Some have already nicknamed it the “OPEC of forests” . This Thursday, October 26, 2023 in Brazzaville, the countries of the three main primary forest basins on the planet (Amazon forest, Congo basin, Borneo and Mekong forest) are meeting. The Secretary General of the UN, António Guterres, the Brazilian President Lula, and a number of elected officials, scientists and representatives of indigenous peoples from three continents made the trip.
One of the stated objectives of the meeting: the creation of a “World Alliance of the Three Basins”. If such an organization would be unprecedented, at a time when deforestation is on the rise again . What could such an alliance enable?
Common ailments but sometimes different causes
Before even questioning its effectiveness, we can first look at the rationale for cooperation between these regions of the world. These three forest basins bring together most of the world's tropical forests, and, thus, "80% of the green lungs and three quarters of the world's biodiversity" recalls the summit . In this regard, the alliance seems most relevant, especially to face an evil that affects them all: that of deforestation. Because these three largest forest areas are also the three largest areas of deforestation . A scourge which increased by 4% in 2022 and which is mainly responsible for the change in land use, the transformation of forest into livestock land or agricultural land.
However, deforestation does not always have the same faces or the same causes in these three basins and strongly depends on the socio-economic context. It already remains an older phenomenon in the Amazon and Southeast Asia. The Congo Basin began to be massively cleared more recently, but today it is the place where deforestation is most rapid.
Still in the Congo Basin, it is rather subsistence agriculture which is today eating away at the primary forest, while the main activities to blame for this in the Amazon remain those of agriculture and livestock oriented towards export. In Southeast Asia, palm oil still remains one of the leading causes of loss of forest cover, particularly in Borneo and Papua. The levers for action can therefore be significantly different from one country or region to another.
Avoid competition between countries
However, given the ever-increasing rate of deforestation, this alliance remains most relevant and the countries concerned may have several specific interests in cooperating. First, in order to avoid competition between countries to obtain funding from the North.
A rivalry which is not surprising in a context where the fight against deforestation requires significant financial transfers to help countries protect themselves from deforestation and where international aid to protect or restore biodiversity remains too weak, ineffective and unfairly distributed , with the most vulnerable countries less well endowed than emerging countries in recent decades, and many unkept promises.
Thus, at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, developed countries committed to raising $100 billion per year to help the least developed countries deal with climate change. But only 83.3 billion were mobilized, and only 68.3 billion of public money.
Prevent leakage effects
Another benefit that it would have, for these three forest basins, to form a united front would be to avoid what we call leakage effects . Because if some countries make efforts to reduce deforestation, while others do nothing, deforestation can then simply move from countries that make efforts to those that do not.
This effect can be explained in particular by an economic mechanism: let us assume that a region of the world manages to significantly reduce its deforestation. It is likely that this policy will cause significant constraints on the local agricultural sector, and thus increase the cost of agricultural products. It is then to be feared that part of international demand will shift to regions where forest protection is less strong, in order to obtain products at lower costs. Which can therefore increase deforestation in these regions.
This amounts to a sort of free-rider situation: everyone has an interest in acting collectively, but no one wants to act alone. There is therefore an interest in acting together, in order to avoid these mechanisms.
Still more carbon credits or new carbon credits?
But protecting forests is not the same as selling oil, and the metaphor of an “OPEC of forests” seems to be quickly reaching its limits. Because where the oil-producing countries, united together, can enjoy global influence by modulating the supply and prices of a still essential commodity, forests and their protection, despite their importance in hoping to mitigate the effects of climate change, do not enjoy the same status at all. Moreover, for the moment, the monetization of their protection still takes, most often, the form of voluntary carbon credits, which, in addition to being highly criticized , act in a decentralized manner, with private funds participating in the financing of very localized projects with questionable effectiveness.
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We can therefore also see this summit as a desire by States to regain control over these questions of financing and action for the protection of forests, at the risk of serving as a guarantee for the greenwashing of certain States with a very significant climate impact. Suriname is thus the first country to sell carbon credits from the conservation of its forests; and Gabon, during the One Forest Summit , announced that it had 90 tonnes to sell, in order to be rewarded for capturing CO 2 in its forests.
The summit actually claims as another objective that of "signing financing agreements with bilateral and multilateral donors, global philanthropy and developing financial mechanisms with the private sector, in particular with the creation of a sovereign carbon market to ensure the sustainable financing of the Three Bassins. »
But this type of mechanism once again arouses a lot of skepticism given its lack of transparency and effectiveness. At the start of 2023, the British newspaper The Guardian proved that more than 90% of carbon credits supposed to protect forests had, in fact, no virtuous action for the planet .
Deforestation: a challenge for northern countries
Finally, only concentrating the field of action against deforestation in the countries of the three forest basins would obscure the significant share of responsibility of developed countries in the loss of forest cover, via imported deforestation, with 29 to 39 % of emissions from tropical deforestation attributable to international trade .
In the Amazon, and in Brazil in particular, the ecosystems are largely destroyed by the establishment of soy crops intended for export, in Europe in particular, where they are mainly used to feed livestock. In the same way, palm oil, 85% of which is produced in Malaysia and Indonesia on former forest lands, is found in half of the products in an average European supermarket and in many agrofuels. It is therefore difficult to think of succeeding in massively reducing tropical deforestation without significant moderation in our lifestyles, in the consumption of meat and other high-impact foods (cocoa, palm oil, etc.).
The fact that the European Parliament adopted a regulation against imported deforestation in 2022 is, in this regard, a good start, but may have lacked ambition by excluding certain fragile ecosystems such as the savannahs of the Brazilian Cerrado, strongly affected by the deforestation linked to soya , and we can also fear that the question of the difficult traceability of data could allow certain economic players to maintain a certain vagueness and not get to the point.