Selected category: Indigenous peoples

Temer’s rollback of Brazil’s environmental and indigenous protections threatens livelihoods and world’s climate goals

Guest authors: Juliana Splendore, EDF climate change and indigenous issues consultant in Brazil, and Joelson Felix, Communications Officer of COIAB – a Brazilian indigenous organization representing indigenous peoples in the Brazilian Amazon

An aerial view of the Brazilian Amazon under a pouring rain | Photo by Juliana Splendore

One year into his presidency, Brazilian President Temer is leading a dismantling of crucial protections for Brazil’s indigenous territories and the environment.

New policies the president recently approved put at risk indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands, and could open the flood gates for Amazon deforestation, which has been rising dramatically in the past few years.

The president’s actions, aimed at winning the favor of the powerful agriculture lobby in Congress, threaten the livelihoods of the indigenous peoples who live in the forests, as well as Brazil’s international climate leadership and the world’s ability to meet the greenhouse gas emissions targets agreed to in the Paris Agreement.

One of the world’s largest tropical forest areas, the Brazilian Amazon is home to more than 200 groups of indigenous peoples. Nearly half of the Brazilian Amazon, an area about five times the size of California, is designated as indigenous lands or protected natural areas, and as such is protected from development. These indigenous and protected areas and their indigenous populations were key to Brazil’s decreasing its deforestation by 70% from 2005 to 2014, which has made it the world leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

However, these gains are now at risk. Over the last two years, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon nearly doubled from 4,500 km2 in the period of 2011-2012 to 8,000 km2 in the period of 2015-2016, according to the National Institute of Space Research (INPE).

The significant rise in deforestation caused the Norwegian government this year to cut its forest protection payments to the Amazon Fund to about $35 million, $65 million less than in 2016. This cut directly affects the indigenous populations in the Amazon, who are among the main beneficiaries of the Fund.

Rollbacks in indigenous lands and environmental protections

Since he took office August 31, 2016, scandal-plagued Brazilian President Temer approved new measures and federal rules aimed at helping him gain critical support from the advocates of agribusiness and large rural landowners, known as the ruralistas, who make up one of the most powerful caucuses in the National Congress with over 200 seats.

Temer has created a new federal rule to be implemented by Brazilian Administration that can be used to deny many indigenous peoples the right to their lands. It stipulates that indigenous peoples do not have the right to their lands if they were not occupying them in October 1988, when the current constitution came into effect. Essentially, it denies the right of the indigenous peoples who lack sufficient documentation to prove that they were expelled from their lands during that time. As a result, many pending requests by indigenous groups for titles to their traditional territories could be denied because of their earlier expulsions. Another part of the new rule also prohibits the expansion of existing indigenous territories. Finally, the new rule also allows certain types of infrastructure projects to be permitted on their titled territories without any consultation.

A new short-term measure signed by President Temer (MP759) – which can be easily turned into a law – is expected to substantially intensify deforestation in the Amazon region. The new measure facilitates the legalization of public lands that were illegally occupied in the period of 2004 – 2011 and increases the size of land parcels that can be claimed. This measure could result in the loss of millions of hectares in the Amazon to land speculators.

Indigenous peoples in a training organized by ISA (Instituto Socioambiental) | Photo by Juliana Splendore

Need for more international attention and support

Taken together, these developments in Brazil endanger not only the livelihoods of indigenous populations, but also the significant amount of forest carbon stored in indigenous territories in the Brazilian Amazon, threatening the world’s ability to stabilize global climate.

The silver lining here is that the advocacy efforts led by the indigenous movement, environmentalists, Norway, and some international organizations are playing a key role in  mitigating the effects of the policies and guidance approved by Temer.

Now, indigenous peoples need even more support from international actors, in particular from EU governments and international companies committed to reduce deforestation in their supply chains. The governments and business leaders need to tell President Temer to roll back the new rules and measures.

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Is Brazil stepping back from environmental leadership, just when it’s needed the most?

Michel Temer in April 2016. Credit: Fabio Rodrigues-Pozzebom/ Agencia Brasil via Wikimedia Commons.

Every conversation I have with my Brazilian friends and colleagues these days starts off with a discussion of whose political crisis is worse. It’s a hard question. But Brazil’s President Temer has the chance to show a little real leadership June 19th if he decides to veto a blatant giveaway of a large swath of protected Amazon forest to land grabbers and environmental lawbreakers.

