Hello and welcome to Common Home Conversations. Today we are joined by Dr. Izabella Teixeira, Co-Chair of the United Nations Environment Programme’s International Resource Panel and former Minister for the Environment of Brazil. Thank you for joining us today, Izabella.
Dr. Izabella Teixeira
Thank you for inviting me to join you. Okay, my pleasure.
So, you have dedicated your life to protecting nature, what was the driving force for this passion?
Dr. Izabella Teixeira
It’s a hard question because I have been working the last 35 years considering environmental issues, not only in Brazil but also at the global level. I’m a biologist, and I learned how fascinating life is, the diversity of life is. And I was born in the last century, in the 60s, and it was a moment in the world that the 70s and 80s and 90s that we are preparing how you live in this century, in the new century. So environmental issues were emerging as strategic global issues, and I was really fascinated to have the opportunity to join not only to move forward considering the developing issues in my country, and how can bring development together with environmental preservation and conservation, but more also how we can have an inclusive approach, consider the diversity of societies and those in my country also, and also the inequality, social equality used to bring things together since my early years. So I think that environmental agenda and sustainability agenda it was during my career that the decisions emerge, and also you’re able to join, consider the global multilateral agreements, and also the global summits, etc., etc., but always trying to manage better the national realities in Brazil and, how we can bring people together. So it’s, for me, it’s beyond the science, beyond the politics, means that we can be together, and this fascinated me. I love the diversity of the planet, and not only the biological ones, okay? And this, the possibilities to discover, to rediscover the world, and to be closer to other people. This is something that still today makes sense for me to move forward. So how to be part of the world in a way that you can contribute to better quality of life and improve the relationship between humankind and nature; as a biologist makes sense for me.
Absolutely. And you are from one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. So I imagine that definitely had an influence on your career decisions to protect nature.
Dr. Izabella Teixeira
Yes, fantastic, because I started working in 1984 after my graduation, and also I was fully dedicated to scientific research. And I was provoked to join an environmentalist in Brazil that was charged to create the new institutional arrangements, institutional governance in Brazil to manage environmental issues, not the natural resource issues on your biology as in the traditional way that they used to be approached. And it was a big challenge. And this man changed my life. And his name was Paulo Nogueira Neto, a famous conservationist around the world. And also, I was absolutely introduced to this political world; the environmental politics, indeed, how the multilateral assessment will bring us together. The big challenges that we will face and we still face today consider climate change the global issue like by diverse conservation and also how a country like Brazil is a high biodiversity assets not only in Amazonia, but in the Amazon forest, but also tropical forests like Atlantic Forest, and also the diversity of biomes, how we can bring this together, how you can use this in a better way to promote the development that you need.
Well, you’ve certainly had a very impressive career. And I know that you achieved an incredible 84% reduction in deforestation of the Amazon, the lowest historical deforestation rate. It has been called the largest ever global contribution for emissions reduction. Can you tell me more about this?
Dr. Izabella Teixeira
Yes, when I checked the numbers today. And I look back to the past, just remember my professional career, when we in Brazil were fully engaged to tackle deforestation in Amazonia. And we established the first national program to go against deforestation, and you learn a lot with this process. I was part of the environmental enforcement team in the Brazilian institution that we call IBAMA, an environmental institution. And I was part of this staff that went into Amazonia to tackle deforestation. And it was very nice because it was not only the environmental constituency but also the science- it came together. And so you bring together deforestation and also fires. The need to develop the scientific knowledge, the need to have an alliance, and I was charged to negotiate the first memorandum of understanding between Brazil and the United States and learn more how we manage and tackle forest fires, how we can move on considering this agenda. And along my career, I had the opportunity to manage important international programs like the National Environmental Program together, the first one with the World Bank, and also the famous PPG7.
So, when I was minister, you have this experience in Brazil, you know that Brazil we have been improving our knowledge in the last 20 years, exactly how to manage better the enforcement, environmental enforcement in Brazil, not only in Amazonia. And, unfortunately, deforestation in Amazonia is around 95% based on illegality, this environmental crime you have a powerful legal framework in Brazil to tackle these problems. And indeed to have the full capacity, a scientific one, but also institutional ones to bring institutions, public institutions, together and to go against deforestation, to go against environmental crime.
