Amazonia Undercover: unexpected allies against deforestation

Insight / 27 Nov 2020

We joined Brazilian filmmaker Estevão Ciavatta at London Climate Action Week to talk about his documentary ‘Amazonia Undercover’ and what people in the UK can do to help tackle deforestation

An unexpected union is forming in the Amazon rainforest. Indigenous and local communities are rewriting history as they unite for the first time as allies against a common enemy – the forces and the system which drive the destruction of the forest.

During London Climate Action Week, their story was brought to a UK audience through the lens of filmmaker Estevão Ciavatta. In the documentary ‘Amazonia Undercover’, Ciavatta investigates the opaque and often criminal networks involved in land grabbing and deforestation in the Amazon, and the coming together of local communities to fight back.

In a conversation moderated by journalist Dom Phillips; Niki Mardas, Fiona Watson, director of Research and Advocacy at Survival International, Jo Blackman, Head of Forests Policy and Advocacy at Global Witness, and Tica Minami, Director of Campaigns at Greenpeace Brazil together urged the UK to increase its efforts to support the fight against deforestation.

Starting with the first big road into the Amazon in the early 1970s, close to 20% of the rainforest has been lost. An interconnected web of land grabbing, huge investments in infrastructure, mining, and above all agribusiness are now taking apart a further 20% at a furious pace. At 40% loss, scientists say, the forest risks reaching a deadly tipping point.

Though thousands of miles away, the fight for the rights of the forest’s indigenous and local communities is connected directly to the UK. Through the import of commodities such as beef and soy, for direct consumption and as a feedstuff for British farm animals, British companies and consumers are contributing to continued deforestation – and the often violent and illegal practices documented in Ciavatta’s film.

Assessments using Global Canopy’s data show that there is still a long way to go before these communities can be sure to find an ally in British companies and financial institutions.

Data can contribute to fighting deforestation

While almost 80% of British companies have in place some kind of zero-deforestation policy, transparency remains as a key challenge to ensure commitments are implemented. However, innovative new tools such as Trase, a joint initiative between Global Canopy and the Stockholm Environment Institute, are bringing powerful new insights to light which are starting to enable positive action and improve accountability in these supply chains.

Home to one of the world’s greatest financial centres, the UK government has the power to use regulatory and legislative tools which can encourage companies and financial institutions to responsibly manage their exposure to high-risk commodities.

The panelists agreed that the UK must make it a priority – both in emerging laws, and using it’s convening power at next year’s UN Climate Summit in Glasgow – to champion the rights of indigenous and riverside peoples in the Amazon. Individuals in the UK can and must also use their own power, both as consumers and as voters, to exert pressure.

“We can all make changes in our personal space – by cutting out meat, for instance, or if you do have it, then make sure it is locally and ethically sourced – but importantly, we must remember to target the system”, Niki Mardas said. He urged people to take a simple but powerful step to ensure that their own money is not being used to contribute to deforestation. “Call your pension provider, go to your bank.”

Watch the webinar recording.

Image: Amazonia Undercover

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