U.S. and Brazilian presidents: The 19th-century take on development and the environment

Wildly unpopular U.S. President Trump was elected by maybe a third of eligible voters, with a substantial minority of votes cast. He is doing everything he and his staff can think of to roll back environmental protections in the United States and stymie progress on climate change globally. His ill-conceived scheme to pull the United States out the Paris Agreement would have us abdicate international leadership and surrender the enormous economic opportunity of the new, renewable, energy economy to China and other competitors.

Wildly unpopular Brazilian President Temer was put in power by an even more wildly unpopular Congress in an ultimately failed bid to shut down judicial investigations that are sending herds of them, and their business associates, to jail for massive graft and corruption. He (and his predecessor, who mismanaged the economy into the worst recession in Brazil’s modern history) has totally dropped the ball on controlling Amazon deforestation, which, in the absence of budget for enforcement has increased for two years running for the first time since 2004.

Brazil’s Amazon at risk

Since the weight of corruption scandals Temer is personally implicated in has him clinging to power by his fingernails, the yahoos in the “rural caucus” of the Congress (the voting bloc of big ranchers’ and agribusiness’ representatives) are taking the opportunity to run hog-wild with proposals to gut forest protections and roll back indigenous territories – two of the major reasons why Brazil became the world leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by decreasing deforestation by about 80% from 2004–2014.

By June 19th, Temer has to decide whether to veto measures that would deliver 600,000 hectares in an Amazon protected area to land-grabbers – and rampant deforestation. It's not just 600,000 hectares of forest at stake – caving to a flagrant play to carve up a federal conservation area to benefit slash-and-burn land grabbers is a terrible precedent for all of the Amazon protected areas.

All of this is rapidly eroding Brazil’s international climate leadership, and is bad news for the Paris Agreement. Brazil’s demonstration that a major emerging economy could reduce large-scale emissions while growing its economy and bringing millions out of poverty was a beacon of light in the climate negotiations that is dimming by the moment.

Brazil’s President Temer can show a little real leadership if he vetos a blatant giveaway of a large swath of protected Amazon forest to land grabbers and environmental lawbreakers

The abandonment of Brazil’s successful deforestation control program by President Temer and former President Dilma, if continued, will only hinder Brazil’s economic prospects in the 21st century global economy – like President Trump’s radical misreading (or ignorance) of the economic implications of the Paris Agreement for the United States. Increased deforestation will likely cause Brazil to lose market share as major commodity traders and consumer goods companies that have committed to zero-deforestation beef and soy supply chains curtail market access. Rampant violence and human rights abuses against indigenous peoples and grassroots environmental activists will expose public-facing companies to increasing reputational risk – and send them looking for lower-risk places to source.

On the other hand, support for sustainable development first movers such as Acre state and agriculture powerhouse Mato Grosso could make Brazil the go-to supplier for zero-deforestation commodities worldwide. And, as Amazon states, civil society and green business leaders have consistently advocated, if Brazil opened up to carbon market crediting for reduced deforestation in emerging international markets, it could unlock the finance needed to end deforestation in the Amazon and Brazil’s other mega-diverse biomes; make family and industrial agriculture 100% sustainable; and create sustainable prosperity in the 200 million hectares of indigenous territories and protected areas of the Amazon.

It’s hard to say whose loss is worse under U.S. and Brazil’s lamentable current policies, but maybe even harder to say whose gain would be greater if Trump and Temer would wake up and recognize the real opportunities in the 21st century economy.

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What the Paris Agreement's references to indigenous peoples mean

By: Chris Meyer, Environmental Defense Fund, and Estebancio Castro, Independent Indigenous Leader

paris_indigenous

The Paris Agreement makes five explicit references to indigenous peoples, their rights, and their traditional knowledge. Above: A report launched at a December 2015 press conference in Paris found indigenous territories hold one-fifth of the world’s tropical forest carbon. Credit: Environmental Defense Fund

Indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, but they can also play a crucial role in stabilizing the climate. Though the 1997 Kyoto Protocol didn’t include a single reference to indigenous peoples, the Paris Agreement– though not perfect – made some great strides.

The Paris Agreement and implementing decisions include:

  • five explicit references to indigenous peoples, their rights, and their traditional knowledge. These appear in the preambles of both the Paris Agreement and the Decision text, and in specific topic areas of the exchange of experiences and adaptation.
  • a reference to a topic important to indigenous peoples, non-carbon benefits in relation to Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+).

Importantly, the references to indigenous peoples in the preamble to the Paris Agreement, and repeated in the preamble to the Decision text, say that countries need to respect indigenous peoples’ rights when taking action to address climate change. It’s significant that this rights language is included in the preambles, as it ensures these rights will be part of the framing of the whole agreement and implementing decisions.

