Friday 27 November 2009
Brazil's president said today that "gringos" should pay Amazon nations to prevent deforestation, insisting rich western countries had caused much more environmental destruction than the loggers and farmers who cut and burn trees in the world's largest tropical rainforest.
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was speaking before an Amazon summit at which delegates signed a declaration calling for financial help from the industrialised world to halt deforestation, which contributes to global warming.
"I don't want any gringo asking us to let an Amazon resident die of hunger under a tree," Lula said. "We want to preserve, but they will have to pay the price for this preservation because we never destroyed our forest like they mowed theirs down a century ago."
In Brazil, the word "gringo" generally refers to anyone from the northern hemisphere.
Lula convened the meeting to form a unified position on deforestation and climate change for seven Amazon countries before the Copenhagen climate summit. But the only leaders who attended were Guyana's Bharrat Jagdeo and France's Nicolas Sarkozy, representing French Guiana, leaving top Lula aides and environmentalists to admit the gathering will have a muted impact.
Other countries sent vice-presidents or ministers, and the presidents of Colombia and Venezuela embarrassed Brazil by cancelling at the last minute.
Sarkozy supported a recent proposal by Lula to create a financial transaction tax that would be used to build a fund to help developing countries protect their forests. Details will be discussed in Copenhagen.
Despite the lacklustre summit showing, Lula aides said it was important to drive home a message that the Amazon is home to 30 million people, most of whom depend on the forest's natural riches to eke out a living. About 25 million live in Brazil's portion.
"In Europe everyone has opinions about the Amazon, and there are people who think the Amazon is a zoo where you have to pay to enter," said Marco Aurelio Garcia, Lula's top foreign policy adviser. "They don't know there are 30 million who work there."
Brazil has managed to reduce Amazon destruction to about 7,000 square kilometres a year, the lowest level in decades. But that is still larger than the US state of Delaware.
The Brazilian Amazon is arguably the world's biggest natural defence against global warming, acting as an absorber of carbon dioxide. But it is also a big contributor to warming because about 75% of Brazil's emissions come from rainforest clearing, as vegetation burns and felled trees rot.
Brazil has an incentive to protect the Amazon because the new global climate agreement is expected to reward countries for "avoided deforestation" with cash or credits that can be traded on the global carbon market.
Norway will give Brazil $1bn (£600m) by 2015 to preserve the Amazon rainforest, as long as Latin America's largest country keeps trying to stop deforestation.
Norway was the first to supply cash to an Amazon preservation fund which Brazilian officials hope will raise $21bn to protect nature reserves, persuade loggers and farmers to stop destroying trees, and finance scientific and technological projects.
Brazilian environment minister Carlos Minc has said Japan, Sweden, Germany, South Korea and Switzerland are considering donating to the fund.
(Image: Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has said that 'gringos' should pay Amazon countries to protect the rainforest. Photograph: Fernando Bizerra Jr/EPA)