Norway warns Brazil that funds to safeguard rainforests at risk

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway has warned Brazil that funds to help protect the Amazon rainforest under a billion-dollar program are in jeopardy because more forests are being destroyed, a Norwegian government letter showed on Wednesday.

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Brazil’s President Michel Temer will meet Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg in Oslo on Friday to discuss cooperation including Norway’s program to help Brazil’s efforts to restrict logging and the clearance of forests by farmers.

Wealthy from producing oil and gas, Norway is the biggest foreign donor to protect tropical forests from Brazil to Indonesia, partly because they are big natural stores of greenhouse gases and help to slow climate change.

The Amazon is suffering a “worrying upward trend” in deforestation since 2015 after “impressive achievements” over the previous decade, Norway’s Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen wrote to his Brazilian counterpart Jose Sarney Filho this month.

Norway’s annual contributions to an Amazon Fund, to which it has paid $1.1 billion since 2008 based on Brazil’s progress in slowing deforestation, were now set to fall, he wrote in the letter seen by Reuters.

“Even a fairly modest further increase (in deforestation) would take this number to zero,” he added.

Filho wrote back on June 19 saying that data “indicate that we may have stopped the rising curve of deforestation recorded from August 2014 through July 2016. We hope that the new data will soon reveal a downward trend.”

He said that Brazil has an “unwavering commitment to sustainability, to curbing deforestation and to the full implementation of its targets to reduce emissions under the Paris Agreement” to combat global warming.

Brazil’s deforestation climbed to 8,000 square kilometres (3,088 square miles) in 2016 - about the size of Greece’s Mediterranean island of Crete - from 6,200 in 2015. Losses were far below 19,000 sq km in 2005, Brazilian satellite data show.

Under current benchmarks, a rise in annual Amazon deforestation rates to 8,500 square km or above will mean no annual payments from Norway, Norwegian officials say.

Norway promised at the 2015 Paris summit to extend its partnership with Brazil until 2020, assuming success in slowing deforestation. It also has projects in forest nations including Brazil, Indonesia, Guyana and Tanzania.

Editing by Pritha Sarkar