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The Road to Copenhagen: Progress and Challenges on Sustainable Development in Chico Mendes's Homeland

October 05, 2009 // 3:00pm5:00pm
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The legacy of Chico Mendes, martyr of Brazil's environmental movement, lives on in his home state of Acre. Chico Mendes's work has flourished in a series of innovative approaches guided by the concept of florestania, or forestizenship, which brings together the expansion of citizenship rights with the idea that human beings are an integrated and dependent part of nature. On October 5, 2009, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Brazil Institute, together with the Inter-American Dialogue, hosted an event on the innovative environmental sustainability policies developed and implemented in Acre with the support of multilateral organizations and national and international research institutions.

Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute, and Michael Shifter, vice president for policy and director of the Andean program of the Inter-American Dialogue, co-chaired the panel. Arnóbio Marques de Almeida Júnior, governor of the state of Acre, presented the solutions his administration implemented and the challenges it still faces. Foster Brown, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center, explored the problems of climate change in Acre. Adriana Gonçalves Moreira, World Bank senior environmental specialist, discussed the World Bank's role in Acre and its ProAcre project.

Governor Arnóbio Marques de Almeida Júnior, or Binho Marques discussed Acre's solutions to environmental sustainability. Acre is a scarcely populated state (655,385 people) located closer to major Andean cities than to major Amazonian cities. Acre suffered from little infrastructure or resources on the border of the Arch of Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Chico Mendes's work changed Acre's fate. He created a positive atmosphere of community collaboration for development and environmental sustainability, which Binho has advanced over the past decade.

Binho attributed his administration's successes to three fundamental conditions: well designed policies, Acre's familiarity with environmental sustainability, and a stable political situation. During his administration, Binho revitalized public libraries, encouraged sustainable investment, and implemented environmental zoning policies. He adopted educational policies that elevated Acre's primary and secondary education from one of the worst to one of the best ranked in Brazil. Yet, the governor acknowledges that there is still the need for improvement of higher education.

Together with other governors of the Amazonian states, Binho has made much progress in achieving sustainable development. They have worked for bottom-up environmental change and increased cooperation with neighboring countries. Currently, the governors frequently meet in the region and once a year in California to discuss, with other state governors in the world, ways in which to further and share their efforts in environmental conservation. On this the governor stated, "We already do this out of love, and it is part of our culture. We want to work together to save the forest, and all we ask is to have partners that are also involved in the project."

Foster Brown focused on the region's environmental challenges and the potential role for REDD+, the UN framework for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest stocks. Brown highlighted three facets of climate change: natural climate variability, regional climate change, and global climate change. The fundamental question is whether these phenomena will jointly create climate perturbation or come together synergistically to create environmentally disastrous effects.

Brown used the 2005 Amazon drought as an example of climate variability. During the drought, the dry forest, which generally acts as a barrier to environmental disasters, instead became a fuel source for fires. The fires destroyed 340,000 hectares of the Amazon forest—a catastrophic amount when compared to the annual deforestation rate of 40,000-80,000 hectares. Just months after the drought, Acre experienced disastrous flooding. Brown also underlined the need for regional solutions to solve regional climate change issues such as interferences in the water cycle. Destruction of any portion of this fragile network will not only impact Acre, but also Bolivia, Peru, and the rest of Brazil.

Global climate change makes disasters such as that of 2005 more extreme and more frequent. Brown reiterated the importance of a framework such as REDD+ to resolve climate change, but it pointed out that it is only part of the solution. He also emphasized the need to reduce carbon emission as quickly as possible and to develop early warning systems for climate perturbation. He concluded with a warning: it is cheaper to avoid anthropogenic climate change than to repair its impacts, especially in tropical forests.

Adriana Gonçalves Moreira highlighted the World Bank's project in the Acre region—ProAcre, which combines bottom-up with top-down approaches for sustainability. With ProAcre the World Bank adopts a multi-stakeholder approach that includes the federal government, local government, and regional community leaders. The project emphasizes social economic inclusion for rural and urban areas, land-use planning, capacity building, and a strong pillar of environmental protection.

Moreira attributed the success of this project to the work of the Acre government in creating a strong foundation of governance and infrastructure. Moreira explained that the World Bank adopted a bottom-up approach by using local input, and combined it with the traditional top-down approach to policy implementation. This partnership has contributed to successful social and environmental reforms in Acre and transformed how the World Bank works in the Amazon.

 

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