News | COP 25 A nature-based solution for whom?

REDD+ politics in Brazil

The frontier of the soy plantations that surround the Tapajós national forest in Santarem. Pará, Brazil. Pablo Albarenga

As global emissions continue to rise this year, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) is yet again promoted as THE nature-based solution to climate change. But, the COP25 formula of article 6 of the Paris Agreement about the use of carbon markets—leaving out human rights safeguards and including loopholes such as equalizing plantations with native primary forests—implies to further turn REDD+ on its head, threaten the protection of native forests and undermine mitigation of carbon emissions from fossil fuels and consumption, ecological integrity, and climate justice.

By Claudia Horn

Claudia Horn is a PhD student at the London School of Economics, currently based in Belem, Brazil, and researching the evolution of European conservation aid in the Brazilian Amazon since Rio92. Before starting her dissertation, she worked as Project Manager United Nations at RLS-NYC.

Brazil has been a major recipient of REDD+ funding, especially through the Amazon Fund founded in 2008, but deforestation and fires have reached record numbers. Moreover, Brazil’s authoritarian government under Jair Bolsonaro in its first year in power has encouraged resource exploration, land grabbing, and deforestation as well as violence against black, indigenous, and traditional communities. And yet, Norway, Germany, and the UK promote including forests in carbon markets and plan to continue to pay for in REDD+ in Brazil, including on subnational level.

How does the dismantling of environmental regulation and activism and normalization of rural violence affect Brazil’s REDD+ programs established in the last decade? What are the recipient politics of REDD+ and payment for environmental services (PES)? Disproving fairytales of incentives-based forest protection, this article discusses the link between REDD+ and recipient climate injustice, namely social movements’ defense of rights and territory against the expansion of a world leading agrobusiness.

Shades of REDD+

Although Brazil’s REDD+ policy excludes carbon credits, Amazon governors and some NGOs have been promoting offset mechanisms domestically and within the UNFCCC. In an offset system (also called project-based REDD+), landowners (municipalities, communities) produce and sell carbon credits in form of avoided deforestation that can be purchased by high-emission countries and sectors (e.g. aviation). Carbon offset projects have shown risks of leakage and double counting, highlighting the uncertainty over the amount, time span and measuring of carbon stored in forests. Moreover, since investments are linked to local land tenure, projects risk to proliferate local territorial conflicts and social inequalities—so-called social “safeguard” issues. Still, Brazilian proponents argue this model generates more direct funding, according to a publication from 2017 more than US$ 70 billion for the Amazon by 2030.

Traditionally, Brazil has been a major opponent to carbon offsets emphasizing national sovereignty and environmental integrity. Brazil's social and environmental movements have established and this week reinforced their opposition to offsets. These include indigenous, quilombola, and traditional forest people’s organizations as well as the landless workers movement (MST) and small-scale farmers who depend on and defend the biodiversity of the forest. These groups demand public services, autonomy, and the realization of their constitutional collective territorial rights.

According to Brazil’s constitution, land has to fulfill a socio-environmental function, which promotes the collective land rights of traditional forest communities (as does Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization). But designed to incentivize landholders to maintain forest, REDD+ and PES monetize forest and territory in a post-colonial setting where a small percentage of powerful landowners owns and speculates with half of agricultural territory. While REDD+ promises finance for community projects, the scheme does not promote collective use rights against land grabbing.

Payment for Results as Reverse Incentive?

Brazil is in the implementation phase of REDD+ within the Warsaw framework, under which tropical forest countries can receive results-based payments from international funds, such as the Global Climate Fund (GCF), and bilateral initiatives. One of the last presidential decrees of Dilma Roussef established a participatory National Commission (CONAREDD+) and strategy (ENREDD+), which inhibits individual carbon projects. The national REDD+ plan is linked to UNFCCC commitments and integrated with existing forest policies, emphasizing federal regulation and safeguards to avoid leakage and double counting of results.

And yet, Brazil has long established the legal foundations for private ownership of forest carbon and its potential circulation in national and international markets. The REDD+ commission defines REDD Units (UREDD) and equivalent REDD Certificates (CREDD), representing 1 ton of avoided carbon dioxide. The certificate can be used to offset emissions on the Brazilian Emissions Market established in 2009, and internationally pending market mechanisms within UNFCCC.

In addition, the new Forest Code of 2012 establishes a national trade in forest credits, allowing landowners to continue to deforest despite the required “legal reserve” of native forest (50% and 80% in the Amazon) by buying “environmental reserve quotas” (CRAs) from landowners with a surplus. Encouraging land clearing, speculation, and conflict, the example shows that market mechanism does not care for trees nor forest people.

Brazil’s Amazon Fund is considered the largest-scale REDD+ mechanism, although its foundation in 2008 predates the establishment of REDD+. Managed by the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES), it has raised over 1.3 billion USD in donations from the Norwegian government (94.11%), Germany’s development bank (KfW, 5.29%), and the Brazilian semi-public oil company Petrobras (0.6%) and disbursed 469 million USD. Donors do not receive carbon credits, offsets, or ownership rights. The reference level of the Amazon Fund is the deforestation average of the previous ten years, updated every five years using the measure of five U.S. dollars per ton of carbon dioxide. The payments reward the large reduction of deforestation of ca. 70% between 2005 and 2012 due to environmental enforcement and control and interventions in soy and beef supply chains, rather than any REDD+ incentives.

The Amazon fund supports conservation and civil society initiatives, e.g. the management of indigenous territories. However, BNDES’ financial and scale requirements privileges already professionalized NGO’s and the commercialization of forest products, green technologies that generate quick results. This conflicts with the precarious reality of small and dispersed rural communities and producers that are most affected by deforestation. Social movements such as the National Council of Extractivist Populations (CNS) who are excluded from the governance of the Amazon Fund criticize increased funding for and promotion of forest reforestation because this inverts the logic of conservation by compensating practices of land-clearing instead of promoting existing sustainable production. By contrast, the Amazon Fund does not link to existing policies that strengthen local productive autonomy and food sovereignty, e.g. the Policy to Guarantee Minimum Prices (PG), the Food Acquisition Program (PAA), or the National School Feeding Program (PNAE).