in Brazil

Brazil’s funding proposal for REDD results-based payments to the Green Climate Fund would set a terrible precedent

A proposal from Brazil for results-based payments from the Green Climate Fund will be considered by the GCF board at the end of this month. If approved, it would set a terrible precedent, wasting GCF money without creating any incentive to protect forests in the future.

In 2018, the destruction of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest reached its highest level in a decade. Deforestation increased by 13.7% compared to the previous year, with a total of 7,900 square kilometres of forest cleared.

In November 2018, Reuters reported Brazil’s environment minister as saying that illegal logging was the main factor behind the increase in deforestation. He called on the government to increase its policing of the Amazon.

In 2004, an area of more than 27,000 square kilometres of the Amazon rainforest was destroyed. Over the next eight years, deforestation fell dramatically, but since 2012, it has been increasing steadily.

Deforestation set to get worse in the Brazilian Amazon

In October 2018, Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right nationalist politician, won the presidential election in Brazil. Bolsonaro presents a major threat to Brazil’s forests and the Indigenous Peoples living in the forests.

Bolsonaro has a long history of threatening Indigenous Peoples. In 1998, he said, “It’s a shame that the Brazilian cavalry hasn’t been as efficient as the Americans, who exterminated the Indians.”

Twenty years later, he said, “If I become President there will not be a centimetre more of indigenous land.” He later corrected himself and said he meant not one millimetre more.

Also in 2018, he said, “If I’m elected, I’ll serve a blow to FUNAI [Brazil’s National Indian Foundation]; a blow to the neck. There’s no other way. It’s not useful anymore”

On his first day as president, Bolsonaro transferred the authority to protect Indigenous lands from FUNAI to the Ministry of Agriculture. Former FUNAI president Sydney Posuelo told Folha de São Paulo that this was “the death” of FUNAI.

A little more than three weeks after Bolsonaro became president, CIMI, the Indigenous Missionary Council, reported that at least six indigenous lands face invasion and threats of invasion at the hands of illegal loggers or armed land grabbers, known as “grileiros“.

In mid-January, land grabbers invaded the 1.8 million hectare Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau Indigenous Reserve in Rondônia.

“As soon as the new government took office there in Brasilia, people who always wanted to invade indigenous lands felt represented. At the moment, we are practically helpless,” Puré Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau told CIMI.

Meanwhile, Bolsonaro’s Minister of Infrastructure, Tarcísio Gomes de Freitas, is planning a series of roads and railways to export agricultural commodities. On the day he took office, Freitas announced that over the next four years, the government would sign road construction contracts for US$27 billion.

The new roads will open up remote forest areas to land grabbers, illegal loggers and cattle ranchers. The inevitable result will be a huge increase in deforestation. A 2014 paper in Biological Conservation found that 94.5% of deforestation takes place within 5.5 kilometres of roads or 1 kilometre of rivers.

But in the bizarre world of REDD and results-based payments, none of this seems to matter. At its Board Meeting in Songdo at the end of this month, the Green Climate Fund will consider a funding proposal for reduced emissions from deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.

This is the first funding proposal under the GCF’s Pilot Programme for REDD+ results-based payments and it is a request for funding for reduced deforestation in 2014 and 2015.

The funding proposal written by the UN Development Programme, which is an accredited entity under the Green Climate Fund. In the proposal, Brazil is asking for US$96.4 million for almost 19 million tons of CO2 equivalent emission reductions. GCF will pay US$5 per ton of emission reductions.

If the Green Climate Fund’s board approves UNDP’s funding proposal for results-based REDD in Brazil, it will set an extremely dangerous precedent.

An inflated reference level

In 2009, Dan Nepstad and colleagues wrote and paper in Science magazine under a headline that now appears wildly optimistic: “The End of Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon”.

The paper included this figure, showing three scenarios of deforestation in Brazil:

The first scenario is business as usual, which ignores the dramatic reduction in deforestation from 2004 to 2009, and assumes even higher rates of deforestation than the massive spike in 2004.

The second scenario is the Brazilian government target announced in December 2008 in its National Plan on Climate Change. Norway’s offer of paying US$1 billion to the Amazon Fund was based on this proposal.

In 2009, Nepstad, who at the time was a researcher at the Woods Hole Research Center, said,

“I would call the Amazon Fund the biggest experiment in tropical conservation history. If it works, REDD will survive. If it fails, there’s a chance REDD will fail.”