And Brazil, in 2009, 2010, we launched our first national climate change policy that supports us to address better the outcomes. So what I’d like to highlight is that I have the huge opportunity to connect innovative public policy like biodiversity conservation, it is the most important protected areas program in the world, around six million hectares, under biodiversity conservation protection in the Amazon region. Together, this is part of a legacy. And also, we promoted the second and third phases and to address better with civil society, new innovative governance models, such a way that you can bring things together.
So, it’s not only going against the illegalities; we use these outcomes to promote innovative public policy on climate change and biodiversity conservation and also to address solutions considered global sustainability when Brazil host the Rio+20 conference 2012 and also in Brazil develop innovative public policy like genetic resource access, the Nagoya protocol, etc. etc., make sense to be bringing things together. We cannot have a fragmented approach to address global issues. We need to understand how to connect and how to bring new narratives, develop a narrative, an economic and social one that makes sense for environmental conservation. So, I’m very honored to host, not only to work hard, that I did, but also to host the legacy from other partners that were fully engaged to address in our recent, the last 35 years of environmental history, in Brazil, how we learn as society, learn as a public institution, we learn as an environmental government, also international cooperation, how you can join, how we can be together to tackle the illegalities, the environmental crime, as I mentioned before, but also to manage a successful agenda to bring things together to make sense for developing emerging economies like Brazil.
Now, we often talk about the importance of stopping deforestation and conserving the Amazon, but we seldom talk about the Amazonians that live in the region, which is around 25 million people; I didn’t know that. A recent study has shown that Indigenous people are critical to conserving biodiversity. However, they’re often left out of the key multilateral discussions on environmental governance. How do we solve this social, environmental issue and include Indigenous leaders at the table to discuss how best to conserve these highly biodiverse areas?
Dr. Izabella Teixeira
This is an excellent question. Brazil has a diversity of populations, okay. And Indigenous people are part of this. And also, Indigenous people have rights. And these rights are well recognized in our Constitution. So this is a known issue, in my opinion. Why tunnel vision? We need to practice what the Federal Constitution established. We need to recognize their rights. So, when I have people that go against this, this doesn’t make sense to go against the law.
It’s the same around the world, when you go into the other countries and to check Indigenous people, we cannot deny their rights. What we need to understand is how to bring these guys into the political rooms to sit at the tables, at the roundtable, to discuss their rights and their perspective. But they are not the only ones who have the other perspective that we need to bring together and to conciliate.
It’s a transformative process to know or to learn how to listen to people, how we can use the knowledge meant in their perspective together with us. And together, try to find new ways to promote development around the world with an inclusive approach. Start trying to address informalities and inequalities, to address better political rights, to be together, and to discuss based on our knowledge and our ambition, and our values.
So this diversity, it’s our power, it’s our asset. But we, unfortunately, don’t know sometimes how to manage this and how you can listen to these people; Not only to come on this is a public hearing, know how we can build new processes based on this diversity of stakeholders and the diversity of knowledge, acknowledging the loss and diversity of political assets. And this is something that countries like Brazil, for example, have some players in Brazil that have difficulty to understand this. So, my feeling is that we need in a pragmatic role, a pragmatic way, in a political way, we need to separate better what are the known issues and what are the new issues, what are the concrete issues that we must address, and the concrete ways that you can move forward.
Absolutely. And talking about solutions. One of the things that has been brought up in recent years is a new global pact for the environment. Do you think that the environment and sustainability issue can be the needed common ground for building a new economy, a more just society, and establishing a better legal framework for the environment?
Dr. Izabella Teixeira
Yes, this is something also, in my opinion, so fascinating, because when the humankind is supposed to be confident that we are able to manage everything, you have this disruptive process, not only based on the COVID crisis and the health and environmental crises-and this COVID crisis is a health and environmental crisis, but also consider the new political global water. And what’s happened today and how we can share new values considering that to have one planet, I don’t know of a planet B.
