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Colombia's Amazon forest gets boost with $366-M protection fund

BOGOTA, Colombia - Norway, Germany and Britain said on Thursday they would spend up to $366 million over the next five years to help Colombia reduce deforestation in its vast Amazon rainforest.

The three nations have backed Colombia's efforts since to preserve forest areas covering almost 60 million hectares since 2015, with about $180 million invested so far.

"The renewal of the declaration is a recognition of Colombia's ability to reverse the deforestation trend, having achieved a 10% reduction in deforestation in 2018 compared to 2017," the countries said in a joint statement.

The announcement was made at the United Nations climate talks held in Madrid, where ministers from around the world are cloistered in the final days of two weeks of talks to shore up the 2015 Paris Agreement to avert catastrophic global warming.

"Colombia's ambition and commitment to reduce deforestation is of global significance," Ola Elvestuen, Norway's climate and environment minister, said in a statement.

"We cannot solve climate change without stopping deforestation. The international community should now step up to mobilize billions of dollars per year to support forest countries that succeed in reducing emissions," he said.

Norway, one of the world's leading donors to protect tropical forests worldwide, has pledged the bulk of its latest funding to Colombia, committing to $311 million.

Colombia has set ambitious goals to curb deforestation, including reducing the annual loss of natural forests to 155,000 hectares (380,000 acres) or less by 2022 and 100,000 hectares or less by 2025.

If successful, this would mean a reduction in Colombia's deforestation rates by 50% compared to 2018.

The Amazon is the world's largest tropical rainforest and is considered key to the fight against climate change because of the vast amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide it absorbs.

The urgent need to protect the Amazon has come under the spotlight as deforestation in Brazil, home to the biggest share of the Amazon, rose to its highest in over a decade this year under the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro.

Brazil and Bolivia have also struggled to curb massive forest fires this year.

Across the Amazon basin, more trees are being cut down or burned to open up land for agriculture and cattle ranching, alongside largely unchecked illegal mining and logging, environmentalists say.

Norway in August suspended its donations supporting projects to curb deforestation in Brazil after the country's right-wing government blocked operations of the fund receiving the aid, the Norwegian ministry of climate and environment said.

Of the total $366 million pledged until 2025 to protect Colombia's rainforest and promote its sustainable use, up to $260 million will be payments for achieved emission reductions, the announcement said.

Up to another $106 million will help Colombia meets its goals to preserve forests.

One of those is an aim to begin restoring 200,000 hectares of forest by 2022, including in forest areas that are home to indigenous communities. Colombia also plans to support small farmers and cattle ranchers to produce in more sustainable ways.

Since 2015, the country has received tens of millions of dollars in payouts from Norway, Germany and Britain for meeting targets to reduce emissions by slowing deforestation.

The payments are usually distributed to farmers, as well as to community and indigenous groups and local environment authorities working on forest protection. — Reuters