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Peru aims for zero deforestation

By James Painter
BBC Latin America analyst

Bananas growing in the Peruvian rainforest
Tropical forest covers nearly 60% of Peru's territory

The Peruvian government says it can reach zero deforestation in just 10 years with the help of funds from Western governments.

It is taking its ambitious proposal to the latest round of UN talks on climate change, which are taking place in Poznan.

The government claims more than 80% of Peru's primary forests can be saved or protected.

Peru has the fourth largest area of tropical forest in the world after Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia. It has around 70 million hectares of tropical forest covering nearly 60% of its territory.

"We are not a poor country going to the Poznan meeting begging for aid," Environment Minister Antonio Brack told the BBC.

"We are an important country with a large area of forest that has a value."

Mr Brack says his ministry has calculated that Peru needs about $25m (17m) a year for the next 10 years to be able to save or conserve initially at least 54 million hectares of forest, which could rise to 60 million.

He says the Peruvian government has already committed $5m a year, and he is looking for $20m a year from the international community.

"This is Peru's contribution to mitigating climate change," he said.

'Ambitious'

Government figures for Amazonian deforestation suggest 150,000 hectares were cut down in Peru in 2005, although other organisations put the average figure in recent years higher at around 250,000 hectares annually.

Peruvian Environment Minister Antonia Brack at Lima airport (21/11/2008)
Mr Brack says Peru needs $25m a year for the next ten years

This is much less than Brazil for example, which released figures last week showing an annual rate of nearly 12 million hectares.

Tropical deforestation causes about 18% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Peru contributes less than 1% of the world's emissions, but according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), about half of Peru's GHG emissions are due to deforestation.

Mr Brack says the 54 million hectares Peru is aiming to protect or conserve is divided into four different categories:

• 17 million hectares of national parks which are already in existence

• 12 million for Peru's 42 indigenous groups, totally 350,000 people

• 21 million for sustainable forestry development

• 5 million for eco-tourism

The minister says Germany has already committed 4m euros ($5m, 3.5m) to the first option, while Holland is interested in funding the protection of the forest for indigenous groups.

He is also hoping for funds from Finland, Great Britain and Japan.

WWF in Peru have welcomed the proposal as a statement of intent, but say there are major obstacles to achieving zero deforestation.

"The 54 million [hectares] as currently defined is not as guaranteed as it sounds," said WWF's Fred Prins.

"Also, given continued immigration, agricultural expansion, plans for biofuels and plantations, and the effects of new roads, guaranteeing zero deforestation in 10 years is very ambitious."

Sceptics have also questioned how any government can guarantee that indigenous groups will benefit fully from such schemes and minimize the risk of international funds being siphoned off by corrupt officials.

Mr Brack says full consultation with indigenous groups is essential, but admits organisations representing Peru's indigenous groups are already split about whether to enter into discussions with the government.

Precedents

Other Latin American countries have launched similar initiatives in the run-up to Poznan.

Earlier in December, Brazil announced a plan to cut deforestation rates by 70% over the next 10 years with the help of international funding. It has set up a special Amazon fund where foreign countries are being asked to find more than $20bn by 2021.

Map

The Mexican government has also said it wants to launch an international "Green Fund" to help poor countries pay for environmental programmes.

Ecuador, which has a high rate of deforestation, is seeking international money for avoided deforestation by preventing oil exploration in a national park.

Some critics say that particularly at a time of world economic recession bilateral or multilateral aid will not be forthcoming in sufficient quantities from Western governments to make any significant impact on tropical deforestation.

Peru is particularly vulnerable to climate change.

It boasts a very rich diversity of Amazon species. Its Andean peaks are already subject to accelerated glacial melt, which scientists fear will seriously threaten dry season water supplies to some coastal cities.

Peru's Environment Ministry has only been functioning since May this year.

Its creation was largely seen as a condition for signing a Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

Mr Brack admits his ministry has to find solutions to a whole host of environmental problems.

He says deforestation is caused mostly by Andean farmers migrating to the Amazon who cut down trees for slash and burn agriculture, but also by the building of new roads and gold mining.

But he plays down the extensive presence of oil and gas companies as a cause of deforestation, claiming they only cut down small areas of forest.

Mr Brack also wants money for a new 3,000-strong environmental police force to try to stop deforestation in remote regions.

"We currently have a force of 61 people," he told the BBC. "It's a joke."

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SEE ALSO
70% deforestation cuts for Brazil
02 Dec 08 |  Science & Environment
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30 Jul 08 |  Science & Environment
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21 Aug 08 |  Americas
Peru to protect isolated tribes
04 Jun 08 |  Americas
Peru sets up environment ministry
14 May 08 |  Americas

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