Conflict erupts over rain forest funding

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Ten years of funding rain forest preservation efforts in the Amazon, as a means of battling climate change, has suddenly left Norwegian officials disappointed and subjected to ridicule by the new president of Brazil. Jair Bolsonaro’s right-wing government has in practice allowed rapid deforestation, prompting Norway to follow Germany this week in withholding more rain forest funding and worrying that the Amazon now may be destroyed forever.

Norway’s King Harald V has been among those backing rain forest preservation, shown here with his mouth literally open in awe as he experienced the Amazon himself during a visit in 2013. PHOTO: Rainforest Foundation Norway/ISA Brazil

“This is extremely serious for the entire campaign to reverse climate change,” Norway’s Climate and Environment Minister Ola Elvestuen told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Friday. “The Amazon is the world’s lung, and we all depend on preservation of the rain forest there.”

Norway’s rain forest preservation programs have not been without controversy, with critics suggesting Norway has opted to finance climate measures abroad instead of cutting more carbon emissions at home by curbing oil exploration and production. Norway’s commitment to preserving rain forests, launched during the government led by current NATO boss Jens Stoltenberg, has been its single biggest contribution toward meeting climate goals

Norway has earlier cooperated closely with Brazil and donated NOK 8.3 billion over the past 10 years (more than USD 1 billion) to protect the Amazon from deforestation. The world’s rain forests, with the Amazon as the biggest, are viewed by the UN climate panel as an important means of stemming climate change.

The money has gone into the Amazon Fund, managed by the Brazilian Development Bank, with allocations based on results of rain forest preservation projects. Recent results have been poor, after Bolsonaro took office and has promoted developing the Amazon instead of protecting it, and now both Norway and fellow donor Germany claim their funding agreement with Brazil has been broken.

Climate and Environment Minister Ola Elvestuen, who has seen much more success in preserving Indonesian rain forests than those in Brazil recently, is now caught in a bitter conflict with the Brazilian government that took office earlier this year. PHOTO: KMD

“Brazil has violated its agreement with Norway and Germany by dissolving the board of the Amazon Fund and its technical committee,” Elvestuen told DN. “They can’t do that unless Norway and Germany agree.”

Both countries have thus decided to withhold new funding, around NOK 300 million in Norway’s case, that was earmarked for rain forest preservation efforts in the Amazon. Months of negotiations with Brazilian officials failed to extract support for the portions of the Amazon in Brazil. Elvestuen did not hide his disappointment and concern: “What Brazil has done shows the country no longer wants to stop deforestation.”

He’s especially concerned about a sharp increase in deforestation just in recent weeks, with farmers burning off trees to clear land for crops. Forest protection officials reportedly have had to stop their work, because they no longer have support from local police. The deforestation, Elvestuen told DN, is also reaching a critical “tipping point, meaning that when so much of the rain forest is destroyed, the remainder can self-destruct because forestry systems depend on rain that they generate themselves.”

Brazilian president sneers at Norway
International media have reported that Bolsonaro scoffed at the funding withdrawals on Friday, claiming that other countries are in no position to tell him or other Brazilians what to do. He has firmly rejected all international criticism of the deforestation that’s been occurring on his watch, and claimed he doesn’t believe new dismal statistics showing reduction of the rain forest.

On Friday, The Guardian reported that Bolsonaro unleashed a “caustic attack” on Norway’s decision to withhold funding: “Isn’t Norway that country that kills whales up there in the North Pole?” The Guardian quoted Bolsonaro as saying. DN reported that Bolsonaro, who’s been called South America’s version of Donald Trump, has claimed Brazil doesn’t need all the money donated for rain forest preservation over the years, with The Guardian reporting that he said  Norway can now just “take that money and help (German Chancellor Angela Merkel) reforest Germany.”

It’s all left Norwegians wondering whether the hundreds of millions of their tax kroner that’s been sent to Brazil over the years has now been wasted. Elvestuen, whose been overseeing the months of now-futile negotiations with the Brazilians, pointed out that Brazil’s policies up to now had dramatically reduced deforestation.

“We haven’t had any signals of any new proposals” from the Brazilians, he told DN. “We are dependent on a government in Brazil that will fight deforestation.” Without that, both Elvestuen and commentators in Norway said the Norwegian government had no choice but to withhold additional funding.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund