REDDy for a change?

There was a fascinating meeting at the International Institute for Environment and Development last night. Professor Virgílio Viana, visiting fellow and director general of the Amazon Sustainability Foundation talked about the project he oversees in the Amazonas, the largest Brazilian Amazon state. A short summary of what he covered is in this video:

Viana’s presentation outlined the successes of the project, which has seen a switch in governmental policy from handing out free chainsaws towards a cultural value of seeing standing trees as being worth more than felled ones.

Money is raised — in part through partnership with a credit card company — and distributed to local people in the form of various grants. Families are allocated an individual monthly allowance, and additional funds are handed over to communities and for specific community-driven projects.

The result has been a greater emphasis on forest products, although all economic development (so long as it’s legal and doesn’t produce smoke!) is supported. The idea is that control is handed to indigenous communities: they decide upon their own future.

An interesting sidenote was the observation that these forest-dwelling people were already well aware of climate change, not from reading about it in the press but through their own direct observations. They believe the sun is now lower (it’s hotter during the middle of the day) and that storms are fiercer (judged by the number of times they are faced with rebuilding damaged homes).

Viala argued for the inclusion of Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) in the upcoming Copehagen summit, though not necessarily as part of the Joint Implementation/Clean Development Mechanism. Instead it should be a separate entity, standing outside of mechanisms such as the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS).

He went on to claim that many of the technical objections to REDD have been addressed. The Amazonas scheme is partly self-funding and is building an endowment fund to secure its long term future. Further funding could be achieved through the sale of carbon offsets to Annex 1 countries, but Viala was keen to point out that it should be used as an easy way out for the worst polluters. The price of carbon could be protected by restricting the number of credits available — something that seems to have escaped the designers of the ETS. One option would be for countries wishing to buy offsets to increase their carbon reduction committments, then offset the increased amount — an outcome Viala described as a win-win situation.

On the ground, the Amazonas project seems to be working, with a huge decrease in deforestation since its inception. However, the question of displacement looms large: how can old-growth tropical forest destruction be stopped without a drop in the demand that industrialised nations place upon it?

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