Leaders from Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela joined forces on Tuesday to conserve the world’s largest rainforest.

In a landmark move, the leaders of Amazon countries, led by Brazil, gathered yesterday in the northern Brazilian city of Belém to sign an agreement aimed at collaboratively conserving the Amazon rainforest, a vital buffer against climate change and a repository of unparalleled biodiversity.

The two-day Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) summit witnessed the participation of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela, the eight nations that share the vast Amazon river basin. This gathering marked the first summit in 14 years for this intergovernmental group established in 1995 to address the shared environmental challenges of the Amazon region.

The Belém Declaration, spanning nearly 10,000 words, outlines a roadmap for sustainable development, ending deforestation and combating organised crime linked to environmental degradation. The summit was convened by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who has been working hard to reverse many of the climate damaging policies of his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, who was voted out of office last year.

Key features of the agreement include coordination between law enforcement efforts to combat illegal mining and logging, as well as between banks to pool development funds that can support conservation efforts and sustainable livelihoods for local communities. The declaration also includes the creation of an Amazon-focused climate scientific panel.

But the summit stopped short of agreeing to key demands of environmentalists and indigenous groups. Despite Brazil and Colombia already having targets to end deforestation by 2030, the alliance failed to galvanise around this common goal, with countries instead being left to pursue their individual deforestation goals.

It also failed to adopt Colombia’s pledge to halt new oil exploration.

“It is not possible that, in a scenario like this, eight Amazonian countries are unable to put in a statement — in large letters — that deforestation needs to be zero”

In his opening speech to the summit, Lula emphasised the “severe worsening of the climate crisis”.

“The challenges of our era and the opportunities arising from them demand we act in unison,” he said. “It has never been so urgent.”

The Amazon rainforest is a crucial carbon sink, playing a vital role in mitigating global warming. Its immense biodiversity supports an estimated 10 percent of Earth’s species, sustains more than 30 million inhabitants, and contributes to the stability of the world’s climate system.

Seeking to pressure the gathered heads of state, hundreds of environmentalists, activists and Indigenous demonstrators marched to the conference venue, urging bold action.

The subsequent failure of the eight Amazon countries to agree on a binding pact to protect their forests was greeted with disappointment by many.

“The planet is melting, we are breaking temperature records every day. It is not possible that, in a scenario like this, eight Amazonian countries are unable to put in a statement – in large letters – that deforestation needs to be zero,” said Marcio Astrini of the environmental lobby group Climate Observatory.

The ACTO summit in Belém has been widely viewed as a preparatory event for the upcoming United Nations climate talks scheduled for 2025, which will be hosted by the same city.

Today, representatives from the eight Amazon nations gathered for the summit are set to meet with leaders from countries including Indonesia, Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Congo Basin and Southeast Asia are home to the world’s largest rainforests after the Amazon.

The aim, as expressed by Lula, is to bring forested countries together ahead of this year’s United Nations climate summit, known as COP28. “We want to prepare for the first time a joint document of all forest countries to arrive united at COP28, in the United Arab Emirates, that we can seriously discuss with rich countries,” Lula said last week.

During the climate summit held last year, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia forged an alliance with the aim of compelling developed nations to provide financial support for conservation efforts. The participation of the Republic of Congo in this week’s summit is indicative of the incremental growth of collaborative initiatives.

Several developed nations are also attending the two-day summit in Belém. Norway and Germany, both significant contributors to Amazon conservation initiatives in Brazil, have sent representatives. Meanwhile, France, recognised as a rainforest nation due to its overseas territory of French Guiana, will also take part.