So we need to understand that when we are discussing sustainability, in my opinion, sustainability is the only issue today that brings all the countries together, okay? They are not trade and other economies and innovation. It is not peace; for example, we have the different problems around the world. It’s not migration, we agreed. So, sustainability is the issue that brings the nations together, the society together. And, indeed, after the COVID crisis, or during the COVID crisis, we are learning how we need to improve our relation between humankind and nature. So, what I’m saying is that if you understand this, or if you understand the strategic role that science used to play, but will play strategically in the future, how we can bring the scientific knowledge together with our political understanding, our economic knowledge, and then how we did you can manage this, it means that probably humankind is learning today that we need to know more about the connections and how things are connected around the world, how nature connects things, how also all societies will be connected not only based on physical assets but also considering the challenges of the economy of innovation that will breed us in innovative ways in the next years.
So, that’s why I think that a global pact for the environment is the new way to show not only the challenge that you have, considering environmental protection, global environmental protection, but it’s a new way to show and to share the connection among different societies and different people. It is how we can share core responsibilities with different people without going against old concepts like national sovereignty. National sovereignty was solved in the Stockholm Declaration in 1972. So when we have some players that try to go back to the past, attempt to highlight things that were so good, around 50 years ago, come on, we are not discussing this, okay, what we are discussing, how we can bring global society, we are a global society. And we have different societies that are coming together with different challenges with different perspectives. But what I’m saying is that the diversity of societies, diversity of economic realities, diversity of environmental reality, but we have one planet. And we need to understand how things connect, how we can share responsibilities, what would be the new expression of global citizenship.
And that’s why a global pact for me, to debate a global pact for the environment makes sense; we need to debate, we need to understand what are the new challenges, we need to understand what are the new responsibilities. Not to go against one country or another one. You cannot forget that sustainability brings us together. That is so important to reinvigorate the multilateral system. To understand better how international cooperation will move forward considering the next years. It’s not moving on; it is how we can move forward, what is new, indeed, how we can have the private sector as a core responsible actor, player, not a sector that will wait for the government decision; society is not meant as this anymore. So the role of media, the role of communication, and also our individual responsibility to make sense at the global level. So we are connected not only considering the nature, nature is absolutely key for this connection because the planet is connected, environmental service, everything but we need to understand, in our new challenges, the global challenge that we have today is the new world that’s coming. The role of technology, the role of scientific knowledge, the role of individual partnership, the role of the new generation, indeed, how it can make sense to go into new challenges or to go a new way to have nature and environment preserved and to use this better for quality of life in our lifestyles and wellbeing.
You make some really great points, Izabella. There really is no Planet B, and we’re definitely not going to Mars anytime soon, so it really is imperative that we take better care of our planet. There is a lot of concern about the destruction of the Amazon, yet there are no incentives in place to conserve or restore this vital resource, or others. You were one of the first ambassadors of the Common Home of Humanity- how would legal recognition and protection of the earth system as proposed help preserve this and other critical aspects of our climate?
Dr. Izabella Teixeira
Okay, I think that two or three recommendations. The first one, when you go into the global pact, and you go into these environmental ecosystems that are so important for the planet, we need to understand the national realities. So it’s very important, first of all, that if we go to conservation or restoration agenda, we need to understand what are the challenges, what’s happened. Unfortunately, you have this war of narratives. And as I mentioned, even you don’t know about the 25 million people that live there. And this is the Brazilian reality. We need to understand the Amazon reality; this means that you need to understand the Amazon challenges considering the Amazon Basin and how we can bring people to get; this is the first recommendation.
My second recommendation is that if you have this earth system that you know, and indeed how we can use better the scientist knowledge in such a way that you can have robust inputs to combine this knowledge with the legal requirements or the legal understanding about the global warding, and we need to move on preserving the systems. So what I’m saying is that when you bring legal framework or legal acknowledgement, we need to understand what science is saying. And also, what are the gaps or knowledge and also what are the trade-offs that we have today. We need to understand the diversity of the political situation and how we can arrange people together, and how we can bring discovered understanding and build common interests based on common interests and be able to build convergence.
So you need to understand how we can bring international cooperation, international knowledge, and also international solidarity to support solutions and also to understand how we preserve Amazonia, how Amazonia preservation- what it really means considering the diverse situation that we have there. This is really illustrative because Amazon is part of the earth system and is needed to maintain their system. So when you go into this reality, and try to understand the, as I mentioned before, the war of narratives, and try to move beyond this, and don’t go into the local politics and understand how we can bring or discuss internationally, what is the new international cooperation agenda that we must be developing to support situations like Amazon in Brazil, this will make a good strategic contribution to change the picture that we have today.
