Norway threatens to cut Brazil’s funds

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Norway has sent nearly NOK 7.5 billion (around USD 1 billion) to Brazil over the past nine years to help the country preserve its rainforests. Frustrated that deforestation in the Amazon has picked up again, Norway is now threatening to cut its funding, just as Brazil’s embattled president was arriving in Oslo for an official visit.

Norway has long had a keen interest in Brazil’s rainforest, which King Harald V visited in 2013. Now Norwegian authorities are concerned that deforestration is picking up again. PHOTO: Rainforest Foundation Norway / ISA Brazil

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Thursday that the Norwegian government minister in charge of climate and environmental issues, Vidar Helgesen, has sent an unusually sharp letter to his Brazilian counterpart warning that financial aid for Brazil’s rainforest project is subject to major cuts. Helgesen and other Norwegian officials object to how new portions of the Amazon’s forests, which are critical for reducing carbon emissions, are being chopped down.

Helgesen wrote that deforestation in the Amazon in 2015 and 2016 was showing a worrisome trend. Halting the deforestation and reversing the trend, he wrote, was “essential for the future of Brazil.” He also wrote that it would determine the future of “our results-based partnership.”

The letter sent a clear message that unless the destruction of Brazil’s rainforest stops, funding will too. DN reported that funds distributed to Brasil Amazonasfondet  in 2016 were likely to show a major reduction.

“Norwegian funds are used for good projects that we can be proud of, but we pay for results,” Per Fredrik Ilsaas Pharo, Norway’s special envoy from Helgesen’s ministry to the climate and forest initiative, told DN. “Because developments are going in the wrong direction, it looks like there will be a major reduction in financial support from Norway for 2016.”

Political crisis and illegal cutting
The negative development is attributed to a political crisis in Brazil following a corruption scandal, a controversial change in the presidency and large state budget losses. There also has been more illegal cutting of the rainforest.

Helgesen’s counterpart in Brazil, Jose Sarney Filho, responded to Helgesen’s letter by thanking Norway for its rainforest support over the years and claiming that deforestation in 2015 and 2016 had stopped. Figures for 2017 won’t be available until after the summer.

“We have gladly contributed to Amazonasfondet because the reduction of carbon emissions has been massive,” Pharo told DN. “We don’t doubt the results of the effort, but if the trend towards increased deforestation continues into 2017, it can end up with Norway not paying anything into the fund.” That would in turn lead to a major decline since Norway is its largest contributor.

Glad Norway is cracking down
The flap has arisen during the same week that Norway was hosting a meeting on rainforest preservation in Oslo led by Lars Løvold of Norway’s own Regnskogfondet (Rainforest Foundation Norway). He praised Helgeland for cracking down on Brazilian authorities and putting pressure on them to preserve their own rainforest. “It’s well-deserved that Norway clearly states (its position), and this is unusually clear text for a diplomatic letter,” Løvold told DN. “It’s not often Norway exerts such visible pressure.” Threatening to cut off funding, he said,  is the most powerful tactic Norway has.

Løvold also claimed that Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, has personal responsibility for the negative development in Brazilian rainforest preservation. “Temer has sold out the environment and the indigenous people in favour of support from the powerful industrial agriculture lobby and landowners in the Congress,” Løvold told DN. Both have “enormous” political and economic power in Brazil, he said.

Temer has also been caught up in what’s been described as the world’s largest corruption scandal ever, involving Brazilian oil company Petrobras. On Tuesday afternoon, government officials in both Brazil and Norway finally confirmed that Temer, age 76, would visit Norway on Thursday and Friday of this week. Prime Minister Erna Solberg will meet Temer at her official residence Friday morning. They were due to hold a “short” press conference after their meeting.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund