Brazilian forest conservationist Silva wins Norway prize

Brazil's former Environment Minister and Senator Marina Silva speaks during a press conference in Brasilia May 15, 2008. REUTERS/Roberto Jayme

OSLO (Reuters) - Brazilian senator and former environment minister Marina Silva won Norway’s $100,000 Sophie Prize for her work to protect the Amazon rainforest, the prize foundation announced on Wednesday.

The Sophie Prize is awarded annually for environmental protection and sustainable development. It was set up in 1997 by Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder and is named after the main character of his book “Sophie’s World.”

Silva, who was environment minister in 2003-2008, clamped down on illegal activity in the forest, the Sophie Foundation said in its citation.

“During this period she reduced deforestation in the Amazon to historically low levels -- by 60 percent from 2004 to 2007,” it said.

“Huge areas were conserved, more than 700 people were arrested for illegal activities in the forest, over 1,500 companies were closed down and equipment, properties and illegal timber were confiscated. These measures were effective.”

Brazil’s rainforest absorbs huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) -- the main gas blamed by scientists for global warming -- and rainforest conservation is crucial to limit the greenhouse effect and dramatic climate changes, the foundation said.

During Silva’s last three years in government, deforestation was reduced to the second lowest level in 20 years, it said.

“She also balanced the concerns of indigenous peoples’ traditional farming societies,” it said.

Reporting by John Acher