As Fires Rage On, Senators Push Corporate America To Fulfill Commitment To Protect Amazon

13 Senators: Top Corporations And Financial Firms Have Already Pledged To Fight Deforestation – Now They Ought To Deliver


WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) led a group of 13 senators in writing a pair of letters to corporate signatories to the New York Declaration on Forests, calling for the major companies and financial firms to wield their influence to combat the ongoing fires and runaway deforestation in the Amazon. In the face of destructive policies by Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro, it is time for corporations to live up to their commitments to combat deforestation around the globe, the senators write.

The New York Declaration is a partnership of governments, multinational companies, civil society, and indigenous peoples who strive to halve deforestation by 2020 and to end it by 2030.  One letter is addressed to retailers, food and beverage companies, and consumer goods companies, which may have supply chains that extend into Brazil; the other is to financial institutions, urging them to account for the Amazon fires in all due diligence.

To the companies, the senators write, “As a major multinational corporation with a global footprint and considerable economic influence, your stated commitment to ending deforestation is admirable and necessary.  However, the fires in the Amazon this year are an emergency and require action from all of us now. You have the power to demand President Bolsonaro enforce his country’s environmental laws, and can reassess your operations in light of inaction.  Please speak up and make it clear that the protection of the Amazon is essential to your company doing business in the region.”

U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Ill.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joined Whitehouse and Schatz in sending both letters. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also joined the letter to corporations.

Companies receiving the letter are Cargill, Danone, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg’s, L’Oreal, Marks & Spencer, McDonalds, Mondelez, Nestlé, Pick n Pay, Procter & Gamble, SC Johnson, Unilever, Walmart, Yum! Brands, Barclays, Boston Common Asset Management, Calvert Investment Management, Deutsche Bank, Lloyd’s Banking Group, Miller/Howard Investments, and Trillium Asset Management.

The Amazon accounts for 25 percent of the carbon that global forests absorb each year.  Amazonian ecosystems are also critical to the health of the world’s oceans and the global food chain.  Yet, since Bolsonaro took office at the beginning of the year, the Brazilian Amazon has lost more than 1,330 square miles of forest cover.  Enforcement actions by Brazil’s environmental agency fell by 20 percent during the first six months of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018.

The senators warn of the risk of hitting a “tipping point” beyond which the loss of powerfully carbon-absorbing rainforest will cement the worst effects of climate change and rob society of vital biodiversity.

Given your public commitment to protecting forests, we respectfully urge you to thoroughly account for the runaway deforestation in Brazil in your due diligence, and to call for immediate action from President Bolsonaro,” the senators write.

Text of the letters is below.  PDF versions of the letters are available here (to corporations) and here (to financial firms).

We are writing to you because your company has expressed a commitment to forest protection and restoration by endorsing the New York Declaration on Forests.  In the context of global deforestation, the ongoing destruction of the Brazilian Amazon rain forest poses an enormous threat.  This is a human-made environmental crisis with potentially disastrous implications for the Amazon’s biodiversity and the global climate.  If the fires, and the policies that led to them, remain unchecked, the Amazon risks reaching a tipping point of irreversible deforestation that will lock in the worst effects of the climate crisis. Given your public commitment to protecting forests, we respectfully urge you to ensure your supply chain is untainted by this runaway deforestation in Brazil and to call for immediate action from President Bolsonaro.

The Amazon is the “lungs” of the world, accounting for twenty-five percent of the carbon that global forests absorb each year.  Organisms unique to this ecosystem are critical to the health of the world’s oceans and the global food chain.  Scientists are unequivocal that the protection of this rain forest is critical to forestalling the most destructive climate change scenarios.  Without the Amazon, it would almost certainly be impossible to keep global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels.  This unchecked deforestation by land grabbers, illegal loggers, and miners also imperils indigenous communities throughout the Brazilian Amazon.  Yet these fires rage, and deforestation continues unabated.

Brazil’s own National Institute for Space Research (INPE) reported that there have been 58,614 fires in Brazil’s Amazônia Legal region so far this year, an increase of 105 percent from last year.  These fires, far from an unpredictable natural disaster, are in fact the manmade product of President Bolsonaro’s aggressive deregulatory policies.  The Brazilian section of the Amazon has lost more than 1,330 square miles of forest cover since Mr. Bolsonaro took office, while enforcement actions by Brazil’s environmental agency fell by 20 percent during the first six months of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018. As President Bolsonaro’s government turns a blind eye, ranchers and farmers intentionally set fires and illegally clear land with impunity.

As a major multinational corporation with a global footprint and considerable economic influence, your stated commitment to ending deforestation is admirable and necessary.  However, the fires in the Amazon this year are an emergency and require action from all of us now.  You have the power to demand President Bolsonaro enforce his country’s environmental laws, and can reassess your operations in light of inaction.  Please speak up and make it clear that the protection of the Amazon is essential to your company doing business in the region. 

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