Blinken, in Colombia, unveils Amazon deforestation pact

Bogota (AFP) – Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that the United States will soon launch an Amazon-wide regional pact to reduce deforestation, a bid to fight a key factor in climate change.

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On a visit to Colombia weeks before a high-stakes UN climate summit in Glasgow, Blinken toured a greenhouse in Bogota's botanical gardens where he saw US-backed projects to encourage chocolate, tourism and other industries rather than logging.

"We can make major strides in dealing with the climate crisis," Blinken said.

Blinken said the United States would finalize "in the coming days" a "new regional partnership specifically focused on addressing commodity-driven deforestation."

The initiative will "provide actionable information to companies so that they can really reduce their reliance on deforestation," Blinken said.

He said the pact would also include financial support to help manage protected indigenous areas and support the livelihoods of farmers.

Rain forests are crucial for the environment because they serve as huge carbon sinks, but greenhouse gas emissions from burning and industrial-scale agriculture in the Amazon account for higher total annual emissions than those of Italy or Spain.

By far the largest Amazon nation is Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro has championed big agriculture in the forest and has been accused of abetting the killings of environmental defenders.

President Joe Biden's administration has been courting Brazil ahead of the COP26 summit in Glasgow in hopes of making progress, with Blinken declining during his Bogota visit to answer a question about concerns on Bolsonaro's record.

Colombia, a close US ally, has some of the most ambitious climate goals in Latin America with President Ivan Duque targeting zero deforestation by 2030.

Blinken, who hailed Duque during his visit despite criticism by some on the US left of his record on police brutality, said that the president has shown "remarkable leadership" on climate and that "Team Colombia is very much present" ahead of Glasgow.