Author: Michael Kepp, from EcoAméricas
The Green Climate Fund, the world’s largest financing mechanism for climate action, has chosen Brazil as the recipient of its first-ever payment under REDD+, the U.N.-backed strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries by improving forest protection. The fund on Feb. 27 announced it was paying Brazil US$96.5 million for keeping 2014 and 2015 carbon-dioxide emissions from Amazon deforestation a total of 1.25 billion tons below average levels prevailing during the period 1996-2010.
Such performance-based payments are the incentive at the heart of REDD+, whose acronym stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. With forest destruction estimated to account for 20% of world carbon-dioxide emissions, forest-protection efforts in key woodland regions such as the Brazilian Amazon are considered crucial in the fight against climate change.
US$5 billion committed
The South Korea-based Green Climate Fund (GCF), created under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, has over $5 billion in committed funding to help developing countries finance climate adaptation and mitigation efforts.
Officials with the right-wing government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, which has been heavily criticized for favoring policies likely to undermine forest conservation and climate protection, touted the payment as a feather in the cap of the new administration.
“The [fund’s] choice of Brazil as the first country to receive payments linked to REDD+ shows the international community’s confidence in the current government,” says Roberto Castelo Branco, the Environment Ministry’s secretary of international relations, adding that Brazil will begin receiving disbursements within 60 days of the fund’s announcement, or by early May.
Brazil will use 80% of the GCF payments in its Floresta+ program to compensate small landowners, traditional communities and indigenous peoples for protecting, conserving and restoring native vegetation, Castelo Branco says. It will spend the remaining 20% to implement a national REDD+ strategy in Brazil.
In 2015, the government created a commission, headed by the Environment Ministry, to coordinate international fundraising for REDD+ projects and develop criteria for the distribution and use of the funds. The latter work included developing eligibility criteria that downstream entities such as state environmental agencies must meet in order to receive REDD+ funds, and that those entities, in turn, must use in determining which forest-conservation projects qualify for REDD+ payments.
Brazil had requested a GCF payment based on 2% of the 1.25 billion-ton CO2 cut in 2014 and 2015, or 25 million tons of CO2. The GCF’s independent Technical Advisory Panel recommended paying Brazil for just over 19 million tons at the GCF-set rate of $5 per ton of emissions reduced, which comes to US$96.5 million.
The REDD+ pilot program in which Brazil earned the payment includes a GCF cap of $150 million in compensation for each recipient nation based on a per-country limit of 30 million tons of CO2 reduced. So having received $96.5 million from the GCF, Brazil is still eligible for $53.5 million more in results based payments. It plans in the coming months to request the remainder, Castelo Branco says.
Although environmentalists welcome the payment, some warn that Brazil’s Amazon deforestation—and associated carbon output— will likely rise under the Bolsonaro government, thus wiping out emission reductions that the fund is compensating the country for having achieved. That’s because Bolsonaro has vowed to rein in environmental regulation and open parts of the Amazon to more development, including dam and road building, agriculture and mining. And deforestation rates appear to have been heading back up even before he took office on Jan. 1: preliminary government figures show Brazil’s Amazon deforestation rate increased by an estimated 13.7% in the 12-month period ending July 31, 2018.
Pedro Soares, climate-change program manager at the Institute for the Conservation and Sustainable Development of the Amazon (Idesam), a nonprofit that develops REDD+ projects, argues now is precisely when more payments are needed. “Yes, Brazil is now facing a challenging period for forest conservation,” Soares says, adding: “That is why we need GCF funding more than ever, funding earmarked exclusively for forest protection. Otherwise deforestation will likely increase amid relaxed environmental enforcements efforts here.”
But Maureen Santos of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a nonprofit that monitors Brazil’s REDD+ policies, questions how GCF payments would be spent. Says Santos: “[The] government has not made its environmental policies and priorities clear and doesn’t have a structure in place to implement the Floresta+ program, where 80% of REDD+ money to Brazil is going.”
For his part, Castelo Branco insists Brazil “has the structure in place to implement the Floresta+ program.”