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Brazil proposes global forest fund at Dubai climate talks

December 1, 2023

People in scores of rainforest nations could be paid to preserve forest areas under a concept announced by the Brazilian president. However, it's unclear if the plan will get off the ground.

A close up of a red and blue dart poison frog
Brazil's proposal would mean protecting some of the world's most biodiverse places, which are home to unusual species such as this dart poison frogImage: Al Carrera/Zoonar/picture alliance

Brazil proposed a new global fund to pay countries to keep their tropical forests intact, at the COP28 climate talks in Dubai on Friday.

The proposal called for the creation of a massive global scheme to help preserve rainforests in scores of countries, called the "Tropical Forests Forever" fund.

The concept would pay residents and landowners who help preserve forested areas like the Amazon. According to the proposal, financing would initially be raised from sovereign wealth funds, as well as other investors such as the oil industry.

Rather than calculating their value in terms of carbon, biodiversity or environmental services, the proposed fund would assess forests based on their area, making it much easier to implement.

"For each hectare preserved for a year, an amount would be paid. And for each hectare cleared, there would be a deduction of 100 times that amount," said Tasso Azevedo, who helped draw up the idea, when explaining how it could work. 

"It's not just about carbon. Tropical forests provide essential services, such as cooling the planet by 1 degree Celsius," said Azevedo, who also founded MapBiomas, which monitors land use to promote conservation. 

'A very creative proposal'

Brazilian officials said current funding mechanisms do not protect forests that are not deemed to be at risk. Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva said current policies only dissuade loggers from continued deforestation, but don't reward those who protect the forest.

"It's a very creative proposal. We want to create conditions for developed countries to protect the forest without it being charity. They will get a return," said Silva at COP28.

Protecting Brazil's Amazon rainforest, one tree at a time

Mauricio Bianco, vice president of Conservation International Brazil, welcomed the possibility of a new funding mechanism for rainforests, especially one driven by forest nations.

"It's tackling the climate crisis, it's tackling the major loss of biodiversity, and it's also tackling the social and economic development of the people that live there," Bianco told DW.

"It sends a clear message to the world that these countries are concerned about protecting the forest." He warned that such a fund would have to support Indigenous populations and grassroots organizations that are key to protecting forests.

But it's still uncertain how much support Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva can muster from wealthier nations to fund such a project.

Brazil presents new image

The launch was part of a new image Brazil was showing at climate talks, positioning itself as a global leader on climate change and conservation as well as a multilateral powerbroker.

The move comes after years of climate inaction from Lula's predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, who opened the door to major deforestation in the Amazon.

Brazil renews efforts to fight Amazon deforestation

In an address at one of the opening events of the COP28 talks, Lula said people were sick of countries not living up to their previous climate pledges.

"The failure to fulfill the commitments made has eroded the system's credibility. We need to restore faith in multilateralism," Lula said.

"No country will solve their problems alone. We are all obliged to act together beyond our borders. Brazil is willing to lead as a role model," he added.

Figures from Brazil show a 22% reduction in Amazon deforestation this year under the Lula administration.

Financing forests

Brazil is home to 60% of the Amazon rainforest, the conservation of which is vital to limiting global warming, as well as ensuring the existence of important plants and animals.

Huge forests, such as the Amazon and the Congo in Africa, help slow climate change by absorbing and storing vast quantities of the planet-heating greenhouse gas CO2. But they are largely located in poorer countries and are frequently cut down for their valuable timber or to make way for grazing land or mining.

In 2021, more than 100 countries pledged to end deforestation by 2030, promising to invest $19 billion (€17.5 billion) in public and private funds to protect and restore forests.

Earlier this year, leaders from the Amazon, Congo Basin and Southeast Asia signed a communique in Brazil calling for a new financial mechanism for the international community to pay for critical forest services.

Across the planet, deforestation increased 4% in 2022 compared to 2021, according to the Forest Declaration Assessment, an independent group that tracks progress on global forest goals. However, it said major rainforest countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, and Malaysia had shown drastic reductions in forest loss.

The group said current financing to stop deforestation efforts fall well short of the required levels, with just $2.2 billion in public funds channeled to forests every year, compared to the $460 billion required.

Brazil already has a track record with financing the preservation of forests. The country's Amazon Fund, backed by Germany and Norway, was revived earlier this year. Brazil also helps to monitor forests outside its borders.

Agriculture without deforestation

Ahead of COP28, Brazil also announced plans to increase Brazil's available agricultural lands by 60% over the next decade without cutting down more forest. Authorities would encourage farmers to restore degraded grazing areas into productive farmland for crops, with backing from domestic financial institutions.

According to the Agriculture Ministry, Brazil has 40 million hectares (99 million acres) of degraded grazing areas that are suitable for crops.

A commitment to oil

But Lula's administration has come under fire for its commitment to producing climate-wrecking fossil fuels.

In January, it is expected to join the OPEC Plus, a group of oil-producing countries that manipulate global oil prices by coordinating reductions or increases in production.

"Joining OPEC and leading the climate agenda are two things that don't fit in the same sentence. Brazil will have to decide," said Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the Brazil-based network of civil society groups Climate Observatory, in an interview with DW.

And Brazil's state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA is pushing for oil projects in the ecologically sensitive Foz do Amazonas, just one block of which is estimated to contain 5.6 billion barrels of oil. This has caused internal government division and brought criticism from environmental groups.

Lula has previously defended his country's continued oil exploration, saying it was in sovereign interests.

But Tzeporah Berman, international program director at Stand.earth and chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, said Lula's "claims to be an international climate leader" didn't chime with plans for oil and gas expansion. 

"There is still much to be done at home in terms of national public policies to prove his commitment to climate action. This should include a clear indication to stop the expansion of fossil fuel projects, especially in key ecosystems like the Amazon," Berman told DW.

Additional reporting from Nadia Pontes at COP28 in Dubai. 

Edited by: Jennifer Collins