Associated Press

OSLO, Norway (AP) -- Germany will pledge $500 million to fight deforestation, blamed for releasing some of the carbon dioxide contributing to global warming, Norway's prime minister said Wednesday on the eve of a conference in Oslo.

The contribution gives a boost to talks starting Thursday on the REDD Plus program to help poor nations protect their forests and biological diversity -- one of the few programs agreed on during the disappointing climate talks in December in Copenhagen, Denmark.

REDD Plus, the final details of which are to be worked out during Thursday's conference, aims to create a single international agency for monitoring and financing efforts to fight deforestation.

Germany's pledge brings REDD Plus funding so far to $4 billion, with France, Norway and four other countries having committed $3.5 billion, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said.

Though there is no official funding target, Brazilian Environment Minister Carlos Minc said at a March meeting on REDD, which stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, that he hoped the Oslo conference would generate $6 billion in pledges.

Deforestation -- the burning of woodlands or the rotting of felled trees -- is thought to account for up to 20 percent of carbon-dioxide released into the atmosphere -- as much as that emitted by all the world's cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships combined.

There are many funding programs in the works, and individual countries also have their own plans to fight deforestation and educate local populations who live off forests -- estimated at more than 1 billion worldwide -- to do so in a sustainable way.

In many cases, this entails retraining people whose livelihoods are linked to the forest, or its destruction.

Due to deforestation from logging, crop-growing and cattle grazing, Indonesia and Brazil have become the world's third- and fourth-largest carbon emitters, after China and the U.S.

Meanwhile, European governments are looking at other ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions, though a crisis of confidence over the euro and soaring debts has led the European Union to hold off on demanding major action from EU governments.

The economic slowdown has meant, however, that cutting emissions is now possible at a lower cost than estimated two years ago, the European Commission said Wednesday.

The EU pledged in 2008 to reduce its emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels -- and by 30 percent if the United States and others did so, too. At the time, that 20-percent cut had been forecast to cost ¤70 billion ($86 billion) a year by 2020.

Today it would cost ¤48 billion a year, as the recession has cut demand and triggered more energy savings, said Connie Hedegaard, the EU commissioner for climate matters.

A 30-percent cut would cost an annual ¤81 billion by 2020 -- or ¤11 billion more a year, she said.

But she said now was not the time to push the 27 EU governments into more climate change spending, with low growth prospects and rocketing debt in many EU nations causing stocks to slide and the euro to fall to a four-year low.

"Whether to increase our reduction target for 2020 from 20 percent to 30 percent is a political decision for the EU leaders," Hedegaard said. "Obviously the immediate political priority is to handle the (financial) crisis."

"The decision is not for now, but I hope our analysis will inspire the debate," she said.

There are several procedural meetings scheduled before the next major U.N. climate conference in December in Cancun, Mexico, where negotiators will work toward deciding how to cut emissions globally and provide aid to help poor nations cope with the affects of climate change.

Greenpeace on Wednesday urged EU governments to quickly move to deeper emission cuts, saying Hedegaard's findings debunk industry claims that ambitious targets cut jobs and output.

"This should be a first step toward at least 40 percent emission cuts for all industrialized countries under a global climate agreement," the international environmental group said in a statement.


Associated Press Writer Robert Wielaard in Brussels contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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