Brazilian government eyes money from Amazon Fund for controversial road

Brazil’s transport ministry plans to bid for money from the Amazon Fund to pave the world’s “most sustainable highway”

Brazilian government officials are targeting resources from the Amazon Fund, one of the main bilateral tools for countries to invest in the Amazon, to pay for a controversial road project in the rainforest. 

The plan, announced in late August by the country’s Minister of Transportation, Renan Filho, was met with suspicion by environmentalists who are familiar with the fund’s guidelines.

During a press conference announcing new infrastructure investments, Filho said he plans to pitch the fund’s governing board a project to pave BR319, a road that cuts through the Amazon forest and connects two major cities in the north of Brazil — Manaus and Porto Velho. 

But environmentalists argue that this is not the kind of project that the fund is supposed to support. 

“The Amazon Fund is meant to keep the forest standing, to maintain its biodiversity, and to fight climate change. I don’t see its resources being used for paving. It would be completely incompatible with its guidelines,” says Sila Mesquita, president of the NGO Amazon Working Group and current representative of civil organisations in the Amazon Fund committee. 

One of the fund’s creators, forest scientist Tasso Azevedo also disagrees with the Ministry of Transportation’s plan. 

“I don’t think it makes any sense. This project does not fit into any of the fund’s planned support lines,” says Azevedo, currently coordinator at MapBiomas, an initiative to monitor land use in Brazil developed by a network of universities, NGOs, and technology companies. 

Created in 2008, the Amazon Fund has over $1.2 billion available for projects that prevent, monitor and combat deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. The fund gets its money mainly from its largest donors — Norway, Germany and state-owned oil company Petrobras.

Controversial comeback

In 2019, the Amazon Fund was virtually paralysed by former president Jair Bolsonaro, who dissolved the committee that sets guidelines on how the money should be spent. 

Because of this political move, the money was frozen for over three years, since new projects could not be analysed. Donor countries Norway and Germany also suspended new contributions during Bolsonaro’s term. 

Revived by president Lula on his first day in the office, new potential investors have lined up.

Last week, Denmark announced a donation of $22 million, joining the UK, USA, Switzerland, and the EU, all of which advertised new contributions since Lula reinstated the fund. 

The initiative had funded 102 projects amounting to over $360 million until it was paralysed by Bolsonaro. 

But none of the supported projects were related to road infrastructure, according to the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES), which manages the fund. 

“So far, the BNDES has not received any requests for financing a road infrastructure project using resources from the Amazon Fund,” BNDES told Climate Home News.

New guidelines

The bank also highlighted that any requests are processed “in accordance with the strategic vision, guidelines and focuses” outlined in the 2023-25 ​​Biennium, a new set of guidelines created by the Amazon Fund’s Guiding Committee. 

The new rules for how the money should be spent in the next two years were set by a committee formed by representatives of NGOs, environmental agencies and governmental institutions such as Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Environment. 

One of the members of this committee, Sila Mesquita, believes that the guidelines do not align with the project presented by the Ministry of Transportation.

The ministry, however, argues that the paving of BR319 would turn the road into the world’s “most sustainable highway” and would allow easier access for police patrols to monitor and prevent deforestation. 

“Our commitment, in addition to guaranteeing economic and so

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