By Chris Lang
The Madre de Dios Amazon REDD Project in Peru covers an area of almost 100,000 hectares close to the border with Brazil. The project was developed by a Uruguayan company called Greenoxx Global Environmental Program, which calls itself Greenoxx NGO in the project documents. In May 2010, Greenoxx put out a statement announcing that,
The Madre de Dios Amazon REDD Project has been registered in the Markit Environmental Registry, as another step towards its future registration in the VCS. The project sold its first 40.000 tons of CO2 in May 2010, at a USD 7 price per carbon certificate.
According to Greenoxx, the news was “really very positive” because it “demonstrates that REDD projects are feasible and conserving the Amazon may become a reality”.
In May 2013, three years after the project started selling carbon offsets, the project was verified under the VCS Standard.
Since then, the project has sold 10,642,440 carbon offsets. The buyers of the carbon offsets include Easy Jet, Heritage Aviation, Ascent Aviation Group, Takeda Pharmaceutical Company, Repsol, Moss.earth, Lavazza, and IUCN.
But while Greenoxx is keen to promote the project as a success, and the project is still selling carbon offsets, recent reporting by the Thomson Reuters Foundation confirms serious flaws with this project.
REDD-Monitor has written about this project twice:
Madre de Dios Amazon REDD+ project is actually two logging concessions
The Madre de Dios Amazon REDD+ project is run by two logging companies: Maderera Río Acre S.A.C. (Maderacre); and Maderera Río Yaverija S.A.C. (Maderyja).
Yes, you read that correctly. Two logging companies are running a project in a remote area of Peruvian rainforest that is supposed to be reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Two things make this insanity possible in the crazy world of REDD offsets:
1. The counterfactual baseline
Greenoxx came up with a counterfactual story of what would happen in the absence of the REDD project. This counterfactual is impossible to prove, of course, because the logging companies moved in and cut down trees in their logging concessions – in other words the project went ahead. In a 2009 report for the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standard, Scientific Certification Systems wrote that, without the project there would be “deforestation and degradation”.
Greenoxx repeated the claim in its 2012 Project Description Document:
[T]he “without project” scenario is deforestation and degradation, while the “with project” scenario is sustainable forest management. As demonstrated by project proponents, avoided deforestation and degradation clearly have positive climate and biodiversity impacts. Moreover, project activities are specially designed to achieve positive community impacts in addition to avoiding deforestation and degradation.
The project then selected a reference area to justify this story about inevitable deforestation that included the town of Iberia and forest on both sides of the Interoceanic Highway, the construction of which led to massively increased deforestation. In the reference area, 97% of deforestation took place within 20 kilometres of a major road. There are no major roads in the REDD project area – although the companies’ logging roads do make the forest more easily accessible.
2. The myth of “sustainable forest management”
Greenoxx pushed the myth that the REDD project would result in something euphemistically called “sustainable forest management”.
In 2005, Maderacre and Maderyja signed a cooperation agreement with CESVI and WWF aimed at “working together to achieve the FSC Certification for both timber concessions.” The Project Description Document subsequently states that,
The Participation on the Global Forest Trade Network (GFTN) of Peru Agreement between Maderacre and WWF was signed in August 2006 and in August 2007 for Maderyja. As the forest concession changed their owners last year (2008) both of them updated their commitments on April 2009.
The Project Description Document also states that Maderacre and Maderyja “received the Voluntary Forest Certification of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in January 2007”.
CESVI is an Italian humanitarian organisation, founded in 1985.
Back in 2005, WWF was running a scheme to promote trade in legal and sustainable timber products, the Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN – now called “Forests Forward”). The aim was to greenwash destructive logging operations with the Forest Stewardship Council certification system.
In 2011, Global Witness put out a critical report about GTFN. Global Witness wrote that,
Although GFTN aims to eliminate illegal and unethical practices by having a low threshold for initial membership, that approach could provide companies who operate illegally or unethically with public image and marketing benefits through partnering with a world-renowned conservation brand.
