As companies seek and are required to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, the world's carbon markets are expanding. A government-run program in the Amazon rainforest in northwestern Brazil transforms forest carbon value into public wealth by focusing on labor rather than land rights. In the Brazilian state of Acre, some of the revenue from carbon credits is distributed to rural laborers and family farmers without land rights. A Dartmouth study just published examines Acre's forest carbon program and the benefits and risks associated with this approach, including the potential impact.
"In resource-rich areas in the rainforest, powerful actors have often profited at the expense of indigenous peoples and other local communities, who are often displaced from their land. Efforts to value forest carbon threaten to do the same. Through Acre's carbon value program, in contrast, the state government attempts to create an inclusive, green economy in a way that also expands its social welfare initiatives. There are also risks to this approach" says study author, Maron Greenleaf, from Dartmouth College.
While the traditional focus within forest carbon value programs has been on land rights, Acre’s system instead concentrates on labor, arguing that poorer non-landowners are often marginalized in the original system. Acre’s program, the 2010 System of Incentives for Environmental Services (SISA), is a branch-off of REDD+, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, which prioritizes sustainable forestry management and conservation to mitigate climate change.
Eighty-six percent of the Acre state (164,000 square kilometers) is forested land. SISA valorizes environmental services such as carbon sequestration in order to protect those forests and combat deforestation. One manifestation of this plays out in the agreements Acre has made with various Western countries and states, including Britain, Germany, and California. For example, if California’s Air Resources Board decides to adopt the "Tropical Forest Standard” and approve Acre’s program, Californian companies will soon be able to buy carbon credits in to protect Acre’s land. Such a move would be a huge step forward, as it would be the first example of REDD+ carbon credits in a cap and trade market.
Nevertheless, it’s important to not oversimplify the complexity of SISA. While it may bring positive aspects of involving poorer rural laborers into the economy, it also gives the government a lot of power over the land and the forest’s carbon value. In light of recent elections in Brazil in 2018, this might be a mixed bag.