Main menu

LatAm in Focus: Can International Law Save the Amazon?

A Brazilian firefighter in the Amazon. (AP)

A Brazilian firefighter in the Amazon. (AP)

September 20, 2019

Can international law save the #Amazon? “There needs to be a practical guidebook of what [governments] plan and want to do,” environmental lawyer @toniatigre tells @luisaleme in our latest #LatAmFocus podcast.
In Colombia, global climate agreements favored plaintiffs asking for #ClimateAction from the government based on their right to a clean environment. @toniatigre gives examples on our latest #LatAmFocus podcast. #ClimateChange #Amazon

Fires blazing in the Amazon don’t amount to a new phenomenon. But NASA found 2019 to be the most active fire year since 2010, and another scientific report linked the problem of raging blazes with deforestation. This year, at least 100,800 acres of the Brazilian Amazon—equivalent to 56,000 soccer fields—have been cleared, making those areas more likely to burn.

There needs to be a practical guidebook of what [governments] plan and want to do.”

And, at this point, the world is running out of time. The international outcry to protect the Amazon washed across social media and reached the G7. On September 19—the eve of international youth strikes to demand climate change actionAustrian legislators rejected the EU-Mercosur trade deal unless the Brazilian government stems the blazes. Also this week, a group of 230 institutional investors inked a statement calling on companies across the world to implement anti-deforestation policies.

Maria Antonia Tigre, an environmental attorney and doctoral candidate at the Elizabeth Haub School of Law at PACE University, spoke with AS/COA Online’s Luisa Leme about local and global possibilities for collaboration and action to preserve the Amazon. In her view, protecting the Amazon requires regional collaboration. “[Regional cooperation] is very necessary considering that it is an ecosystem that is linked: whatever Brazil does has an impact on Ecuador, Peru, Colombia,” Tigre explains. 

The Amazon, which has the capacity to absorb 20 percent of the world’s fossil fuel carbon emissions per year, lies across nine different countries. Tigre says the September agreement inked in Colombia to protect it bears similarities to the 1978 Amazon Cooperation Treaty. That pact served as a tool for signatories to express concern in general terms without clashing on sovereignty issues. “It was basically a way for countries to say they were doing something about this,” says Tigre. Although she expressed reservations about the four-decade-old treaty’s success, the deal did promote steps such as satellite monitoring and private-sector incentives to help Brazil reduce deforestation in the past. The goal for regional cooperation bodies, Tigre says, would be to replicate successful cases and build government collaboration.

The music in this podcast was performed at Americas Society in New York. Learn more about upcoming concerts at