Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Amazon

An informal letter I sent to my colleagues at the World Bank in 2004

Dear Friends and Colleagues

Today we approved a US$505 million Programmatic Reform Loan for Environmental Sustainability to Brazil. Frankly, how could it be otherwise, when in fact we should be on our knees thanking a country like Brazil that with so many other problems commits to repaying 100% of principal plus interest of an environmental-sustainability loan that will benefit the whole world and all of us.

Honestly, I do believe the World Bank should occupy a stronger leadership in these matters from the very beginning, advocating for the cooperation of the rest of the world. If silly windmill projects can have access to carbon credits, the Brazilian environmental program should too.

For instance, if 20% of a loan like this were to be repaid by some international-support mechanism, this would not only motivate the Brazilian government to sell environmental protection locally, but it would also be a clear sign that in these matters, Brazil does not stand alone. Of course any external assistance would have to come with the clear understanding that it does not impose additional conditions on the country, as this is the best and perhaps only way to guarantee true sustainability and ownership of such programs.

This morning we had a two-hour discussion about the Development Committee agenda. Frankly, however, the issue of how the world can help in crucial global matters, as in the case of the Amazon—where the need of avoiding the very negative externalities of large deforestation have to compete with so many other urgent local needs, as well as with the rising opportunity costs of not exploiting the forests—should be a foremost issue. If it already is there—for instance hidden in a global taxation initiative—I very much welcome it but, if not, we should strive to put it there.

Last year at least 25,000 hectares were deforested in the Amazon. At a low carbon value of US$20 per hectare/year, this would indicate a value of about US$50 million a year if the program were successful at stopping deforestation. Add ten years of stopped deforestation, and the value of this would be—in approximate Kyoto terms—about US$500 million a year for the rest of the world. If this is so, how come we can spend so much time and money on expensive initiatives such as the Extractive Industry Review, and not come up with something more reasonable for the Amazon, than to have the Brazilians pay for it, 100%?


Published in Voice and Noise, BookSurge 2006 and there is also an article that touches upon the same theme and that I published in Spanish in Venezuela early 2004