Eye on the Amazon

Amazon Defenders Make Their Voices Heard at Climate Week

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

As fires continue to rage in the Bolivian and Brazilian Amazon, millions of people have taken to the streets around the world in the past two weeks to demand radical, systemic change to the way humanity is handling the climate catastrophe. New York's Climate Week was no exception: Indigenous leaders from the Amazon, pro-democracy activists from Brazil, and members of Amazon Watch's team traveled to New York to make our voices heard.

The challenge ahead of us is enormous: The U.N. held a top-level climate action summit in New York where only one indigenous leader was included. Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro delivered a racist and deceitful speech to the U.N. General Assembly that threatened violence against indigenous peoples and denied the causes of the fires. And Wall Street deforestation profiteer BlackRock sent their head of "sustainable investing" to speak on a Climate Week panel to greenwash their complicity in the Amazon's destruction.

But indigenous peoples, along with organizations like Amazon Watch and activists from around the world, answered the call to keep the deforestation crisis in the forefront during Climate Week. There were more than 25 events in New York during Climate Week where activists came together for the Amazon. Here are the three main updates we want to share – from New York to Ecuador and beyond.

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

Stopping Amazon Destruction

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg traveled by boat to New York City and marched at the front of the youth-led climate strike – but so did Helena Gualinga, a 17-year-old advocate and indigenous rights defender from Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon. And she wasn't alone – indigenous activists marched in the U.S. from coast to coast and targeted the major financiers of the destruction of the Amazon, including Wall Street giant BlackRock.

On September 20, San Francisco's young climate strikers stopped in front of the headquarters of Wall Street giant BlackRock to protest their complicity in Amazon deforestation and fossil fuel extraction. Then on September 24th, Amazon Watch delivered a letter from Brazil's National Indigenous Movement to BlackRock's headquarters in New York City, along with a global petition signed by over 260,000 people calling on the Wall Street firm to stop investing in the worst actors in the Amazon. Security personnel tried to block our delegation from delivering the message, but a company representative eventually received it after our group refused to leave.

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

That very same afternoon, our Finance Campaign Director, Moira Birss, confronted BlackRock's head of sustainability, Brian Deese, after he spoke at a conference on the "costs of climate inaction." Why, we asked Deese, hadn't BlackRock responded to the letter we sent nearly two weeks prior from Amazon Watch, Friends of the Earth US, Rainforest Action Network, and Greenpeace US offering to discuss the concrete actions BlackRock can take to respond to the fires and agribusiness-driven deforestation in Brazil? Deese answered that "the engagement team is looking at it." This is clearly inadequate, and we plan to significantly ramp up pressure in the weeks to come.

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

And on September 27, Moira presented before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. with colleagues from the Association of Brazil's Indigenous Peoples (APIB), about the rights violations of Brazil's government and the complicity of international actors like BlackRock and Cargill. She gave testimony alongside Eloy Terena of APIB, who confronted BlackRock CEO Larry Fink in May at the company's shareholder meeting.

From the streets to the boardrooms and halls of international human rights institutions, we're bringing the fight to defend the Amazon to the biggest financier of its destruction.

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

Indigenous Leaders Holding Bolsonaro's Feet to the Fire

As representatives of the world's governments descended on New York, the Bolsonaro regime sent Environment Minister Ricardo Salles to Washington, D.C., who pretended his office was upholding Brazilian ecological protections – while the Amazon fires continued to rage. Spirited protests greeted Salles in every public venue where he dared to show his face. As our Advocacy Director Andrew Miller told Folha de São Paulo: "Wherever he goes, we will protest."

Meanwhile, Bolsonaro gave a speech opening the UN General Assembly with the deception, ignorance, and hatred that have defined his presidency. Bolsonaro portrayed a Brazil that doesn't exist, one where the Amazon is "practically untouched" and is "not being devastated or consumed by fire," and where indigenous peoples live like "cavemen." He also laid bare his predatory vision for the rainforest, which he sees as a source of vast riches awaiting exploitation.

