SAO PAULO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Brazilian lawmakers have paved the way for the creation of a national system to pay farmers, local communities and others to protect natural systems that provide key environmental services such as water and carbon storage.
A bill was first approved in January by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, although he vetoed key points that would ensure transparency and governance, such as the establishment of regulatory bodies and payrolls.
After the provisions were reinstated, legislators last week backed the bill in a vote bringing together green-minded and agribusiness-friendly congressmen to lay the groundwork for a national policy for Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES).
The country can now set up a market that compensates those managing efforts to protect nature and the climate, in line with the global goals set by the Paris Agreement.
PES policies will include offsetting the resulting carbon losses by conserving carbon-rich forests and other ecosystems.
However, there are questions about Brazil’s commitment to Paris’s goal of curbing global warming after it submitted an updated climate action plan to the United Nations in December that was criticized by climate experts as weaker than ever.
In a statement, WWF Brazil said the new plan would “allow for significantly more emissions by 2025 and 2030” than Brazil’s previous submission under the 2015 Paris accord.
Nor does it include a firm commitment to reducing deforestation, whereas the original “nationally determined contribution” promises to end illegal deforestation by 2030.
Bolsonaro has historically called for developing the Amazon, and last year’s deforestation spiked to a 12-year high, with an area equal to seven times the size of London destroyed.
Brazil has also blocked UN negotiations on new rules to regulate carbon markets, maintaining a system that would allow “double counting” of emission reductions.
The 2020 climate plan says Brazil hopes to receive international financial transfers to fund its conservation strategy – which will allow for more ambitious efforts.
More broadly, the resources for PES schemes are expected to come mainly from private companies, international investors, and wealthy donor governments.
The PES concept is not new and has been used in Brazil on an ad hoc basis, as well as in other countries in America, including Costa Rica – which has been running the project since the 1990s – Colombia, Mexico and the United States.
For example, Brazilian cosmetics company Natura & Co is partnering with the Reca reforestation project, which consists of rural producers from the states of Rondônia, Acre and Amazonas.
They are paid to supply products such as cupuaçu fruit, acai berry and medicinal crabs, while conserving the forest area.
In 2017, Reca received its first payment to conserve 5,000 hectares (12,355 hectares) of forest, and in 2018, these payments became annualized.
Money can go to individual producers or to a collective fund managed by Reca, depending on emission reductions being audited by an independent company.
The aim is to reduce deforestation to zero by 2038 in areas where Reca producers operate.
Pedro Soares, climate change manager at the Amazon Institute for Conservation and Sustainable Development (Idesam) who works on the Reca project, warns that Brazil’s weak enforcement of environmental laws is an obstacle.
“Increased deforestation in the Amazon in recent years seriously jeopardizes Brazil’s ability to produce results under the Paris Agreement and the carbon market,” he said. “We’re really burning up investment.”
But Joaquim Leite, Amazon and secretary of environmental services at the Ministry of Environment, said Brazil could become a major player in PES, taking advantage of international financing under the Paris Agreement.
PES was launched in Brazil in 2005, when the Water Conservation project, managed and funded by the local government in Extrema, in the state of Minas Gerais, started paying for forest conservation in areas with natural springs.
This area is a water producer, which is supplied to the metropolitan area of São Paulo.
Until now, however, without national laws governing such initiatives, they varied across the country.
LAND RIGHTS KEY
Erika de Paula, coordinator of the ecosystem services group at the Brazil Coalition for Climate, Forests and Agriculture, said the new bill sets clear goals and guidelines.
“From now on, states and cities no longer need to enact laws to pass remuneration for environmental services,” he said.
The new law says indigenous peoples, traditional communities and farming families should be the priority groups for PES projects.
But large-scale farmers and ranchers can also receive payments by conserving land areas in addition to what they are obliged to protect their property.
According to Letícia Cobello, public policy adviser for the non-profit Foundation for Amazonian Sustainability, land rights need to be regulated, especially in the Amazon region, to expand PES projects.
“The large amount of land that has not been completed is an inhibiting factor for increasing investment from international cooperation,” he said, pointing to the potential for land grabbing as a deterrent.
With the implementation of the new PES policy, Cobello believes Brazil will demonstrate its commitment to protecting most of the world’s largest tropical forest.
“We will not be (environmental) protagonists, but we will arrive at the minimum scenario expected for a country with so much forest and a large population living in it,” he said.
Reporting by Jennifer Ann Thomas; edited by Megan Rowling. Please appreciate the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the Thomson Reuters charity, covering the lives of people around the world who struggle to live free or fair. Visit news.trust.org/climate