Norway stops Amazon fund contribution in dispute with Brazil

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway has suspended donations supporting projects to curb deforestation in Brazil after the country’s right-wing government blocked operations of a fund receiving the aid, the Norwegian ministry of climate and environment said on Thursday.

Norway has worked closely with Brazil to protect the Amazon rainforest for more than a decade and has paid some $1.2 billion into the Amazon Fund, to which it is by far the biggest donor.

But the government of President Jair Bolsonaro unilaterally changed the fund’s governance structure and closed down the steering committee that selects the projects to back, making no formal proposal for the composition of a new committee.

Deforestation surged in Brazil’s Amazon since Bolsonaro was elected last year, and his plans to develop the Amazon and moves to weaken protection of the rainforest have alarmed environmentalists.

The aid that Brazil receives depends on the results of work to curb deforestation and for 2018 the funding would amount to about 300 million Norwegian crowns ($33.27 million), but Norway will not proceed with the payment, a ministry spokeswoman confirmed to Reuters.

Germany has also suspended 35 million euros ($39 million) in funding of Amazon preservation in Brazil due to increasing deforestation.

Bolsonaro reacted angrily to the suspension of funding and said Brazil would not take any lessons from the donor countries.

“Isn’t Norway that country that kills whales up there in the North Pole?” he told reporters. “Take that money and help Angela Merkel reforest Germany,” he said.

Ola Elvestuen, Norway´s environment minister, told newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv the funding will not take place as Brazil has broken its agreement with Norway and Germany by closing down the board of the Amazon Fund and its technical committee.

Last month, Norway expressed alarm over accelerating destruction of the Amazon and concern for the future of a Brazilian rainforest protection fund.

Brazil is home to 60% of the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical forest, which is seen as vital to countering global warming.

Reporting by Lefteris Karagiannopoulos; additional reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Anthon Boadle in Brasilia; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman