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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Biden pledges $500 million to stop deforestation in Brazil

A logging area in the Caxiuanã National Forest in Brazil’s Pará state, in October 2019. President Joe Biden on Thursday, April 20, 2023, will pledge $500 million over five years to fight deforestation in Brazil, a White House official said, in a move that would make the United States one of the largest donors to the global Amazon Fund.

By Lisa Friedman and Manuela Andreoni

President Joe Biden on Thursday pledged $500 million to fight deforestation in Brazil and more than $1 billion to help developing countries transition away from fossil fuels and become more resilient to the impacts from climate change.

During a virtual meeting with leaders of the world’s largest economies, Biden called on other nations to set ambitious goals to cut greenhouse gases and limit global warming.

“We’re at a moment of great peril but also great possibilities, serious possibilities,” said Biden, who also urged wealthy nations to do more to help poor countries.

“The impacts of climate change will be felt the most by those who have contributed the least to the problem, including developing nations,” Biden said. “As large economies and large emitters, we must step up and support these economies.”

The $500 million would be delivered over five years and make the United States one of the largest donors to the Amazon Fund, a conservation program. Biden called forests “key to our future” and said “if we lose this natural resource, we can’t get it back easily.”

But the pledge would require approval from Congress, where Republicans are overwhelmingly opposed to international climate assistance and have made it difficult for Biden to deliver on his promises to help poorer nations cope with climate change.

On Thursday, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., noted that the chief of the U.S. Forest Service recently testified that there is insufficient funding to manage forests in America.

“Why are they now sending half a billion U.S. taxpayer dollars to Brazil for theirs?” Barrasso asked. “The higher priority would be to take care of our own resources first, or better yet, save taxpayers the pain of ever watching President Biden splash American treasure around the globe to chase his environmental agenda.”

Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has been working with the Biden administration on several issues, including climate change, despite Lula’s criticism of U.S. support for Ukraine in its war with Russia.

The Amazon Fund was established by Brazil in 2008 and has bankrolled efforts to curb deforestation in the world’s largest rainforest. Norway, the first and largest contributor to the fund, has donated more than $1.2 billion. Germany recently announced a $217 million donation.

The fund was suspended under Lula’s far-right predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, who weakened environmental protections and saw annual average deforestation rates soar, reaching levels the country hadn’t experienced in more than a decade.

Lula took office in January with a promise to end deforestation in the Amazon by 2030. But his administration has had a rough start. Preliminary data suggests that deforestation rates have continued to rise, as his administration tries to rebuild environmental protections.

The Amazon plays an important role in regulating water cycles, stabilizing the climate and absorbing carbon dioxide. By one estimate, there are 150 billion to 200 billion metric tons of carbon locked away in the forest. But as trees are cut down, parts of the forest now emit more carbon dioxide than they absorb.

The U.S. commitment is “a lot of money,” said Suely Araújo, a policy expert at the Climate Observatory, an environmental group in Brazil. “It’s a sign of trust in the new administration, that it can manage this, and that it’s making an effort to control deforestation.”

“I really hope Congress approves it,” Araújo said. “It’s really needed for what Brazil needs to do.”

Biden has pledged to deliver $11.4 billion annually in international climate aid by 2024 but so far is nowhere close to that goal. Last year Congress approved only $1 billion — despite Democratic control of both the House and the Senate.

“We are working as hard as possible to try to get to that goal and make good on the president’s pledge,” said Sarah Ladislaw, a special assistant to Biden and the senior director for climate and energy on the White House National Security Council.

While many environmental groups praised the funding, some said Biden had severely undermined the United States position on climate change with recent decisions to permit an enormous oil drilling project in Alaska and to allow new exports of liquefied natural gas from the state.

“Behind the green screen of Biden’s climate promises, he continues to greenlight destructive fossil fuel expansion in project after project,” said Jean Su of the Center for Biological Diversity.

With Republicans now controlling the House and Democrats holding just a slim majority in the Senate, winning approval for additional money for things like the Amazon Fund will be an uphill battle.

But in at least one instance, the Biden administration has found a way around Republican opposition.

Last year, Republicans cut funds that the administration had pledged to the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations-led program to help poor countries transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and increase resilience to climate disasters. On Thursday the administration said it would deliver $1 billion to the fund, tapping discretionary funds within the State Department, according to an administration official.

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