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CLIMATE CHANGE: Brazil Announces Voluntary Fund to Protect Amazon

Eric Lemus

NUSA DUA, Indonesia, Dec 14 2007 (IPS) - In the context of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Bali, Indonesia, Brazil has announced the creation of a voluntary fund to protect the Amazon jungle region, and its decision to adopt national targets to curb deforestation.

The Fund for the Protection and Conservation of the Brazilian Amazon will be voluntary and will be launched in the first half of 2008 with an initial sum of 150 million dollars, to be deposited at the National Development Bank (BNDES). One hundred million dollars will be contributed by Norway.

The Fund will be administered by a consultative council made up of representatives of the federal and state governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), Brazilian and foreign scientific researchers and delegates of companies.

Deforestation and forest fires are responsible for nearly 75 percent of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions.

But over the last three years, Brazil has managed to cut the rate of forest loss by 59 percent. Environment Minister Marina Silva told a press conference at Bali that this is equivalent to a reduction of 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas responsible for global warming.

"We are prepared to set verifiable domestic goals to check deforestation," she said.

In exchange for voluntary contributions to the fund, Brasilia will hand over certificates of greenhouse gas emission reductions equivalent to each donation.

Unlike a fund launched this week by the World Bank to prevent forest destruction in developing countries, however, the certificates issued by the Brazilian government will not be tradable on the carbon markets.

Although its scheme lacks this financial incentive, Brasilia is confident its fund will attract companies interested in promoting an environmentally-friendly image for themselves by contributing to the fight against climate change.

The minister made her announcements alongside the governor of the western state of Mato Grosso, Blairo Maggi, a soybean baron who was formerly regarded as a destroyer of forests but who has now become a leader in the fight against deforestation in the Amazon. Silva said the slowdown in Amazon deforestation had been made possible by the efforts of Mato Grosso, which over the last three years has cut its rate of forest destruction by 79 percent.

Maggi participated with Silva at the launch of an agreement to create the State Plan for Prevention and Control of Deforestation.

Later, he took part in a debate with expert Daniel Nepstad on the costs and benefits of halting deforestation.

Nepstad is the author of a study on "The Amazon’s Vicious Cycles: Drought and Fire in the Greenhouse", published by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and has spent the last 21 years analysing the impact of forest fires, "savannisation" of the Amazon, public policies, and future trends in the region and its population.

Maggi’s presence here "is a good beginning," Nepstad told IPS.

Two years ago, the international environmental watchdog Greenpeace gave Maggi the "Golden Chainsaw" anti-award for the Brazilian who had contributed most to deforesting the Amazon.

Maggi was once the world’s largest soybean farmer, and his André Maggi group produces five percent of the annual Brazilian soy harvest. The clearing of vast tracts of land for soy planting is blamed for massive deforestation in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.

"That’s why I’m sceptical, although I realise that if Maggi came to Bali, he must be open to dialogue," Juliana Radler, a journalist for Sumaúma Documentários, a Rio de Janeiro NGO that produces documentaries, told IPS.

During his presentation, Maggi said that the next step was for the federal government to pay the states to invest in forest conservation. This programme would benefit farmers and guarantee conservation of nature reserves, he said.

Climate change is like the Holy Trinity, with the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and carbon dioxide emissions are like the Holy Spirit, which is invisible, but everyone knows that it exists, he said humorously.

Professor Yadvinder Malhi, an expert on tropical ecosystems at Oxford University, was upbeat about Maggi’s attendance, because, he said, it’s an opportunity for him to understand the vulnerability of the Mato Grosso reserve and its importance to global equilibrium.

Brazil’s declarations have raised its profile in the last stretch of the 13th Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which ends Friday with the adoption of a timetable and a range of measures to abate the pollution that is overheating the planet.

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