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Protected forests in Brazil could cut billion tonnes of CO2: study

by Staff Writers
Bonn, Germany (AFP) May 28, 2008
An ambitious plan to put more than 10 percent of Brazil's Amazon forest beyond the grasp of loggers and agribusiness could slash carbon emissions by 1.1 billion tonnes by mid-century, according to a study released Wednesday.

Deforestation in the tropics accounts for 20 percent of global emissions of CO2, making it the second largest driver of global warming after the burning of fossil fuels.

Amazonia alone accounts for nearly half of those emissions, and 65 percent of the Amazon forest is in Brazil.

Researchers at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil and the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts calculated that the areas pegged for protection under the Amazon Region Areas Program (ARPA) stock some 4.6 billion tonnes of carbon, equivalent to 20 times the annual emissions of Germany.

The ARPA network, slated for completion in 2012, would cover 12 percent of Brazil's tropical forests.

They then estimated how much carbon would be released into the atmosphere over the next four decades if the designated areas were not protected -- a total of some 1.1 billion tonnes of CO2.

The report was presented in Bonn at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, where more than 6,000 representative from 191 countries have gathered to map out a plan for saving the planet's flora and flauna.

Whether these carbon emissions can be avoided depends a lot on enforcement in the nature reserves, experts say.

"Brazil is trying to battle illegal logging, but as long as the demand for the wood remains strong, they have a very hard time doing anything about it," said Saskia Richartz, policy director for biodiversity at Greenpeace.

Brazil's new environment minister, Carlos Minc, took up his functions Tuesday in a government increasingly split over how to balance preservation and development in the Amazon rainforest.

Minc, the 56-year-old former environment secretary for the state of Rio de Janeiro, replaces a highly respected minister, Marina Silva, who unexpectedly stepped down early this month after losing a series of inter-ministry fights over the future of the Amazon.

The rate of deforestation in Brazil's Amazon forest declined for the third consecutive year in 2007, but has again increased during the first half of this year, according to studies based on satellite photos.

More than 11,224 square kilometers (4,333 square miles) of Brazil's tropical forest disappeared last year.

related report
Ministers line up to protect world's forests at UN meet
Ministers from nearly 60 nations pledged Wednesday on the sidelines of a UN biodiversity conference to support a global effort to halt deforestation by 2020.

Top environment officials from every continent literally lined up to make the pledge, organised by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a highly influential environmental protection group.

"Wildly successful" is how WWF International's director general James Leape described the event, even as more ministers straggled in after the deadline. "We expected 20 countries, but we got more than 50," he told AFP.

Deforestation has emerged as one of the most pressing -- and contentious -- issues at the United Nation's Conference on Biodiversity, a two-week conclave in Bonn of more than 6,000 representatives from 191 countries.

The world's primary forests, especially in the tropics, are the richest repositories of plant and animal species anywhere on land.

They also soak up at least 20 percent of the atmosphere's carbon dioxide -- acting as an essential sponge for the greenhouse gases that are heating up the planet.

Every year more than 30 million hectares (74 million acres) of forest are lost to largely illegal logging and slash-and-burn agriculture, but agreement on how to halt the devastation has proved elusive.

On Wednesday, several heads of state and nearly 100 ministers arrived in Bonn for a three-day "high level" meeting to boost flagging negotiations on how best to craft a new global deal on preserving Earth's wildlife.

"The conservation of our forests is of primoridal importance," German Chancellor Andrea Merkel told the assembly Wednesday. "The forests are the natural habitats of many species and the world's lungs."

Merkel announced that Germany would give 500 million euros (785 million dollars) -- mainly for forest protection -- over the next four years, and an additional 500 million euros annually thereafter.

Leape said the WWF initiative was a way of "putting a boost behind this convention to conserve forests." The unexpected turnout of ministers showed "an eagerness to find a way to break through," he added.

All of a half-dozen signatories interviewed by AFP thought the goal of "zero net deforestation by 2020" -- ensuring that any forests felled would be replaced by new trees -- should be incorprated in the UN convention itself.

"This is critically important for a mountainous country like Nepal," said Krishna Pandel, head of the Himalayan nation's delegation. "When we lose forest, we not only lose biodiversity, but bring environmental disasters -- especially mudslides -- onto the poorest of the poor."

In Nigeria, said its environment minister Halima Alao, the main problem is the ravaging of forests for firewood for heating and cooking.

Some 40 million tonnes of firewood are burned every year, according to Kabiru Yammama, head of the National Forest Conservation Council. Nigeria will lose all of its remaining forests in the next 12 years if the rate of deforestation remains unchecked, he said.

Among the other signatories were EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas; Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity; and German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

A representative from Indonesia -- the world's third largest carbon emitter due to deforestation -- also signed the initiative.

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Brazil's new environment minister to tackle fears over Amazon
Brasilia (AFP) May 27, 2008
Brazil's new environment minister, Carlos Minc, took up his functions Tuesday in a government increasingly split over how to balance preservation and development in the Amazon rainforest.

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