The Amazon, the largest rainforest on Earth, accounting for nearly a third of the world’s primary forest, was once one of our largest carbon sinks. As we recently celebrated World Nature Conservation Day on July 28, we must face the sad consequences of our actions. The Amazon is now pumping carbon into the atmosphere.

In a recent study published by  Nature , we learn that rampant destruction of Brazilian rainforests, especially under the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, means that the Amazon now emits more carbon than it absorbs. Late last year, the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) reported that Amazon deforestation hit a 12-year high.

Deforestation is largely driven by beef production, by far the biggest culprit in the battle against climate change, with the growing demand for burgers and steaks radically transforming the dynamics of deforestation. But prudent action can change our trajectory. The prospect of an EU-Mercosur free trade agreement, for example, could bring global benefits.

If ratified, the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement would strengthen relations between the two blocs, making it the largest EU trade agreement in history. It shouldn’t be surprising. The European Union is the number one trading and investment partner for the South American trading bloc, to which Brazil belongs, along with Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Unfortunately, it appears the EU has turned a blind eye to Amazon deforestation, including President Bolsonaro’s empty promises to save the remaining rainforests. In response to this serious breach of duty, 450 civil society organizations recently launched a “Stop EU-Mercosur” coalition calling on leaders on both sides of the Atlantic to prevent ratification of the agreement.

While this is an important and valuable endeavor, there is more we can do and more we should do. Part of that requires thinking outside the box. While it may be impossible to reverse consumer demand for beef (and other products), it is possible to try to produce these goods in ways that do not contribute to deforestation.

A recent study by the non-profit organization CDP found that palm oil, among all the raw materials at forest risk, is managing to effectively tackle deforestation, especially with respect to beef and soy.

This is especially true in Malaysia, the world’s second largest producer of palm oil. There, the palm oil industry introduced a nationally mandatory certification scheme, with penalties for non-compliance, known as Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO). MSPO has drastically reduced the country’s deforestation rate.

MSPO certification requires producers to meet standards that prohibit the conversion of tropical rainforests to palm oil plantations, along with laws that enact labor rights and protections, as well as protections for tropical wildlife. Now that around 90 percent of Malaysian palm oil producers are MSPO certified, we can judge for ourselves the effectiveness of this scheme.

A World Resources Institute study found a notable decrease in the annual loss rate of primary forests in Malaysia since 2016. Incredibly, the results show that deforestation levels in 2020 have reached their lowest level since 2004. This should be a model. for how the EU approaches its free trade agreement with Mercosur. The EU has taken the opposite approach.

Instead, the EU has decided to ban the use of palm oil for biofuels while actively pursuing the agreement with Mercosur. A boycott of specific goods rarely leads to the desired result. Rather, it risks shifting demand to countries like China with less stringent environmental standards. Given the EU’s stated and often demonstrated concern for the environment, this is a short-sighted move.

Instead, the EU should push the beef and soybean industries, especially but not limited to Mercosur, to live up to the kind of sustainable standards that MSPO imposes and implements for palm oil. This means pushing for transparent and verifiable certification while penalizing producers who refuse to comply with such certification.

With the Amazon rainforest no longer slowing the effects of global warming but instead contributing to it, we now have an even narrower window in which to act. With the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) of 2021 just two months away, the world has no time to waste if we hope to avert the worst climate catastrophe in human history.


Alessandro Sure for ________   S ure-com  A merica







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