Brazilian leaders met by protests

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Rainforest destruction in Brazil led to its environment minister and president being met by tough questions and protests after they arrived in Oslo for what was called “a working visit” on Friday. Prime Minister Erna Solberg was among those letting Brazilian President Michel Temer know that the Norwegians were not pleased.

Norwegian Climate and Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen (left) looks on while his Brazilian counterpart José Sarney Filho faces a barrage of questions about increased deforestation in the Amazon. Norway is cutting its funding to protect the rainforests until the trend reverses. PHOTO: KMD

“I’m worried that deforestation in Brazil has increased again, and that there are forces in Brazil who are working to weaken the environmental law and reduce protected areas,” Solberg stated Friday morning, as she received Temer at her official residence.

Meanwhile, her minister in charge of climate and the environment, Vidar Helgesen, was also meeting on Friday with his Brazilian counterpart José Sarney Filho not far away. Helgesen followed through on threats to cut funding that has helped Brazil preserve its rainforests, until they start doing a better job of halting deforestation.

“Our payment this year will be reduced,” Helgesen said, noting that the rules of the Amazon Fund to which Norway contributes its money limits the maximum that can be paid based on results. “If deforestration is brought back down, our payments will go back up,” Helgesen said.

Important partnership
The battle to save the rainforests has forged an important partnership between Norway and Brazil for nearly a decade. Norway, finding it difficult to cut carbon emissions at home because of its oil and gas industry, has thus sent NOK 7.5 billion to Brazil so that it can cut emissions by preserving its rainforests. Norway gets credit for the cuts in return. The money has been sent via Norway’s financial contributions to the Amazon Fund since 2008. The goal is to protect the rainforests that in turn can offset carbon emissions.

The Brazilian flag flew at Norway’s ministry on Friday, but President Michel Temer was met by protests. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Norway threatened to cut off or at least greatly reduce its contributions to the rainforest fund, however, after deforestation in the Amazon increased both in 2015 and 2016. The Rainforest Foundation Norway has said that without the rainforests, the climate goals in the UN’s Paris Agreement can’t be met.

Demonstrators from the Rainforest Foundation were standing outside Solberg’s home early this morning, where Solberg and Temer were meeting over breakfast. He’s under pressure both at home and abroad, because of political chaos in Brazil, fallout from the huge Petrobras corruption scandal and charges that the situation for indigenous people’s rights and the rainforest is the worst since Brazil’s dictatorship in 1985.

Both Brazilian leaders tried to restore the Norwegian officials’ confidence in them. As Temer waved to the demonstrators as he headed in to meet Solberg, Helgesen claimed Filho expressed “strong commitment” to increased command and control efforts on deforestation. He said Filho also made assurances that budgets for that purpose were being strengthened.

Trend is turning’
Filho himself told reporters that new data suggests the trend towards increased deforestation during the past two years is turning around. “Moreover, the government has allocated more money for surveillance of the rainforest and enforcing protection laws,” Filho said.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Filho dismissed claims that there’s a proposal to weaken rainforest protection in Brazil, calling that “wrong information that doesn’t reflect reality.” He stressed that the financial support from Norway is critical in the fight against deforestation. He called his meeting with Helgesen “very sympathetic and constructive.”

Helgesen claimed that Norway remains committed to its partnership with Brazil and will continue to support the Amazon Fund until 2020. Solberg and Temer were also smiling after their breakfast meeting, which touched on issues including business, research, innovation, education and rainforest protection.

“We have an agreement until 2020 and I see no reason to renegotiate it,” Solberg said at a short press conference following the meeting. “Payments will be made if Brazil reaches its goals.” She said she had the impression Temer was “very concerned about doing that.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund