.

An Amazon Climate Assessment, similar to the Arctic one, should be undertaken under the auspices of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty, which has both the institutional capacity and the legal mandate to mobilize all the key regional stakeholders in this important endeavour. This Amazon Assessment needs to highlight the impact of further deforestation on the climate and hydrology of the Arctic and the rest of the world.

The primary objectives of international climate cooperation under the UNFCCC must be to agree new and ambitious reduction targets for the post-2012 period. These will have to lead to a global cap of greenhouse gas emissions to be achieved before the Amazon pump stops beating. It is imperative that these targets not only allocate the burden of responsibility fairly and equitably, but also compel all countries to match the necessary level of political will with the clear scientific consensus that has recently emerged.

While it is impossible to express the intrinsic value of Amazonia solely in monetary terms, it is necessary to extend the current emission trading mechanisms provided for by the Kyoto Protocol to recognize and value the importance of the ecological services provided by tropical and sub-tropical rainforests, which would thus become an instrument to equitably distribute costs and benefits. Payments for these services, as requested by Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea at COP XI in Montreal in November 2005, must be agreed swiftly and designed to include large rainforest areas in the Amazon, Eastern Congo and Borneo. These payments will be integral elements in the economic equations governing the decisions on the future of the rainforests and the other ecosystems on which humanity depends.

The principal framework in which international co-operation and burden-sharing will have to take place is the UN Convention on Climate Change. It would be helpful to integrate this with the Conventions on Biodiversity and Desertification. It is of great importance to build synergy between these international agreements to increase efficiency and effectiveness. Putting the focus on reafforestation and standing forests, because of their significance for climate stability, preservation of biodiversity, management of watersheds and prevention of erosion, will greatly help to achieve this synergy. The European Union should now include avoided deforestation and reafforestation in its Emission Trading Scheme.

Given its reputation in international environmental diplomacy, Brazil, together with the other countries of the Amazon Co-operation Treaty, is called upon to exercise leadership in advancing these goals in the on-going climate negotiations and, very importantly, also in helping to build a new paradigm for planetary citizenship whereby governments, NGOs, the private sector, the scientific community, individuals and communities assume their appropriate responsibilities in ensuring a stable and secure climate for the 21st century as a vital part of a healthy and diverse ecology of the Earth.

The participants of the VIth RSE Symposium commit themselves to contribute to these goals in ways each can do best, in full solidarity with the people of Amazonia, whose warm hospitality they have gratefully received over the past week. We look for urgent progress before we meet again in the Artic in 2007 at Symposium VII.

Manaus, 20 July 2006