French, African Leaders Promote Fight Against Deforestation

Lisa Bryant

French and African leaders are calling for international aid to fight deforestation in the Congo Basin area - which is a key contributor to global warming.  The heads of state, who met in Paris before heading to the climate conference in Copenhagen, also said they would push to make the summit a success. 

At a joint press conference in Paris with five African leaders, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said it is crucial to help preserve Africa's vast Congo Basin area, home to the world's second-largest forest.

Mr. Sarkozy said fighting deforestation is one of the most efficient and economic ways to curb global warming.  The French President spoke after meeting with heads of state and senior officials from the 11 Congo-Basin countries.

Mr. Sarkozy spoke as negotiators scramble to patch together some form of climate change accord in Copenhagen after days of disagreement and largely unproductive talks.  Heads of state are arriving in the Danish capital with the hopes of striking a political agreement by week's end.

Fighting deforestation is one of the few key areas where negotiators have made progress - with a tentative deal to compensate countries for saving forests and other natural habitats that absorb carbon dioxide.

On Tuesday, France and Africa published a joint statement calling for an agreement that will hold the rise of global temperatures to no more than two degrees and for financial aid to help poorer countries to adapt.

Mr. Sarkozy also participated in a conference call Tuesday with U.S., German, and British leaders.  

He said it appears U.S. President Barack Obama has agreed on so-called fast-start money - that is, short-term aid for poorer countries to deal with climate change.  The European Union has pledged $3.6 billion yearly in such financing between 2010 and 2012. 

President Sarkozy said France, Britain and the United States are also trading ideas for ways to finance longer-term climate aid for poorer nations.  Experts estimate more than $100 billion will be needed by 2020.

Several African leaders voiced optimism the climate talks in Copenhagen could be salvaged, despite concerns the negotiations have been watered down.  Talks were briefly suspended Monday, when African negotiators walked out in protest.

But Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou-Nguesso struck an upbeat note.

He said African leaders are not going to Copenhagen with a sentiment of failure, but rather with the determination to reach a deal.

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