By Alister Doyle
OSLO (Reuters) - Norway's environment minister on Friday urged Brazil and Indonesia to avoid backtracking on policies to protect tropical forests, saying up to $2 billion in aid promised by Oslo hinged on proof of slower rates of forest clearance.
Norway, rich from oil and gas, has promised more cash than any other donor nation to slow rainforest clearance from the Amazon to the Congo. Protecting forests slows climate change, since plants soak up heat-trapping carbon dioxide gas.
Environment Minister Baard Vegar Solhjell, whose country is failing to meet goals for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, said he was closely following debate in Brazil that might brake what he called a "huge success story" in slowing deforestation.
Oslo has promised up to $1 billion each to Brazil and Indonesia, the two main beneficiaries of a forest initiative worth 3 billion Norwegian crowns ($514.75 million) a year to help combat global warming.
"It is important that they (Brazil) follow policies that mean that they continue reducing deforestation in future," he told Reuters. "We are paying for actual results."
President Dilma Rousseff in May vetoed elements of a new law passed by Congress that would relax the forest cover farmers must preserve on their land. "We don't know what is going to happen" after the veto, Solhjell said.
Other policies under Rousseff have slowed, for instance, the new areas of forest set aside as protected land.
Norway has transferred slightly less than $100 million to projects in Brazil from a total of $425 million set aside for the nation in the years 2008-11, he said. The rest of that total is still to be assigned to projects.
Of the up to $1 billion promised to Brazil, up to $575 million is yet to be set aside. However a weakening of forest protection would mean a lower payout, Solhjell said.
"BIG STEP FORWARD"
He also said Indonesia had made a "big step forward" with a moratorium on forest clearance in 2011 as part of the deal with Norway, despite wide criticism that illegal logging continues.
"They (Indonesia) need to develop from this initial phase into a phase of actual reductions" of deforestation, he said. "The big money will be connected to actual results." Norway helps about 40 nations protect forests.
According to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization, the world lost a net 5.2 million hectares (12 million acres) of forests a year in 2000-10 - totaling an area the size of Costa Rica - down from 8.3 million a year in the 1990s.
Slower deforestation rates in Brazil and Indonesia and forest plantings in China, India and other countries helped brake losses, it said. Norway says that 17 percent of man-made carbon dioxide emissions are caused by deforestation.
Some environmentalists say Norway is poorly placed to lecture other nations about their environmental policies when it has not lived up to its own.
Solhjell said Norway was failing to meet its domestic plans for deep cuts in emissions as part of efforts to avert warming that a U.N. panel of experts says will bring more floods, dust storms, heatwaves and rising sea levels.
He said it was impossible even to say if Norway's emissions had peaked. "My friend who is a historian says it is easier to talk about the past than the future," he said.
In 2011, emissions were 5.6 percent above 1990 levels at 52.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide - the highest year so far was 2007 with 55.5 million. Norway is the world's number eight oil exporter and number two gas exporter by pipeline.
Norway has set aside 2 billion crowns to buy carbon emissions rights under the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N. deal for slowing global warming, to meet a self-imposed goal of cutting emissions by 9 percent below 1990 levels in 2008-12, he said.
He said that Norway was planning extra measures, such as higher carbon taxes on its oil and gas industry, to meet its target of a cut in emissions to 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, deeper than almost any other rich nation.
($1 = 5.8280 Norwegian krones)
(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Pravin Char)