Author Archives: Steve Schwartzman

Who deserves credit for protecting Brazil's Amazon rainforest? It's not even close.

Who’s responsible for the 70% reduction in Amazon deforestation that’s made Brazil the world leader in reducing greenhouse gas pollution, keeping 3.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere since 2005?

Who, if anyone, is responsible for the 29% increase in deforestation from 2012 – 2103 (which looks to repeat in 2014)?

Simon Romero’s New York Times story, Clashing Visions of Conservation Shake Brazil’s Presidential Vote, asks these questions from the vantage of wild-west frontier town Novo Progresso, Pará.

Terra do Meio_Brazil_map

The shaded area shows the indigenous territories and protected areas of the Terra do Meio region, whose 7 million hectares of protected forests Marina Silva created as environment minister.

Part of the answer lies just up the BR-163 highway from Novo Progresso, in the indigenous territories and protected areas of the Terra do Meio region of the Xingu River basin. When Marina Silva took over as environment minister in 2003, the Terra do Meio was overrun with gunmen working for land grabbers busy threatening forest communities, opening roads and clearing forest.

After Marina put together the national Plan to Prevent and Control Amazon Deforestation – and after American nun Sister Dorothy Stang was murdered nearby in 2005 – the government created about 7 million hectares of protected areas in the previously lawless Terra do Meio. The land grabbers and their hired guns left, because they knew they weren’t getting land titles in officially recognized indigenous territories and protected areas – and deforestation stopped.

This illustrates why legally recognizing indigenous territories and creating protected areas have been so effective in reducing deforestation on the Amazon frontier. Public lands not designated for any specific use (e.g., park, indigenous territory, national forest), like the Terra do Meio before 2005, are historically subject to invasion by land grabbers, who clear forest in order to claim the land. Once government declares land a park or reserve, it can’t be treated like no man’s land anymore, and the incentive to drive out local communities and clear forest goes away.

The science on how and why Brazil reduced Amazon deforestation agrees across the board that while various factors are in play (consumer and government pressure through commodity supply chains, law enforcement, increasing agriculture yields on cleared lands), creating protected areas and particularly legally recognizing indigenous lands is a very important part of the answer. (For more, see Nepstad et al, 2014; Soares Filho et al, 2010; Assunção, Gandour and Rocha, 2012; and Busch and Ferretti-Gallon, 2014.)

Going back to the question of who can claim credit for stopping deforestation, it is then notable that President Rouseff protected just 5% of the forest in indigenous territories and protected areas that her predecessor Lula did – with the large majority of Lula’s gains coming under minister Marina.

At a conservative estimate, Marina, not Dilma, protected an area of forests nearly the size of France on the Amazon frontier.

Indigenous Territories and Amazon Protected Areas Officially Designated 1995 – 2014
GovernmentIndigenous Territories Officially Designated (#)Indigenous Territories Officially Designated (Million Hectares)Amazon Protected Areas Created (#)Amazon Protected Areas Created (Million Hectares)MILLION HECTARES — TOTAL
Dilma Rouseff (2010 – 2014)2135N/A3
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003 – 2010)168324926.358.3
Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995 – 2003)263773814.891.8
Source: Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) (Note: The table does not include the five Amazon protected areas Dilma created in the last leg of the election campaign, but they wouldn’t change the picture much.)

 

It’s too bad that in his otherwise very good story on Amazon deforestation today, Simon Romero didn’t point out this huge disparity.

As for why deforestation was up in 2013, and likely will be again in 2014, Beto Veríssimo of Imazon put it well in the Times:

We’re witnessing an increase in speculative deforestation and forest destruction for the government’s own infrastructure projects… There’s been a rearrangement of priorities

It doesn’t have to be this way.  If Brazil improved average pasture yields from the current 30% of sustainable potential to 50%, it could meet all the demand for agriculture commodities until 2040 with no more deforestation. Unilever, Nestle, and Cargill are only a few of long list of major consumer goods companies that have committed to zero-deforestation supply chains in recent years.

Brazil could be the go-to source for zero-deforestation commodities in emerging low-carbon, high-environmental quality markets – if it can avoid backsliding into business as usual on the Amazon frontier.

Posted in Brazil, Deforestation, News| 4 Responses

NY Times forests oped is out on a limb: protecting trees still key to solving climate change

In an oped in Saturday's New York Times (To Save the Planet, Don't Plant Trees), Nadine Unger argues that reducing deforestation and planting trees won't help fix climate change but will rather make it worse. One might ask how the 2,000-plus scientists and experts on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) got this one wrong – they found tropical deforestation a major source that must be reduced to control climate change – but in fact it's Unger who's way out on a limb here.

