RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Deforestation in Brazil’s huge Amazonas state could fall to zero by 2020 if a global climate summit in Copenhagen in December adopts measures to put an economic value on preserving forests, its governor said on Thursday.
Eduardo Braga’s state government has pioneered the preservation of the Amazon by granting financial incentives to forest dwellers, an idea that has gained ground in international climate policy ahead of the summit.
The mechanism allows rich countries to offset their carbon emissions by paying to prevent deforestation, which accounts for about 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions from human activity.
Despite widespread tree-felling, Amazonas, Brazil’s biggest state, still has relatively intact forest covering an area six times the size of the United Kingdom.
Braga urged negotiators to make funding for forest preservation, either through carbon credits or payments from rich countries, central to a new deal to replace the 1992 Kyoto Treaty.
Braga has said that projects to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation, known as REDD, have helped cut deforestation by 70 percent in five years in a state which not long ago handed out free chainsaws to loggers.
“Copenhagen has to move ahead from Kyoto and the only chance to do such a thing is through REDD funding,” Braga told Reuters at the World Economic Forum for Latin America.
Braga’s government created a system called “Bolsa Floresta” under which local communities are paid from an endowment fund to preserve the forest and engage in sustainable activities such as rubber tapping and fishing.
There is so far no agreement on how to put a price on forest carbon under a new U.N. climate deal, with suggestions ranging from carbon trading to taxes in developed nations.
Fourteen state nature reserves with around 6,000 families currently benefit from the so-called Sustainable Amazonas Fund, co-financed by companies like Coca-Cola and Marriott.
By 2013, Braga said the fund would need a further 1 billion reais ($460 million) to expand the program to 34 reserves and create “buffers” around current projects.
“I think by around 2020 we can achieve zero deforestation in Amazonas if we start the REDD system, stimulate it and motivate it,” he said.
The bulk of Brazil’s emissions are a result of trees being cut or burned, making forest preservation a vital part of its contribution to tackling global warming.
In an about-face from years of opposing setting targets, Brazil last year presented a plan to slash Amazon deforestation in half over 10 years and thereby avoid the release of 4.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
It aims to reduce deforestation in the 12 months through July to 9,500 sq km (3,667 square miles) from 11,900 square km (4,595 square miles) the year before.
Consultancy firm McKinsey presented a study at the World Economic Forum showing that deforestation in Brazil could be cut to zero at a cost of 17 billion reais ($7.8 billion), which it said was relatively cheap compared to the cost of reducing rich country emissions.
Braga said any conservation scheme needed to make economic sense for local communities to keep trees standing rather than cut them down. The Bolsa Floresta was successful because it increased per capita income by around 30 percent, he said.
“They (communities) must understand that conservation units are good business to them. If they’re not, they will not give me all the support I need to face poverty, to face the elections and all of democracy’s challenges,” he said.
Editing by Raymond Colitt and David Storey