Deforestation and Diplomacy



July 12, 2020

Deforestation and Diplomacy

Tropical rainforests, as their name suggests, cluster around the earth’s equator, between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Although nations of each continent (bar Antarctica) bear claim to some tropical rainforests, the Amazon Rainforest alone constitutes the largest share. While most countries around the earth’s midsection bear claim to some amount of tropical rainforest, most nations on the planet have none. As the world wisens up to the incredible importance of rainforests as a global natural resource, instances of “rainforest diplomacy” are becoming increasingly frequent, as both nations with and without tropical rainforests use the protection of these forests as a card to play in the game of international relations.

Under the Paris Climate agreement, each party nation has made a commitment to reduce or limit their carbon emissions in certain ways in order to lower global CO2 emissions. The protection of rainforests and other “carbon sinks” is an invaluable contribution to that global goal of carbon limitation, due to the tremendous amount of CO2 that is released into the atmosphere during deforestation. Initiatives like REDD+ have been put into place to assist developing countries in protecting their precious forest resources. Under REDD+, developed nations are able to purchase carbon offset credits which fund rainforest protection initiatives in developing countries.

  1. This program has come under attack as a means of allowing richer countries to buy political power in poorer nations, without actually doing anything to reduce their own carbon emissions.Conversely, when nations that harbour rainforests do not appear to be fulfilling their commitments to protect and preserve those precious resources, there can be far-ranging diplomatic repercussions. Norway, a nation who has contributed $1.1 billion to Brazil’s fund to protect the Amazon rainforest, has recently warned the south American nation that it would withdraw its aid unless the increased rate of deforestation is slowed and reversed. According to the Norwegian Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen, Brazil’s rate of deforestation has showed a “worrying upward trend” since 2015, despite the progress that nation had been making over the previous decade.
  2. Norway’s hard-line stance on deforestation is motivated by its understanding that the Amazon – 60% of which falls within the border of Brazil – is a resource of utmost global importance.In a similar vein, France’s Minister for the Environment, Nicolas Hulot, recently announced that the nation will be reducing its use of palm oil in producing biofuels in an effort to cut its dependency on a crop that promotes much deforestation.
  3. Major palm-producing nations like Malaysia and Indonesia are outspoken critics of the new legislation, due to its economic repercussions. Although France is acting alone at this time, leaders of that nation intend to extend this stance throughout Europe. The economic, political, and diplomatic repercussions of a continental shift like that could potentially devastate the economies of major palm-exporters, although it would simultaneously lessen the demand to clear forests to plant palm trees.

As our global consciousness becomes more attuned to the needs of the environment and as political leaders begin to espouse sustainability as a pillar of their diplomatic roles, situations like those in Norway and France are bound to arise more frequently as nations that lack any tropical rainforest of their own play their diplomatic cards in such a way that affects the outcomes of existing rainforests throughout the planet. Though there is great potential for “rainforest diplomacy” to actually catalyze a sea-change in the way political leaders of developing nations view their rainforests as economic resources, the economic, political, and diplomatic repercussions of this type of negotiation are yet to bear out.