Local people are key to a plan to protect rainforest but they’ve received little money from the carbon credits bought by Western businesses
Image: AFP via Getty Images)
The destruction of a rainforest region in Peru has worsened since a project was set up to save it, according to an environmental group.
The project in the Madre de Dios region is backed by UK companies and others around the world in an effort to boost their green credentials.
It is one of many so-called carbon credit schemes, which supporters say protect the environment by storing carbon through planting and safeguarding forests.
But critics claim that carbon credits amount to a licence to pollute and say a better solution would be to stop pumping carbon into the atmosphere in the first place.
The Madre de Dios project was set up in 2010 to make the forest more valuable for brazil nut harvesters to keep, rather than cut it down for farming, logging or mining.
A key goal was the building of a plant to process the nuts but, more than a decade later, it still does not exist and some harvesters have turned to logging.
“Deforestation in the wider intervention zone had more or less trebled from the 2001-2010 average, in the core project area it had more than quadrupled,” states the report by campaign group Foodwatch.
“In order to mask a serious project failure resulting in a significant increase in actual carbon emissions, a large number of brazil nut harvesters were excised from the project for carbon accounting purposes, because they were involved in logging the forest rather than preserving it.”
It goes on: “The benefits from the project were heavily skewed towards the project developer (Bosques Amazonicos SAC), which under the terms of the project agreement received 70% of the proceeds of the sale of carbon credits.
“Investment which was deemed essential to the success of the project – especially for the construction of a Brazil nut processing plant in the project area, but also other aspects of the project – never actually happened. At least up until 2014, none of the Brazil nut concessionaires themselves had received any actual payments.”
The report concludes that the millions of carbon credits bought by companies in the West were created “through manipulation of carbon accounting in order to profit the project developer, rather than generating any genuine additional carbon emission reductions”.
Among the companies that have bought the credits is BP Gas, which did not respond to requests to comment.
The findings are disputed by the international carbon credit monitoring group Verra, based in Washington DC.
“The project has significantly improved the viability of brazil nut harvesting and other sustainable activities that incentivise the conservation of forests,” it maintains.
“It followed expert-developed and expert-accepted processes to calculate carbon credits from its activities.”
According to the author of the critical report, Simon Counsell, Verra has provided no evidence to support claims that the project benefits local nut harvesters.
He highlighted the fact that Verra admits that after 11 years only “initial steps” have been taken towards building the processing plant.
Schemes such as this are known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, or REDD.
Mr Counsell’s paper was reported by the website Redd-monitor.org, which was seized upon by the project developer, Bosques Amazonicos of Lima, Peru, as ostensible evidence of bias.
“The one-sided report has been published by the same author in REDD Monitor, a platform which has made clear its opposition to carbon offsets,” said the company.
“As such, it should come as no surprise that the conclusions seek to discredit forest carbon offsets as a vital solution for fighting climate change.”
Mr Counsell responded: “It surely is the weakest of the arguments they’ve adduced that my criticism of the project is somehow less valid because I have a history of critical assessment of REDD.
“My assessment was carried out with a completely open mind and no preconceived outcome, and with complete transparency in my methods.”
In a simpler world, businesses claiming that they are reducing carbon emissions would cut their own pollution and also help to protect rainforests, instead of trading one off against the other.
You can read the full Foodwatch report here.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.