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The Amazon Rainforest-Sized Loophole in Net Zero

Amazon Watch July 2021

Trading forest protection for continued greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) presents a false and dangerous “solution” to the climate crisis. Instead, emissions must be drastically reduced, forests must be protected for their own sake, Indigenous forest stewardship must be recognized and respected, and the root causes of deforestation – namely commodity extraction and production in forests – must be halted.

Following the 2015 Paris Agreement, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations scientific institution that provides updates on climate science, released a report on how to curb global warming. Subsequent IPCC reports and corroborating scientific research unequivocally show that in order to keep global average temperature rise below 1.5°C – and thus have a shot at avoiding the worst impacts of climate change – requires deep and immediate cuts in the burning of fossil fuels, the complete phaseout of fossil fuel burning before mid century, and drastic reductions of emissions from industries, like agribusiness, whose current business models rely on deforestation.

Many companies and financial institutions, and even some governments, are attempting to appear as if they are reducing emissions without actually doing so. Instead, they want to perpetuate business-as-usual while “compensating” for it with schemes such as forest offsets.

After 25 years working alongside Amazonian Indigenous communities, Amazon Watch knows that pay-to-pollute schemes like this are false solutions to the climate crisis, do not address the root causes of forest loss, and risk severe harms to Indigenous communities. This is because:

  • Nature-based offsets cannot “compensate” for large-scale emissions production.
  • Offsets perpetuate environmental injustice.
  • Forest offsets can result in violations of the rights of Indigenous and tribal peoples.
  • The primary driver of rainforest loss is large-scale commodity production.

The way forward means making zero emissions central to “net zero”

So what should be done to mitigate the climate crisis, protect forests, and support Indigenous peoples? Companies, financial institutions and governments must keep their climate plans simple and transparent, with separate targets for:

  • Rapid reductions in emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial activities;
  • Rapid elimination of commodity production that drives deforestation; and
  • Increased commitments and contributions to rights-based nature protection and restoration.

Failure to adopt truly effective emissions reductions that do not rely on pay-to-pollute and compensation schemes will ultimately fail to meet the Paris Accord’s essential Net Zero goals and set us on a course towards runaway climate chaos.

To download the PDF visit Amazon Watch.