How Avoided Deforestation Partners supports deforestation in Brazil

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How Avoided Deforestation Partners helped to gut Brazil's forest code

In May 2010, Avoided Deforestation Partners put out a report titled “Farms here, forests there“. The report argues that deforestation to create agricultural land in the tropics has resulted in a “dramatic expansion” in food commodities that compete with food produced in the USA. Predictably enough, agribusiness interests in Brazil have used the report to push for more deforestation – to keep Brazilian agriculture competitive.

On the front page of Avoided Deforestation Partners’ website is a video, that tells us “how protecting tropical rainforests benefits U.S. agriculture”. It’s a piece of propaganda aimed at a US-based audience, in the hope that they are as ignorant of the reality in the Global South as Avoided Deforestation Partners seem to be. The voice-over explains:

Did you know that saving forests can protect American [sic] jobs? Here’s how: Timber and agricultural products from tropical deforestation undercut more environmentally friendly US products putting Americans [sic] out of work. Protecting these forests will create good jobs and conservation for people in tropical countries and make sure Americans [sic] have a fair chance to compete. Now you know.

Indeed, now we know. Avoided Deforestation Partners is pushing arguments that are so US-centric that they are being used by agribusiness to increase deforestation in the tropics. In an interview with REDD-Monitor, Jeff Horowitz, the founder of Avoided Deforestation Partners, echoed this US-centrism: “protecting tropical forests will cut the cost of U.S. climate legislation almost in half – saving [U.S.] Americans billions”.

Glen Hurowitz of Avoided Deforestation Partners defends the report, explaining that it “was written for a U.S. audience relevant to the ongoing debate on climate legislation”. He told SolveClimate that “Some of the interests in Brazil wildly misinterpreted the report.” Avoided Deforestation Partners rushed out another statement titled, “More Forests, Better Farms: Gains for Brazil From Forest Protection“, which estimates that ending deforestation could “boost revenue for Brazil by $146-$306 billion”.

Of course, the challenge to Brazil’s Forest Code started before Avoided Deforestation Partners published their gift to the deforesters. And the proposed changes to the code are the subject of an intense debate within Brazil.

A group of organisations in Brazil have launched a campaign to save the Forest Code: “SOS Forests – the Forestry Code is in Danger“.

Since 1934 Brazilian landowners have been forbidden by the Forestry Code to cut down vegetation that has the “function of preventing soil erosion”, by which is meant vegetation on slopes and hilltops, and to maintain a “legal reserve” of original vegetation. Currently, this reserve is 80% on land in the Amazon and much lower in the rest of the country.

The proposed amendments to the Forest Code would reduce the area for legal reserves in privately owned land and allow larger areas for small landholdings, which have less strict forest protection requirements. Last week, Ecosystem Marketplace published an article discussing the proposed changes to the Brazilian Forest Code: “Will Brazil Change its Forest Code – and Kill the Amazon?“.

In a sidebar to the article, Ecosystem Marketplace speculates the implications of gutting the Forest Code for REDD and highlights one of the serious risks of REDD. If a government has good forest laws that are strictly enforced and the country is already successfully reducing deforestation, then it is less likely to benefit from REDD payments:

Schemes that reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation must, by definition, have threatened forests to protect. Does that mean Brazil could boost the REDD sector by gutting its Forest Code? After all, such a move would certainly endanger forests that today are nominally protected.

Ecosystem Marketplace asks “Do you see gutting the law and using REDD finance as a more sustainable alternative than the current legislation?” REDD-Monitor disagrees with Ecosystem Marketplace’s belief in the market as the solution to, well, everything, but encourages debate on Brazil’s Forest Code. Ecosystem Marketplace is working on a follow up article and is looking for feedback. Please contact Steve Zwick, Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace (SZwick@ ecosystemmarketplace.com), or use the comment section below this post.

What’s missing from Ecosystem Marketplace’s analysis of the challenge to the Forest Code are the views of Brazil’s small farmers. In August 2010, in an article for World Rainforest Movement’s Bulletin, Luiz Zarref of Via Campesina describes how the proposed changes to the Forest Code are for the benefit of large landowners and agribusiness rather than small farmers:

The mode of agribusiness production is based on monoculture, heavy machinery and the uncontrolled use of pesticides. For agribusiness, the PPAs [permanent protection areas] and the RLs [legal reserves] are unproductive areas, obstacles to the advancement of their devastating model. For poor farmers, these areas are key to food sovereignty, energy, water, environmental sustainability and local diversified income generation.

In a recent interview, Zarref explains why agribusiness wants to gut the Forest Code:

Their objectives are clear: to push ahead with the huge destruction they have already caused in the Cerrado, the Atlantic Forest and other regions; and to advance in the destruction of the Amazon, consolidating areas they have already cleared. They want to plant monocultures and palm trees in the few areas of conservation that remain.

But Zarref also sees a positive side to the discussions about the Forest Code in Brazil: “For the first time ever, people from the environmental movement are walking closely with people form the peasant movement.” Unfortunately this doesn’t yet seem to apply to Avoided Deforestation Partners.

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11 Comments

  1. The article of Ecosystem Market Place and the video of AD shows indeed the important issues around REDD. How do we improve low-impact and more productive agriculture for large and small farmers in Brazil, AND how do we do we do the same in the US and EU? Because, indeed when countries don’t have ambitious environment laws, they compete better. Answer is that the US and the EU need to pay more money, when they import AND in the same time apply emission caps on EU and US farmers. That is the end game, and we are just starting.
    The problem of having or not having protection Brazilian law or having forest under threat does not need to influence REDD payments: hence, when Brazil avoids the deforestation signbificantly, it can receive payments by Funds or carbon market, however they implement that, by law, grants, community actions etc. It is the end result that pays, nit the individual projects.