In a statement that has aged like milk, Greenoxx wrote in the Project Development Document that,
Undoubtedly, WWF is one of the largest environmental organizations worldwide and its hard work to make a healthy, happy, thriving, living and ultimately diverse and wonderful world is globally well-known. As a result of that, any agreement signed with them implies sustainable and responsible management of the natural and human resources.
Rainforest Alliance was also involved. In July 2009 Rainforest Alliance signed a memorandum of understanding with Maderyja. And in August 2009, Rainforest Alliance signed a memorandum of understanding with Maderacre. These memoranda were supposedly for “the support on the promotion of sustainable forest management and certification as a tool for forest conservation and improving livelihoods; achieve greater efficiency and added value to timber products; reach better market opportunities”. Rainforest Alliance subsequently carried out a VCS Verification Report.
In February 2009, the National Forestry Chamber and Maderyja signed a cooperation agreement. The background to this agreement, according to Greenoxx’s Project Description Document, was a project funded by the International Tropical Timber Organisation: “Strengthening of the Productive Chain of Timber from Forest Concessions and Other Forests Under Forest Management”.
The University of Leeds School of Geography also got involved. In March 2010, the School of Geography signed an agreement with Maderacre “for the development of a transaction and monitoring cost analysis of a REDD Project and a scientific research on the relationship between biomass and structural variables of the Peruvian Amazon trees”.
The logging companies and the Indigenous Peoples living in voluntary isolation
In 2021, the Guardian and Greenpeace UK’s investigative journalism website Unearthed reported on the Madre de Dios project (and other REDD projects that airlines were using to “offset” their emissions).
Unearthed reported that in a 2017 meeting Maderacre and Maderyja opposed a government proposal to expand an Indigenous Reserve bordering their logging concessions – and, of course, the REDD project. The expansion of the Indigenous Reserve was proposed to protect the uncontacted Mashco Piro tribe, who were being threatened by encroachment from outsiders.
Greenoxx told Unearthed that “Our project is effectively contributing to the protection of their territory.”
Journalist David Hill has documented the history of the Indigenous Reserve and the logging concessions. In September 2021, he wrote that:
The “proposal to expand an Indigenous reserve bordering the project area” mentioned by SourceMaterial and Unearthed in their article is nothing new – and nor should it be considered somehow unreasonable or surprising. I say that because when the reserve was first proposed 20 years ago by regional indigenous federation FENAMAD, a large part of what became MADERYJA’s concession was included in it. However, when the reserve was actually established, in April 2002, it was much smaller than hoped – two million acres instead of six million – and then the very next month MADERYJA signed the contract for its concession. FENAMAD was so concerned about the potential impacts of logging on the indigenous people living in “isolation” whom the reserve was intended to protect that three years later they appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in 2007 ordered Peru’s government to “take all the necessary measures to guarantee [their] lives and integrity.”
The Project Description Document acknowledges the existence of Indigenous People living in voluntary isolation: “Special consideration must be given to the potential non-contacted tribes of native communities that would live within the concession area or next to them.”
The Project Description Document also states that,
Given the ignorance of the characteristics of this community, the schedule for initiating contacts that should be determined by their own choice and according to the established rules for their defense, the project objectives must be stated in terms of contributing to maintain their isolation, protecting the integrity of the reserve, until they decide, by their own choice, to join the regional society. In addition to this, it must be considered that these groups can cross the boundaries of the territorial reserve, of which they have no conscience, entering into the concession area. According to this, appropriate protocols should be developed, taking particularly into account the high vulnerability of this population to diseases, which could cause high mortality.
In a 2021 statement, FENAMAD wrote that the proposed boundaries of the reserve, as initially proposed, “corresponded to the area in which the existence of the peoples in isolation had been proven empirically”. The 2002 boundary of the Madre de Dios Reserve effectively left the Mashco Piro unprotected. Their land was classified as Protected Natural Areas or Permanent Production Forests. “That decision created risks for the lives and integrity of the Mashco Piro that persist to this day,” FENAMAD wrote.
WWF, not for the first time in its history, took the side of the loggers and helped to greenwash their operations through FSC certification.
