Brazil's Lula courts UK, US, others to join Amazon rainforest protection fund

Deforestation soared to a 15-year high under Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who called for more farming and mining in the Amazon region. PHOTO: REUTERS

BRASILIA - Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is asking Britain, France, the United States and others to donate to an international fund to protect the Amazon rainforest, a bulwark against climate change, Lula advisers said on Tuesday.

Mr Lula’s team has also approached Switzerland and Canada about contributing, the advisers said.

The Amazon Fund, started under leftist Mr Lula’s first administration from 2003-2010, bankrolled conservation projects and counts Norway and Germany as its biggest donors.

Right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro froze the fund, citing unspecified spending irregularities among fund-backed projects run by nongovernmental organisations, without providing evidence.

The fund already contains some 3 billion reais (S$780 million) that has sat unspent for nearly four years.

Stopping deforestation in the Amazon, which absorbs vast amounts of planet-warming greenhouse gas, is part of Mr Lula’s sweeping plan for Brazil to reclaim leadership on climate change measures.

Mr Bolsonaro prioritised economic development over environmental protection and appointed climate sceptics as ministers.

Ms Marina Silva, a former environment minister and adviser on Mr Lula’s transition team, said expanding the Amazon Fund would give Mr Lula the resources to take immediate action to protect the environment when he takes office on Jan 1.

Mr Lula will be working with a 2023 budget that was passed under Mr Bolsonaro and so contributing to the fund, “expanding the resources beyond what’s being done already by Norway and Germany, will be very useful for facing this difficult moment we will have,” Ms Silva said.

She personally raised the issue with Britain, Canada, France, the US and Switzerland while attending the COP27 UN climate summit in Egypt earlier in November.

The British embassy said its government was studying the invitation to join the Amazon Fund.

Ms Izabella Teixeira, Mr Lula’s former environment minister and current climate change adviser, told Reuters she had met with Norwegian and German officials on Monday about restarting the fund.

Norway’s Environment Minster Espen Barth Eide said at the UN gathering that he expected the fund to restart “very soon after the 1st of January.”

Ms Teixeira confirmed that Britain, France and Switzerland had expressed interest in the fund.

The former minister said she had lunch with the British ambassador to Brazil and the head of the UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) about new cooperation, including on the Amazon Fund.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to visit Brazil in the first half of 2023 to discuss potential cooperation before his country makes a final decision on joining the fund, she said.

The British embassy said its climate and environment ministers had been approached by Brazilian Senator Randolfe Rodrigues and Para state governor Helder Barbalho at the COP27 summit about donating to the fund. Both officials accompanied Mr Lula during his visit to COP27.

The US and Canadian embassies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

French and Swiss embassies declined to comment.

Deforestation soared to a 15-year high under Mr Bolsonaro, who called for more farming and mining in the Amazon region.

Mr Lula has pledged to eliminate deforestation by using every tool at his disposal, including more money and officials for enforcing environmental laws. REUTERS

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