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Devin D. Thorpe

Devin Thorpe

Illegal Mining Forces Suspension of Groundbreaking Forest Carbon Project in Brazil

  • Suruí Forest Carbon Project slowed deforestation, but couldn’t overcome destruction caused by illegal gold and diamond mining
  • The Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) will tap its pooled buffer account for Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Uses (AFOLU) to ensure environmental integrity of offsets already sold.

Press Release – As the first indigenous-led conservation effort to be financed through the sale of carbon offsets, the Suruí Forest Carbon Project (PCFS in Portuguese) dramatically slowed deforestation and incubated sustainable livelihood programs in Brazil’s Sete de Setembro Indigenous Territory (TISS), but a dramatic surge in illegal mining activities throughout the region in which TISS is located has forced the Paiter-Suruí indigenous people and their partners to suspend the program indefinitely.

Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) will use its global AFOLU buffer pool to fully compensate for the losses and ensure the environmental integrity of all carbon offsets already sold. The project offers key lessons for current and future efforts to slow deforestation around the world.

Background

The Paiter-Sururi launched the PCFS in 2009 to slow deforestation in their territory. They began by engaging environmental NGOs and forest carbon consultants to estimate the rate of deforestation that would occur if business continued as usual. Working with Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA) and France’s AgroParis Tech, they developed a model called SimSuruí, which took into account historical deforestation rates and prevailing pressures within the TISS, such as illegal logging and unregulated agriculture, as well as geographical features such as topography, proximity to roads, and the state of the existing forest.

They then created a “life plan” which aimed to save both the forest and their traditional way of life, in part by promoting sustainable livelihood activities that don’t drive deforestation, such as chicken farming, handicrafts production, and the harvesting of Brazil nuts. To catalyze these activities, they created a proposal for generating carbon offsets by avoiding deforestation under a then-emerging mechanism known as REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, plus sustainable forest management).

They submitted the proposal to scientific and civil-society organizations for third-party review under the VCS process, which yielded a consensus that, if prevailing trends continued, at least 13,575 hectares of the 248,147-hectare indigenous territory would be deforested over the next 30 years, releasing 7.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The Paiter-Suruí then voted to implement a moratorium on illegal logging and halt other activities driving deforestation in the hope of earning carbon offsets for keeping deforestation rates below the baseline scenario.

Results

The project dramatically reduced deforestation within TISS for the first five years of operation (2009-2014), before the discovery of gold deposits, even as rates in surrounding territories nearly doubled. In these years, it successfully repelled incursions from illegal logging enterprises, despite an unwillingness on the part of federal and local authorities to prosecute those responsible.

During this period, the project generated 299,895 carbon offsets certified under the VCS, with each offset representing one metric ton of reduced carbon dioxide emissions. The total reductions had the same environmental impact as taking 64,000 cars off the road for a year, and 48,366 of the offsets (approximately 15%) were placed in the VCS “buffer pool”, which aggregates offsets from multiple projects around the world to ensure against reversals in any single project.

The Paiter-Suruí sold the remaining 251,530 offsets to entities that used them to reduce their own carbon footprints, with proceeds from the sale being used to catalyze six sustainable community development initiatives and train nearly two dozen indigenous rangers to conduct biomonitoring and surveillance expeditions within the territory.

Challenges

In 2011, Paiter-Suruí patrols operating on behalf of the project identified new logging roads and traced them to nearby mills, and in 2012 the Paiter-Suruí Parliament formally appealed to President Dilma Rousseff and to Marta Azevedo, then president of the Federal Indigenous Authority (FUNAI), to intervene. Those appeals were ignored, but the project continued to reduce deforestation until 2014, when gold and diamond deposits were identified in the territory.

In February, 2015, the Metareilá Association, one of the community organizations that represents the Paiter-Suruí, documented and reported several instances of illegal mining (known as ‘garimpo’, in Portuguese) to authorities, but this time the pressures proved insurmountable – in part because a small contingent of Paiter-Suruí members who colluded with miners then used income from the activities to purchase cattle and increase pasturelands within the TISS, but also, as The Guardian documented in 2017, because religious and anti-development extremists aligned with the pro-mining contingent within the Paiter-Suruí in a misguided effort to “save” the people from the ravages of the market economy.

As the loss exceeds the 48,366 offsets that the Paiter-Suruí contributed to the VCS buffer pool, VCS is retiring additional offsets to fully ensure the environmental integrity of the project.

Conclusions

One man can’t stop a tidal wave, and carbon finance can’t end deforestation on its own. The PCFS clearly delayed the rise of deforestation in TISS, but it couldn’t prevent it without regulatory support as indigenous territories across the region experienced record deforestation in 2017.

At the same time, the introduction of new deforestation drivers highlights the challenge of balancing the need to establish a conservative baseline to ensure environmental integrity with the need to accurately reflect changing circumstances and create incentives for ongoing efforts to combat emerging pressures, as the VCS loss report makes clear.

“Mining activities in the Sete de Setembro Indigenous Land are recent and had not been registered until 2015 as one of its deforestation vectors,” the report concludes. “Therefore, the deforestation model that composed the project’s reference scenario – based on the dynamics and historical rates of deforestation verified at TISS prior to the start date of the project – did not include activities related to the informal mining of high-value minerals.”

Further Reading:

Almir Suruí: Perseverance Under Pressure

How Diamonds and a Bitter Feud Led to the Destruction of an Amazon Reserve

Quotes

“While we are deeply saddened to hear about the unforeseen challenges this promising project has encountered, it is important to remember that their efforts were not in vain,” says David Antonioli, CEO of Verra which manages the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). “The Surui community made a valiant effort to stop deforestation; they unfortunately ran into very strong economic forces that are destroying the forest. Nevertheless, all the carbon credits the project ever sold are intact given that the VCS Program has implemented a global non-permanence buffer pool that every AFOLU project contributes to. In case a project experiences a reversal, we compensate for those losses by drawing on these buffer pool credits. As a result, the carbon offsets the project traded while still operational still have their full global environmental integrity. It is our hope that future demand and a strong market for carbon credits from projects like this will be able to counter opposing forces as the ones the Surui experienced here.”

“REDD+ is one tool among many, but it cannot work in isolation,” said Almir Surui, the indigenous leader who spearheaded the Surui Carbon Project. “The Paiter-Surui will continue to pursue sustainable development projects, but for projects like this to succeed against illegal activities, we need the government – at the state and federal level – to enforce the laws.”

Background

Verra was founded in 2005 by environmental and business leaders who saw the need for greater quality assurance in voluntary carbon markets. We now serve as a secretariat for the various standards we develop and programs we manage, as well as an incubator of new ideas that can generate meaningful environmental and social value at scale. The strategic direction of Verra is set by both staff and the Verra Board of Directors. Our headquarters are in Washington, DC, and we have staff working remotely in various parts of the world. Verra is a registered 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.

The Surui Forest Carbon Project is the world’s first indigenous-led REDD project. It was launched in 2009 by the Gamebey Association, acting on behalf of the Paiter-Surui Indigenous People, with technical support from three Brazilian NGOs (Kaninde, ECAM, and IDESAM) and one US NGO (Forest Trends)


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