Steve Schwartzman, Director of Tropical Forest Policy

Steve Schwartzman, Director of Tropical Forest Policy

When trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide (CO₂) from the atmosphere and store it as carbon in their trunks, branches, leaves and roots. When people cut the trees down and burn them to clear forest for cattle pasture or crops, as they have at a rate of 13 million hectares of forest per year in the tropics over the last decade, this releases CO₂ back into the atmosphere.

Unger argues that forests absorb more sunlight than crops or grassland, which reflect more sunlight back into space and cool the earth. But that's not true in the tropics. In tropical forests like the Amazon, where deforestation is happening and thus where the Climate Summit's attention is focused, trees take up water from rainfall and evaporate it through their leaves, and create cloud cover. These clouds reflect even more sunlight than grasslands or bare earth, thus cooling the earth more. This is why large-scale deforestation disrupts rainfall regimes – and why deforestation in the Amazon, if unchecked, may reduce rainfall in California.

Emissions from tropical deforestation are, from the perspective of the atmosphere, just the same as emissions from burning fossil fuels – carbon that was wood, coal, oil or gas is turned into CO₂ and released to the atmosphere. In a living forest, trees do die and, over time release CO₂ to the atmosphere. But then new trees grow, and absorb that CO₂ again – not the case when forests that have stored carbon for centuries are replaced by grass to feed cattle or oil palm plantations.

Contrary to Unger’s claims, the "high risk" is to ignore the 200 billion tons of at-risk carbon stocks in the world’s tropical forests. In fact, as the IPCC has concluded, stopping tropical deforestation is a critical priority for controlling climate change.

Posted in Deforestation, News| 5 Responses

25 years after assassination, activist Chico Mendes' vision for change lives on

ChicoSSchwartzmanSm2

Chico Mendes and Steve Schwartzman in the late 1980s at the Nazare rubber estate (in Xapuri, Acre), where they were accompanying American journalists doing a story on the Amazon. (Photo credit: J. B. Forbes)

On December 22nd, it will be 25 years since rubber tapper and environmental leader Chico Mendes was assassinated in his home in Xapuri, Acre in the Brazilian Amazon.

I had met Chico three years before, and on repeated trips to Acre and Xapuri learned from him about the lives of the rubber tappers – workers who collect latex from cuts they make in the trunks of rubber trees – and their struggle to save the forest and their livelihoods from ranchers’ hired guns and chainsaws. It totally changed how I thought about environmentalism and tropical forests.

I organized his two trips to the United States, in 1987 and 1988, set up meetings and interviews, translated for him and generally did whatever I could think of to get the media, policy makers, environmentalists and the public to understand that Chico Mendes’ story and ideas held the key to the future of the biggest remaining rainforest in the world.

No one at the time imagined how profound and far-reaching the consequences of Chico’s life and death would prove to be – but we were friends and I still miss him.

Chico’s life

Chico led rubber tappers in stopping ranchers from cutting down the forest from which local communities lived, as well as resisting and denouncing hired gunmen who threatened leaders of the rubber tappers’ union and drove families from their homes.

After I met Chico in 1985, he worked with EDF and other environmental groups and researchers to hold up and reformulate an internationally financed road-paving project that he feared would exacerbate deforestation and conflicts, and to develop the concept of “extractive reserves” – protected forest areas where government would secure local communities’ land rights, provide health care, education, and invest in sustainable alternatives for generating income.

He was killed by a rancher after stopping him from clearing forest where he and the local community wanted government to create one of the first extractive reserves.

Chico at times sounded hyper-idealistic, but he was politically brilliant.

On learning what scientists and environmental organizations were saying about tropical forests – that they were central to creating the rain that agriculture depends on, stabilized the global climate, and that their destruction was causing the extinction of more plants and animals than at any time in the last 60 million years – he was immediately able to see the global implications of the rubber tappers’ local struggle, and the potential for the local struggle of the global environmental movement. He formulated a vision that brought together unlikely allies for transformative change.

Social activists and environmentalists have both claimed Chico, and sometimes have acted as if he could only have been one of those things. They are wrong.

He clearly understood the political advantages of environmentalism in the rubber tappers’ fight to the death for the forest, but also the importance of the rubber tappers’ fight for environmentalism and the future of the forest as a global good, as environmental historian Jose Augusto Padua has recently noted.

Chico told an interviewer shortly before he was killed:

Our biggest assets are the international environmental lobby and the international press… It was only after international recognition and pressure that we started to get support from the rest of Brazil. (p.51)

He told the same interviewer:

We realized that to guarantee the future of the Amazon, we had to find a way to preserve the forest while at the same time developing the region’s economy… we knew it was important to stop the deforestation that is threatening the Amazon and all human life on the planet… So we came up with the idea of the extractive reserve. (p.41)

Chico’s legacy

The extractive reserve was an idea that Chico launched and is now flourishing. The idea of the extractive reserve comes down to making the forest worth more alive than dead, in the first instance for the people who live in it, and this idea is very much alive.