  2. The protocols that govern REDD projects are designed to avoid paradoxical outcomes such as increasing the threat of deforestation as ” ransom” for payments. Similarly, early adopters of good practices are not to be punished by overly technical definitions of additionality. Usually, a year is picked, say 1991 for example, whereby any forest protection scheme instituted after the date is grandfathered into qualifying. Preventing the gaming of the system is one of the top priorities of methodology design criteria.
    Eventually, as the critical importance of forests becomes more widely accepted, almost all forests may be deemed protection worthy. Al least, that is my hope…

  3. Chris;

    Thanks for calling attention to our inquiry, but I need to point out that neither I nor anyone I know at Ecosystem Marketplace believes that the market is “the solution to, well, everything.”

    As our name implies, Ecosystem Marketplace does exist to explore the role of markets and market-like mechanisms in promoting good stewardship of the planet, but we’re not free-market fundamentalists by any stretch of the imagination.

    Our inquiries, in fact, have repeatedly found that environmental markets only deliver large-scale environmental benefits when they’re part of a well-structured legal and regulatory framework. Within such a framework, these mechanisms can help bring the value of nature’s services (and the cost of degradation) into our economic decisions, which we believe will help many of the problems we face today. Without such a framework, these mechanisms are little more than interesting ideas.

    Anyway, thanks again for calling attention to our inquiry — I’m not sure where it will lead, but I look forward to reading your take on whatever we do find.

    Steve Zwick
    Managing Editor
    Ecosystem Marketplace

  4. Obviously, I meant to say “help solve many of the problems we face today.”

    SZ

  5. @Steve Zwick – Thanks for this clarification, but I think Ecosystem Marketplace does a little more than “explore the role of markets and market-like mechanisms”. At least according to the “About Us” part of your website, you are actively promoting markets:

    “We believe that by making accessible information on policy, finance, regulation, science, business, and other market-relevant factors, markets for ecosystem services will one day become a fundamental part of our economic system, helping give value to environmental services that, for too long, have been taken for granted. In providing free reliable market information, we hope not only to facilitate transactions (thereby lowering transaction costs), but also to catalyze new thinking, spur the development of new markets and the infrastructure that supports them, and achieve effective and equitable nature conservation.”

    OK, that doesn’t quite say that the market is “the solution to, well, everything,” but you’ve got to admit that it’s a pro-market viewpoint.

  6. @Chris Lang;

    Thanks for the quick response – I’ll accept “pro-market”, in that we do believe markets and market-like mechanisms can help identify the true cost of environmental degradation, which we believe is orders of magnitude higher than most people perceive.

    Our role is to act as a provider of transparency and a clearinghouse of ideas – both of which are a necessary part of any functioning market.

    We do not, however, see the market as a replacement for laws, regulations, communities, human rights, and all the other tools we currently deploy in the effort to halt environmental degradation and human exploitation.

    Quite the contrary, we see markets and market-like mechanisms as a means of implementing public policy in a way that is fair, equitable, and transparent.

    By the way, I’ve been tempted to post to your site quite often in the past but never got around to it. I’ll try to do so more often in the future.

  7. I don’t want to take any part – but I’m wondering why the market cannot play an important role to conserve biodiversity.

    Of course, I’m aware (thanks to REDD-Monitor) of some problems caused by the Market’s (and its players’) greed. But, we do also have good initiatives going around the world.
    Indeed we have to work harder to overcome methodological and political issues…

    Thus, I’d like to hear from you (all) why the market cannot be part of this paradigm changing?

  8. @Victor Salviati

    Markets — or, more spceifically, payments for ecosystem services — do play an important role in conserving biodiversity.

    In the United States, the Endangered Species Act makes it a crime to harm an endangered species without first getting permission from the government; when that permission is given — to build, for example, a new road — it’s usually done with the caveat that the harm must result in no net loss of species habitat.

    That’s led to the creation of mitigation banking, where developers buy land — usually farms adjascent to nature preserves — and and restore them to their natural state. Then they can sell offsets to developers — and the result is often better habitat because the reclaimed land is often part of a cintiguous natural area.

    Here are some links on mitigation banking, as well as on similar efforts in the developing world:
    Biodiversity Banking: a Primer
    Special Report: More Governments Using Markets to Save Species
    SpeciesBanking.com: For All Your Species Needs!
    UN LifeWeb Brings Transparency (and, Hopefully, Funding) to Biodiversity
    Business and Biodiversity Offsets Program Teaming with Local Stakeholders in Vietnam

  9. Nice inputs you brought up, Steve.

    And I recommend, for whom it may concern, the BBOP – which I’m trying to follow on behalf of the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation (FAS).

    I do agree the market, and its mechanisms, can be biased, agressive, and bogus (greenwashing) – but, from my point of view, those aforementioned initiatives are working and improving both environmental and social aspects.

  10. There’s an interesting article on mongabay.com: “Could industrial interests ruin payments for environmental services?“. The article is based on the following paper: Romain Pirard, Raphaël Billé, Thomas Sembrés. 2010. Upscaling Payments for Environmental Services (PES): Critical issues. Tropical Conservation Science Vol. 3 (3): 249-261.

    It refers to the risk of “ecosystem blackmail” replacing the polluter pays principle – simply threatening to destroy an ecosystem could be a whole new business for companies (and governments – Guyana in particular, with President Jagdeo’s “avoided threatened deforestation scheme):

    “If the polluter pays principle is abandoned for the industry, the door will be open to all sorts of blackmail; the very fact of threatening an ecosystem will then become a serious business,” the authors write.

  11. @Chris Lang,
    Nice paper you got – at least the abstract.

    I’m going to read it and then share with you (all) my thoughts.

    Cheers,
    Victor.

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