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Rain-forest pledge: The Obama administration steps up

December 16, 2009 | 12:01 pm
Amazon village
Signaling a breakthrough on a key climate change issue, the Obama administration today pledged $1 billion over three years to fast-track protections for tropical forests.

“Protecting the world's tropical rain forest is not a luxury; it is a necessity.” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, noting that deforestation accounts for 17% of the world’s emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

As a comprehensive agreement in Copenhagen remains elusive, negotiators this week have gained a tentative consensus on rules to protect forests. However, tropical nations have refused to commit to a target to halt deforestation until wealthy countries agree on long-term multibillion-dollar funding for the effort.

The U.S. pledge adds to the $1 billion that Norway has begun spending in the Amazon. With pledges from Australia, France, Japan and Britain, the fast-track fund now amounts to $3.5 billion -- far short of the $10 billion hoped for by tropical nations and conservationists.

Still, many hailed the Obama pledge as a “first step."

To slow deforestation by 25% by 2015 would require $20 billion to 35 billion per year between now and then, according to scientists and policymakers.

President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana and Gov. Eduardo Braga of Brazil's Amazonas state, a heavily forested area three times larger than France, made forceful pleas today for long-term financing, but few think that issue will be resolved before next year’s Mexico City conference.

Saving the rain forest is the cheapest way to attack global warming, said Jens Stoltenberg, prime minister of Norway, which was the first wealthy nation to fund rain-forest protection.

-- Margot Roosevelt

Photo: A village in the Juma reserve in the state of Amazonas Brazil, where forest dwellers are being paid to avoid slash-and-burn agriculture. Credit: Brian Vander Brug/Los Angeles Times