Saturday, August 2, 2008

Will the new international fund save the Amazon?

Interesting news from Brazil (Thanks to Treehugger for the update): yesterday President Lula has launched in Rio De Janeiro an international fund to fight deforestation of the Amazon and support conservation and sustainable development.

The fund will seek donations worldwide with the goal of raising 21 billion dollars by 2021. There's also a cap for contributions in the first year - 1 billion dollars. The first contribution was already made last September by Norway that pledged to donate 100 million dollars.

Is this good news? in a way it is. Firstly,
as reported by the BBC, Greenpeace in Brazil said that the country was accepting the link between global warming and preserving the forest for the first time. "For a long time, Brazil was violently opposed to this, insisting fossil fuel was to blame," said Sergio Leitao, director of public policies for Greenpeace Brazil. "That's true, historically speaking, but today forests play an important role." I think it's important as even it's only on a declarative level, it indicates that Brazil understands it can no longer play the denial game. This era is over.

Also, I hope there's going to be a good use for the money. According to
Yahoo! news, the fund will promote alternatives to forest-clearing for people living in the Amazon and will finance conservation and durable development projects proposed by the environment ministry. The donations will be administered and projects monitored by a state bank, the National Economic and Social Development Banks (BNDES).

What's not so good about this initiative? well, we talked a couple of times in the past about the situation in the Amazon and about the need in a new economic model that will give living trees a value and will make it worthwhile to keep them alive. This initiative is definitely looking for the right amount of money, but the question is: is this the right way to do it? my reply: I doubt.

How can you base the effort to save the Amazon, the green heart of planet earth, on donations? what will they do if other countries won't be as generous as Norway? and my guess is that they won't be, especially when Brazil asks for the money, but don't give donors the opportunity to be part of the decision making process regarding the uses of the money.

This is an important point - Brazil is very concerned about interference with what it sees as internal affairs and wants to make sure the world will know that it will accept the money but not interference. "Donations are voluntary and donors have no say over the use of the resources," BNDES environment director Eduardo de Mello told reporters. Roberto Mangabeira Unger, the minister for strategic affairs, added that "the fund is a vehicle by which foreign governments can help support our initiatives without exerting any influence over our national policy."

At the same time, Brazil understands that it can no longer ignore worldwide concerns about the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, and it understands that it needs a lot of money to do something about it. The result is this fund, which is kind of compromise: We (the Brazilian government) admit there's a problem and will be willing to accept money to solve it, but it will be done the way we want to do it and there's nothing you can do about it.

I believe this compromise is not the worst solution, but it's definitely not the best one. You can't base it on donations and even if you agree that the Brazilians will have the final word about the use of the funds, I believe they must accept consultancy from other experts, and I also think there should be some measures of control to make sure the money is used properly.

I think the only way to do it right is by making the Amazon part of any post-Kyoto agreement that will be created, taking into consideration the urgent need for an action there, as well as the necessary funding and the issue of the Brazilian sovereignty.

One thing that encouraged me while reading on the new fund was the new Brazilian Environment Minister Carlos Minc, who was quoted in
the BBC report saying: "We are committed to reducing the destruction of the rainforest, to eliminating illegal burning and to guaranteeing a better quality of life for all. "Our war is not won by simply reducing illegal burning in one month, it will be won once this environmental model that is destroying our communities and biodiversity is history." Amen!

Raz @ Eco-Libris

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