in Brazil, Norway

Climate hypocrisy: Norway tells Brazil off about deforestation while expanding Arctic oil exploration

Earlier today, during a visit to Oslo, Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, met Norway’s prime minister, Erna Solberg. After the meeting, Solberg said, “If preliminary figures about deforestation in 2016 are confirmed, it will lead to a reduced payout in 2017.” She added that Norway’s rainforest payments to Brazil are “based on results”.

Between 2009 and 2015, Norway paid US$1 billion to Brazil’s Amazon Fund. At the UN climate negotiations in Paris in November 2015, Norway and Brazil announced that the REDD deal would continue until 2020.

Falling payments

In the period from August 2015 to July 2016, deforestation in Brazil increased by 29%.

As a result, reports Development Today, since 2015, Norway’s payments have fallen from US$117 million to US$35 million.

“Even a fairly modest further increase [in deforestation] would take this number to zero,” wrote Norway’s Minister of Climate, Vidar Helgesen, in a letter earlier this month to José Sarney Filho, Brazil’s Minister of Environment.

The letter was leaked. Here are some extracts from Helgesen’s letter (from various news sources, linked in the text):

In 2015 and 2016 deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon saw a worrying upward trend.

I believe that it is important to express concern when concern is due.

As you are aware, a set of policy measures that have caused strong public reactions in Brazil are making their way through Congress, including the revision of the environmental licensing criteria and the roll back of of protection of significant tracts of the Amazon. In parallel, budgets for key institutions that provide vital services for forest protection, are being cut, and their mandate to operate effectively is put under pressure.

[L]aw enforcement has been – and remains – the cornerstone of the battle against deforestation.

Rising deforestation

In a press release about President Temer’s visit to Norway, Lars Løvold, director of Rainforest Foundation Norway says,

“Norway must demand that Brazil respect existing commitments made through international agreements and national legislation. When Prime minister Solberg meets president Temer for breakfast on Friday, she must not mince her words in alerting him that Norway is forced to terminate support for the Amazon fund if Temer does not halt the attacks on the rainforest and its peoples.”

Norway’s rainforest payments to Brazil are results based, as Prime Minister Solberg noted after her meeting with President Temer. Results based means that if deforestation goes up, payments go down.

In 2016, Brazil’s deforestation reached 8,000 square kilometres. Norwegian officials told Reuters earlier this week that if deforestation reaches 8,500 square kilometres payments will stop.

So there is no political decision to be taken. Both Norway and Brazil are fully aware of this. Brazil seems to care about this considerably less than Norway.

Brazil’s forests threatened

Earlier this week, President Temer vetoed legislation that would have opened up more than 500,000 hectares of forest to logging, mining, and agriculture.

But Enrico Bernard of the Federal University of Pernambuco described this as “smart, cynical political” move. Bernard told Development Today that President Temer sent the proposals back to Congress for a final decision. In an email to Development Today, Bernard wrote,

The proposals will very likely be approved. Like Pontius Pilate, he seeks to avoid personal responsibility for the act per se.

Associated Press reports that more forest damaging legislation is in the pipeline:

In a video posted Sunday on social media, environment minister Jose Sarney Filho announced plans to create a new bill in Congress that would downgrade the level of protection of 1.1 million acres of the Amazon rainforest. The measure is designed to legalize incursions by farmers and ranchers into protected areas in the state of Para.

“We want to allow people who have been there for a long time to continue growing and developing their work,” he said in the video.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy is proposing legislation that would open up a 150 kilometre zone along Brazil’s border to foreign-owned mining companies.

The zone includes about 170 million hectares of Amazon rainforest. Bloomberg reports that the legislation will be presented to Congress this year.

Norway’s oil

Norway, of course, is no environmental hero. Norway is a major oil exporter. Norway’s rainforest money comes from oil.

The day before the meeting between Solberg and Temer, Norway’s Ministry of Petroleum and Energy announced a new licensing round, offering 102 exploration blocks, 93 of which are within the Arctic Circle. Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Terje Søviknes, explains Norway’s oil policy – if it makes money, just drill it:

New exploration acreage promotes long-term activity, value creation and profitable employment in the petroleum industry across the country. Profitable activity on the Norwegian continental shelf provides employment, as well as revenues to the state. Thus, awarding prospective acreage to the petroleum industry is a central pillar in the Norwegian government’s petroleum policy.

Climate and Environment Minister Helgesen attempted to justify Norway’s oil expansion. He told, apparently with a straight face, that,

“The Norwegian Arctic is different from other parts of the Arctic. That’s because of the Gulf Stream, which they don’t have off Canada or the US.”

While Helgesen says that the Paris Agreement “is doomed” unless deforestation slows dramatically, he appears unaware of the fact that burning oil is a major cause of climate change.

Norway’s Statoil is one of the biggest oil producers in Brazil. Last week, the company announced that it intends to more than triple its oil and gas production in Brazil by 2030.

Norway’s rainforest payments are not working. They are not addressing deforestation. They are not addressing climate change. The point of Norwegian funding for the rainforests is to deflect criticism away from the fact that Norway wants to expand its oil industry. Even that isn’t working any more.

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  1. So Vidar Helgesen believes “Law enforcement has been – and remains – the cornerstone of the battle against deforestation” in Brazil, but evidently not in the Congo, where more than $40m of Norwegian REDD funding has recently been approved under his watch, and much more is tin the pipeline, even though the DRC government has failed to cancel more than 5 million hectares of logging concessions which are now illegal.

    It seems Mr Helgesen believes in law enforcement only when it suits him.

  2. Really hypocrisy added to hypocrisy. “Norway’s rainforest payments to Brazil are based on results”. Which should the results be if Norway has paid hundreds of millions while deforestation has increased? I wonder anyway whether a difference of some tens of MUS$ might divert the economic interests of the world eight economy from halting deforestation.