Norway cuts forest protection payments to Brazil to $35 million

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway told visiting Brazilian President Michel Temer on Friday that it would slash its payments to help safeguard the Amazon rainforest in 2017 by more than half to about $35 million because of a rise in forest destruction.

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Rich from producing oil and gas, Norway has invested more than $1.1 billion in an Amazon Fund since 2008 to help Brazil protect the forests, which are under threat from logging and their conversion to farmland.

“I expressed concern that deforestation has risen somewhat (in recent years after past successes),” Prime Minister Erna Solberg told reporters after talks with Temer, who is visiting Oslo to promote investment in Brazil after a trip to Moscow.

Temer said Brazil was working to protect the Amazon, for example, by expanding national parks. “Brazil is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, environmental reserves in the world,” he said.

Norway’s Environment Ministry said payments, under a performance-based plan to reward forest protection, were likely to be about $35 million in 2017, around $65 million less than the previous year when fewer forests were destroyed.

“This should not in any way be understood as a weakening of our commitment to the partnership,” Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen said in a statement. “On the contrary, we stand by our commitments, and if deforestation is brought back down, our payments will go back up.”

Norway paid about 1 billion Norwegian crowns ($118 million) a year to Brazil from 2011-15, when Brazil successfully slowed forest losses.

Norway has been 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.

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. Recent losses, however, are far below the 19,000 sq km recorded in 2005, Brazilian satellite data show.

Solberg reaffirmed a 2015 agreement to extend the forest pact until 2020. “I see no reason to renegotiate that agreement,” she said.

Outside Solberg’s office, about 40 people protested against Temer with banners featuring slogans such as “stop rainforest destruction”.

“We’re here to show that people in Norway are extremely concerned by the rise in deforestation,” Lars Loevold, head of the Rainforest Foundation Norway, told Reuters. He also said that Temer should do more for indigenous people.

($1 = 8.4519 Norwegian crowns)

Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Toby Davis