Latin American Countries Aim to Curb Amazon Deforestation
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Latin American Countries Aim to Curb Amazon Deforestation

Brazil’s president hosts regional leaders as rainforest risks losing ability to help offset climate change

Thu, Aug 10, 2023 8:00amGrey Clock 4 min

SÃO PAULO—The Latin American countries that share the Amazon rainforest embarked on a two-day meeting Tuesday in the Brazilian jungle city of Belém with an aim to halt the deforestation that many scientists blame for accelerating climate change.

Brazil, home to 60% of the world’s biggest rainforest, held a meeting for presidents and top officials from countries that are home to the rest of the Amazon: Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guyana and Suriname. The summit is the first in 14 years for the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, a group that arose from a treaty Amazonian nations signed in 1978 to promote harmonious development of the region. France, which oversees French Guiana on South America’s northeast shoulder, was represented by the French ambassador in Brasília.

The meeting comes as Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva seeks to position his country as a leading voice in the global fight against deforestation, and facilitator of cross-border environmental cooperation on the continent through the 45-year-old treaty.

“It’s never been more urgent to resume and widen this cooperation—it’s the challenge of our era,” said da Silva in his opening speech Tuesday.

Other countries with large tropical forests, such as Indonesia, Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, were expected to join the meeting along with Norway and Germany, which contribute to deforestation programs. The United Arab Emirates, which will host this year’s United Nations climate summit in Dubai, was also to attend.

Twice the size of India, the Amazon rainforest has long absorbed more carbon than it releases, acting as a vital brake on global climate change. But with close to 20% of the original forest now gone, scientists tracking the forest say the Amazon could be close to its so-called irreversible tipping point, at which it would dry out and eventually become savanna. The effects could be global. Climate scientists have blamed forest loss for contributing to global warming, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said explains why heat waves in countries such as the U.S. are becoming more common.

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon has hit its lowest level in four years since da Silva’s administration started in January, dropping about 34% in the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year, according to preliminary data from Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research, known as INPE. While da Silva has vowed to bring jungle destruction down to zero by 2030, he has argued that this can’t be done at the cost of the livelihoods of the some 30 million people who live in Brazil’s Amazon.

Instead, Brazil must build a new green economy in the Amazon with financing and investment from abroad, da Silva argues, as well as develop a regulated carbon market. Brazil relies on foreign donations to help operate its underfunded environmental enforcement agencies, which use helicopters, drones and other equipment to monitor illegal deforestation across the vast area.

“What we want is to tell the world what we’re going to do with our forests and what the world has to do to help us,” da Silva said in a government statement. Da Silva said he plans to pressure wealthy nations to fulfil the pledge they made during the 2015 Paris climate accord to provide $100 billion a year to help developing countries fight climate change.

Other Latin American countries, including Colombia and Peru, have set deforestation targets but face serious challenges from illegal mining and drug gangs that have tightened their grip over the forest in what the U.N. recently referred to as “narco-deforestation.”

Tackling deforestation is one of the most urgent tasks facing South America, scientists say.

Heavily-deforested parts of the Amazon’s southeastern region have already ceased to function as a carbon absorber and are now a carbon source, according to a study published in 2021 by Luciana Gatti, a researcher for INPE, which uses satellites to track deforestation.

The Amazon rainforest influences weather patterns around the world and as deforestation advances, this could make extreme weather events more common, said Daniel Nepstad, who heads the California-based Earth Innovation Institute and has worked in the Amazon for more than 30 years.

“The forest is a global air-conditioning unit…an enormous heat processing machine that influences weather around the world,” said Nepstad, adding that the willingness of all leaders to meet to discuss the issue was in itself a “hugely positive outcome.”

Deadly heat waves have upended daily life in large parts of the U.S., Europe and Asia this year, while unusually high temperatures in South America’s winter have melted snow in the Andes mountains.

Regional coordination is vital, environmentalists say. Deep in the Amazon, where indigenous communities often straddle borders and loggers and criminal groups move freely, one country’s efforts can easily be rendered ineffective by those of its neighbour.