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

Amazon Watch was with Sônia Guajajara, Executive Coordinator of the Association of Brazil's Indigenous Peoples (APIB), shortly after Bolsonaro's repulsive screed. Even after months of relentless attacks from Brazilian government, she appeared shaken by the vicious lines that Bolsonaro had drawn, amounting to a declaration of war against indigenous peoples and their territories.

"Today was a day of terror for indigenous peoples in Brazil," she declared at an APIB press conference following the address. "[Bolsonaro's] discourse of hate and intolerance stains the reputation of Brazil both nationally and internationally. He demonstrated his menace to indigenous peoples and to nature and showed that he is a mouthpiece of agribusiness and mining. But we are not afraid of the Bolsonaro government. Even with our lands being burned and stained with blood we bring the scream of our peoples. Above fear there is courage."

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

But the indignity didn't stop there. In his speech, Bolsonaro personally attacked Chief Raoni, a tribal elder of the Kayapó people and an internationally-recognized advocate for indigenous rights and Amazon protection, who is a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. Amazon Watch was with Chief Raoni when he was denied access to the U.N. climate action summit on Monday. We say that given the dire situation in the Amazon rainforest, concessions should have been made for his inclusion. Meanwhile, Raoni's defenders rallied in Brazil inside and outside Congress, chanting and tweeting: Bolsonaro não, Raoni sim! (Bolsonaro no, Raoni yes!). The message was clear: Bolsonaro has lost the public's support for his assault on the Amazon and his racist attacks against indigenous peoples.

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

Amazon Watch was also among a handful of civil society organizations invited to a high-level meeting of world leaders called by presidents Macron of France, Duque of Colombia, and Piñera of Chile to launch "The Alliance for Rainforests." The gathering, in which South American and world leaders committed $500 million in new funding for rainforest protection, demonstrated the urgency with which the majority understand we must act to confront today’s crisis. President Bolsonaro, who is driving the crisis from Brasilia, was conspicuously absent.

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

Defending Areas of the Amazon Threatened by Fossil Fuels

While much of our focus was on the crisis unfolding in the Brazilian Amazon, we also worked during Climate Week to amplify the message of indigenous peoples in the western Amazon threatened by expanding fossil fuel extraction. This region is the ancestral territory of more than 20 indigenous nationalities and peoples and is one of the most biologically and culturally diverse ecosystems on the planet. It is under immediate threat.

As part of the Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative, an indigenous-led proposal to permanently protect 74 million acres of tropical rainforests in the headwaters of the mighty Amazon River in Ecuador and Peru, Domingo Peas, an Achuar organizer with the initiative, told his story of the impact of resource extraction on indigenous peoples and the rainforest at several Amazon-focused events throughout the week.

"If we know the world must phase out fossil fuels, why are they looking for new reserves in our territories? Our peoples have kept forests standing for millennia, and as ample scientific evidence shows, we are the most effective at protecting our own forests which are a reservoir of biodiversity and provide an essential service to the world by generating rain and regulating our global climate. Protecting the Amazon's sacred headwaters is an essential part of any climate change solution."

Additionally, the International Indigenous Peoples' Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) met in advance of the U.N. climate action summit and finalized the Indigenous Peoples commitments on climate action, a set of principles developed by indigenous communities who came together from across the globe. Tuntiak Katan of the Shuar people of Ecuador presented at the U.N. climate action summit on Monday, September 23rd outlining these commitments.

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

The fight goes on...

After Climate Week, Amazon Watch is looking toward the next major opportunity for global leaders to address climate change: The U.N. climate summit, known as COP 25, to be held in Chile from December 2-13. Brazil was originally slated to host the gathering – but Bolsonaro's government withdrew. Indigenous leaders around the world will hold escalating actions and protests building toward the moment, demanding climate justice, respect for human rights and the life-saving actions that the world desperately needs its most powerful actors to undertake.

One thing is clear from the global reaction to the fires in the Amazon and Climate Week – this issue is front and center of the climate movement and Amazon Watch and our allies will continue working tirelessly to build on this unprecedented momentum until we reach our goal of a healthy and permanently protected Amazon rainforest!

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