Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a symbolic date celebrated around the world to show support for environmental action. But this year is different.

2020 carried high expectations in the fight against climate change, but people were caught by surprise by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our ways of life are disrupted, millions are locked down, many have lost relatives and friends to the illness, others are sacrificing their family lives to help fight the virus, others are simply trying to adapt and find ways to live through this.

While the COVID health emergency rightly takes the limelight at this time in history, we should also see it for what it is: a reminder that nature, human action and health are closely intertwined. As countries get ready to prepare their post-COVID economy recovery packages, it should be apparent that there cannot be adequate recovery without environmental action and the protection of nature. We cannot simply go back to business as usual.

To contribute to the conversation that is now reflecting on the status-quo and envisioning the path to a healthier and more resilient future, we have published a new discussion paper entitled, “Development Funds Dissolving in Pulp,” which provides food-for-thought on how we as society want to grow. Through a current case study, it shows that we need to rethink the way we produce and invest, and that what has been packaged as “development” or “green,” is not necessarily responsible or improving local resilience. 

Klabin, Brazil’s largest paper producer, has managed to secure funds from international development banks and agencies for a major expansion project in Paraná, known as the Puma II project. The loans obtained represent around 80% of the estimated overall cost of the project (USD 2.2 billion).

The large share of finance from development banks and agencies raises a series of questions that are addressed in the new discussion paper. Is it really the role of these institutions to finance this or any pulp mill, for that matter? Is the sector of such strategic national importance? Is it facing economic hardships and therefore in need of support, or is it very instrumental in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and fighting climate change?

The production of pulp and paper has significant social and environmental impacts. However, paper also provides society with many benefits, and access to hygiene and safety products is something that is on everyone’s mind these days. The challenge is to produce just enough to cover everybody’s needs and to make sure that everyone has access to their fair share of paper.

To fight the biodiversity collapse and climate crisis that the world is facing, and to increase our society’s resilience, it is urgent for development banks and agencies, as well as governments, to finance projects that protect and restore natural forests and protect food security, rather than investing in projects requiring expansion of large scale exotic tree plantations.

Decisions taken in the coming months to overcome the COVID crisis will be a turning point, not just for the economy, but for climate change and the planet. We cannot afford to pick the wrong path, we will not have a second chance.