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Published August 6, 2008 08:41 AM

Wanted: $21 Billion to Save Brazilian Rainforest

Can a new plan to halt deforestation of Brazil's Amazon rainforest actually work? Last week, Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva announced a new international fund to raise money for sustainable forest projects. It is hoped that nations will donate a target amount of $21 billion over the next 13 years. Norway has been the first to commit with $100 million so far.

“We are conscious of what the Amazon represents for the world… It’s better for the country’s image to do things right, so we can walk in international forums with our heads high,” Lula said.


But the logic behind such a plan seems faulty. Global warming and the need for carbon sinks (in the form of rainforest vegetation) are cited as the main reasons for an international financial commitment to sustainable forestry projects. Brazil is only accepting money, however, if nations release any direction or accountability to how the funds will be spent.

Brazil is willing to accept funds for rainforest protection, as long as there are no strings attached. This is, ostensibly, so that foreign governments can support Brazilian initiatives without exerting any influence over national policy. How wise it that? And just what type of projects will the money fund? No sources that I found could provide any details beyond paying for guards or making condoms from rubber trees.

Beyond the rhetoric, this may be more of a case of "pro-economic development than pro-environmental preservation" that is in line with Lula's other environmental initiatives. While sustainable forestry projects do have potential to generate local income while maintaining ecological integrity, the key issue is whether $21 billion in donations is enough to counteract the profit motive driving current deforestation. Without foresight and accountability, such funds could end up accelerating the rate of destruction under the guise of doing something to stop it.

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