AILSA CHANG, HOST:
As the Amazon rain forest continues to burn, world leaders are thinking about how their countries might be affected. The Amazon serves as a carbon sink for the whole planet, meaning it absorbs a tremendous amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So the loss of trees could speed up climate change. And for years, countries have tried to help Brazil slow down deforestation. But now Norway and Germany each have frozen tens of millions of dollars allocated to something called the Amazon Fund.
To help explain this whole web of diplomacy, we have Jeff Tollefson on the line. He's a reporter with Nature.
JEFF TOLLEFSON: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: So what exactly is the Amazon Fund? I mean, when did it start, what was it set up to do?
TOLLEFSON: Well, the Amazon Fund was set up in 2008, and it was basically an attempt by Brazil to collect funds in order to pay for efforts to reduce deforestation. Brazil asked for money, and a few countries stepped up, namely, Norway. Since 2008, Norway has paid more than $1.2 billion into the Amazon Fund, and Germany has paid more than $68 million. So that money could fund research into biodiversity and land use trends in the Amazon. It has also funded experiments that look at how families can operate doing sustainable agriculture without cutting down trees.
CHANG: And what's been their record of success so far? Has deforestation slowed down?
TOLLEFSON: Well, the short answer's yes. The deforestation program in Brazil has been enormously successful. Between 2004 and 2012, deforestation fell by more than 80%. That's a shocking success. The challenge is that since 2012, deforestation has ticked up. There's also been a backlash against some of the environmental policies that were put in place under the former government.
CHANG: Well, as we mentioned, Germany and Norway recently decided to pull their funding out of this Amazon Fund. What made them do that, specifically?
TOLLEFSON: So this is largely an international response to concerns that deforestation is on the rise. And in particular, it's a response to the rhetoric that the administration of Jair Bolsonaro has been putting out. Bolsonaro has basically said to the people in the country that deforestation is OK, development at all costs is OK. And a lot of scientists fear that that message is starting to take hold, that landowners in the hinterlands in the Amazon are starting to listen, and now they're burning their fields and they're taking advantage of this.
CHANG: So do you think this latest move by Norway and Germany to freeze their funds could actually sway Bolsonaro?
TOLLEFSON: It's not clear. The Amazon Fund is one piece of a larger puzzle. The international community may have more leverage on this issue when it comes to trade and things like beef and soybeans. The EU has just signed an agreement, a trade agreement with Brazil that hits on these issues. And if countries like France and Ireland and others in the EU decide that they don't want to move forward with that trade agreement because there are fires and deforestation in the Amazon, that will impact business. And if the big agro industrial sectors, like beef and soybeans, are hit by a reduction in business internationally due to environmental concerns, that will have an impact on the politics in Brazil.
CHANG: Jeff Tollefson is a reporter with Nature.
Thanks very much for joining us today.
TOLLEFSON: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.