Forest carbon schemes – new hope for the Amazon?

December 4, 2009

By Stuart Grudgings

In the tiny settlement of Boa Frente on the banks of a tributary to the Amazon river, bright blue butterflies flitting through trees and the constant squawks of parrots add to the feeling of a paradise on earth. The poverty endured by most of its residents quickly shatters that illusion, but environmentalists hope this village and 35 others in Brazil’s Juma reserve could be a model for saving the world’s greatest forest from destruction.


This feature about the Juma REDD project, which stands for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, gives a fuller account of the issue.
REDD projects, in which reserves in developing nations with forest like Brazil and Indonesia receive funds from rich nations looking to offset carbon emissions, have emerged as one of the few areas in which a strong deal is possible in the divisive United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen this month.
My trip to Juma, which lies about an hour’s flight from Manaus city in Brazil’s vast Amazonas state, gave me an idea of how much is at stake as the seven-seater plane glided over a carpet of unspoiled forest that stretched to the horizon on every side. I also found that opinion is starkly divided over how to go about REDD schemes and whether Juma, whose backers include Coca Cola and hotel chain Marriott, is a desirable model.
For the 320 families in the reserve, the benefits are already becoming clear. As well as a $30 monthly stipend for all families, Boa Frente has gained a smart new school with Internet access that stands in sharp contrast to the simple huts that residents live in.  If the REDD scheme takes off according to plan they could stand to gain $7 million a year by 2020 from carbon credit sales. That would go some way towards fulfilling a long-held truism of Amazon protection — that people will only stop cutting down trees when it becomes more valuable to keep them standing.
Yet some environmentalists I spoke to back in Manaus were surprisingly critical of the project. One worried that such projects would create dependency among the families and do little to address what he saw as the main causes of their poverty — a lack of markets for forest products. Another head of an environmental group who has worked with river communities for decades said that Juma community leaders were being manipulated by the project and were losing their freedom.
While REDD certainly represents new hope for preserving the Amazon and other tropical forests, there is a largely unheard debate over how they should best serve the interests of the forest dwellers who will have to live with them.

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