Carrefour Signs Onto Brazil’s Grand Plan to Protect the Amazon

Brazil’s environment minister has reached an agreement with the local unit of Carrefour SA to sponsor a chunk of the Amazon rainforest as part of a new program he’s betting the forest’s future on.

Carrefour pledged to invest 4 million reais per year ($744,000) in the preservation of a plot of the Amazon, Minister Ricardo Salles said in an interview Friday. The Brazilian unit of the French retailer confirmed the deal in a statement to Bloomberg News. The agreement marks the kick-off of the minister’s view for a framework to manage outside funding for the Amazon -- the so-called “Adopt-a-Park” program, which President Jair Bolsonaro will formally decree into effect on Tuesday after a six-month delay.

Under the new structure, outside players -- companies, investment funds, or even individuals -- can sponsor the preservation of a plot of the forest for about 10 euros per hectare. The program offers Salles and Bolsonaro a chance to fight the tide of criticism over Brazil’s management of the endangered forest by shifting some responsibility for the ecosystem’s future to private entities.

Carrefour Signs Onto Brazil’s Grand Plan to Protect the Amazon

Around 15% of the Amazon, or 63 million hectares, is available for sponsorship under the “Adopt-a-Park” program. Yet Bolsonaro’s stance toward the forest as a whole -- minimizing fires and defunding enforcement environmental agencies -- have drawn condemnation from environmental organizations and investors alike. It is also hindering Brazil’s efforts to join the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, newspaper Folha de S.Paulo reported on Saturday.

The agreement with Carrefour Brazil, whose shares were removed from an index of social and environmental sustainability after security guards killed a Black man in one of its local stores last year, makes the company responsible for the survival of 75,000 hectares of rainforest, roughly equivalent to the area of New York City.

Another five companies are in talks with the government for similar sponsorships, according to Salles, who could not disclose their names because the negotiations are ongoing. He said the six players together would provide 14 million reais for Amazon protection efforts.

That amount would be equal to half the financial support the government commits each year to the protection of those areas. “Today, the government invests only 28 million reais per year to preserve all conservation areas inside the Amazon,” Salles said.

Although not land sales, the pledges do require companies to assume a duty to protect the plots from fire and deforestation, to regenerate degraded areas, and to invest in infrastructure improvements. That task will not be easy: the forest has been burning at a record rate. Salles has not elaborated on how investors will be held accountable.

Working With Biden

During his presidential campaign, President Joe Biden said the U.S. should mobilize $20 billion to stop the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and impose “significant economic consequences” if deforestation continued, a suggestion Bolsonaro chafed at.

Salles is working to moderate that tone, he said. He met U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Todd Chapman last week in Brasilia and promised to patch up any misunderstanding. “I made it clear during the meeting with Todd that I am 100% aligned and willing to work with the Biden administration on the environmental issue,” Salles said.

In a Jan. 29 letter to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris titled “Amazon Protection Plan,” a group of former U.S. cabinet secretaries and climate change experts encouraged U.S. action for the forest’s protection, saying the Amazon’s survival will “require new policies, skilled diplomacy, and great determination.”

Salles said that while he agreed with the criticisms of Brazil’s management of the forest pointed out by the climate group, the key is funding: “I am hoping to receive the $20 billion that Biden promised during the campaign. These funds will be welcome.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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