Amazon Fires and the End of REDD+

I wrote a commentary for REDD+Monitor on the fires in the Amazon and what it means for the REDD+ carbon offset mechanism. Here’s an excerpt:

The fires in the Brazilian Amazon are, in part, typical forest ecosystem processes, as some forest experts have shared. But they are also the product of complex political economic forces, led by a money- and power-hungry, anti-Indigenous political regime. We must not overlook the political rhetoric that has provoked violence on this invaluable ecosystem, and the people who depend on it for survival.

Since taking office January 1, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has widely incited anti-indigenous sentiment. He has spoken about the value of the resources in the Amazon, and positioned indigenous and forest dependent communities as obstacles to resource extraction and capital accumulation. He has denied indigenous land tenure claims and encouraged the murder, abuse, and violent displacement of indigenous communities. The fires we see burning are the direct result of Bolsonaro’s encouragement of extractive industries to take what they want; the fires are the primal image of state-sponsored disregard for the culture, ecology, and biodiversity of the Amazon. They are the embodiment of capitalism and fascism run amok.

REDD was designed to incentivize landholders to maintain forests in exchange for payments that eclipsed profits from deforestation and subsequent land uses, like agriculture or grazing. But REDD was never designed to combat widespread state-sanctioned violence. If the people who manage the forests are dead or dispossessed, who is left to protect the land from development and extractivism?

As the Amazon fires continue to burn, indigenous communities are brutalized and disenfranchised. Yet the purchasers of REDD carbon credits won’t feel the impact. The mechanism has contingencies and insurance policies to protect against things like leakage (when deforestation is prevented in one place, but occurs in another) and impermanence (things like pest infestation, or… fires). REDD offers indemnity for the financial investment, but not indemnity for the environment. Polluters whose carbon budgets depend on the credits from Amazon REDD projects? They have insurance policies to cover their loss.

Too bad the planet doesn’t have the same.

REDD is dead.

You can read the full piece here: