Debt for Nature: U.S. Cancels IOUs to Save Brazilian Rainforests

Aug 16, 2010· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.
This little lion tamarin may live another day due to debt forgiveness. (Photo: Paul Oomen/Getty)

In a swap that’s music to the ears of environmentalists, the United States has agreed to forgive some of Brazil’s debt in exchange for forest protection, according to the U.S. State Department.

Officially called a “Debt-for-Nature” agreement, the trade will slash Brazil’s debt payments to the United States by nearly $21 million by 2015.

In return, Brazil has committed these funds to forest-saving projects made possible by the Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA) of 1998.

The TFCA “conserves protected areas, improves natural resource management, and develops sustainable livelihoods for communities that rely on forests,” according to the State Department.

To date, the TFCA has generated $239 million to protect tropical forests in such countries as Bangladesh, Colombia, and Jamaica, reports Mongabay.

The $21 million will largely be used to save Brazil’s three most biologically rich areas—the Atlantic Rainforest and the Caatinga and Cerrado ecosystems.

According to a State Department press release:

These ecosystems cover approximately 50 percent of Brazil’s territory and are home to some of the world’s most unique wildlife, such as Black-faced Lion Tamarins, Brazilian Gold Frogs, Blue-Bellied Parrots, and the Brazilian rosewood. The Atlantic Rainforest alone contains more than 250 species of mammals, more than 750 species of reptiles and amphibians and nearly 1,000 species of birds.

Each of the ecologically diverse regions faces its own distinct threats, reports Mongabay.

To meet demands for soybeans and sugarcane, the Cerrado is being transformed into croplands.

Logging has been the primary cause of the Atlantic's deforestation.

The agreement could be a sneak preview of a significantly larger debt relief-for-biodiversity plan, reports Treehugger:

In November in Cancun, countries may agree on a forest-financing scheme that would pay huge sums to developing countries to help end deforestation. The program, known as REDD, could be set to be funded by offsets, which will allow polluters to keep emitting while they pay for forest preservation efforts; or it could be set up as an independent fund, paid for by developed countries.