Page last updated at 09:51 GMT, Monday, 3 August 2009 10:51 UK

Deforestation is 'key climate issue'

By Gary Duffy
BBC News, Xingu Indigenous Park

Ed Miliband
Ed Miliband says countries like Britain must do more to tackle emissions

Set deep in among the southern edge of the Amazon rainforest, the Xingu Indigenous Park seems isolated from the problems of the world.

But the tribal leaders here were pleased to welcome a British minister who will play a key role in this year's summit in Copenhagen on climate change.

It seemed a long way from the corridors of Whitehall for Energy and Climate Minister Ed Miliband, but the issues confronting the world's largest continuous rainforest have a much wider resonance.

In Brazil deforestation is responsible for more than half of carbon emissions, while across the world it is blamed for up to 20% of the gases that are said to be heating the planet.

"The cutting down of the forests is responsible for about a fifth of the world's carbon emissions," Mr Miliband told the BBC News website.

"That is more than the whole of the transport sector - cars, aeroplanes, and everything in the world put together.

"So it is absolutely critical that we get an agreement at Copenhagen that involves reducing those rates of deforestation.

"But we have to do it in a way that helps the people who live in the forests, that I have been meeting, so they too have an interest in participating in that process.

The community tries to follow the stars to plant crops. But the rain doesn't come and the plants are dying while the river gets even drier"
Young indigenous leader

"If we don't get forests to be part of Copenhagen it would be like the Kyoto agreement when we didn't have the United States in that agreement."

The Xingu Indigenous Park has been protected territory for nearly 50 years, and is home to some 15 groups which speak a variety of languages.

But the people who live here say these are worrying times.

They fear the impact of government plans for major hydroelectric projects along the nearby river, while illegal loggers continue to try to encroach on indigenous land.

They also blame climate change for some of their problems.

Rains that do not come with the same frequency, drying out the seeds that are crucial for the harvest. Nearby rivers which do not rise and fall the way they used to.

One young indigenous leader told Mr Miliband: "Years ago the rains used to come in October or November.

A fire in a rainforest
Fires are a sign that large parts of rainforest are being destroyed

"But now with these changes the community tries to follow the stars to plant crops. But the rain doesn't come and the plants are dying while the river gets even drier."

Other problems in the region surrounding the Xingu can be clearly seen from the air - the smoke from fires a sign of yet more destruction, but elsewhere some people are trying to make a difference.

Mr Miliband got an almost royal welcome to Sao Jose do Xingu, where farmers and local communities are working together to restore parts of the rainforest.

"Y Ikatu Xingu" which means "good, clean waters of the Xingu" was launched in 2004 by Instituto Socioambiental, a Brazilian non-governmental organisation.

It is currently working on more than 50 projects such as forest restoration and land management, as well as training teachers and other professionals.

To help cut the cost of restoring forests a network of "seed providers" was established involving five indigenous communities within the Xingu Park.

In 2007 they are said to have provided seven tonnes of seeds, which generated an income of more than £10,000 for the people who did the collecting.

We have been causing the emissions in the atmosphere which are now heating up the planet
Ed Miliband

Rodrigo Junqueira of Y Ikatu Xingu says initially there was mistrust between farmers and campaigners, but gradually this was overcome.

"Without doubt in the start there was lot of resistance, and prejudice on their part and ours, because non-governmental groups have the stigma of always trying to undermine the work of the cattle ranchers," he says.

"And the only way to get over this was through our own work, showing them that we are here to contribute and to build solutions together.

"It doesn't mean that we always agree with everything they do, that we all think the same.

"But when we work and show that it is possible to achieve things we were able to get over this resistance, and build trust."

It is a slow process, for the moment far exceeded by destruction elsewhere.

Ed Miliband
Ed Miliband was given a warm welcome by Brazilian communities

But it is in work such as this that the politicians who gather in Copenhagen may find some of the answers to deforestation.

When it comes to the issue of reducing emissions, Ed Miliband accepts that richer, more developed nations have to face up to some particular responsibilities.

"Developed countries like Britain do have a responsibility to do more," he says.

"We have caused the emissions over the last 150 years or so when we have been growing as a country, along with others.

"We have been causing the emissions in the atmosphere which are now heating up the planet.

"We accept our responsibilities by showing that we will cut emissions faster than other countries and developing countries which have lots of people in poverty.

"We also need to find ways of helping to finance some of the changes that need to take place in developing countries as well, like managing the forests more sustainably."

'All connected together'

He says he is hopeful that there will be agreement at Copenhagen, but is also realistic.

"The truth is that what you realise coming here is that we are all connected together.

"Unless we can find a way of giving the people here an improvement in their standard of living which doesn't involve chopping down the forest, we are never going to get the kind of agreement on climate change that we need."

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has also expressed the belief that a deal can be reached at Copenhagen.

But if past traditions are anything to go by, it seems certain to involve long detailed negotiations that will end in a frenzied round of discussions in the early hours of a December morning.

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