Meeting in Rio de Janeiro between 22-24 October, ministers responsible for the environment from 34 UN member nations in South and Central America and the Caribbean agreed a proposal which will be taken to next year’s Rio+10 Conference on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg to allow developing nations to covert their foreign debt into environmental protections. “We can’t imagine paying for the costs of sustainability when such big environmental losses were accumulated over centuries by countries that are already developed,” said President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, the country with the greatest biodiversity in the world.

The environmental protections agreed for inclusion in the proposal are revitalising hydraulic systems, the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, afforestation and sustainable use of forests, the promotion of ecotourism and the prevention and mitigation of environmental risks and disasters. The proposal met with praise from environmental groups from across the region while Brazil’s environment minister José Sarney Filho said “what has been decided will not merely remain verbal, but will see concrete action”.

Ministers also issued a joint call for developed nations to fulfil promises made at 1992’s global summit in Rio de Janeiro, such as investing 0.7% of their gross domestic product in sustainable development in developing nations. Until now, they agreed, the funds received have been “insufficient”. The ministers also expressed a joint fear that environmental concerns will be ignored globally in light of the war on terrorism.

In a separate development, the Brazilian environmental protection agency, Ibama, has banned all felling of mahogany indefinitely, following reports on the extent of mahogany felling in the country’s vast Amazon region by Greenpeace, which says that the most desired product of the highest quality is only to be found in intact forest.

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