The Paris Agreement and its Decision texts contain important references to indigenous peoples' rights that can help drive change at the country levels, where it is most needed.

The other references to indigenous peoples discuss the need to include them in the exchange of knowledge, especially considering the topic of adaptation. As they are one of the more vulnerable groups, they will need access to more western knowledge to support their own indigenous knowledge about how to adapt to climate change and protect their livelihoods. Additionally, the Paris Agreement recognizes indigenous peoples' “traditional knowledge” as an asset for helping themselves – and their neighbors – adapt.

Indigenous peoples for many years advocated strongly for the consideration of non-carbon benefits as a part of REDD+, including through a number of formal submissions to the process. The inclusion of explicit language in the REDD+ article to promote non-carbon benefits reflects their efforts and the importance of the topic.

The Paris Agreement and its Decision text aren’t perfect, and though some may have wished to see a greater number of specific references to these rights in the text, the Paris outcome was kept intentionally broad so it could be applicable to nearly 200 countries.

Regardless, we see important references to indigenous peoples' rights in the Paris Agreement and its Decision texts that, together with other international human rights instruments, can now be leveraged to drive change at the country levels, where it is most needed. That is the challenge in the years to come – to ensure indigenous peoples and their rights are adequately represented and respected in countries’ policies and actions they take to implement the Paris Agreement.

Additional resources:

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Amazon states, global leaders in emissions reductions

Two states in the Brazilian Amazon — Mato Grosso and Pará emitted more greenhouse gases in 2004 than all but six nations in the world. More climate pollution than Japan. By 2012 they had cut emissions so dramatically, they dropped beneath 37 other countries.

This progress, achieved through reduced deforestation, is a major reason for the 80%  decline in Amazon deforestation between 2005 and 2014.

At the Paris climate conference, these two states rolled out plans for even more ambitious action.

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(source: Observatório de Clima SEEG)

Ambitious forest policy is key to climate progress

Slowing Amazon deforestation has kept over 4 billion tons of CO₂ out of the atmosphere since 2005, several times more than the EU’s emissions reductions from 2005 – 2011. Major causes of the decline include better remote sensing monitoring, ramped-up law enforcement, credit limitations, company commitments to zero-deforestation commodity supply chains, large-scale creation of protected areas and recognition of indigenous territories.

The bad news is that plans positive incentives – payments from polluters to preserve forests — have not materialized.  Consequently, while deforestation dropped to a historic low of 4,500 km² in 2012 (from a peak of 27,000 km² in 2004), it has crept back up to around 5,000 km² in recent years.

Read More »

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3 reasons why the land sector is key to a Paris climate agreement

Trees in a forest

The Paris climate agreement should incorporate the land sector, which includes agriculture and deforestation, in a way that makes best use of its potential for mitigation, adaptation and development. Credit: flickr/final gather

Land use—such as agriculture and forests—accounts for almost a quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions on the planet.

It’s obvious that land use will play a major role in curbing the impact of climate change—and  here are three big reasons why the land sector will be key to an agreement made in Paris:

1) The land sector has huge mitigation potential:

The land sector accounts for about 24% of net global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. However, it has huge potential to reduce emissions, as well. Forests alone could absorb up to 11% of emissions. The IPCC also estimates that the land sector could provide 20-60% of cumulative mitigation by 2030. Without significant efforts to reduce emissions and enhance sequestration, it will be very difficult to stabilize warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

Read More »

Also posted in Agriculture, Deforestation, Forestry, Paris, REDD+| Leave a comment

Putting Indigenous Producers on the Map

Juanita crop

Cacao grown by indigenous and community cooperatives has supported the growth of the organic ultra-premium chocolate industry.  Photo Credit: Flickr/USAID Development Credit Authority

Across the Amazon, indigenous peoples have long harvested well-known commodities like cacao, coffee, Brazil nuts, and hearts of palm. Indigenous communities rely on such “non-timber” forest products—which also include traditional crops and less well-known natural products such as sacha inchi and camu camu—for the communities’ own consumption and for sale.

Responsible trade in these products can make a significant contribution to indigenous communities working to conserve their forests and generate alternative sources of income. Because indigenous management of Amazon forests is critical to controlling and reducing carbon emissions in the atmosphere, responsible trade also aligns with the growing body of corporate commitments to deforestation-free sourcing.

Indigenous products and community enterprises, however, face practical, commercial and organizational challenges in getting to market, particularly at scale. Overcoming these obstacles requires a combination of financial expertise, technical assistance and strategic commercial relationships. Read More »

Also posted in Agriculture, Brazil, Deforestation, Forestry, Supply chains| Leave a comment
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