Is Consensus Among Amazon Basin Presidents Attainable for Forest Protection?

Is Consensus Among Amazon Basin Presidents Attainable for Forest Protection?

Indigenous leaders and OTCA member countries' representatives at a meeting in Brasilia

Kleber Karipuna, a member of the organizing committee for the OTCA presidential summit, discusses the array of challenges confronting the region, encompassing issues ranging from criminal activities to carbon markets.

The preservation of the Amazon rainforest is drawing escalating international attention due to global headlines highlighting climate-related catastrophes. However, the Amazon basin is not only a focal point for environmental concerns but also serves as the residence for 50 million individuals, including 420 Indigenous groups, who aspire to participate in any policy dialogues pertinent to the region.

The Amazon city of Belém, as revealed by Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the president-elect at the time, will be the site of a summit organized by the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (OTCA) on August 8-9. This gathering will bring together heads of state from the nations sharing the Amazon basin to collaboratively formulate a unified agenda in preparation for the upcoming COP28 conference.

Kleber Karipuna, a member of the organizing committee and executive coordinator of APIB (Indigenous People Articulation of Brazil), also holds the position of leader for the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB). This organization, along with its regional counterpart, the Coordination of Indigenous People of the Amazon Basin, has been actively engaged in discussions within OTCA for a considerable period of time.

In what manner are Indigenous demands and concerns presented and addressed during the summit?

We view the enhancement of OTCA as a chance for progress. It was unexpected for us to discover that, in the nearly four decades of OTCA’s existence, this marks only the third occurrence of a presidential summit.

Our historical alliance with OTCA through the Coordination of Indigenous People of the Amazon Basin (COICA), in which COIAB is a member, serves as a foundation for reinforcing our collective engagement alongside counterparts from various nations. This collaborative effort extends to include French Guyana, despite its non-membership in OTCA, due to its integration into the political framework of Indigenous movements. Our primary goal is to garner the endorsement of the Indigenous communities across the entire Amazon basin from the presidents, leading to tangible commitments, policies, and decisive actions. Our participation in the summit signifies a pivotal shift, indicating that we are assuming a proactive role—a significant transformation, particularly in Brazil, where Indigenous communities, their territories, and rights have endured constant challenges over the past four years.

What are the primary proposals you are putting forward?

Kleber Karipuna, executive coordinator at APIB, leads a pre-OTCA summit conference

A central concern revolves around safeguarding isolated communities and those that have recently been contacted, particularly in the regions bordering Peru, Venezuela, Brazil, and Colombia. OTCA places significant emphasis on this matter due to the prevalence of such communities across multiple Amazon basin countries, where certain groups opt for isolation.

Another prominent subject of discussion revolves around border security. There has been a noticeable surge in illegal groups operating within Indigenous territories, including drug traffickers. Governments must pledge to take substantial measures to counteract narco-trafficking activities at their borders.

A third focal point pertains to land rights. In Brazil, there exists legislation concerning territory demarcation, whereas in other countries lacking such specific laws, demands for land rights persist. Collaboratively with Indigenous federations across the region, we are striving to secure government commitments toward a comprehensive policy of ensuring land rights, irrespective of the presence of distinct legislation.

Additionally, it’s imperative for us to actively engage in the discourse surrounding carbon markets. The proliferation of the option to trade carbon capture is expanding, encompassing Indigenous territories. Governments must establish baseline commitments to uphold safeguards, facilitate dialogues, and uphold the right to consultation.

Is the negotiation of carbon offsets involving Indigenous groups underway?

Presently, there exists a significant issue of pronounced harassment within Indigenous territories perpetrated by individuals referred to as “carbon cowboys.” These actors present substantial contracts, often worth millions, devoid of any assurances or protective measures. It is crucial to institute the entitlement to consultation and the safeguarding of their rights. While certain communities may wish to engage in contracts with companies or other entities, others may not share this inclination. Approaching each situation individually and adhering to case-specific respect is of utmost importance.

In what manner do you perceive the influence of Indigenous groups’ voices in the foreign policy of the region?

The experiences of the past four years have cast a negative impression of our nation concerning climate and Indigenous people’s matters. Presently, we are undergoing a reset, yet beyond the political optics, it is imperative to transition from rhetoric to tangible action. Encouragingly, there are nations sending affirmative indications, expressing a desire to aid Brazil by providing funding for initiatives aimed at preserving the ecosystems, notably the Amazon.

The culmination of the OTCA summit on August 9 does not mark the conclusion, as all deliberations and commitments must translate into concrete endeavors in the upcoming years. By 2030, when COP30 convenes in Belém, Brazil aspires to showcase the outcomes stemming from the ongoing discussions. Furthermore, we aim to underscore the transformation of political discourse into tangible actions and policies, not only benefitting Indigenous communities but also the environment and climate.

Presently, our ranks include Indigenous lawyers, anthropologists, administrators, and leaders characterized by both political acumen and professional competence. We have been nurtured in the political school of our movement, and we’ve complemented this with academic education. Our mobilization efforts persist, drawing individuals to the streets, now fortified by technical expertise. Our history serves as a unifying thread, interweaving political advocacy with academic readiness to effectively address the unique challenges posed by each administration. While this government displays greater openness to dialogue, we remain steadfast, avoiding complacency and actively taking charge of shaping outcomes.