Rich Nations Offer $3.5 Billion to Fight Deforestation

In what may be the first big news to come out of the contentious Copenhagen climate summit, six developed nations put their money on the table and made a big pledge to subsidize forest preservation. The U.S., Australia, Britain, France, Japan and Norway agreed to fund a program to stop deforestation, which is considered a major cause of global warming.

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Trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere and the growing deforestation has diminished arboreal belts around the globe. While a positive step, it remains a limited program with a planned duration of only two years.

In a statement, the sextet added that this move was only the beginning, describing the fund as "an initial investment." The U.S. pledged $1 billion, with other nations committing to lesser amounts to reach the $3.5 billion total. (On the same day, the U.S. Congress debated raising the national debt level by $290 billion.)

"As part of an ambitious and comprehensive deal, we recognize the significant role of international public finance in supporting developing countries' efforts to slow, halt and eventually reverse deforestation," the six nations said in a joint statement.

Tensions Lead to a Walkout

The funding of the big fight to forestall global warming has been the deal-breaker issue at Copenhangen, with the developing nations loudly clamoring for more economic aid from the developed world. Their rationale is that the vast majority of the carbon in the atmosphere was emitted in the past 200 years by the industrialized world. But according to climate scientists, the majority of damages resulting from the ravages of global warming will be felt by the developing world.

Further, the developing world economies are growing more quickly now, so the developed world feels that these nations -- China and India in particular -- must participate in greenhouse-gas-reduction efforts for any campaign to stop global warming to become successful. The tensions at Copenhagen were illustrated by a coordinated walkout of the G77 developing nations' bloc led by China. The Chinese have stiffly resisted making an concessions to the West on global warming issues.

Many environmentalists, while putting on a brave public face, had despaired that the morass at Copenhagen actually illustrated how far away from any sort of comprehensive agreement on global warming the nations of the world remained. During the run-up to Copenhagen, President Obama's team was careful to temper optimism that a comprehensive climate treaty was close at hand. Even those diminished expectations appeared to be overblown when the developing world walked out of the summit in a huff.

But at least today, treehuggers and the Lorax can be happy. The unilateral offering directly addresses concerns of Brazil, which specifically has stated that it needs foreign aid to pay for the cost of Amazon rainforest preservation. Although no specific plans for disbursement were revealed, logically some of those funds will go to preserve the Amazon as well as the boreal forests of Siberia and Canada that absorb far more carbon than most forests.
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