‘France not doing much to protect Amazon rainforest’

French Guiana never signed the Amazon Cooperation Treaty inked in 1978 by all the Amazon countries
Photo by Melanie Dinane. CC BY-SA 4.0

As Brazil’s President Lula hosts a hugely significant summit (Aug 8 and 9) to protect the crucial Amazon rainforest after years of deforestation and enviro-crime, here’s a dispiriting nugget about this vast area.

It has long suffered greenwashing attempts by some countries and one of the more astonishing examples is France, which retains a key colonial-era possession in South America.

France is the one European country that actually has a stake in the Amazon rainforest today. Its overseas territory – French Guiana – has 1.1 per cent of the rainforest within its borders. The rest is spread across eight South American countries – Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.

According to a United Nations research institute, France “has not been active in supporting regional initiatives to protect the forest, which is unfortunate given its leverage as an EU member state”.

This may seem surprising considering France has often tried to show itself as an environmentally conscious nation. In May, for instance, it banned domestic flights on short routes that can be covered by train in less than two-and-a-half hours. It was supposedly an attempt to  reduce airline emissions but even at the time of the new French legislation, some academics pointed out it would have more symbolic than material impact. Aviation after all, accounts for just two per cent of global emissions, they said.

But anything France did on the Amazon rainforest would have both symbolic and significant impact. The UN paper points out that France’s pole position in the European sphere could help raise international awareness about the Amazon. But that’s a distant dream it seems, considering French Guiana never signed the Amazon Cooperation Treaty inked in 1978 by all the Amazon countries. To be fair though, when the last Amazon summit was held in 2009, French president Nicolas Sarkozy had showed up.

Overall, France’s record on Amazon cooperation is seen to be tepid, while its involvement in its overseas territory seems robust. French Guiana is fairly important to France. Not only is it the country’s second-largest region, the Guiana Amazonian Park is the largest national park in the European Union, and France was able to place the  European Space Agency’s primary launch site in French Guiana.