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'Absolutely critical' summit brought Amazon rainforest back into the climate change conversation

A river curves its way through a dense tropical forest
Eraldo Peres
Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, center, attends the Amazon Summit at the Hangar Convention center in Belem, Brazil, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023.

Something pretty important took place recently in Belém, Brazil, that was also pretty important in South Florida — and any place feeling the dangerous effects of global warming this summer.

Brazil and seven other South American countries held their first Amazon summit in 14 years. That matters because they’re the ones ultimately responsible for protecting the Amazon rainforest, which plays a critical role in protecting the world from climate change.

On the latest episode of the South Florida Roundup, host Tim Padgett spoke about the importance of the Amazon rainforest with Tracy Devine Guzmán, a professor of Latin American and Global Indigenous Studies at the University of Miami and an expert on Brazil and the Amazon.

“It's absolutely critical that it's made it to the world stage through the news outlets,” said Guzmán, who is the author of the book Native and National in Brazil.

READ MORE: Amazon Alarm: Why Brazil mattered more than Barbie this week

The Amazon rainforest is the world’s largest tropical rainforest and sucks up greenhouse gasses that are largely responsible for global warming. So the earth relies heavily on it to help prevent a full-on climate change catastrophe.

But Guzmán says the summit disappointed her and other environmentalists worldwide because there were no real goals set. Nonetheless, she said it was symbolic that the countries gathered to speak about the rainforest.

“President Lula has leveraged his influence in the region to get people at the table, even if they fell short of what one would hope would be aspirational goals in 2023,” she added.

According to the Latin American studies professor, 2020 was a devastating year for the Amazon since it was losing a soccer field of rainforest per minute — which in a year would equal a country the size of Portugal.

People sit at a table.
Eraldo Peres
Leaders, from left, Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva, Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, Governor of Brazil's state of Para Helder Barbalho, Minister of Indigenous Peoples Sonia Guajajara and Brazilian Presidential Chief Advisor Celso Amorim attend the Amazon Summit at the Hangar Convention Center in Belem, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023.

“Those devastating effects are still being felt in 2023,” Guzmán said. “It's going to take a long time to recover from that devastation.”

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva seems to be reversing the damage. Last month there appeared to have been two-thirds less Amazon deforestation than in July of 2022. Lula has set a target of zero Amazon deforestation by the end of this decade.

To restore the Amazon rainforest to the global carbon dioxide eliminator it once was, Guzmán said deforestation is a primary issue that needs to be addressed by Brazil and by the holders of tropical rainforests worldwide. She added it is necessary to look at places that have implemented reforestation successfully and its sustainability.

“There has to be the political will to implement policies and there has to be accountability for the governments that are putting these kinds of policies in place,” Guzmán said.

During this episode of the South Florida Roundup, Padgett also discussed Broward County facing its own cost-of-living crisis and South Florida heading back to school.

Listen to the full conversation here.

Ammy Sanchez, the Morning Edition producer for WLRN, studies communications at the Honors College at Florida International University.
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