But in 2016, WWF contracted researchers to carry out a report titled, “Additional study for categorisation of the Madre de Dios Territorial Reserve”. The Ministry of Culture (MINCU) had contracted WWF to carry out the research as part of the process to update the reserve in accordance with 2006-2007 laws. The report proposed expanding the area of the Madre de Dios Territorial Reserve:
Hill reports that,
As well as listing evidence of the indigenous people in “isolation” that had been found in MADERYJA’s concession – “camp-sites, footprints, animals remains and poaching near the River Acre” – that report described the logging concessions in general as one of the biggest threats to them.
This is in contrast to the frankly ridiculous claim in the Project Description Document that,
From a social point of view, the project will contribute to the sustainable development of rural producers and indigenous communities (Yine and Huitoto tribes, indigenous people in voluntary isolation of Mashco Piro, Yora and Amahuaca tribes and other tribes not yet identified) living in the nearby areas.
Hill asked Verra about the Indigenous Reserve. He writes that,
When I asked Verra about the reserve, they ignored my questions and gave the impression of not understanding the issue at all. “Decisions about the boundaries of territorial reserves are a matter for the government in question,” a spokesperson tells me. “At present, the boundaries of the territorial reserve and the project area do not overlap and have never overlapped.”
Hill recently reported about another FSC-certified logging concession in Madre de Dios that overlaps the territory of the Mashco Piro:
Just over a week ago, on Sunday 21 August, loggers from a company called Maderera Canales Tahuamanu (MCT) were on a beach along the River Tahuamanu when the Mashco-Piro appeared and loosed arrows at them. One man, reportedly named Genis Huayaban Padilla, was gravely wounded and rushed to hospital, while another, Jean Marcos del Águila Ángulo, was found dead several days later. The remains of his body were pulled out of the water by a policeman, close to where the attack took place.
The Madre de Dios Amazon REDD+ Project, then, consists of two logging concessions. A large part of one of the logging concessions overlaps with land that FENAMAD, the regional Indigenous federation, has argued for two decades should be part of an Indigenous Reserve to protect the Mashco Piro Indigenous People living there in voluntary isolation.
Since 2007, Maderacre and Maderya have been FSC-certified, despite the fact that the biggest threat to the people and forests in their concessions are the companies’ logging operations. But on 26 April 2022, FSC blocked and suspended Maderyja and two other companies in Peru. FSC explains only that Maderyja was “unable to justify the volume mismatches and false claims detected over the course of this investigation”. FSC’s statement about the suspension made no mention of Indigenous Peoples.
Allegations of timber smuggling
Thomson Reuters Foundation journalists, Fabio Teixeira and Avi Asher-Schapiro, report that,
According to a Verra document signed in October 2020, Chinese timber magnate Xiaodong Ji Wu was director of Maderyja SAC, a company that ran a concession comprising half of the Madre de Dios project’s land.
Teixeir and Asher-Schapiro write that, since September 2020, Xiaodong Ji Wu, and about 50 regional officials, have been under investigation for “belonging to a criminal organization, collusion, bribery and influence-peddling, according to Dionisio Quicaño, an anti-corruption prosecutor in Peru’s Attorney General’s Office.”
Quicaño told Thomson Reuters Foundation that “police and prosecutors had raided Ji Wu’s business premises in October 2021 and found a stash of suspected illegal mahogany”.
In February 2022, the regional governor of Madre de Dios, Luis Hidalgo Okimura, was sentenced to 36 months of pre-trial detention. He is accused of leading “Los Hostiles de la Amazonía III” a criminal organisation dedicated to illegal timber trafficking. Ji Wu received the same sentence.
Silvia Gomez Caviglia, vice president and founder of Greenoxx, told Thomson Reuters Foundation that Ji Wu was no longer the representative for Maderyja, and that prosecutors had cleared the concession of illegal activities.
But Maderyja’s FSC certificate remains suspended. Clearly the “sustainable forest management” that Maderyja was supposed to be carrying out was just a myth.
The most recent sale of carbon offsets from the project was on 2 September 2022. The vintage of the carbon offsets was 2016 – the same year that WWF contracted the report that argued that the Madre de Dios Indigenous Reserve should be expanded to cover a large part of Maderyja’s logging concession.
PHOTO Credit: The Mashco Piro, FENAMAD.