Norway to Axe Forest Funds.

Brazilian conservationists are reeling with the disclosure that Norway is considering axing US$1 billion in funding for the Amazon rainforest, because of the Latin American giant’s record of rising deforestation.

Norway is the biggest foreign donor helping tropical forest conservation and the Amazon Fund, into which it has paid more than a US$1.1 billion dollars since its inception in 2008, was in part designed to help Brazil’s efforts to restrict logging and the clearance of forests by farmers.

But during a mid June visit to Oslo by president Michel Temer, Brazil’s delegation was told by a minister in Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s government that the Amazon is suffering a “worrying upward trend” in deforestation since 2015 after “impressive achievements” over the previous decade.

As a consequence, future Norwegian contributions would fall. “Even a fairly modest further increase (in deforestation) would take this number to zero,” Norway’s Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen was reported as having warned.

Under current benchmarks, a rise in annual Amazon deforestation rates to 8,500 square km or above will mean no annual payments from Norway, Norwegian officials say.

Ahead of Temer’s visit, Brazilian Environment Minister José Sarney Filho had sought to contain the potential damage, reportedly claiming that that data “indicate that we may have stopped the rising curve of deforestation recorded from August 2014 through July 2016. We hope that the new data will soon reveal a downward trend.”

He said that Brazil has an “unwavering commitment to sustainability, to curbing deforestation and to the full implementation of its targets to reduce emissions under the Paris Agreement” to combat global warming.

In recent years Brazil has certainly made huge strides in satellite-based mapping of fires set by farmers seeking to clear forest for cattle ranching, while legislation to punish such activity is rigorous and well-crafted. But after a welcome dip in the area torched over  recent years,  burning is again in the increase.

Brazil's forest protection framework is better in theory than in practice.

Brazil’s forest protection framework is better in theory than in practice.

The problem is on-the-ground implementation: civil enforcement agencies have tiny budgets and struggle to convince politicians – many of whom instinctively side with large landowners – to implement the law.

While resources from the Amazon Fund were not earmarked for pure science, a significant proportion of Brazil’s research-based life sciences activity depends upon the survival of pristine forest and its biodiversity. So the Norwegian warning is potentially a major blow to hard pressed scientists, already affected by a 40% plus cut in funding by the Ministry of Science and Telecommunications (see article here).

Since 2008 the original objectives of the Amazon Fund – to help mitigate climate change by ensuring the forest’s carbon reserves remain sequestered – have entered mainstream ecological thinking. The money was also earmarked for promoting alternatives to forest-clearing for people living in the Amazon, and to support conservation and sustainable development.

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