Think tank Centro Soberania e Clima advocates scientific, ideology-free debate on oil exploration off the coast of Amapá
Marcelo Furtado, Raul Jungmann, and Sergio Etchegoyen — Foto: Ana Paula Paiva/Valor
Founded in 2022 with the aim of improving the quality of the discussions that have historically separated environmentalists and nationalists who preach Brazil’s right to do whatever it wants with its environmental funds, the think tank Centro Soberania e Clima (Sovereignty and Climate Center) defends a scientific, transparent, and ideology-free debate regarding Petrobras’s desire to explore for oil at the mouth of the Amazon River, off the coast of Amapá.
The issue exposed divergences within the government, opposing the Ministry of Mines and Energy, which is headed by Alexandre Silveira and defends the economic advantages of oil exploration in the region, while the Ministry of Environment, headed by Marina Silva, pointed out the risks that prospecting for fossil fuel near the Amazon could cause ecological problems and damage Brazil’s reputation as a protector of the forest.
Faced with the impasse, the Centro Soberania e Clima advocates that, first of all, the issue must be discussed soberly because both sides have valid arguments and convergence can be found, as long as the conversations are done in “good faith.”
“We want to help to reach a rational decision that is not ideologized by one side or the other,” said Raul Jungmann, the think tank’s president and a former minister of Defense (2016-2018). “We must find a balanced way out that meets the interests of the Brazilian state, but does not compromise the biome.”
The think tank, created from Mr. Jungmann’s initiative together with the divergent worldviews of general Sérgio Etchegoyen, a former minister of the Institutional Security Office, and environmentalist Marcelo Furtado, director of the Finance for Biodiversity foundation, has been moving since last year to bring both sides closer together, filtering interlocutors to demystify the perception that military, development economists, and environmentalists cannot dialogue.
According to Mr. Furtado, a member of Centro’s board of directors, the think tank has made an effort for interlocutors from both sides to find points of convergence precisely so that, when important divergences like the one over the mouth of the Amazon River arise, society does not fall into the trap of concluding prematurely that it will be impossible to solve the problem without an institutional crisis that would shake the country’s credibility.
“Many of the contents that we generated in climate science were dammed up within the scientific community and the civil society that works on the subject. They had not yet spilled over to the Defense community,” Mr. Furtado said, admitting that in the first year of the think tank’s activity the previous perception that there was a “gap” and even mutual “prejudice” between environmentalists and the military was confirmed. “It was a dialogue that was absent due to difficulties from both camps in building a conversation with active listening.”
On the other hand, Mr. Furtado said that the initiatives have generated positive results faster than the center’s founders imagined. “In a recent seminar, we put the topic of climate justice on the table, which is a thorny issue within the context, but we were able to observe several points of convergence, not to mention the transmission of knowledge, as military personnel who are in one area subsidize researchers with information about what is really happening within the Amazon, for example.”
The environmentalist said that, in the International Conference on Sovereignty and Climate, which the center will hold at the Superior Defense School (ESD) on June 28 and 29, there will be, for example, an Army lieutenant-colonel mediating a panel on climate change, while Rodrigo Agostinho, president of federal environmental agency Ibama, will discuss climate adding the context of sovereignty to the debate. “It’s nothing trivial. More than just drafting documents, we are trying to generate an environment conducive to finding common ground that already exists,” Mr. Furtado said.
Mr. Etchegoyen openly admits that he is the representative of sovereignty interests and that Mr. Furtado is the climate one, but said that the military is already aware that there is no point in exploring the Amazon or other parts of the Brazilian territory without assessing the environmental impacts. “We cannot be as naïve as some diplomats. Our concern is that the debate will be manipulated as a pressure tool for other indirect objectives.” He does not mention any specific case or interest, but a classic concern of this group regards the interest of U.S. and European countries in the Amazon – and the alleged use of NGOs to exploit the forest’s resources.
“The military’s current vision is that environmental preservation is important. Nobody can pretend anymore that it isn’t, because consequences are already here. The concern is only that this be manipulated,” Mr. Etchegoyen said.
In relation to oil and gas exploration at the mouth of the Amazon River, both Mr. Etchegoyen and Mr. Furtado say that the important thing is that the debate be done with “all cards on the table” and that no one is put aside in the talks, neither the military, nor the environmentalists, and even less the representatives of the local communities.
“The concern is to debate with quality, based on a honest dialogue in which one side needs to try to understand the positions of the other, until the government decides what it wants to do. If this process is complied with and the decision is made responsibly, it will be up to the institutions to comply,” the general said.
According to Mr. Jungmann, the ambition of the work done by the center is to help create the conditions for Brazil to democratically develop a concept and a practice that associate the idea of national sovereignty with the emergency response that needs to be given against the climate crisis, which, according to him, is a threat to Brazil’s defense. For this, he said, there should be a filter in the dialogue that privileges the voices really willing to understand what is at stake.
“We have to disarm suspicions. The cases where there is bad faith on one side or the other need to be purged. We will overcome the ideas that civil society is an adversary of state sovereignty and, on the other side, we will overcome the error of thinking that the Armed Forces are the enemy of sustainability,” Mr. Jungmann said.
*Por Rafael Vazquez — São Paulo
Source: Valor International