Deforestation in the Amazon is increasing amid cuts to protection, putting Norway’s financial aid in jeopardy, says minister
June 22, 2017 — Norway has issued a blunt threat to Brazil that if rising deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is not reversed, its billion-dollar financial assistance will fall to zero. The leaders of the two nations meet in Oslo on Friday.
The oil-rich Scandinavian nation has provided $1.1bn to Brazil’s Amazon fund since 2008, tied to reductions in the rate of deforestation in the world’s greatest rainforest. The destruction of forests by timber and farming industries is a major contributor to the carbon emissions that drive climate change and Norway views protecting the Amazon as vital for the whole world.
The rate of deforestation in the Amazon fell steadily from 2008 to 2014, an “impressive achievement” which had a “very positive impact” on Brazil and the world, according to Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s environment minister.
But in a forthright letter to Brazil’s environment minister, José Sarney Filho, seen by the Guardian, Helgesen said: “In 2015 and 2016 deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon saw a worrying upward trend.” He warned that this had already reduced Norway’s contributions and added: “Even a fairly modest further increase would take this number to zero.”
Helgesen said he had serious concern that controversial moves in Brazil to remove protection from large areas of the Amazon and weaken the environmental licensing required for agriculture would worsen deforestation. Furthermore, he said, budgets for the environment ministry and other departments that protect the Amazon had been drastically cut. Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, is seen as close to the powerful agricultural lobby, which is pressing for cuts in Amazon protection.
Annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon jumped by 29% to 8,000 sq km in 2016, although it remains well below the 19,000 sq km seen in 2005. Norwegian officials say that under the rules Brazil itself set for the Amazon fund, a rise to 8,500 sq km would mean no payments from Norway.
Filho, the son of the top landowner in Maranhão state, has replied to Helgesen. “I have made every effort to maintain the course of sustainability with determination and political will,” he wrote.
Filho told Helgesen that the latest preliminary data suggested the increase in deforestation rate may have levelled off. “[It] indicates that we may have stagnated the upward curve of deforestation. We hope that the new data will soon point to a downward trend.”
Temer is set to face protests in Oslo on Friday from rainforest and indigenous rights campaigners, including Sônia Guajajara, a leader from Brazil’s indigenous movement APIB. She said: “Temer violates his obligations and undermines people’s constitutional rights. His attacks on indigenous peoples and the environment are of a magnitude we have not seen before.”
The Amazon fund currently supports dozens of projects which fight deforestation, work on land regulation and the environmental management of indigenous lands.
Norway itself was criticised by environmental groups on Thursday, after offering oil companies a record number of exploration blocks – 93 – within the Arctic circle. Terje Søviknes, minister of petroleum and energy, said: “New exploration acreage promotes long-term activity, value creation and profitable employment in the petroleum industry across the country.”