A joint initiative of the:
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute &
Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Brazil’s Atlantic Forest region–the Mata Atlântica–has been subjected to widespread land transformation for more than five centuries. This biodiversity hotspot harbors a remarkably diverse and unique flora and fauna comparable to that of other Amazon forest types. Yet the Mata Atlântica is considered one of the most threatened tropical landscapes in the world. Scientists advocate stemming the tide of deforestation and conserving the region’s remaining forests. Despite notable advances, such as the recent declaration of four new protected areas and the expansion of an existing national park in the Mata Atlântica’s Central Biodiversity Corridor , major challenges persist. For example, a coalition of legislators known as the “Ruralistas” is pushing to modify the Brazilian Forestry Code, which would exacerbate forest loss by diminishing the percentage of forest that must be protected on private lands, among other things. These and other initiatives illustrate persistent pressures that loom over the Mata Atlântica and other biodiversity-rich ecosystems throughout the country and the pressing need to develop viable strategies to protect and restore these resources.
The remaining forests in the Mata Atlântica region are insufficient to sustain key ecosystem services such as water purification and carbon sequestration, which support an already burgeoning population along Brazil’s eastern coast. This region includes 70% of Brazil’s population and some of the country’s primary urban centers, such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, which place exceptionally high demands on forest-generated services. Efforts to ensure the long-term existence of ecosystem services, therefore, must focus not only on protecting remaining patches of forest, but also on allowing natural regeneration to occur and promoting large-scale restoration of degraded lands.
Reforestation with native tree species, versus commercial exotics, is recognized and promoted as a primary strategy to restore degraded areas and support the continued provision of ecosystem services in the region. However, the costs of these initiatives, as well as efforts to protect and manage existing forests, are substantial. Suitable financing mechanisms have not yet been established. Payments-for-Ecosystem Services (PES) programs are a promising strategy. In a PES program, an individual or group that owns land where natural systems generate ecosystem services receives formal compensation – usually monetary – by guaranteeing the provision of the service to a willing buyer or beneficiary. The ecosystem service – e.g. water regulation, carbon sequestration and storage, and biodiversity maintenance – is sustained or generated by rewarding and promoting biodiversity-friendly land uses, such as forest conservation, reforestation, and management. The logic is that a payment made to a landholder via a PES program will provide the economic means and incentives to protect, manage, or restore a forested area. Payments by the recipients of the service, such as water bottling companies or agricultural industries, are often the principal source of funding for PES programs. PES programs also can generate concomitant benefits associated with forest conservation or restoration, such as protection of threatened wildlife species and their habitat.
In response to a growing interest in PES as a potentially sustainable source of funding for conservation and restoration efforts, the Environmental Leadership & Training Initiative (ELTI), a joint capacity-building program of Yale University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), recently organized two courses on PES with local partners. The courses were held in Recife, Pernambuco, and Porto Seguro, Bahia, in the northeastern and central portions of the Mata Atlântica region. ELTI worked alongside partner organizations Cepan, Amane, Conservation International (CI), Flora Brasil, RPPN Estacao Veracel, and Instituto Bioatlântica to engage more than 70 representatives from local government, NGOs, local communities, and academia on PES. Discussions focused on the viability of developing PES projects and state-level legislation to support and promote native species reforestation, forest conservation, and watershed protection and management initiatives that will contribute toward establishing and consolidating conservation corridors in the region. Participants examined the technical, social, economic, and political dimensions of implementing PES initiatives in the region, and particular attention was placed on analyzing the opportunities, complexities, and challenges of participating in emerging ecosystem-service projects and markets (e.g. carbon markets). Participants learned about resource and ecosystem service valuation and payment structures and also considered the mechanisms that must be instituted to ensure that rural communities and landholders can benefit from these initiatives. This latter issue was particularly relevant during the courses, as concerns mount about the potential impacts of PES and Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) initiatives – i.e. projects that finance conservation of threatened forests and associated carbon stocks to mitigate the impacts of climate change – on the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities in Brazil.
Both courses provided information and facilitated discussions to encourage relevant stakeholders to decide whether or not to develop PES programs and legislation for forest conservation and land restoration with native trees. Following the Recife course, the state-level law and policy on mechanisms to confront climate change (No. 14.090), which was being drafted and debated prior to the course, was modified to include the concept of ecosystem services and to promote reforestation with native species and PES as a form of compensation for forest conservation. The law went into effect on June 14, 2010. During the course in Porto Seguro, members of the Steering Committee of “Protected Areas Mosaic of Southern Bahía”, a part of the Central Biodiversity Corridor, began to draft a project concept proposal for a PES initiative at the level of the mosaic which will encourage landholders to participate in projects to restore and manage local forests.
Although there are conflicting accounts about how much of the Mata Atlântica actually remains, recent estimates, which include intermediate secondary and small patches of forest (