By Marcelo Rochabrun
LIMA (Reuters) – Indigenous groups from across the Amazon basin called on Monday for financial institutions to forgive the sovereign debts of the South American nations that comprise the Amazon rainforest, in exchange for commitments to preserve the environment.
The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest and its health is considered key to avoiding the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.
The call comes from a report published this week led by the Coica, an organization of indigenous groups who live in the Amazon across nine different countries.
“The quid pro quo is to forgive existing debt in exchange for commitments to end industrial extraction and promote protections in key priority areas, indigenous territories and protected areas,” according to the report.
By linking the government’s debt obligations with international climate goals related to the Amazon rainforest, Coica’s initiative puts preservation at the forefront of debt renegotiation.
Coica aims to preserve 80% of the Amazon by 2025, a goal it describes as still possible despite soaring levels of deforestation in recent years.
While the Amazon is sparsely populated, it has significant economic value, especially oil extraction in Ecuador and Colombia, and informal gold mining in Brazil, Peru and Bolivia.
“These acquired (sovereign) debts that are meant to be repaid with resources found in indigenous territories of the Amazon, such as oil, mining and others,” said Coica Vice Coordinator Tuntiak Katan, who is from Ecuador.
Among Amazonian countries, Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia are burdened by significant sovereign debt.
The report’s proposal aims to tame what it describes as a “vicious circle” in which Amazon region countries “require more resources to cover their debts, a need that pushes (them) to boost extractive supply chains in their countries, exerting greater pressure on natural resources and which, in turn, implies greater climate risk.”
(Reporting by Marcelo Rochabrun; Editing by Aurora Ellis)