After a day of high-level talks in Colombia, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Thursday a regional partnership to address deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.
"We'll give much-needed financial assistance to help manage protected areas and Indigenous territories, and we'll help scale up low-carbon agricultural practices to farmers throughout the Amazon," he said in the capital, Bogota, after touring its botanical gardens.
"This new regional partnership will help prevent up to 19 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere while capturing another 52,000 metric tons of carbon, and we estimate it will save — save — more than 45,000 hectares of forest," Blinken added.
The Amazon spans eight countries in South America, including Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. The Amazon and other rainforests are crucial because they take in carbon dioxide and produce about one-fifth of the world's oxygen. About a third of Colombia is in the Amazon.
Colombian President Ivan Duque has ambitious climate goals, including zero deforestation by 2030. Blinken observed in his remarks that Duque won an International Conservation Award this year from the International Conservation Caucus Foundation.
Blinken's announcement came a little more than a week before the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, opens in Glasgow, Scotland, where about 100 world leaders will discuss climate change and how to combat it.
In Glasgow, "the entire planet is hoping for important announcements — actions," he said.
The secretary was wrapping up a trip to Ecuador and Colombia that focused on discussing migration policy and upholding democracy.
"The core focus of this trip for me, my first trip to South America as secretary of state, is how we make democracies deliver for our people," Blinken said minutes before the talks began. "That is our common challenge. It's our common responsibility. And that's true in our countries and it’s true across the hemisphere."
Blinken said many common issues would be discussed during the U.S.-Colombia High-Level Dialogue, including COVID-19, the climate crisis and migration.
"We know that one way we can deliver is by working closely with our partners and allies on the biggest challenges we face, and that's exactly what the United States and Colombia are doing," Blinken said.
Blinken told reporters Wednesday after meeting with Duque that the two countries have many areas of potential cooperation, including cloud computing, health technology and agriculture.
The United States is asking countries in the Western Hemisphere to step up pledges to tackle the immediate challenges of irregular migration as it expands eligibility for legal migration to the United States.
Blinken held talks Wednesday with more than a dozen officials from Latin America at a regional migration ministerial in Bogota. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas joined the gathering virtually.
The United States discussed options, including assisting with voluntary returns to their home countries for migrants who do not have valid asylum claims.
Duque confirmed that his government had received resources from the U.S. to tackle what he called "the most complicated migration crisis in the world": the Venezuelan migration crisis.
In a speech earlier Wednesday in Ecuador, Blinken outlined several challenges that democracies face in the Western Hemisphere, including corruption, civilian security, and the economic and social well-being of the people.
He said he was optimistic they could be overcome and noted that the survival of a democracy driven by ordinary people was vital to the shared future of the region.
VOA's Nike Ching contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.