South American nations and international financial institutions are coming under increasing pressure to stop exploiting oil and gas in the Amazon ahead of key political talks in Brazil.
Leaders will be meeting next month at the Amazon Summit in Belém, a city also due to host the Cop30 climate talks in 2025, to discuss the 45-year-old Amazon Cooperation Treaty for the first time in several years.
The final guest list is not yet clear, but nations across Latin America are expected to be represented as well as some from Europe.
Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has rebooted the summit in the hope of using it to build support for his commitment to end illegal deforestation in the Amazon by 2030, but curbing fossil fuel extraction does not appear to be on the agenda.
However, a grassroots campaign led by Indigenous groups and civil society argues such a move is essential to combat climate change, and to protect biodiversity and the Indigenous people that live there.
The campaign builds on an existing effort to get a global pact for the permanent protection of four-fifths of Amazonia by 2025. Focusing specifically on oil and gas, it calls for an Amazon exclusion zone where no fossil fuels can be exploited, in line with the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) warning that there can be no new fossil fuel projects if the world is to stay under a 1.5°C warming threshold.
A number of South American countries in which the Amazon rainforest lies have been trying to boost domestic oil and gas exploration and extraction in recent years.
Peru is proposing to place 31 oil blocks over 435 indigenous communities, while Bolivia recently finalised an ‘Upstream Reactivation Plan’.
Meanwhile, the result of a forthcoming Ecuadorian referendum about oil exploitation in the Yasuní rainforest will be hugely significant for that part of the Amazon but will also send a wider message about the region’s priorities.
The Brazilian president’s own ambitions of positioning himself as climate leader have also been called into question over his stance on an oil drilling project at the mouth of the Amazon river. He recently said he found it “difficult” to believe that oil exploration in the Amazon basin would damage the region’s rainforest.
Ahead of the Amazon Summit, Indigenous groups will be meeting in Brazil to share fossil fuel resistance strategies, with the support of campaign group 350.org.
“From this we hope will come a very powerful document that will inform the discussions of the presidents in Belém,” said Ilan Zugman, 350.org’s Latin America managing director. “Hopefully it will have some very strong messages saying no new fossil fuel projects in the Amazon.”
Zugman said Colombian president Gustavo Petro had been a “very loud voice” in support of this idea. In January, Petro announced a halt in all new oil and gas exploration contracts, keeping 380 currently active contracts.
In a recent opinion piece for the Miami Herald, Petro called on Amazon countries and their partners in the Global North to follow him on ending all new oil and gas exploration in the Amazon.
He said that, while ending deforestation was “fundamental”, it had to be accompanied by “an ambitious transnational policy to phase out fossil fuels”. Oil, gas and coal accounts for about half of all Colombian exports.
Petro said some countries, like Colombia, could allocate a “substantial amount of resources” to protect the Amazon.
But he stressed that curbing oil and gas exploitation would have a big economic impact on poorer South American nations and called on countries like the US to help with financial mechanisms such as debt-for-climate swaps, a multilateral fund that funds environmental protection services by inhabitants of these territories, or the kind of financial reforms being progressed by the Bridgetown initiative.
At a recent meeting, the Colombian and Brazilian presidents pledged to cooperate to protect the Amazon but the latter did not appear to make any concessions on oil and gas.
“We need to convince other presidents like Lula.. to step up as well and really play this leadership role,” said Zugman, “to not allow fossil fuel exploration in one of the most important places of the world.”
Campaigners are also stepping up pressure on financial institutions to stop financing oil and gas projects in the region.
A report, published today by NGO Stand.earth and the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA), shows that US$20 billion has been provided to explore and exploit reserves in Peru, Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador over the past 15 years.
More than half of this (US$11 billion) came from just eight banks: JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, Itaú Unibanco, HSBC, Santander, Bank of America, Banco Bradesco and Goldman Sachs.
Six of these banks are either headquartered in the US or act through their US subsidiary and operate in deals across the region, while the two Brazilian companies – Itaú Unibanco and Banco Bradesco – are highly connected to specific oil and gas projects in that country.
The report is accompanied by a database of all the banks involved in Amazon oil and gas through directly traceable and indirect financing, for example by providing loans or underwriting bond deals for upstream and midstream development and transport of oil and gas in Amazonia.
JPMorgan Chase tops the list, having directly provided US$1.9 billion in direct financing to oil and gas in the region over the past decade and a half.
Together with HSBC, it was a major backer of Petroperú’s Talara refinery expansion project, which is driving the exploitation of oil on Indigenous land in the Peruvian Amazon.
JPMorgan Chase has ruled out support for the highly controversial East African Crude Oil Pipeline project, but made no such commitment on oil and gas activity in the Amazon or wider fossil fuel expansion.
The Stand.earth report says an Amazon exclusion for financial institutions is an “essential strategy” to protect the region from oil, gas, and other extractive industries.
Although no banks have completely ruled out funding fossil fuels in Amazonia – the geographic region around the Amazon basin – the report does praise some companies for starting to recognise the risks involved.
In May 2022, BNP Paribas pledged to no longer finance or invest in companies producing from oil and gas reserves in the Amazon or developing related infrastructure, becoming the first major bank to adopt a geographical exclusion of oil and gas in this area.
And in December 2022, HSBC amended its policies to exclude all new finance and advisory services for any client for oil and gas project exploration, appraisal, development, and production in the Amazon Biome.
Stand.earth says these two companies, along with some others, are “sending important signals” that banks should be willing to review their relationship to Amazon destruction and take steps to manage that risk.
These also go some way towards the Exit Amazon Oil and Gas principles devised by international advocacy groups including Stand.earth and Amazon Indigenous leaders.
Angeline Robertson, lead researcher of Stand Research Group, said efforts to restrict fossil fuels should cover the wider Amazonia area “to avoid confusion or allow banks to define the exclusion zone themselves.
This was an issue with Arctic exclusions, where banks used different boundaries in their policies.” Standard Chartered’s and BNP Paribas’ exclusions, for example, cover the ‘Amazon’ or ‘Amazon Basin’, while Société Générale and Intesa Sanpaolo’s policies include only the Amazon regions of Ecuador and Peru.
Zugman said both governments and financial institutions had a big role to play in protecting the region. “Governments need to step up first. And banks… should be there by their side to support these bold decisions and to help accelerate the just energy transition.”
He added that banks could play an important role in the Amazon by supporting a just energy transition. “Energy access is still a big deal in the Amazon and banks could, in consultation with communities, be helping them have clean access to energy instead of investing in businesses that are going to destroy their lands.”
Zugman said the Belém summit was vital because it would inform about protection of the Amazon at Cop28 in December as well as the next G20 meeting which Brazil is due to host. “We’re really pushing together for this moment.”