The Suruí Forest Carbon Project in Brazil has been suspended indefinitely as a result of illegal diamond and gold mining, as well as illegal logging, inside the 248,147 hectare territory of the Suruí.
The Suruí REDD project and carbon credits
The Suruí REDD project started on 9 June 2009 and was validated under the Verified Carbon Standard Programme in 2012. During the period 2009 to 2012, the project generated a total of 299,895 carbon credits.
48,366 of these carbon credits were put in the VCS “pooled buffer account” – which VCS describes as follows:
The pooled buffer account is a reserve of nontradable credits that serves as a shared insurance pool for all VCS AFOLU [Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use] projects. If carbon stocks are lost in an individual project as a result of unforeseen events such as fire, disease or encroachment by outside actors, buffer credits may be cancelled from the buffer account to compensate for the loss.
The Suruí sold the remaining 251,529 carbon credits (that’s 299,895 minus 48,366).
There were two main buyers. In 2013, the project sold 120,000 carbon credits to Natura, a Brazilian cosmetics firm. In 2014, it sold the same number of carbon credits to FIFA to “offset” emissions from the World Cup. All these carbon credits have now been retired.
The Suruí used the money from the sale of carbon credits for six projects. These included chicken farming, a tree nursery, handicrafts, and capacity building of more than 20 indigenous people to work on “biomonitoring and surveillance expeditions” in the Suruí territory, according to the VCS loss event report, dated 15 June 2018.
Carbon credits “on hold”
The loss event report estimates that illegal logging, together with diamond and gold mining, resulted in the release of 452,554 tonnes of CO2e, above the baseline scenario.
In February 2018, VCS changed its name to Verra. According to Verra’s rules, when forest inside a REDD project is destroyed and carbon is released, “Verra will put buffer credits on hold in an amount equivalent to the estimated loss stated in the loss event report”.
But in the case of the Suruí Forest Carbon Project, Verra will not be doing this.
Here’s how Verra explains why not:
[I]n this situation, since the loss event was estimated as an amount larger than the total amount of VCUs issued to the project to-date, the amount of the buffer credits Verra has put on hold is equivalent to the total amount of VCUs issued to the project to-date (251,529). The rationale for this is that the purpose of putting buffer credits on hold is to “set aside” buffer credits in the event they need to be cancelled as a means to ensure the permanence of VCUs issued to the project. It would therefore be illogical and unnecessary to put buffer credits on hold in an amount greater than the amount of VCUs issued to the project to-date.
Verra’s stinginess with its buffer credits is perhaps surprising, particularly given the fact that Verra’s pooled buffer account holds 27.4 million carbon credits.
The 251,529 credits in the buffer pool will be cancelled if the Suruí do not submit a new verification report in the next 15 years. The buffer credits could also be cancelled if a future verification of the project confirms the loss from deforestation.
In a statement, Verra’s CEO David Antonioli assures us that the VCS buffer account “ensures the environmental integrity” of the carbon credits.
But in the period 2013 to 2017, deforestation in the REDD project area resulted in 452,554 tons of CO2 emissions, above the baseline scenario.
Verra seems keen to pretend that these emissions just didn’t happen.
How the deforestation took place
The VCS loss event report describes what happened as follows (the Suruí’s land is called the Sete de Setembro Indigenous Land, abbreviated as TISS, in Portuguese):
As of 2015, the dynamics of deforestation in the territory got worse. Local conflicts between villages and indigenous leaderships and the increasing presence of external actors interested in exploiting the TISS’s natural resources and expanding the activities of informal mining (known as ‘garimpo’, in Portuguese), illegal logging and opening of areas for pasture – in an irregular and unsustainable way – have ended up generating deforestation rates higher than those projected in the reference scenario (generating loss events).
In 2013, 116 hectares of the Suruí’s land was deforested. This was still below the 238.7 hectares deforestation projected in the baseline scenario of the project.
But then in 2014, illegal gold and diamond mining started on the Suruí’s land.
In 2015, 2016, and 2017 the deforestation totalled more than 1,800 hectares. That’s more than 1,000 hectares above the baseline scenario.
The loss event report states that,
In the first instance, the social conflicts that worsened in the TISS prevented the continuity of surveillance activities conducted by the indigenous monitoring agents. Some areas of Indigenous Land committed by informal mining activities and illegal logging have become inaccessible to the project proponents.
As far back as 2012, Almir Suruí, the Suruí chief, wrote an open letter asking for “urgent action” from the authorities to help stop logging in the Suruí territory. In the letter Almir notes that the loggers had given some of the Suruí firearms.
The loss event report notes that the reaction from the government agencies FUNAI and IBAMA was “minimal”, despite several letters from the Suruí.
Forest Trends’ Beto Borges was one of the designers of the Suruí Forest Carbon Project. He told Mongabay that before the REDD project started, “it was common to see 100 logging trucks coming in and out of TISS every day”.
That number reduced massively in the first years of the project, but in October 2016, Almir Suruí issued an emergency appeal for help to save the forest.
“Every day, 300 trucks leave our territory filled with wood”, Almir wrote.
PHOTO Credit: IBAMA (via Climate Home News).