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Brazil Protects Vast New Areas of Amazon Rainforest
BRASILIA, Brazil, June 6, 2008 (ENS) - Brazil commemorated World Environment Day yesterday by signing into existence four new protected areas, three of them in the Amazon rainforest.

Following a speech in observance of the special day, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva signed the documents authorizing the three new protected areas in the Amazon, including Mapinguari National Park in Amazonas state, named after a mythical red furry creature supposedly living in the rainforest.

The Madeira River is the longest tributary of the Amazon River. (Photo by Wilson Dias courtesy Agencia Brasil)

Mapinguari National Park is designed to preserve savannah areas of the Purus and Madeira river valleys. It is an area of great biological diversity with unique ecosystems that offer great potential for scientific research and eco-tourism, according to the government of Brazil.

In addition, there are two new extractive reserves - Ituxi in Amazonas state and another on the River Xingu in Pará state.

The new areas would expand the extent of protected rainforest by 2.6 million hectares, or 10,000 square miles, an area just slightly smaller than the nation of Belgium.

The protected areas close a green circle that, beyond protecting the biodiversity inside its limits, must draw a line to contain the advance of the agricultural takeover of the Amazon rainforest At least 23 million hectares, or 89,000 square miles, of the Amazon rainforest are already protected.

President Lula's proposal must be approved by Congress and could face legal challenges.

The president also signed a decree protecting mahogany trees and another creating an inter-ministerial group to present proposals to raise financing for conservation of the Amazon rainforest. The donors would not have a say in management of the protected areas and the fund would be managed by the Brazilian Development Bank.

The president said that he is "not egoistic" and that he wants to share with all humanity the benefits of environmental preservation of the Amazon. "We want that all breathe the green air produced by our forests," he said Thursday.

Lula said that Brazil will have to face a strong worldwide debate on environmental preservation, but that the government does not fear this debate.

The president said Brazil's record of environmental preservation is equal to that of any country in the world. "Europe, for example, only has 0.3 percent of its native forest still standing. Brazil still has 69 percent," he said.

Brazil faced criticism at the World Food Summit in Rome convened by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, which concluded today. Brazil was attacked for using so much of its land for biofuels and for failing to effectively protect the Amazon rainforest.

"I felt a little in the FAO in Rome that argued food security how much we were attacked and with the most diverse arguments, also on the question of the Amazonia," the president said.

President Lula said that many conservationists think they can dip their fingers into protection of the Amazon rainforest the way Catholics can walk into a church and dip their fingers into the holy water before they make the sign of the cross.

"I am thinking that Amazonia is equal to those blessed water glasses that they have in the churches and everybody finds that they can put their finger in. It is enough to be Catholic and to enter the church to want to place the finger to make the sign of cross itself," he said.

Environment Minister Carlos Minc, wearing his trademark vest, and President Lula confer before announcing Brazil's newly protected areas. (Photo courtesy Environment Ministry of Brazil)

The resignation in mid-May of former environment minister activist Marina Silva raised fears among environmentalists that Brazil may be turning its back on rainforest protection.

As if to show the world that this is not the case, Carlos Minc, Brazil's new environment minister, announced the government's commitment to create the new protected areas on May 29, at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, CBD, in Bonn.

He also expressed commitment to zero net deforestation by 2020.

At the biodiversity conference, Minc met with WWF, the World Bank, and the German Development Bank, or KfW - all donors to Brazil's Amazon Region Protected Areas Programme, ARPA.

"I insisted on coming to Bonn to announce the good news and restate our commitment to ARPA," said Minc during the meeting. "We are now launching its second phase and raising the total goal for areas protected and supported by ARPA from 50 million to 60 million hectares."

ARPA, the world's largest tropical forest conservation program, is coordinated by Brazil's Ministry of the Environment and implemented by the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation in partnership with seven state governments from the Amazon region.

ARPA's second phase will be implemented over a four year period from 2009 through 2012. During this period, 20 million hectares of new protected areas are expected to be created.

Additional goals for the second phase are the implementation and consolidation of protected areas created during its first phase and the implementation of complementary financing mechanisms.

"ARPA has been a major conservation success story and remains core to WWF's overall strategy and vision for the Amazon. We see it as a powerful tool for CBD implementation," said James Leape, WWF International's director general.

WWF announced a new commitment to ARPA and intends to donate US$ 30 million. Of the total, US$10 million will be allocated for direct costs of program activities and US$15 million for long-term recurrent costs of the ARPA Trust Fund.

The remaining US$5 million will be used for products and services provided by WWF-Brazil, such as studies, reports and capacity building activities targeting the creation of new protected areas and the implementation of those already created by the programme.

For the first phase of ARPA, which ends in December 2008, WWF had already contributed US$17 million.

At the CBD conference, the German Development Bank, or KfW, pledged 10 million euros to support ARPA's second phase. The German government has already provided nearly 30 million euros towards this goal through KfW Entwicklungsbank.

"The cost of preserving biodiversity and protecting the climate cannot be borne by the developing and emerging countries alone," said Ingrid Matthäus-Maier, a member of the Board of Managing Directors of the KfW Bank Group.

"Industrialized countries need to get involved as well - in their own interest," said Matthäus-Maier. "Nature conservation in Latin America is an important concern for us. By participating in this fund we are further broadening our commitments and making a major contribution to the sustainability of protected areas."

ARPA provides financing for the required basic infrastructure, equipment for the territorial administrations, the elaboration and implementation of management plans, and the formation of so-called population committees, which give local communities a say in the management of the nature conservation areas.

"In regards to protected areas, there is good news on the horizon at long last," said Arnold Newman, executive director of the International Society for the Preservation of the Tropical Rainforest, based in Los Angeles.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is enthused over the very good reception of the CRED program - Compensated Reduction of Deforestation. This will bring monetary compensation from developed nations directly to tropical forest developing nations in measure to the volume of forest that they place in protected status."

"This is in response to the scientific evidence that fully 20 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions are derived directly from deforestation of tropical forests," Newman said.

"Even if we dissuade one-half of deforestation, this will reduce 12.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions," he said, "a signficant stride especially in view that we are doing rather poorly on reducing fossil fuel consumption."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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