The Monte Pascoal-Pau Brasil forest offset project in the south of Bahia, Brazil aims to finance the restoration of degraded forest through the sale of carbon credits. Communities living in the project area were promised social benefits from the project. Few of these benefits were realised and fewer lasted.
A report published in November 2013 by World Rainforest Movement looks at the project. The report is based on field research in 2013 by Patricia Grinberg and in 2009 by Ivonete Gonçalves and Winfridus Overbeek. The report is written by Jutta Kill.
The project is aimed at connecting remnants of the Atlantic Rainforest between two National Parks: Monte Pascoal and Pau Brasil. The ecological corridors idea was initially proposed by Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment with support from the World Bank.
The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International are involved, and helped to develop the project. Pulp and paper companies Veracel and Aracruz provided funding for the project. A local organisation, Associação dos Nativos de Caraiva is also involved.
Project documents blame cattle ranching for the deforestation in the area and say little about the spread of monoculture eucalyptus plantations as a cause of deforestation. Pulp companies Suzano and Veracel “have played a significant role in reducing the native Mata Atlantica forest to the small fragments that remain today ”, Kill writes.
The total project area is 24,000 hectares with the carbon offset part of the project covering an area of about 1,000 hectares. In 2008, an area of 17 hectares was restored as part of an offset deal with Kraft Foods (one of Conservation International’s corporate partners). In 2009, the project signed a 30-year carbon contract with Natura Cosméticos , a cosmetic company, to restore 250 hectares of “degraded” land. The restored land would store 316 tonnes of CO2e.
In 2010, the forest offset project was certified to the Gold Level of the Climate, Community and Biodiversity standard.
The idea behind the project was controversial. Under Brazilian law, land owners in the Atlantic Rainforest area had to protect 20% of their land and to protect forest around springs and along rivers. Many land owners did not do so. Rather than insisting that they comply with the law or pay fines, carbon offsets were supposed to give land owners a financial incentive to comply with the law.
Project developers had agreed to deliver carbon credits to Natura Cosméticos based on the assumption that land owners would take the project’s money to comply with the legal requirements for restoration. But the new forest law adopted in 2012 reduced the area to be restored and provided state support for restoration if land owners register the land. The new legislation offers the same incentive as the carbon credits (albeit over a smaller area). “[T]he motivation for private land owners to become involved in the carbon restoration initiative disappeared,” Kill writes.
The Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance also made changes to its standard. In order to prevent the perverse incentive that forest is cleared shortly before becoming part of a restoration offset project, CCBA required that the deforestation had to have taken place before 1990.
Only 56 hectares have been restored, and Kill writes that the restoration associated with the offset deal with Natura Cosméticos is in a “standby phase”. In 2013, when Grinberg carried out the research for the report, many local people who had been employed with the forest restoration co-operative that was set up as part of the project had lost their jobs.
Pulp giant Veracel is now the only company showing an interest in providing land for the project, and in February 2013, a consulting firm called Way Carbon was hired to see whether Veracel’s land was eligible under the new CCB standard. Kill questions Veracel’s involvement:
What would local communities, international press and the buyer of the carbon credits say if one of the country’s largest plantations companies were to be paid through a carbon offset project to restore degraded land when its tree plantations have turned some hundred thousand hectares of land into ‘green desert’?
Using Veracel’s land would also require re-writing the project’s story of what would have happened in the absence of the forest restoration offset project. Previously project proponents had argued that without the project the land would be used for grazing cattle thus preventing the possibility of trees re-growing. “But there are no grazing cattle on the land Veracel offered for restoration, and on some areas natural regeneration is taking place,” Kill notes.
The president of the local organisation Associação dos Nativos de Caraiva is clearly concerned at the way the project has gone. He told the researcher, Grinberg:
The buyer of the carbon credits is Natura; they make shampoo and stuff and earn a lot of money, they are only interested in the certificate. If 30 years from now things didn’t go as planned, if there was no monitoring, Natura may come and enquire ‘where are these trees planted for us?’