Initiatives for a Sustainable Amazon: A dialogue between Marina Silva and Ilan Goldfajn

/ Fundação FHC Auditorium

Global warming and the climate crisis are a reality, and the time to act at national, regional, and international levels to protect the Amazon — the largest equatorial forest on the planet, fundamental for climate regulation — is now. “We are living in a crucial moment, and we need to take advantage of it, because we may not have another moment as propitious as this one to achieve substantive results in the preservation and sustainable development of the Amazon,” said the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Marina Silva, on a visit to the Fundação Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

“There is a clear new moment for progress in preserving the Amazon. I’m talking about the eight Amazon countries and the territory of French Guiana, but above all, Brazil and Colombia, where the current governments have made a firm commitment to this goal. Outside the Amazon region, there is also this view that the time to turn the key and protect the forest is now,” said Ilan Goldfajn, president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), with 48 member countries and more than US$ 23 billion in investments and mobilizations (consolidated data from 2021).

According to Marina Silva and Ilan Goldfajn—who, at the invitation of the Fundação FHC and the IDB, met on July 29 at our headquarters in São Paulo to discuss initiatives for the sustainable development of the Amazon—there is a heightened awareness in Brazil, other Amazonian countries, and in much of the developed and developing world. They are all aware of the necessity of maintaining the Amazon rainforest, protecting its rivers and biodiversity while concurrently making investments and enabling sustainable economic alternatives. These efforts aim to improve the quality of life and to ensure employment and income for the Amazon’s 60 million inhabitants.

In addition to the two speakers, whose backgrounds and areas of activity are highly diverse but could significantly complement each other, the event was attended by around a hundred people. The two institutions extended invitations to environmentalists, economists, business people, representatives of the third sector, academics, and journalists.

The IDB wants to be an umbrella for sustainable projects across
the eight Amazon countries

“The regional and global political moment to act is now. The IDB has 26 members from Latin America and the Caribbean and another 22 from outside the region. The new administration that I represent has defined the Amazon as a priority, and we want to play the role of uniting the needs of the eight Amazonian countries with other countries’ interests in contributing to its preservation,” said Mr. Goldfajn, the inaugural speaker.

The former president of Banco Central do Brasil highlighted that, in the Amazon-sharing nations, the increasing awareness of the critical need to preserve the world’s largest equatorial forest coincides with the understanding that it is also essential to look at the social and economic conditions of the region’s inhabitants. 

“We already have a diagnosis of the situation: the Amazon occupies 40% of South America, more than 60% of which is in Brazil; around 40% of the region’s 60 million inhabitants live below the poverty line. In the social sphere, most communities in the forest, rural areas, cities, and by the rivers lack basic services. In economic terms, the region has a low productivity level and extensive informal labor and illegal activities. That has to change,” said the speaker.

“At the IDB, we’ve already had the Amazon Initiative for some time, but we want to evolve it into an umbrella for regional projects aimed at monitoring the forest, rivers, biodiversity, and climate, as well as improving social conditions, developing alternative activities and the physical and digital infrastructure. The aim is to pool resources and coordinate efforts to take care of the environment and people in a holistic manner with true impact,” he continued.

According to Goldfajn, this umbrella that the IDB intends to create will have a financing side, through grants and loans, and a technical training side to format the projects, monitor them, and analyze the results. The development bank already has US$430 million available for grants (non-repayable funds), but it wants to pool billions of public and private dollars. “The available grants are in the millions. The loans we intend to obtain are in the billions, but for the Amazon to last forever, as Minister Marina Silva proposes, we will need trillions of dollars over the coming years and decades,” said Mr. Goldfajn.

“Public funds are essential, but they are not unlimited, just like those of the IDB and other international organizations. So we’ll need funds from the private sector to supplement this. We can design the financial instruments to ensure that this happens,” he said. During the event, the president of the IDB announced the launch of the Amazônia Sempre Program, which he said was inspired by the Brazilian minister and environmentalist.

Goldfajn reported that the IDB recently helped exchange part of Ecuador’s public debt for government investments in the preservation of the Galapagos Archipelago in exchange for predefined targets. “It works like a prize: when certain climate defense and nature preservation objectives are achieved, the country’s debt is lowered,” he said.

“We’re contemplating the launch of an Amazon bond backed by the bank’s guarantee. What the IDB wants and can contribute to is prioritization and organization with a structural, financial, and economic perspective. Our aim is to unite the efforts of the various existing initiatives and those of the future in the same direction. The name of the game from now on is focus, scale, and speed,” he said.

According to the IDB president, the Amazon Summit—President Lula’s initiative to foster cooperation between the Amazon countries and other partners for the sustainable development of the region—will take place in Belém, the capital of the Brazilian state of Pará, in August 2024, which will serve as a platform to engage public and private donors worldwide and provide them with an up-close understanding of the Amazon’s reality and to gather additional donations and resources. “We are planning to organize a concurrent event for potential donors from outside the Amazon region,” he said.

Another priority for the Inter-American Development Bank is leveraging its influence to support the establishment of an international carbon credit market.

The Lula administration’s three pillars: fighting inequality,
bolstering democracy, and sustainability

During her presentation, the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Marina Silva, stressed that Brazil must employ an overarching environmental policy involving not only most of the federal government’s ministries, bodies, and agencies but also the states and municipalities, the private sector, the third sector, and society at large.