Such a summit seemed a distant possibility just a year ago, when da Silva’s right-wing predecessor Jair Bolsonaro was president. Bolsonaro, who jokingly referred to himself as “Captain Chainsaw,” cut funding for environmental enforcement and bristled at attempts from foreign countries to influence his stewardship of the Amazon even as he called on them to fund deforestation efforts.

Under the conservative leader, a swath of forest bigger than Vermont was destroyed in four years, according to INPE data.

Da Silva’s election in October last year put much of South America in the hands of a group of loosely allied leftist leaders, easing regional talks on an issue, the Amazon, that had never resulted in tangible cooperation, political scientists said.

Points of conflict, to be sure, exist among the countries participating in the Belém summit.

While da Silva has mulled plans to develop offshore oil finds near the mouth of the Amazon River to help lower domestic fuel costs, his Colombian counterpart, Gustavo Petro, called last month for all new oil developments to be blocked in the region.

“As heads of state, we must assure the end of new oil and gas exploration in the Amazon,” Petro wrote last month in the Miami Herald. “We must exhibit courage, even as we address fundamental social issues within our countries, exacerbated by a cost of living crisis and rampant inflation.”

Marcio Astrini, who heads a coalition of environmental groups called the Brazilian Climate Observatory, said Amazonian countries are likely to find common ground on the need to protect indigenous communities, combat crime at the borders and support scientific research to better understand the forest.

“These countries are in different political situations…but they all found space in their agendas to agree to this and get together to discuss these sensitive issues,” said Astrini.

The biggest point they have in common, though, is their desire to get richer nations to help pay for all of this, said Astrini.

“Show me the money—that’s one thing they’ll all be saying in unison,” he said.


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Millennials and Gen Z are turning to peers instead of professionals for financial advice. They don’t trust banks, and they are tired of information overload.

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Colin Saint-Vil got his money education at the dim sum cart, over a steamy plate of pork buns and turnip cake.

A friend offered to pick up the whole tab on her credit card, “for the points.” At the time, six years ago, “for the points” meant nothing to Saint-Vil, now a 30-year-old planning manager in Brooklyn, so he pressed for more details. They lingered over the dim sum meal as a larger conversation unfolded about annual percentage rates, credit-card debt, payment schedules and more.

Millennials and members of Gen Z prefer to seek financial advice from each other than from parents or from financial professionals. They don’t like overwhelming spreadsheets and marketing material written in seemingly foreign languages. They don’t trust big banks and institutions trying to sell them on investment strategies—as many were raised around the late 2000s financial-crisis. And, they are not wrong: There is a lot to be learned from comparing numbers with peers—from sharing salaries to talking out big decisions like home or car purchases.

Saint-Vil said when his father was his age, he had already begun investing in real estate, but with property prices now so high and mortgage rates only just beginning to fall, he said he couldn’t imagine being able to follow in his father’s footsteps. He, like many millennials and Gen Z-ers, describe their finances as “fairly good” these days, though they hold a negative picture of the greater economy, according to a new poll of 18 to 29-year-olds from the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School.

Millennials are still reeling from the impact of back-to-back recessions, all while large bank closures and investing scams dominate the headlines. Younger people report a feeling of “financial avoidance” exacerbated by high inflation and the pandemic-era budgeting.

As of June 2023, Gallup polling revealed a historically low faith in U.S. institutions, with younger generations voicing high skepticism. According to Gallup, only 9% of respondents aged 18 to 34 expressed “a great deal” of confidence in banks; meanwhile, 47% and 28% said they have “some” or “very little,” respectively.

But when it comes to winning back young consumers, these same financial institutions haven’t quite given up, and are rolling out new outreach programs and robo advisors, some of which have helped bridge a connection with Gen Z and millennials, said Keith Niedermeier, clinical professor of marketing at Indiana University. But many young people still say they prefer do-it-yourself investing platforms like Robinhood and Acorns over traditional advisers at more established wealth-management firms.

Andrew Ragusa, a real-estate broker based on Long Island, blamed the twin problems of low housing inventory and high home prices for postponing younger buyers’ ownership. The median age of a first-time home buyer in the U.S. is 35-years old as of 2023, according to data from the National Association of Realtors. That is slightly down from an record high of 36 in 2022, but still two years older than the median age in 2021, which is representative of an ageing first-time buyer trend.