Chico died, but his vision for transformative change won anyway.

Before Chico, people in Brazil, if they thought about it at all, thought that slashing and burning the Amazon forest was the price of progress. Today, not even the head of the agribusiness caucus of the Brazilian Congress – who fought very hard to relax legal restrictions on forest clearing – will say that Brazil needs to cut down more forest to grow, and the overwhelming majority thinks that deforestation has to stop.

Chico would be heartened by the good news about Amazonian deforestation. It is down, about 75% below the 1996–2005 average, in large part because of the policies designed and put into practice by Chico’s close friend and colleague, former Environment Minister Marina Silva. Agricultural production is up over the same period.

Because of this, Brazil is the world leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, at over three billion tons of carbon. Creating more extractive reserves and other protected areas, and recognizing indigenous territories was central to the plan.

In Acre, Chico’s colleagues, politically marginal during his lifetime, came to power ten years after his death. They have stayed in power ever since, and made the state a sustainable development leader in the Amazon and the world, reducing deforestation, increasing GDP, agricultural production and greatly improving healthcare and education for the population.

Just last month, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change approved rules for countries and states that reduce their deforestation below historical levels to sell those emissions reductions in carbon markets or to public sector donors.

The fight for the forest in the Amazon, and elsewhere, is far from over, and there has been huge pushback against environmental law enforcement, forest protection and indigenous land rights.

Chico believed that out of conflict and struggle could come transformative change, and so it has, even if not just as he thought. We should believe it too, and keep Chico’s vision and ideas alive.

 

For more information:

Posted in Brazil, Deforestation| 1 Response

A blueprint for advancing California's strong leadership on global climate change

A key reason California has become a global leader on climate change is its ability to successfully adopt the Global Warming Solutions Act, the state’s climate law that uses market-based tools to significantly reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emission levels.

A group of leading tropical forest experts has presented a blueprint for how California can significantly reduce global warming pollution while keeping pollution control costs down and helping stop tropical deforestation. (image source: Wikimedia Commons)

A group of tropical forest experts has now presented a blueprint for how California can secure significantly more reductions in global warming pollution than the law requires, while keeping pollution control costs down and helping stop the catastrophe of tropical deforestation.

California is widely recognized as the major first mover in the United States on climate change, but tropical states and countries are making strong progress in stopping climate change, too. Brazil and Amazon states have reduced emissions from cutting and burning the Amazon forest by about 2.2 billion tons of carbon since 2005, making Brazil the world leader in curbing climate change pollution.

Research has shown that government policies played a big role in this major achievement. But so far this success in reducing deforestation has been entirely from government “command-and-control;” promised economic incentives for reducing deforestation haven’t materialized.  Pushback from ranchers against environmental law enforcement and the officially recognized indigenous territories and protected areas that cover an area four times the size of California have weakened critical environmental legislation.

Brazil and the Amazon states will continue to reach their ambitious deforestation reduction targets, at least for the next few years, but deforestation rates recently appear to be edging upward.

California now has an opportunity to send a powerful signal that forests in the Amazon – and ultimately elsewhere – can be worth more alive than dead by partnering with sustainable development leaders outside the United States.

Since state-wide, or “jurisdictional,” reductions in deforestation and forest degradation are large in scale and relatively low-cost, it’s critical that well-governed and effective pollution control programs from early movers, like the state of Acre, Brazil, are recognized by California’s carbon market. Ultimately, this can help California control costs, while giving these environmental leaders the sign they need to keep deforestation under control.

REDD Offsets Working Group report

The REDD Offsets Working Group (ROW), along with observers from the governments of California, Acre and Chiapas, Mexico, calls for the Golden State to allow limited amounts of carbon credits from Reducing Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) into its carbon market, but only from states that can show that they have reduced deforestation state-wide and below historical levels.

The ROW report: Recommendations to Conserve Tropical Rainforests, Protect Local Communities, and Reduce State-Wide Greenhouse Gas Emissions" recommends:

  • Partner states receive credit for a part of their demonstrated reductions only after showing they have succeeded in halting deforestation through their own efforts.
  • Free, prior and informed consent for local communities in REDD+ programs.
  • Adherence to internationally recognized standards for protection of indigenous and local peoples’ rights and participation in policy design in partner-state REDD+ programs.

REDD+ programs are especially important for indigenous and forest-based communities because these groups have historically protected forests, and typically want to continue doing so, but they have largely lacked access to markets, modern technology, quality health care and social services that REDD+ could help deliver. With California’s help, forest communities can achieve better economic opportunities and forest conservation.

