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The threat of "forest carbon grabbing" in the Amazon

Agronomist, PhD in Ecology from the University of Stirling (UK). She studies the ecology of the Amazon rainforest. Titular researcher and former director of the Goeldi Museum. Counselor of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC).

Ima Vieira

Translated by M. Annarry Tavares, Silvia Benchimol, Ewerton Branco (ET-Multi/UFPA)


The carbon emissions offset mechanism has been seen as one of the solutions for the climate crisis, however, these methods don’t actually ward off the causes of global warming. Effectively, they facilitate a ‘license to pollute’, as long as emissions are compensated, and can bring forward a ‘new manner of speculation’, as Pope Francis noted in Laudato Si*.

The carbon market is organized in many ways around the world. The type that preserves the native forest is known as REDD+ (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). The logic of ‘avoided deforestation’ generates a carbon credit based on a ton of carbon which has not been released into the atmosphere. Following this logic, Amazon has become a potential locus for the marketing of carbon credits based on avoided deforestation, with a focus on the forests.

But what is it about, then, where are they and to whom do these stocks of Amazonian Forest carbon belong? The stocked carbon in the Amazonian forests correspond to the amount of carbon that has been sequestrated from the atmosphere and is now stored in the forest ecosystem. The forests act as a carbon drain because the trees absorb carbon gas (CO2) from the atmosphere by photosynthesizing and fixating it in the vegetation biomass. There are approximately 73 billion tons of carbon stored in the Amazonian forests, out of which a percentage of 58% is concentrated inside indigenous territories, conservation unities, and traditional communities’ territories and the remaining 20% are inside unallocated public land.

By means of environmental discourses, many agents have marketed carbon credits in REDD projects generated inside traditional peoples’ territories, just as they have harassed the communities to negotiate carbon credits in suspicious schemes and without considering the guidelines of the “Protocolos de Consulta Prévia Livre e Informada” [Previous Free and Informed Consult Protocols]. Devoid of clear and transparent market and monitoring directives or rules of socio environmental and fiscal nature, in this market, speculations and abuses are very likely to occur.

REDD companies have taken hold of the carbon from traditional communities’ areas and worsened ownership and socio environmental problems. This way, we have seen repeated with the carbon the same modus operandi of land grabbing and communities’ rights violations. In this context, there is an increase on the “paper carbon” amounts of numberless companies, which claim to own the rights to the carbon credits of millions of acres in the Amazon, even without the usage of the land or legal conformities, in addition to other fundamental requisites for the analysis of verified and audited projects in fact guaranteeing what has been marketed.

While Brazil heads towards regulating this market around five propositions that have been being disputed in the National Congress - the draft bills 2.122/2021, 3.606/2021, 4.028/2021, 1.684/2022, and 412/2022 - it’s convenient suggesting avoidance of the ‘carbon grabbing inside the Amazon, any contracts ceasing the rights over carbon credits in protected and collective territories only occur with the populations’ free and informed consent and after the existence of a plan for handling/administrating that takes in consideration REDD+’s activities and that point the manners of dividing benefits, the costs of implementing the activities, the resources management model, the social control and conflict resolution mechanisms about the application of said resources and all steps of the process.

Without due care, the carbon market tools don’t constitute opportunities, but an actual danger to the amazonian communities and to the public heritage.

*Laudato Si is the name given to the encyclical (type of written papal communication) signed by Pope Francis in 2015