When he talks with younger clients now, he detects a gloomy sentiment. “They try to be optimistic, but the overall sentiment is ‘This is supposed to be the American dream: we get a house and we get some financial security and I just have to have faith it will all work out in the end.’ But they don’t have faith it will.”

Fear and shame around being able to buy or accomplish as much as one’s parents might have financially can crop up when millennials talk to elders about their financial frustrations, said Jodi Kaus, director of Kansas State University’s student financial planning centre, Powercat Financial. She’s found that lessons and advice from friends are often more constructive.

Kaus leads a peer-to-peer financial planning centre that pairs up students to work through financial issues. She works to pair people with similar backgrounds: graduate students with graduate students or international students with international students. Talking with someone only a few years removed from your current situation means you’re better able to internalize the messages and execute on their advice, Kaus said.

“Early on, parents even say ‘Are you sure students can help my child?’” she said. “And I say ‘I am more than confident that they can help each other.’

Sharing money tips and financial know-how with your friends doesn’t only benefit the asker, Kaus said. In the Kansas State University peer-to-peer group, the advice giver also learns a lot from their own position, because sharing their story and bonding with a peer helps them to build their own confidence and belief in their financial acumen.

Lindsay Clark, a 34-year-old director of external affairs in Washington, D.C., recalls one lesson she shared with a friend carrying student loans from pharmacy school. Clark works at Savi, a student loan platform, and she offered to cook her friend dinner while they sorted through his loan repayment options. Long after they’d cleaned their dinner plates, they sat together at Clark’s kitchen island, lingering over a plate of homemade hummus and chatting about everything from financial goals to Costco card benefits.

“Those conversations blossom from the transparency, and the visibility makes both people feel really good,” she said. “That creates better relationships overall.”

When you’re talking about money issues with friends, Clark said, you’re not artificially inflating your salary or pretending to know more than you do. And most important, you’re not worried about their ulterior motives.

“You feel safe in that conversation, knowing their intentions are good and they’re not trying to make money off of you,” she said. “And that’s going to lead to better results, because we’re working with the reality here.”

Skepticism of pronounced experts and criticism of established financial institutions is especially common among millennials and Gen Z, Neidermeier said. Studies show people across generations are much likelier to take a friend or colleague’s recommendation to heart over that of a faceless institution, he said; people who spend time on social media just have a greater opportunity to source those answers and field questions.

“What people say to each other over the picket fence is what is the most influential,” he said.

At a certain point, however, talking solely to friends and peers for your financial lessons can be very limiting, said Sarah Behr, founder of Simplify Financial Planning in San Francisco. Relying on your social circle can also put a strain on those relationships; no one wants to be responsible for your disappointment when a financial decision that worked out well for them doesn’t fit as well in your own life.

Behr recommends tuning into your own emotional reactions when assessing peer advice: does the road map they followed align with your own financial values? Does it put pressure on you to live outside your means or challenge your personal risk tolerance? If the answer doesn’t feel clear, that could be a time to outsource to a financial professional who has no emotional connection to you or your financial status.

“‘People have been telling me do this, but I just don’t know if it’s the right thing for me’—I get a lot of calls like that,” said Behr.

Saint-Vil said he and his friends share tips on what high-yield savings accounts offer the best rates, and when he did his credit card research, he chose a card recommended by a friend. When it comes time to work with a financial adviser or even one day a wealth manager, he’ll likely work with someone recommended through a peer. Behr said close to 90% of her business comes by way of client referrals.

Since that first conversation over dim sum, Saint-Vil has thrown his own card onto the table at meals and shared his knowledge with other pals who look confused.

“I have a real wide range of friends who are in many different financial places, but I would say a rising tide lifts all ships,” he said.

Julia Carpenter is the co-author, with Bourree Lam, of The Wall Street Journal’s “The New Rules of Money: A Playbook for Planning Your Financial Future,” a personal-finance workbook published this week by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group.


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