It’s a premiere for Robert Habeck: Today’s itinerary includes a visit to the rainforest in Brazil. The goal is to protect it.
It’s huge dimensions. The Amazon region stretches across nine countries in South America and is as far away as from Berlin to Baghdad. A large part of the area – the size of Western Europe – is in Brazil.
However, the “green lung”, which stores large amounts of carbon, has long been under threat, with possible serious consequences for the global climate. The new Brazilian government has announced that it wants to stop illegal deforestation – a sign of hope. Economics and Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck and Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir (both Green) want to visit a community of the indigenous people of the Kambeba, located on the Rio Negro, almost 60 kilometers from the Amazon metropolis of Manaus – if the weather cooperates.
Habeck: On-site discussions make a difference
The Kambeba represent one of the indigenous groups who stopped identifying themselves as indigenous due to discrimination and violence – and rediscovered their identity with the rise of the indigenous movement and the Brazilian constitution in the 1980s.
For Habeck it is a first in the rainforest. Video conferences can also be held, Habeck said yesterday in Brasilia – but: “It does make a difference whether you’ve been in a wind farm when you’re talking about wind energy.” And of course it makes a difference to have seen a rainforest when talking about the protection of the rainforest. It will certainly be a detour on the trip, which will then also have “immediate political influence”.
In January, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was in the Amazon rainforest together with Environment Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens), they visited a climate measuring tower. The German travel diplomacy has a reason: the new Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was not considered an environmental politician in his first two terms of office (beginning of 2003 – end of 2010), but promised to give priority to environmental and climate protection. His predecessor Jair Bolsonaro had advocated the exploitation of the Amazon region.
Lots of hope for Lula’s government
Habeck already considered the plans of the Brazilian government under Lula to stop the deforestation of the rainforest by 2030 with emotional words during his trip to Brazil: “At least I can get tears in my eyes that a government is turning things around like that.” However, the deforestation of the rainforest is progressing – in German diplomatic circles, with a view to the evaluation of satellite images in February, on which the provisional number of fires are counted, there was talk of a worrying situation, also because the fire season has not even started yet.
Under the right-wing Bolsonaro government, environmental and control authorities were systematically weakened. The deforested areas create new pastures and farmland for soybean cultivation and cattle breeding, for example.
The destruction of the rainforest is dramatic, said Roberto Maldonado, Latin America expert at WWF Germany. 18 percent of the forest has already been cleared. Experts feared that if 20 to 25 percent were destroyed, an irreversible tipping point could be reached. The amount of CO2 released would be so great that the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees could be forgotten. “The rainforest is a gigantic air conditioner, rain machine and huge carbon sink.”
If it is not possible to save the forest, the south of the continent will turn into a kind of Sahel zone in Latin America. “Then the cattle breeders and soy barons can forget their business model. Without rain, no agriculture is possible. And achieving the global climate protection goals is then an illusion anyway.”
Controversial Mercosur agreement
The planned free trade agreement between the EU and the South American confederation Mercosur actually accepts the destruction of the rainforest, said Maldonado. “It’s not enough to point out that the contract includes a chapter on social and environmental standards.” What is missing are sanction options for violations. Barbara Konner, general manager of the São Paulo Chamber of Commerce Abroad, said it was important for Germany to achieve its own climate protection goals within the framework of the agreement. BDI President Siegfried Russwurm called for the agreement to be concluded quickly. The South American market is thus moving closer to Europe, local rules and standards.
The agreement has actually been negotiated, there are umpteen provisions, for example about the reduction of tariffs. One must now see how Lula’s goal of stopping illegal deforestation of the rainforest can be secured, said Habeck at the German-Brazilian Business Days in Belo Horizonte. In Brasilia, he said the deal must not result in expanded trade leading to increased deforestation.
The Lula government itself has an interest in the agreement being effective. “Now let’s look again at what concrete measures are already included in the agreement, how they can be further interpreted and whether further measures are necessary.”