Brazil's ecosystem payments system offers clues for REDD implementation
February 25, 2008

Brazil's existing system for environmental services payments could offer insight for implementing carbon-credits-for-forest-conservation (REDD) initiatives in the Amazon rainforest, argues a London School of Economics researcher in a new paper published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

Reviewing the performance of Brazil's Programme for the Socio-Environmental Development of Rural Family Production (Proambiente), Anthony Hall writes that "despite being fraught with problems, Proambiente is one tool among many which could reward small producers for enhancing carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation."

Proambiente was launched four years ago as a way to compensate rural Brazilians for environmental services afforded by forests, including: "reduction or avoidance of deforestation; carbon sequestration; recuperation of ecosystem hydrological functions; soil conservation; preservation of biodiversity; and reduction of forest fire risks." Hall reports that of 4200 participating families, 1768 have received total payments averaging $325 per household to date — well below what had been promised to Proambiente participants. Hall said the program suffered from "the lack of a national legal framework, limited funding, reduced implementation capacity, poor cross sector collaboration and incompatibility with existing regional development policies."

Still, says Hall, by offering farmers incentives that promote conservation rather than deforestation, Proambiente is an important departure from pervious government policies in the Amazon.

"Official subsidies for Amazon settlement have historically encouraged deforestation rather than conservation. Yet [payments for environmental services - (PES)] could help alter this perverse pattern," he writes. "One such set of policies involves providing financial rewards to rural landowners and resource users who adopt environmentally friendly practices, ranging from outright conservation to sustainable development techniques. Financial compensation in the form of PES rendered would reward resource-users for their efforts to either preserve forests and other natural resources intact, and/or introduce production systems that generate economic surplus and sustain local populations without destroying the resource base upon which people's livelihoods depend."

Hall says that increased funding from REDD schemes could bolster and expand programs like Proambiente, while offering lessons for implementation.

"The World Bank, for example, has set up a US$300 million [Forest Carbon Partnership Facility] to pilot RED schemes. Such initiatives could benefit thousands of poor family farmers in Amazonia and, indeed, the tropics generally, who depend for their livelihoods on natural resources but who struggle to make ends meet," he writes. "After just 4 years in operation and having achieved modest success, Proambiente has demonstrated pitfalls that threaten to frustrate the realization of this potential."

"On balance, however, using PES to promote reduced emissions from deforestation could help avert the potentially fatal consequences of current development patterns in Amazonia upon both the environment and on people's livelihoods. In spite of the many challenges which must be faced, therefore, it is far better to be RED than dead," he concludes.

Carbon offsets versus other types of land use in the Amazon rain forest. Environmentalists and conservation scientists say REDD — a carbon offset mechanism approved during December climate talks in Bali — holds great promise for funding rainforest compensation while at the same time improving rural incomes and fighting climate change.

Anthony Hall (2008). Better RED than dead: paying the people for environmental services in Amazonia. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2007.0026

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Brazil's ecosystem payments system offers clues for REDD implementation.