Norway ready to resume Amazon payments to Brazil if elections change government -minister

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An aerial view shows logs that were illegally cut from the Amazon rainforest in Anapu, Para state, Brazil, September 2, 2019. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

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OSLO, June 22 (Reuters) - Norway is ready to resume payments to Brazil over the prevention of the deforestation of the Amazon if there is a change of government in October's elections as opinion polls suggest, the Nordic country's environment and climate minister said.

Brazilians will vote to pick a new president, with leftist leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva holding a 16-percentage-point lead against the far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro according to a June 8 survey. read more

Between 2008 and 2018, Norway paid $1.2 billion into the Amazon Fund, which pays Brazil to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, with Oslo being by far the biggest donor. Rates of deforestation slowed during that period.

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But the fund has been frozen after rates of destruction of the world's largest rainforest soared under Bolsonaro, who took office in 2019 and weakened environmental protection, saying farming and mining in the Amazon reduce poverty. read more

"If this goes as the polls show, and there is a change (of government) in Brazil, we have great hopes that we can resume quite rapidly a good and active partnership," Espen Barth Eide, Norway's climate and environment minister, told Reuters in an interview.

"What they have said, on the opposition side, has been very positive," he said, adding that work on the fund could resume "very fast", in a matter of "weeks or months", "provided the opposition does what it says it will do".

Brazil's Environment Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Former Environment Minister Ricardo Salles, a climate change sceptic, had criticized the Amazon Fund's management in 2019, making unspecified allegations of irregularities in awards given to non-governmental organizations.

Norway said at the time it was satisfied with how funds were being managed, effectively rejecting those criticisms.

The Amazon Fund currently holds some 3 billion reais ($585 million), NGOs said.

Once up and running again, the fund should be used to restore the environmental governance Bolsonaro dismantled, said Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of Climate Observatory, an umbrella group representing 65 Brazilian green NGOs.

For instance, "the money should be used to fund field operations by local and federal police to fight environmental crime" like illegal mining and logging, Astrini said.

Later, payments into the fund should resume being based on how good Brazil is at stopping or slowing deforestation, to set the incentives to protect the Amazon, said Anders Haug Larsen, head of policy at the Rainforest Foundation Norway.

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Reporting by Gwladys Fouche in Oslo; additional reporting by Gram Slattery in Rio de Janeiro; editing by Grant McCool

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