Questions and Answers: ‘It is still possible to conserve the Amazon’
By: Claudia Mazzeo
This article was supported by the World Conference of Science Journalists.
Working with local indigenous people in the Amazon is vital for preventing the collapse of its eco-systems – a goal that is still in reach – believes Peruvian scientist Avecita Chicchón.
With more than 30 years’ experience in biodiversity conservation and sustainable development, Chicchón leads the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Andes-Amazon Initiative, focused on preserving the biodiversity and climatic function of the Amazon biome.
Her work has focused on indigenous and rural peoples in Peru and Bolivia, in the areas of conservation, development, and rights, with a gender perspective.
Later this month she will join a panel of experts at the World Conference of Science Journalists, in Medellin, Colombia, to discuss the threats facing the Amazon and how these are being addressed by governments, indigenous communities, NGOs and the private sector.
SciDev.Net spoke to her ahead of the event about how this precious global resource can be protected.
What do you consider to be most pivotal to conservation of the Amazon basin?
The Amazon contains the world’s largest tropical forests and their conservation is an important part of our responses to climate change. It is essential to avoid reaching a breaking point that leads to ecological collapse, which could occur if forests are not conserved.
Although it covers the territory of eight countries, it is necessary to look at the Amazon as a whole. This includes its connectivity, the ecological processes taking place in the region, biodiversity and the natural resources that sustain local populations
This requires the commitment of grassroots organisations – which are the ones who best care for the Amazon – but also of the entire chain of social and economic actors.
I’ll give you an example. A few days ago, I read that in Peru they are again going to open some areas for oil and gas production. Despite the fact that the world is moving towards reducing the consumption of hydrocarbons, Peru still thinks that with these initiatives they will achieve economic growth.
Therefore, in order to prevent economic activities that are not sustainable – for the Amazon or for the planet –, in addition to working with local organisations, it is important to reach out to the entire chain, including political decision-makers.
How is that achieved in countries where there is even internal dissent among government authorities?
Decisions about budget allocation, about prioritising where to work, are usually made by presidents and their cabinets. And it is true that many times the members of the cabinets do not agree. Returning to the example of Peru, I would like to emphasise that they now have a very good Minister of the Environment, very good deputy ministers, and people working in the environment with quite a lot of effort and commitment, for example in relation to international treaties to mitigate climate change.
There are certainly differences between ministries, because the Ministry of Mining is the one that promotes a return to oil and gas exploitation.
In cases such as this, it becomes clear that civil society needs to be involved in order to contribute to transparency and access to information. In addition, in order to have good scientific information, the participation of academia and the scientific sector is needed.
Would it then be important to promote citizen participation?
Definitely. I said that the key point is to prevent the ecological collapse of the Amazon, and to do that we have to make sure that at least 70 per cent of the original Amazon forest is protected. Currently, 50 per cent of the forest is under some form of conservation. Therefore, in order to achieve the remaining 20 per cent, we need to work with local and indigenous peoples who manage their resources sustainably.
We are working to ensure that these communities have legal certainty. Without it, their lands are in danger of being snatched.
The reality is complex, and so are societies. There are many cases of people living in the countryside, but they also have a foot in the city – because education, access to health services, good economic opportunities, are often obtained in the city.
What about the ecosystems?
Another focus of our work is to protect them. In this regard, we must remember that the Amazon is home to a great diversity – high forests, mountainous, and plain forest, without rocks, floodable… We note that much emphasis has been placed on terrestrial conservation, on forests, and little emphasis on rivers, which is the focus of our work.
We also address the threats that change the face of the Amazon and that are negative for its connectivity. For example, the construction of dams or very large or poorly designed roads.
Another key aspect is to change the narrative, the way we refer to the conservation of the Amazon. We intend to collect and disseminate the stories of the people who live there and make a positive contribution.
It is not true that there is nothing left to do. It is still within our reach to conserve the Amazon.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Global desk.
The World Conference of Science Journalists is taking place in Medellin, Colombia from 27-31 March.