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Media leaders: “Infrastructure projects in the Amazon, Rio+20 to lead Latin American forestry news in 2012”

Global attention is set to focus on the region in the coming year.

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Scene from the Amazon. Photo by Neil Palmer/CIAT

LIMA, Peru (24 January, 2012)_The impact of several large infrastructure projects in the Amazon rainforest and outcomes of the Rio +20 Earth summit will be the biggest environmental forestry news topics in Latin America during 2012, leading environmental journalists told CIFOR Forests Blog.

“A major story could be the proliferation of infrastructure projects in the Amazon basin and their impact on forests and forests people,” said Barbara Fraser, an independent journalist whose work has been published by EcoAmericas, The Daily Climate, The Lancet, and Environmental Science & Technology and others.

“Most of those projects – which include highways, dams, canals, railroads and pipelines — are not new but some, such as dams in Brazil and the controversial highway through Bolivia’s Isiboro Secure National Park have moved closer to fruition recently,” she explained.

The debate around large investments and infrastructure projects planned for the Amazon during 2012 will definitely play a large part in the region’s 2012 coverage on forests, said Yana Marull, head of the AFP news agency office based in Brasilia.

However, for Miguel Angel Torres and Talli Nauman, co-directors of Journalism to Raise Environmental Awareness (PECE in Spanish), the resistance of communities will be the angle dominating the news as “transnational companies with global projects will continue to take control of natural resources”.

“In [2011] we saw protests, mainly from indigenous people and traditional communities, in Bolivia, Brazil and Peru. There is an evident dilemma between environmental protection and the development of a region which is home to millions of people, including indigenous groups,” added Marull.

Rio +20 will have a special place this year, says Myriam Carmen Pinto (Gritografiasenred.org), journalist, consultant, editor and member of the of the Environmental Communication Network for Latin America and the Caribbean (REDCALC).

“It is a new opportunity and challenge to further progress along the way to (achieving) sustainable development based on justice and equity,” said Pinto about Rio+20: the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in Rio de Janeiro from 20-22 June this year. It marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Summit on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

“I think Rio+20 will be the main topic to be covered by the Latin American press,” said Antonio Carlos Teixeira, editor of TerraGaia – Comunicação, Ambiente, Sustentabilidade, based in Rio de Janeiro.

“Not only because it will take place in the continent, but also because of the expectations for more effective participation of Brazil to the social and environmental causes of its Latin American neighbors. The Brazilian responsibility is great… all the decisions of the country will influence the nations of the continent, especially on issues such as sustainable production chains (green economy), fighting poverty, tightening enforcement against the loggers, application of REDD investments and the sustainability of their cities”.

Fraser agrees that REDD and carbon offset schemes will remain high on the media coverage list for 2012. “I hope there will be close attention to the extent to which the programs really benefit local communities and the best way to structure programs to ensure that those benefits are achieved and shared. Indigenous organizations’ positions on these projects range across the spectrum; it is also important to look closely at their needs and concerns.”

“The real question remains: are these schemes really offsetting carbon emissions in distant parts of the world, and to what degree?” she questioned.

For Nauman and Torres, “Rio+20 combines much of the environmental concerns, as well as the plans within the Kyoto negotiations, such as REDD ++”, which they say is controversial and not very welcomed by many of the communities owning forests, due to unclear financing schemes.

Oil and gas development will also be an area of focus for the media said Rhett Butler, founder and editor of Mongabay, one of the world’s most popular environmental science and conservation news sites.

“…especially the huge potential reserves off Rio. Chevron’s oil spill has brought the environmental risks into focus… the performance of the global economy warrants attention. Should commodity prices remain high, they will continue to encourage agro-industrial expansion, energy development, and mining in the Amazon and other areas,” he said.

“The global crisis is driving many countries, especially the European ones, to look with voracity towards Latin America as an investment point,” said Luis Alberto Gallegos (radioclima.org), journalist and environmental consultant, who thinks investment in energy infrastructure will attract the media coverage in the region.

A line of investments that could reach this region could be the energy sector which will mean increased competition in the capitals market, increased demands for citizen control over emissions and also more environmental conflicts, he explained.

The investments in alternative energy will also be important this year, said Teixeira.

“The concerns of Latin American governments with the impacts of climate change on the economy of the peoples in the region and the consequences of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the ecosystems are already leading the implementation of investment projects, programs and research in alternative energies such as wind, solar, geothermal power, wave and tidal power.”

Beyond Rio+20, energy and infrastructure projects, Latin American forests offer plenty of angles for the environmental media to cover this year. “On my wish list is more coverage of scientific research in Amazonian forests. Considering how much is published about the Amazon, there is still a lot we don’t know about the region’s ecosystems, how they respond to climate change and the ways in which they affect climate. And as forests disappear, we lose the opportunity to find out,” said Fraser.

However it seems the Amazon region, specifically Brazil, will lead the forestry news for Latin America, as described by Butler: “between Rio+20, Belo Monte, and a final vote on the Forest Code revision, it promises to be a big year for forests in Brazil”.

To ensure that  Rio+20 deliver a global message that forests matter to sustainable development, CIFOR will coordinate one of the most important conferences on forests on 19 June, 2012. Forests: The 8th Roundtable at Rio+20 will discuss new research findings, remaining knowledge gaps and policy implications for integrating forests into the solutions to four key challenges to progress toward a green economy: energy, food and incomewater, and climate. Seats are limited so register here to avoid disappointment! 

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