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Sustainable forestry

Rainforest and climate protection

by Thomas Jaeschke, Heike Friedhoff

In depth

Almost 25 million people live in the Amazon region. Their livelihoods rely on an intact rainforest

Almost 25 million people live in the Amazon region. Their livelihoods rely on an intact rainforest

Approximately 15 % of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to tropical deforestation. Five million square kilometres of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest must be protected so carbon continues to be sequestered and greenhouse gases are not released into the atmosphere. Forest protection must serve the needs of a quite diverse region, so only coherent approaches that tackle all relevant dimensions make sense. By Thomas Jaeschke and Heike Friedhoff

Brazil has done a lot towards climate protection in recent years. For example, it has set national targets to reduce emissions. By defining them, the country asserted its willingness to actively contribute to international climate policy even before the climate summit in Copenhagen, emphasising its leadership role among developing nations. The targets have since been made national law and demand that, by 2020, Brazil will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 36.1 % to 38.9 % below the levels of 2005. In the same time span, Brazil plans to reduce deforestation in the Amazon rainforest by 80 %.

The agricultural lobby in Brazil is very strong, however, and has a bearing on policymakers. Its influence is felt in the debate on the Forestry Law. The lobby wants to see protected areas restricted and calls for an amnesty for the “environmental criminals” who cleared forests in the past. Large infrastructure projects, such as the highways or hydroelectric power stations, moreover, also present risks to forests and the communities living there. The cost-benefit ratios of such projects tend to change when climate change is factored in.

The forest is rich, not the ground

Almost 25 million people live in the Brazil’s Amazon region. This region is of great – and steadily growing – economic and global significance. This is evident, for instance, in the huge investments in infrastructure projects funded by the Inter-American Development Bank and its national Brazilian counterpart.

The Amazon region contributes eight percent to Brazil’s gross domestic product (GDP), and its growth rate was twice as high as the national one in the past few years. At the same time, according to IMAZON (the Institute of People and the Environment in the Amazon), 75 % of the national carbon emissions are from the Amazon region. The municipalities in the deforested areas, moreover, are below Brazil’s GDP average and lag behind in the terms of the UNDP’s Human Development Index too. In this region, 38 % of the people live below the poverty line, which proves that the traditional development model of commodity exports has not served the region well.

Until recently, governments’ idea seemed to be that only deforested areas which can be used to grow soybeans or raise cattle are economically valuable. That is still the understanding of the powerful landlords and their influential political lobby – the “Ruralistas” –, but it is opposed by the traditional strata of the population, indigenous peoples, extractivistas (non-indigenous people who gather forest resources) and river dwellers. They have always understood the true value of forests and strived to live in harmony with nature.

Today, the international and national environmental movements are exerting pressure, so the significance of the Amazon for the global climate is gaining more recognition. Accordingly, the interests of the traditional sections of the population are getting more support. Brazil’s policy agenda has made the protection and sustainable use of tropical forests a priority. Approximately 42 % of the Amazon rainforest has become a nature reserve, which keeps deforestation under control.

At the same time, smallholders in the Amazon region are reconsidering their livelihoods and want to manage the forest in a sustainable manner. People are becoming more and more aware of forests and their produce being profitable in the medium and long term, whereas deforested areas are typically only useful for a few years because soil nutrients are depleted fast.

The true value of the Amazon region is above the ground – in the forest, not in the soil. Brazil must preserve the rain­forest, not only to help stabilise the climate, but also to boost economic growth and improve the quality of life for local communities.

Inclusive approaches

Civil society and governmental organisations have committed to forest conservation in the Amazon region for many years. They are supported by German development agencies. Such support is not merely about forest conservation in the narrow sense. The projects
– involve the target groups (the traditional people and smallholders) in the planning from the outset,
– promote sustainable forest use and agriculture,
– deepen democracy and
– enhance value chains.

For sustainable development to come true in the term’s environmental, economic and social senses, all three dimensions need to be addressed in coherent approaches. Sustainable use protects the tropical rainforest if, for example, the production of wood and non-wood products (such as natural oils, nuts and rubber) is appropriate. The same purpose is served if smallholders manage their forests better and the people concerned are involved in drafting land use plans for protected areas. Small-scale farming matters a lot, both in terms of subsistence production and cash crops (market commodities like cocoa, for example), which are subsidised by the government. The idea is to implement agroecological and agroforestry systems.

Plans can only translate into meaningful action if the people affected are involved in the politics of forest preservation. That must be the case, for instance, when management plans are designed. This kind of project promotes democracy because they strengthen grassroots organisations, involve civil society in advisory boards and other committees, and lead to dialogue of non-governmental organisations with government agencies.

Finally, projects help to establish and enhance value chains. Consultants contribute to identifying suitable solutions for linking various participants in different stages of processing and marketing products. Production must cater to market demand, but needs to be done in a way that neither hurts the environment nor exceeds local capacities. Due to the environmental, social and economic “mega-diversity” of the Amazon region, projects, right from the very start, should always consider several value chains.

Local approaches

The Amazon rainforest is not a uniform area with a homogeneous population. It does not make sense to look for one-size-fits-all solutions. Diversity must be taken into account. It is necessary to find solutions that fit local as well as global needs. Indigenous peoples, extractivistas and smallholders are relevant.

New trends, moreover, have to be ­considered in forest conservation. The ­UNFCCC negotiations on REDD (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) and payments for ecosystem service schemes (PES) have made a difference. They open up new opportunities and risks. For instance, there is a risk of forested areas, which were well protected (such as nature reserves) in the past, being excluded from REDD.

As a matter of principle, moreover, there must be a guarantee that all funding – including compensation payments – is carried out in a fair and transparent manner. Those who protect the forest at the local level must benefit.

To this end, dialogue must be encouraged between local, national and international levels, and local actors have to be empowered to participate at all levels. In order to achieve transparency, new technologies are needed to keep track of data without being too expensive. Carbon sequestration, furthermore, is not the only environmental service forests provide, so REDD needs to be combined with other strategies of sustainable ­development. Coherent solutions are needed. Finally, forestry projects need ­to adapt to climate change themselves. Current estimates by the Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA) indicate that average temperatures in the Amazon region will rise by seven to eight ­degrees by the year 2100. This trend will affect rain cycles and water levels and thus impact on the lives of local communities.

It is quite a challenge to turn best practices of multi-level approaches into public policy. But doing so is necessary to make sure that individual projects fit into the big picture.