Posted in Brazil, Deforestation, REDD| Leave a comment

California’s carbon market: a potential game-changer in slowing the Amazon’s deforestation

(Cross-posted from EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog)

California moved into the fast lane on the low-carbon development highway when it launched its carbon market this month. Now it has the opportunity to do even more to stop dangerous climate change while cutting the costs of controlling global warming pollution.  Recommendations from a group of experts on how Reducing Emissions from tropical Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) can come into California’s market show how.

Deforestation accounts for about 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but new recommendations from international experts show how California's new carbon market can help stop dangerous climate change and preserve tropical rainforests.

In the world of greenhouse gas emissions, tropical deforestation is huge. Accounting for about 15% of these emissions globally, deforestation emits more than all cars, trucks, buses, trains and airplanes on the planet — combined.

When California launched its cap-and-trade program Jan.1, it created the second largest carbon market in the world. With REDD+, the Golden State now has another golden opportunity to expand its global environmental leadership even further.

The REDD+ Offsets Working Group (ROW) convened by California, the Brazilian state of Acre, and the Mexican state of Chiapas, has released recommendations for how California can bring REDD+ into its carbon market.  The ROW, in accordance with California’s Global Warming Solutions Act’s (AB32) guidance, recommends that California allow states or countries that reduce their total emissions from deforestation below an historical average, while maintaining or increasing the output of commodities like cattle and soy that drive deforestation, to generate compliance credit in California.

This “jurisdictional” approach is much like what California is doing – reducing state-wide emissions below a clearly measurable historical level.

The ROW also recommends requiring states to show that they have made their own efforts to reduce deforestation, beyond any reductions that they seek credit for and ensuring that local –particularly indigenous — communities participate in policy design, have a choice about whether or not to participate in programs, and benefit directly if they do.

Tropical states such as Acre and Chiapas that are moving forward on their own to reduce deforestation know that California’s market for international offsets is very limited, and don’t expect to get paid for most of the reductions they’ve made or can make.

But they need a signal, and California’s carbon market may now hold the key to the future of the forest.

Until recently, rampant deforestation in the Amazon was a big part of the global warming problem – and a disaster for the millions of species of plants and animals and thousands of indigenous groups that live in the forests.  But when Brazil and Amazon states adopted new policies in 2005, all that began to change.

They ramped up law enforcement and started making large-scale reductions in Amazon deforestation, reducing their deforestation about 76% below the 1996 – 2005 average by 2012 (about 2.2 billion tons CO2) while increasing agricultural production and cattle herd. This came very close to the national target Brazil adopted — 80% reduction by 2020 — making it the world leader in emissions reductions.

Despite that progress – or maybe because of it – the Agriculture Caucus of the Brazilian Congress recently pushed for and won legislation weakening forest protection laws. The result? Although 2012 recorded the lowest deforestation on record, reports now say deforestation in the last five months has actually gone up in relation to 2011.

Creating demand for real, verifiable, additional REDD+ from jurisdictions that have solid social and environmental safeguards could be the sign the Amazon – and tropical jurisdictions around the world – need to know that REDD+ is real. Bringing it into California’s carbon market is an effective path to making that happen.

Posted in Brazil, Deforestation, REDD| 8 Responses

State-level REDD+ offers huge climate benefits

Carbon markets are taking giant steps toward becoming a reality, with forests and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) central to the process. Many environmentalists support REDD+, but a few want to obstruct it.

Many states around the world are already curbing their greenhouse gas emissions, including by reducing deforestation. Photo credit

A few weeks ago in Chiapas, Mexico, the 17 states and provinces from  the U.S., Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and Nigeria that make up the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) met to discuss ways to collaborate on reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from cutting down and burning tropical forests. Several states are already reducing emissions, on a larger scale than is often recognized.

With California poised to start the first state-wide mandatory emissions reductions program in North America next month, you’d think that environmentalists would welcome more states’ leadership.

But instead, Greenpeace put out a document slamming the GCF for proposing state-level plans to reduce deforestation instead of waiting for national programs. Never mind that a number of the GCF states are larger and have more emissions than many countries. This sounds oddly reminiscent of oil company lobbyists’ arguments that California is wasting its time and its consumers’ money by starting to address the global problem of climate change by itself – or that the U.S. shouldn't act until China and the rest of the world do.

The world needs to start reducing emissions wherever possible, and there are real, practical, effective ways for states to do this now.

In a commentary piece for Carbon Market North America, I describe what I think is the forest that Greenpeace missed (actually, the trees too).

You can read the commentary here: Huge climate benefits from state, local REDD+.

Posted in Brazil, Deforestation, Indigenous peoples, Mexico, REDD| 2 Responses
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