Brazil making efforts at reclaiming Amazon rainforest

The Miami HeraldDecember 9, 2009 

MANAUS, Brazil -- The aging mayor of this crammed jungle city in the heart of the Amazon once handed out chainsaws to cut down the rainforest.

Now he throws around slogans to save it.

That legendary shift is part of a new attitude that's driving a wave of innovation by Brazilian business and government. Those efforts are helping to slash deforestation to its lowest level on record, and have emboldened Brazilian leaders to seek a key role this week at global climate talks in Copenhagen.

"We must add economic value to the forest," said Amazonas state Gov. Eduardo Braga, whose eco-subsidies, environmental endowment and plans to sell carbon credits to California have made the area around Manaus a public lab for sustainable forestry.

At the heart of this week's summit debate is how much nations are willing to pay to slow deforestation, and what role Brazil will play in that effort. Home to more tropical forest than any other nation, Brazil already has paired with India, China and South Africa to craft a plan, which its 700-member delegation is now promoting in hotel and convention halls of Copenhagen.

President Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is expected to join the conference next week, has cast himself as a mediator.

To bridge the emissions gap between rich and poor nations, he is pushing emerging countries to limit pollution, while insisting that developed nations help pay the bill.

"The worst thing that could happen in Copenhagen is that world society thinks its leaders aren't taking responsibility for the seriousness of these problems," he said.

Since 2003, Brazil has pushed to slow the destruction, creating 250,000 square miles of new protected forest, arresting hundreds of illegal loggers and granting farm loans on the condition that they follow environmental compliance. The country has added faster satellite surveillance, designed a $1 billion "Amazon Fund" to finance conservation and vowed to cut emissions by at least 36 percent from what's expected for 2020.

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