At the Opening Ceremony of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues this week, Gustavo Petro, the President of Colombia, made a bold proposal:
Petro began his speech by saying that roughly forty years ago, the U'wa leader Roberto Covaria said to him, "Oil is the blood of Mother Earth," and that pulling it from Earth would kill life.
Now, science has backed up this statement, and there is broad agreement that we must act to avoid humanity's extinction and life as we know it.
The problem, however, is that while every government around the world needs to deploy vast amounts of investment capital within the next ten years, the countries most impacted by biodiversity loss and climate change are trapped in a vicious financial cycle — one in which ecological impacts (including pandemics like COVID-19) increase their debt levels, and then debt servicing constrains their budgets to mitigate ecological impacts, pushing them to further deplete their resources while falling farther into poverty.
Petro stressed "...that the States can all reduce their indebtedness so that a public financial space appears that allows for the advancement of concrete climate results... not just in the poorest countries on Earth. It has to be for billions of dollars, and it has to cover all the countries on Earth. Only in this way, could States be strong today, fiscally and financially, and only in this way could they plan concrete actions that, in a decade, throughout the world, can adapt populations to continue living despite climate change, and can solve the central axes that are causing the climate crisis on Earth… ending the consumption of oil, coal, and gas almost immediately. The transition can no longer wait."
This proposal was echoed at the concurrent 2023 Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank when the social justice organization Avaaz called upon finance ministers to take the first step in a sequence leading to the reform of international financial institutions, making them more relevant for the challenges of the 21st century. During the last six months, the intimate interconnections between debt and climate emergencies have finally received more attention. But biodiversity, another major part of the ecological crisis, is still largely ignored in this conversation, despite the adoption of the new United Nations biodiversity framework last December in Montreal.
Petro announced a Summit in Belem do Pará, Brazil, where all ten states within the region of the Amazon basin will come together to build a common program to revitalize the forest within its natural borders. "We are working strongly to empower the 115 Indigenous Peoples in Colombia, who inhabit jungles and forests. We know that the Indigenous Peoples can take care of nature much better than any of us, so we will be extending protected areas in order to preserve forests, water, and life. If the Amazon disappears, not only does water disappear, but human existence disappears, and the climate equilibrium breaks down. So revitalizing the Amazon is a global imperative… We are committing 150 million dollars, in spite of Colombia's needs, to revitalize the Amazon's natural reserves."
This is true leadership and could mark a new era of Latin American cooperation that prioritizes biodiversity as the centerpiece of the global economy. And while $150 million is a great start, it will take billions more to fulfill the goals of preserving biodiversity and the ecosystems upon which the world relies in perpetuity.
That is why Avaaz has just realized a major new report entitled Out of Oblivion (PDF), detailing why biodiversity must be at the heart of all IMF policies and describing a wide range of immediate measures, institutional reforms, and partnerships through which the IMF can finally support the central role of biodiversity in macroeconomic and financial stability. A companion report on Argentina offers a specific proposal for settling sovereign and ecological debts to support a fair and equitable transition in the county.
The protected areas that Petro speaks about need to be termed 'Indigenous and Traditional Territories' if there is any chance to ensure the revitalization of Colombia's Amazonian forest and that of the rest of the Amazon region.
The Amazonia for Life: Protect 80% by 2025 Initiative that is being launched at the UNPFII offers a roadmap to implement Target 3 of the Global Biodiversity Framework and stresses that it is only through the recognition of indigenous and traditional territories that key ecosystems on the planet can be maintained. That is why the immediate recognition of Indigenous Territories and the allocation of resources to strengthen their territorial management is a first step, and climate policies need a rights-based approach.
The way that the Amazonia for Life Initiative is framing the ask to the IMF is distinct in that it is requesting a Conditioned Debt Forgiveness, which means that creditor and debtor Amazon nations are actively supported in their commitments to end industrial extraction and promote key protections in key priority areas and indigenous and traditional territories.
These bold proposals offer the world a way forward to raise the billions in capital needed to preserve life on Earth while supporting nations to develop sustainably and harmoniously with each other and with nature.