“When I started defending this idea 20 years ago, during my first term in charge of the Environment (2003-2008), few people understood. Today, 28 of the Lula administration’s 37 ministries and various federal agencies have actions focused on climate and sustainability, 19 of them with well-organized structures. There is, in fact, a commitment on the part of the federal government to tackle climate change,” said Marina.

The minister highlighted the Plan for Ecological Transformation — which was announced in April 2023 by Finance Minister— as an example of the Lula administration’s commitment to tackling environmental and climate issues. 

“Another crucial advancement was the recent unveiling of the Sustainable Harvest Plan 1.0 (Plano Safra Sustentável 1.0), poised to underpin the financing of sustainable, low-carbon agriculture. Achieving sustainability across an entire country or region cannot happen overnight or within a single year; however, moving forward, our approach will be forward-looking. Federal funding will hinge on the sustainability of our agriculture and livestock sectors, along with a portfolio of low-carbon projects,” she said.

According to the minister, the efforts of IBAMA, the Federal Police, and other bodies involved in the fight against illegal deforestation in the Amazon are already showing signs of progress: “Still preliminary data indicates a 30% drop in deforestation, with more accurate figures expected soon from the Satellite Deforestation Monitoring Project of the Legal Amazon/Brazilian Institute for Space Research (PRODES/INPE) system that should confirm this. Our goal is to achieve zero deforestation.” 

Marina expressed regret over the nation’s recent environmental setbacks in the previous years. “We should have been leading by example. Brazil had curtailed illegal deforestation by more than 80% for almost a decade in the early 2000s. However, the previous administration’s policies led to Brazil being labeled an environmental outcast. Between 2003 and 2008, Brazil was home to 80% of the world’s protected areas, including 25 million hectares of conservation units, underscoring our significant contribution to biodiversity preservation. We are resuming our role of guaranteeing the preservation of the Amazon and all our biomes. Political resolve and ethical dedication are pivotal,” she said.

“The Lula administration’s policy is based on three pillars: fighting inequality, bolstering democracy, and fostering sustainability. In a true democracy, policies should be crafted ‘with the people’ rather than ‘for the people.’ Engaging the scientific and traditional communities, various government levels, the private sector, the third sector, and all political forces is crucial. It takes work, but this inclusive approach is essential for achieving enduring outcomes,” she stated.

The minister emphasized that cracking down on illegal activities, however challenging and insufficient, is an obligation of the federal government. “Believing that increased oversight and stricter enforcement alone will resolve the issue is illusory. However, without a determined and ongoing effort to combat illegality, which seeks to undermine legitimate, ethical, and equitable endeavors, neither public policy nor private or public investment can thrive,” she said.

Ms. Silva also highlighted the significant potential Brazil holds in the renewable energy and food production sectors. “We stand poised to attract substantial investments in third-generation renewable energies, like green hydrogen. Is there a global demand for grains and protein? Brazil boasts a modern, technologically advanced, competitive, and profitable agribusiness sector. Yet, there remain areas within this sector operating with low productivity and environmental degradation. We possess all the necessary conditions to transform this scenario, ensuring that our agribusiness gains international respect,” she stated.

A robust framework to ensure that the Amazon remains standing forever

For the environmentalist, the challenge for Brazil and other countries in the Amazon region and around the globe is to “establish a robust framework to mitigate global warming. This involves collaborative efforts from governments, international entities, the private and financial sectors, the scientific community, and civil society to achieve significant outcomes as swiftly as possible, together. After all, the dire consequences of climate change are already upon us.”

The Minister underscored the significance of the Amazon Fund, initiated in 2008, as a uniquely inventive mechanism for garnering international support for forest conservation and sustainability projects. “I see Joaquim Levy here, whose profound financial expertise significantly contributed to the structuring of the Amazon Fund over fifteen years ago. This innovative fund, abandoned by the previous administration, is undergoing revitalization to attract contributions from global partners,” she said. An engineer and economist, Mr. Levy was Brazilian Secretary of the National Treasury (2003-2006), vice-president of the IDB (2006), and Minister of Finance (2015), among other substantial posts.

“Our goal is to prioritize projects and activities that ensure the continued existence of the forest, its rivers, and its rich biodiversity while simultaneously providing the people of the Amazon with a sustainable way of life. Which agricultural practices, livestock farming methods, fishing techniques, extractive processes, industrial activities, tourism models, and infrastructure projects can sustainably keep the Amazon standing forever?” she inquired.

“The principle of sustainable development has emerged as an indispensable economic, political, and social requirement for our region, as well as an ethical imperative for the whole world. We all share the same planet; what I do here affects the other side of the world and vice-versa. It is through the collective effort of everyone that we can alter the trajectory of our planet, humanity, and every living creature,” the environmentalist concluded.

Watch the lecture in full (In Portuguese). 

Explore the Environment and Sustainable Development page (in Portuguese), which consolidates a wide range of materials produced by the Fundação FHC on these topics.

Otávio Dias is the content editor at the Fundação FHC. He is a political and international affairs journalist, a former correspondent for Folha de São Paulo in London, and former editor of the website.

Portuguese to English translation by Melissa Harkin, CT and Todd Harkin – Harkin Translations.


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