So legal recognition and protection must be used to address the solution that we need. And also to support these to make this solution permanent, to make this solution resilient, and not only to go into the fight on to go to bring the guilt as international trials, I agree with this. But when we manage justice, or environmental justice, social justice, my feeling is that we need to use these tracks in an innovative way, in such a way that you can solve the problems in a permanent way. We need to go against poverty, we need to go against social inequality, but you need to recognize the Indigenous peoples’ rights. We need to understand they like to live in an innovative way. If you want to have business in Amazonia, we need to develop new business models because this is not based on the traditional ways. And also, the international market must host these and pay for this. So what I’m saying is that we need to use this proposal to have legal protection for the earth system as the Common Home of Humanity is highlighting. It’s an important voice at the international level, but also to recognize the challenge that we have, for example, in the Congo Basin, also Indonesia, and Mekong forest basins like Indonesia. And also, we need to understand how restoration for obvious reasons can play an important role, also to add value for environmental preservation and forest preservation.
It’s not only one side of the coin, you have two sides of the coin, and you need to understand how this initiative of Common Home of Humanity will help us not only to preserve the critical aspect of our climate etc. etc. but also will help us to understand how we can act in a new direction, in a better way, in an inclusive way, bring people together and understand the natural reality, they are not necessarily the same around the world.
Even if you go into developing countries. When you discuss, for example, the global south, the reality is fully different than the challenges that we have in Brazil or that we have in South Africa. But we are together in a basic group tackling climate change. So, this is fascinating to also have the BRIC club and you have the G20 club, you have a different reality- indeed, how can we bring people together? If you’re able to understand common interests, if you’re able to find a way to bring people together based on common regions, and how we can have new tracks for convergence issues; and how we can do this based on solutions. So, if you understand the challenge that we’re having in Amazonia, this is the challenge, that’s why I’m mentioning here, Kimberly. They are the issues for Amazonia, and if you understand that environmental crime, it needs to fight against, to tackle, and the need to go there. This is enforcement, environmental enforcement, this is law enforcement.
This is different than what I’m talking about here; why don’t we discuss how we can use law to promote a new way to bring people together and to share responsibility and to protect the earth system. This is the debate. So, we have known issues on one side, you have the new issues on other sides. And my feeling, the Common Home of Humanity is trying, considering the umbrella of a new global pact for the environment, is trying to bring decisions in an innovative way, or these agendas, different ones innovative way, in such a way that if you have a common understanding about this, probably you have a new way to bring people together. And it makes sense in the future that you can have the protection of the earth system with shared responsibility, but with a newer political understanding of the global society, it’s not only the government or public sector understanding it’s about global society understanding, considering our challenges, indeed, how we can bring different nations together. And this, for me, is fascinating, because probably it is a new way to promote politics around the world and how we can also understand that the solution will not come from one institution, the solution will come from different people, different societies, or different institutions that have a common understanding about our future, the challenge to preserve the earth, the earth system, but the challenge to be together considering sustainable development for humankind.
Thanks again for joining us, Izabella. Do you have any final thoughts for our audience?
Dr. Izabella Teixeira
Thank you very much for this opportunity to dialogue and for this interview. I think that this is an important comment, consider the last question. To be an ambassador, it’s a provocative task not only for myself but for people around the world. We need to provoke people to go out of their comfort zone. Okay, and based on fear and our assets and our abilities as a species, and not based on fear and risks and to manage our comfort zone. Come on. We need to be out of the box, and I hope that the new box can be a green one.
All right, and there you have it. Not only are we connected through nature, but also through the challenges we face as a global society. Using sustainability as the issue that brings us together. We can create a new way forward, an inclusive way forward built on a common understanding of the shared connection between humankind, nature, and the earth system. The proposal from the Common Home of Humanity provides a new way to bring society together to share responsibility, protecting the Earth System. That is all for today, and thank you for joining us for this episode of Common Home Conversations Beyond UN75. Please subscribe, share, and be sure to tune in next Wednesday to continue the conversation with our special guest, Paulo Magalhães, Founder and President of the Common Home of Humanity. And visit us at www.ThePlanetaryPress.com for more episodes and the latest news in sustainability, climate change, and the environment.
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