The climate crisis is now on the agenda of world leaders and, as António Guterres argues, “there is no time to waste”. The European Union advances introducing measures and one of the most recent is to ban all imports of food that come from areas considered to be at risk of deforestation, regardless of whether they are legal or illegal. And the next regulation to be approved, as pointed out by the European Commissioner for the Environment and Oceans, Virginijus Sinkevicius, will be even more demanding as companies will have to certify that their products do not come from sensitive areas.
Although greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are commonly associated with carbon dioxide emissions and the production of fossil fuels, those generated by the agricultural, forestry and land use change sector are also of great importance in the region ( AGSOUT). The rise of China and the consequent exponential increase in exports from the agricultural complex further aggravated the problem. The increase implied the advance of the productive frontier, with the consequent deforestation and degradation of the native forest.
Deforestation is pushing the Amazon to a critical point, which could transform its vast surface into a savannah with serious consequences for the rainfall regime throughout South America. Burning swamps or clearing the Argentine north produces identical effects.
Actors and policies
Regardless of political orientation, neoliberal or neo-developmentalist, everyone faces recent European measures with fear. The first reaction is to ignore the environmental problem and minimize the social costs of extractivism. This is the stance of the Bolsonaro government, which is emptying the environmental agency (Ibama), while encouraging miners, ranchers and other adventurous groups to advance into protected areas.
In the last year, the Brazilian Amazon lost 13,235 square kilometers of trees. The Argentine government’s alignment with traditional rural entities is in the same direction. The agricultural sector continues to deny any harmful effects of its practices, flouting all environmental legislation for affecting its rate of profit, including the blocking of the wetland law. But the global scenario is changing, and it is no longer possible to ignore the phenomenon due to its effects on the market, international politics and regulatory frameworks.
Continuing to think about the problem in the same light is, in our opinion, inappropriate. This is true on at least two fronts. In the political aspect, this implies ignoring the growing demand of global society for environmental protection and the demand to advance in the fight against climate risk, reflected by the advance of green parties in the old continent. When raising the ban proposal, the Commission decided to start a public consultation. The reaction was massive and citizens gave tacit support to the proposal.
An identical result was observed in the survey launched by the Eurobarometer in the spring of 2021, which highlights the high degree of public interest in the topic of climate change, as well as in the loss of the biosphere. Extractivism generates the same rejection in our countries, although unfortunately its voice is silenced: environmental activists are exposed to repression and even risk their lives.
From an economic point of view, positioning oneself as a victim implies continuing to ignore the transformation process that our main buyers demonstrate. If demand is shifting towards “environmentally friendly” products, it is useless to continue arguing that the problem merely reflects a “trade war”. Consumers are willing to pay more (organic products), change their consumption patterns (reduce meat consumption) and introduce new legislation to ban glyphosate-contaminated products.
We can protest, yes. But if our objective is to continue exporting, we must adapt to the new reality. Fortunately, many producers recognize these restrictions and work according to environmental protocols and regulations. We must take advantage of the situation to project a change in the commercial vision of those who do not, oblige all producers to internalize all the costs generated by their activity, including the prohibition of all deforestation.
When thinking about the interaction between the agro-export model and the design of local climate policy, trade policies adopted by importing countries tend to occupy a predominant place. As specialist Ana Paula Tostes points out, the green commercial practice in Europe is a path of no return.
There may be a hint of protectionism, even so Latin America cannot confront the measures from the point of view of discourse, but understand them as an opportunity. Once European countries meet their commitments, regardless of whether our countries meet theirs, the impact of Europe’s green transition will hit local export sectors.
The external front is rapidly transforming. If inaction is not an option in the face of the climate crisis, then tackling the new measures that our trading partners promote should not be a valid strategy either.