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OPINION: Amazon alert: climate change threatens human security

Climate change and mismanagement of natural resources have created a human security crisis in the Amazon region – Mairi Dupar of CDKN reports.

Droughts and erratic rainfall will threaten human lives and the entire regional economy of Amazonia without urgent action, climate experts told delegates to the COP20 in Lima, Peru, on Wednesday (watch the IISD video coverage of this event).

“There is no way we can discuss climate crisis if we do not address water risks because water is the pillar that guarantees security,” said Yolanda Kakabadse, CDKN Strategic Advisor and WWF International President.

“We have to focus on water as an issue for life and death. The human being is under a security threat and most at risk are vulnerable communities.”

The Global Canopy Programme (GCP), Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Fundacion Futura Latinoamerica (FFLA) and CDKN presented delegates the results of their Amazon Security initiative at a side event on ‘Amazon climate and water security.’ They argued that the Amazon basin is threatened by previously unthinkable droughts and the mighty river’s water resources can no longer be taken for granted. The IPCC finds that by 2100, climate projections show an increase in dry spells in tropical South America east of the Andes (see The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report: What’s in it for Latin America?)

What’s more, environmentally destructive activities that have long plagued Amazonia, such as unsustainable oil extraction and mining and deforestation, combine with manmade climate change to place the region in a state of intensive care.

By highlighting the importance of water to human survival, the coalition hopes to jolt political leaders into conserving the region’s rich natural resources and bolstering climate resilience. Their message also calls for action on the causes of climate change: deforestation and burning of fossil fuels, for if we halt these, we stand a chance of preventing severe global warming.

“There is no sense beating around the bush,” said Ms Kakadbadse, “We have to concentrate on what climate change means to our security.”

Political and financial solutions

One place to find solutions is in political processes such as the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), said Emma Torres of UNDP. Her team has been proposing SDGs that fully integrate climate mitigation and adaptation action with development – and sees how this is the only way forward for a region like Amazonia:

“There is probably no other place where transformation [of our development outlook] is more needed than the Amazon,” said Ms Torres. “There are no models to be followed. The solutions we pursue have to be innovative, creative.”

Pedro Gamio, Peru’s former Vice-Minister for Energy, put it optimistically: “Latin America has a resource base that is extraordinary, it can be a model region [for sustainability] if we do it right.”

For Andrew Mitchell, Director of the Global Canopy Programme, his life’s calling as a wildlife biologist led him from studying beetles in the rainforest into the faraway ‘concrete jungle.’ Now, from cities like London, New York and Delhi, he pursues international financial solutions to the ecological and climate crisis.

“The problem is that the world’s financial sector is enjoying a huge trillion dollar free lunch every year,” said Dr Mitchell. “It’s a great business model: the price signal we have is trash forest, make money. What we don’t realise is that it’s weakening security for all of us.”

“We have to change the way we think. We can’t solve deforestation crisis in Amazonia, the solution is not in the forest, it’s probably within the financial capitals of the world.”

Dr Mitchell put forward a three-part recipe to ‘change the game’ through: taxes, subsidies and public procurement:

  • Taxes: We should also stop taxing ‘goods’ such as income and start taxing bads such as pollution.’
  • Subsidies: We should stop subsidising fossil fuel consumption and exploration, which amount to hundreds of billions of dollars globally each year, and instead subsidise renewable energy development – currently ‘miniscule.’
  • Public procurement: Governments can demand sustainability of the goods they buy and ensure there is a market for truly sustainable goods.

Two-pronged approach

The Amazon region’s environmental problems may seem intractable. But together, the Amazon Security coalition presented a new framing of the problems that could capture political attention, and a suite of policies that would shift society onto a more sustainable path.

One hopes that other political leaders will follow Peru’s Environment Minister and COP20 President, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who has already spoken out on the Amazon climate security agenda.

For those lagging behind, the increased frequency of weather-related disasters may shock them into action. Droughts in Latin America in 2005 and 2010 alarmed the region. This year, droughts have Brazil’s Sao Paulo state in their grip. The time for knee-jerk responses may soon be over, said Niki Mardas of the Global Canopy Programme, and the time has come, instead, for a more planned approach.


Climate Security Agenda from Global Canopy Programme on Vimeo.

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