Donors commit $215 million for Amazon conservation in Brazil

RIO DE JANEIRO Wed May 21, 2014 11:00am BST

RIO DE JANEIRO May 21 (Reuters) - Brazil's government, the World Wildlife Fund and various partners are expected to unveil an agreement on Wednesday that would establish a $215 million fund for conservation of protected jungle in the Amazon rainforest.

The fund, which seeks to ensure conservation of over 90 protected areas in the Amazon, comes as renewed developmental pressures mount in the region, resulting last year in an uptick in deforestation figures after years of record lows.

Under the terms of the agreement, partners in the fund will make annual contributions to help Brazil meet financing needs for the protected lands, whose combined area totals more than 60 million hectares, or an area 20 percent larger than Spain.

Contributions, partners said, will be contingent upon conditions required of Brazil, including audits of the government body that will administer the fund and continued staffing and financing of government offices required to administer the rainforest areas.

Money from the fund would be used for a range of basic conservation measures, including fences and signs to delineate protected areas and to pay for vehicles used to patrol them.

Through the agreement, "the government of Brazil is committing to the budget and the regulations that are needed to secure future financing for the Brazilian Amazon," said Carter Roberts, chief executive of the WWF, the non-governmental organization that helped organize the fund, in an interview.

Officials at the Brazilian environment ministry, which said it would make an announcement regarding financing for protected lands on Wednesday, did not return calls seeking comment.

Brazil's government through 2012 made large inroads against deforestation, largely through strict environmental enforcement and financial measures that blocked credit for companies and individuals caught doing business with loggers, ranchers, farmers or others known to exploit illegally cleared land.

In recent years, however, the government has made changes to environmental agencies and regulations that critics say make it easier for would-be developers to target protected areas. The government has also altered borders of some parkland to make way for infrastructure projects, including hydroelectric dams on various Amazon tributaries.

Financing for the new fund, expected to pay out over 25 years, was secured from private and public sources including the German government, the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, philanthropists and the Amazon Fund, an existing facility financed mostly by the Norwegian government and administered by Brazil's national development bank.

Together, the forest zones targeted by the fund are known as the Amazon Region Protected Areas, or ARPA, a program established in 2002 to coordinate financing and conservation strategy in the region.

Whereas previous financing for the effort relied on cumulative fundraising efforts, partners this time agreed to an all-or-nothing approach, borrowed from private-sector financing practices, to build momentum toward a target total. The $215 million is the amount calculated as necessary to help the Brazilian government, over the 25 years, become self-sufficient in terms of financing the rainforest areas.

"The effort is really about understanding that it takes the Brazilian government time to get there," Roberts said. "This is continuity and support over time to close the gap." (Reporting by Paulo Prada; editing by Andrew Hay)