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Californian REDD in Acre and Chiapas: Legalising mechanisms of dispossession

The state of California is keen to include REDD credits in its cap-and-trade programme. California’s governor Jerry Brown worked closely with the oil industry on California’s climate policy, and is pushing for REDD to be allowed to “offset” ongoing pollution in California.

In November 2010, the governments of California, Acre, and Chiapas signed a Memorandum of Understanding aimed at creating a REDD carbon credit system between the three states. Money would go to Acre and Chiapas in exchange for continued greenhouse gas emissions in California.

But California’s cap-and-trade programme still does not allow polluting industry in California to buy REDD credits from Acre and Chiapas.

Friends of the Earth International recently launched a report that looks into the lessons to be learned from the cooperation between California, Acre, and Chiapas. The report, “REDD+ The carbon market and the California-Acre-Chiapas cooperation: Legalizing mechanisms of dispossession”, was written by Fabrina Furtado.

This post focusses on the impacts of the REDD memorandum in Acre and Chiapas, based on the findings of the report.

Acre: Problems solved, or made worse?

In 2010, the state of Acre in Brazil created the Sistema de Incentivos aos Serviços Ambientais (SISA, the Environmental Services Incentives System, in English). SISA aimed to “promote the maintenance and expansion of the supply of ecosystem services and products”. Funding came from the BNDES Amazon Fund and Germany’s KfW via its REDD Early Movers programme.

Civil society organisations in Acre (CIMI – the Missionary Council for Indigenous Peoples, the Federation of the Huni Kui People of Acre, the Centre for Research on the State, Society, and Development in the Western Amazon Region at the Federal University of Acre, and the Xapuri Rural Workers Union) argue that an in-depth analysis of SISA is needed. Furtado writes,

More information is needed on its known and unknown effects on not only the territories, but also other state policies and society itself. In fact, the debate and reflections on this issue were not sufficiently broad, diverse, and of substance given that groups directly affected by the projects did not participate, except for some indigenous leaders close to the large organizations involved, such as WWF and Forest Trends.

One of the contradictions with Acre’s proposed jurisdictional REDD carbon trading mechanism with California is that it clashes with Brazilian government policy. In November 2015, Brazil set up the National REDD+ Committee under Decree no. 8.576. This prohibits the sale of REDD credits to other countries.

Thelma Krug, of Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment, explained to Furtado that this doesn’t mean that Brazil is opposed to carbon trading. Instead, the government is “against compensation for countries and corporations in the North, but not for our companies”.

Furtado reports that the activities that are supposed to generate income for families currently engaged in cattle ranching are unsuccessful:

As for the activities designed to generate income for families who, for lack of other options, have been engaging in cattle raising on a small scale, not only do they result in the criminalization of the communities and end up obscuring the responsibility of large landowners, they also fail because they do not take into account the local context. The income generated is not enough to cover the families’ subsistence needs. Fish tanks, for example, were so poorly constructed that they did not hold enough water for the fish to survive. Many of the seeds that were distributed to grow açaí fruit were never used due to the lack of infrastructure for harvesting and processing, and people from Acre do not consume large amounts of this fruit.

Chiapas: Expulsions, privatisations and indebtedness

In 2009, the state of Chiapas in Mexico started to develop the Climate Change Action Programme, which gave priority to the implementation of a REDD jurisdictional system.

Furtado writes that,

REDD is being denounced in the state of Chiapas and in Mexico in general for being responsible for the violation of the rights of indigenous and traditional peoples for whom agrarian issues are central. Territories seen as priorities for the country are being expropriated through the promotion of private property, and traditional skills, livelihoods and collective practices are being eliminated.

She writes that many communities with experiences of Payment for Environmental Services in Chiapas found that their expectations of income generation were not met. Instead, an elite group of landowners was created to attract resources for Payment for Environmental Services. Villagers that carried out collective farming, coexisting with forests were expelled from the area.

Meanwhile, communities are blamed for deforestation. Their capacity to manage their territory collectively is undermined. Furtado writes that the REDD mechanisms “end up opening the territory to the invasion of mining, logging and mega-projects”.

Furtado notes that,

The strategies used to legitimize this process are based on discourses promoting participation, the importance of the community’s relationship with nature, gender equality, inclusion, and an end to poverty.

The Mexican state and corporations argue that REDD and Payments for Environmental Services programmes are implemented in areas with the highest poverty rates. REDD programmes are needed to bring development and inclusion. “The objective,” Furtado writes, “seems to be to use environmental policies to create markets.”

[T]he logic of REDD allows them to seize control of the territories of traditional communities, thereby enabling corporate access to plants and animals that are being appropriated by the pharmaceutical industry.

The climate business

REDD does not address the structural causes of either climate change or deforestation, Furtado concludes. The logic of REDD and the dominant discourse on climate change guarantee that policies are market-based. The result is domination, exploitation, and expropriation. “Structural issues such as historical inequalities are reduced to environmental issues,” Furtado writes.

Talking about the REDD proponents, a Jaminawa indigenous leader commented to Furtado,

“They often say we are ecologists. I am not an ecologist. I am Jaminawa and I will die Jaminawa. I defend life and what is important for life.”

The report is critical of safeguards. Furtado writes that,

“To obtain financing for REDD+ programs, a government can simply state that it is respecting the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples. This is what we found in the cases of Acre and Chiapas where the projects and policies have a list of safeguards that the dominant players (the state, corporations, and certification organizations) repeatedly affirm to be respecting, but when we visited the territories, we found the opposite. The safeguards are merely an instrument of rhetoric and a way of neutralizing criticisms of REDD projects.


Full disclosure: This post is part of a series of posts and interviews about California’s cap-and-trade scheme, with funding from Friends of the Earth US. Click here for all of REDD-Monitor’s funding sources.

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