The third scenario was Nepstad et al’s proposal to end deforestation by 2020.

None of these scenarios accurately predicted what has happened to the Amazon rainforest. While deforestation has not been anything like as rapid as the business as usual scenario, since 2009 when Norway started its payments to the Amazon Fund, deforestation has remained at pretty much the same level.

The Brazilian government quietly dropped its 2008 target. Instead, in its second biennial report to the UNFCCC (2017), Brazil includes this figure:

Brazil bases its claim for results-based payments for REDD on its Forest Reference Emission Level (FREL), which is set artificially high. FREL A was the mean annual CO2 emissions from 1996 to 2005. It is re-calculated every five years.

Brazil claims that as long as its emissions from deforestation are below the reference level, it can claim results-based payments. But deforestation could more than double, and according to this logic, Brazil would still be eligible for “results-based” payments.

Permanence? What permanence?

According to the GCF Secretariat’s assessment of the funding proposal,

Brazil will use the proceeds from the results-based payments for the following two outputs:

(a) Development of a pilot of an Environmental Services Incentive Program for Conservation and Recovery of Native Vegetation (Floresta+); and

(b) Strengthen the implementation of Brazil’s REDD-plus Strategy through improvements in its governance structure and systems.

Obviously, the proposal was developed before Bolsonaro won the presidential election. The Funding proposal package is dated 1 February 2019. But it includes no consideration of what might have changed given that Bolsonaro has no interest in Indigenous Peoples’ rights, or in protecting the rainforest.

And the Gender Assessment Action Plan, which is part of the funding proposal, states that, “None of the new ministers whom current president Michel Temer selected for his government in May 2016 are female.”

The Amazon rainforest is moving from a sink to a source of carbon

The droughts and subsequent fires that took place in the Amazon in 2005, 2010, and 2015 were a major source of CO2 globally. The 2005 drought, released somewhere between 1.2 and 1.6 billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere.

The 2010 drought released even more carbon to the atmosphere. A 2011 paper in Science estimates that as much as 2.2 billion tons of carbon was released from the Amazon in 2010.

Yet the emissions reported by Brazil to the UNFCCC for the year 2010 remain low. That’s at least in part because while Brazil monitors fire in the Amazon, emissions from drought-induced forest fires are not included in the data reported to the UNFCCC.

A 2018 paper in Nature points out that the drought that took place in 2015 “had the largest ever ratio of active fire counts to deforestation, with active fires occurring over an area of 799,293 km²”.

The authors write that,

Even if Brazil achieves the end of Amazonian deforestation, pervasive land use activities and the intensification of extreme droughts are likely to increase fire emissions unrelated to the deforestation, risking the stability of forest carbon stocks and undermining the biodiversity co-benefits achievable in carbon conservation schemes, such as reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).

And a 2015 paper also in Nature points out that the Amazon is losing its capacity to store carbon. In the ten years up to 2015, the carbon absorbed by the Amazon each year has decreased by about one-third.

2014 and 2015 were not good years for forest conservation in the Amazon

Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s president in 2014 and 2015 was impeached and removed from office in 2016. She was charged with criminal administrative misconduct and disregard for the federal budget.

In September 2014, deforestation increased by 290% compared to September 2013.

In 2014, Greenpeace released a report that revealed that Brazil was laundering illegally logged timber on a massive scale before exporting it to the US, Europe and China.

In December 2014, Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s President, appointed Kátia Abreu as minster of agriculture. That couldn’t have been a more controversial appointment. Abreu is a firm supporter of Brazil’s agribusiness, earning her the nickname the “Chainsaw Queen”.

In October 2015, Brazil’s deforestation increased by 467%.

It was Rousseff’s administration that approved a new Forest Code, allowing an amnesty for landowners that illegally cleared forest before 22 July 2008. Before Brazil passed the Forest Code in 2012, Jim Leape, then-WWF’s Director General, described the proposed changes to the Forest Code as a “true conservation crisis”.

Construction of the Belo Monte Dam started under Rousseff’s administration. In 2015, Dr. Maria Fernanda Gebara, a social and political scientist who has been working on climate and forests issues for more than a decade, described Rousseff’s presidency as “the most backward in social and environmental issues since the end of military dictatorship.”

It is extraordinary that the Green Climate Fund is now considering results-based payments to Brazil for a period of two years in which deforestation accelerated, and the stage was set for future increases in deforestation. With Bolsonaro as president, deforestation and human rights abuses will almost inevitably increase.

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