New report shows that extractive Global North conservation will not end deforestation in the Amazon

View of the Amazon rainforest.
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As South American leaders meet for key talks on the sustainable development of the Amazon region, a new report has highlighted the failure of a flagship Global North forest conservation programme.

Over Tuesday 8 and Wednesday 9 August, leaders from across the Amazon rainforest region came together in the Brazilian port city of Belém. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is hosting the first summit in 14 years of the eight-nation Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO).

The ACTO nations have convened to discuss a roadmap to stop the destruction of the Amazon, one of Earth’s crucial buffers against the climate crisis.

The participating countries – Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela – are discussing strategies to fight deforestation and organised crime in the Amazon, and to seek sustainable development for the region.

On Wednesday 9 August, nation heads signed a joint agreement on tackling these issues, known as the Belém declaration. However, as Al Jazeera reported, the document fell short of setting concrete deforestation targets and putting an end to new oil and gas drilling in the sensitive Amazon rainforest.

Meanwhile, a new report has poured cold water on existing Global North forest conservation schemes. On 26 July, the Rainforest Foundation UK published a scathing analysis of a flagship United Nations (UN) anti-deforestation initiative. These programmes have failed to stop rampant deforestation, while giving the green light to extractive industries to wreak climate chaos.

Alarmingly, the projects are among the conservation measures that Amazon nations are set to expand.

Read on...

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Reducing emissions and deforestation?

World nations established the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) programme during the 2013 COP19 climate summit in Warsaw, Poland.

The UN has described how, through the implementation of REDD+ projects:

developing countries can receive results-based payments for emission reductions when they reduce deforestation.

In essence, Global North governments provide financial compensation to Global South governments for protecting forests within their territories.

Naturally, the private sector has also got in on the action. Companies and nonprofits have set up REDD+ projects in conjunction with Global South governments’ efforts. These generate carbon credits through actions to prevent deforestation. The project developer then sells these credits to buyers – often corporations – seeking to offset their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

However, as the Canary’s Tracy Keeling has previously pointed out, REDD+ schemes have:

been lambasted for not substantially reducing overall carbon emissions and severely reducing the autonomy and sovereignty of local, forest-dependent peoples over their land. Companies have also claimed to be protecting forests that were already well-protected, rendering the carbon credits meaningless.

The Rainforest Foundation’s report is the latest of such withering assessments. The organisation primarily found that REDD+ schemes:

are failing forests by allowing millions of credits to be generated that simply do not represent real emissions reductions.

In particular, these schemes are doing so by inflating the baselines that project developers use to determine the rate of deforestation. Effectively, much like other rainforest carbon offset schemes, REDD+ has sold credits tied to the questionable claims of preventing deforestation.

The report also echoed the findings of multiple nonprofits and communities that have raised the poor human rights records of REDD+ projects around the world.

Notably, two of the projects the Rainforest Foundation assessed are situated in the Amazon territories of summit attendee nations Peru and Guyana.

Greenwashing for fossil fuel companies

Moreover, the report highlighted how reckless fossil fuel expansion in the Amazon and REDD+ offsets are two sides of the same environmentally vacuous coin.

Specifically, the Rainforest Foundation exposed how Guyana’s scheme is exemplary of fossil fuel greenwashing. There, the oil and gas Hess Corporation is purchasing credits from the project to greenwash their destructive extractivism. US fossil fuel major Exxonmobil is also considering credits from the programme.

Reuters has reported that summit leaders were split over proposals to block new oil development in the Amazon. Colombian president Gustavo Petro has called for the summit to end fossil fuel expansion in the world’s largest rainforest. Petro has also long railed against oil development in Indigenous reserves.

Meanwhile, on 20 August, Ecuadorians will hit the polls for a referendum to decide the fate of new oil drilling within a rainforest at the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Conversely, Brazil’s state fossil fuel corporation Petrobras has been seeking to exploit oil and gas reserves in the coastal Amazonian Amapá and Pará states. In May, Brazil’s environmental regulator Ibama caused friction within Lula’s uneasy coalition. It announced its decision to block Petrobras’s application to drill near the mouth of the Amazon.

As a result of the division, the leaders dropped any mention of ending fossil fuel expansion in the Amazon.

‘Pollution credits’

Yet as fossil fuel companies push to exploit the Amazon rainforest, REDD+ projects have generated credits for their extractive plunder.

Multiple Amazon states are also seeking to implement large-scale jurisdictional REDD+ schemes, similar to Guyana’s. This includes summit host state Pará, where Petrobras is seeking further fossil fuel extraction. Petrobras also part-funds a key Amazon REDD+ fund which Lula revived on his return to office.

Jurisdictional programmes scale up REDD+ governance to cover national orr subnational territories. Alongside Guyana, another early jurisdictional REDD+ scheme in the Brazilian Amazon state of Acre failed to halt deforestation.

The World Rainforest Movement has argued that Guyana’s jurisdictional REDD+ scheme has generated:

“pollution credits” for new offshore oil drilling.

In other words, REDD+ offsets are providing convenient cover for the very climate criminals hell-bent on profit at the expense of people and the planet.

Indigenous leaders call on Amazon governments

To fight the rampant destruction of the Amazon, leaders must therefore ditch extractive Global North forest conservation schemes like REDD+. Instead, the Rainforest Foundation has advocated for a suite of “non-market mechanisms” to end deforestation.

These include debt relief and levies on fossil fuel extraction, polluting air travel and financial transactions. Importantly, the foundation argues that the rights of Indigenous People should be at the heart of forest conservation.

Echoing this, on Monday 7 August, Indigenous leaders from across South America called for bold steps to protect the Amazon and their ancestral lands.

Native leaders called on Lula and his counterparts to create new Indigenous reservations. A 2021 United Nations (UN) report found that deforestation was lower in many Indigenous territories in Central and South America than in comparative protected areas in the region.

Nemo Guiquita, Head of Ecuadoran Indigenous confederation CONFENIAE, said that:

The forest isn’t an oil well, it’s not a gold mine. It’s our temple.

The organisation represents 1,500 Amazon communities. Guiquita told AFP that politicians should not be the only ones deciding the future of the Amazon rainforest:

We hope our views will be included in the (summit’s) final statement. We’re calling on world leaders to work hard to promote conservation. Our struggle isn’t just for Indigenous peoples, it’s for the entire world, so future generations can survive on this planet.”

The second day of summit talks coincides with International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Rethink the idea of “economic development”

During pre-summit talks on the weekend of 4-6 August, Colombian Indigenous leader Dario Mejia also urged world leaders to fundamentally rethink the idea of “economic development”. Meija is a member of the Zenu people and a representative on a United Nations panel on Indigenous issues. He said that:

There have been many different names for the market economy: first ‘progress,’ then ‘development,’ now ‘the bio-economy’ or ‘transition economy.’

Meija continued:

But if we don’t overcome the values of cut-throat competition, of permanent war on nature, it’s going to be very difficult to overcome the environmental crisis… I want to hope (the summit) will prove an important step for us all.

If leaders are serious about stopping Amazon deforestation, they will drop extractive Global North solutions. Crucially, they will listen to calls of the Indigenous and local communities that call the precious rainforest ‘home’.

Additional reporting via Agence France Presse.

Feature image via Phil P Harris/Wikimedia, cropped and resized to 1910 by 1000, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

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