Eye on the Amazon

Forests, Fires, and Finance: How Financial Institutions Are Fanning the Flames

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

We are living in a world on fire. Over the past year, over 1,000 major fires have ravaged the Amazon rainforest, destroying millions of acres. At the same time, the North American west has seen its most destructive wildfire season in recorded history. Wildfires spurred by historically hot and dry conditions have raged across California and British Columbia, destroying entire towns and disproportionately affecting Indigenous communities. Nlaka'pamux residents of Lytton, British Columbia have seen their hometown destroyed, while the Maidu people of Northern California reacquired their ancestral lands only to see them engulfed in flames. Even European countries such as Greece and France, each beset by historic heat waves, have suffered massive fires that have displaced thousands of people.

Deforestation, fires, and the destruction and exploitation of Indigenous lands across the globe are intimately linked. Unlike the fires across North America and Europe, major fires in the Amazon are typically set deliberately to clear areas that have been deforested, often as a result of land grabs of Indigenous territories to benefit the agribusiness, mining, and fossil fuel industries. The resulting carbon emissions from forest destruction and fossil fuel extraction contribute to climate change, exacerbating the hot and dry conditions that feed increasingly severe wildfires in North America and across the rest of the world. In short, the destruction of the Amazon and violation of the land rights of its Indigenous peoples drives a vicious cycle of global climate chaos.

Politicians like Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro have worked to erode Indigenous land rights and pave the way for expansion of these destructive, polluting industries, and Amazonian Indigenous movements have mounted a fierce resistance. However, global financial institutions have been equally complicit in driving the destruction of the Amazon and dispossession of its Indigenous peoples. In particular, three financial institutions are pouring money into Amazon destruction: asset managers BlackRock and Vanguard Group and multinational investment bank JPMorgan Chase.

A 2019 report by Friends of the Earth and Amazon Watch found that BlackRock was the world's largest investor in companies engaged in deforestation in the Amazon. For its part, Vanguard invested $2.7 billion in such companies between 2017 and 2020. JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the United States, is also the world's largest backer of fossil fuels and finances numerous agribusiness and fossil fuel companies involved in environmental and Indigenous rights violations in the Amazon.

These financial institutions drive the destruction of the Amazon and the resulting cycle of climate chaos. Additionally, none of them have binding policies requiring them to respect Indigenous peoples' rights to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent concerning extractive operations in their territories.

Climate change has made clear what has been true all along: the future of the planet and all of its peoples and ecosystems depends on rejecting the climate colonialism driven by financial institutions and governments and respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples.

That's why, as part of Amazon Watch's Global Week of Action for the Amazon from September 5-11, we are taking Friday, September 10 as a Global Day of Action to demand an Amazon Ceasefire. We are calling on all of our supporters to join us in taking action to hold governments and financial institutions accountable for their complicity in Amazon destruction. To join the action, visit the Global Week of Action community page on NooWorld, an activist app created to build coalitions worldwide. It's our collective responsibility to stand in solidarity with the Indigenous peoples of the Amazon and tell global finance that we won't stand for its actions!

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