Land Tenure in the Brazilian Amazon

Leader: Maron Greenleaf
Wednesday, May 9, 12:00pm – 1:30pm

About the Readings

The Unowned Forest
Greenleaf (article in progress at time of seminar)

This paper analyzes a program in the Amazonian state of Acre, Brazil called the System of Incentives for Environmental Services (SISA). SISA enables state redistribution by shifting forest carbon’s value away from land ownership and onto labor. This shift responds to the practical issues surrounding clarifying land rights. In Acre, as in many parts of the Amazon, land ownership is not clear and many poor rural people are unable to obtain formal rights. The program makes forest carbon into public wealth, rather than the private wealth of landowners. The Acreano government can then redistribute the profits to, among others, posseiros (poorer people without formal land rights) based on their labor. In doing this, SISA endows this environmental labor with forest carbon’s value, distributing what can amount to a form of government social welfare provision premised on environmental ends.

Land Tenure and REDD+
Larson et al., 2013, Global Environmental Change

This paper looks to understand when REDD+ is a threat to local rights and when it presents an opportunity in regards to reforming land tenure rights. The findings are drawn from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Global Comparative Study (GCS) on REDD+ between 2009 and 2012, in six countries at a national and project level: Brazil, Cameroon, Indonesia, Tanzania, Viet Nam and Peru. The results show that, at the national level, Brazil stands out in terms of its national policy framework on tenure and forests. It has implemented substantial tenure reforms, to secure the rights of local landholders, prior to the existence of REDD+. In 2 spite of these advantages, the project-level data suggests that villages in Brazil have similar problems as the other countries: land conflicts, tenure insecurity, ineffective rule enforcement and the presence of unwanted external forest users. At the project level, many REDD+ proponents in these countries are seeking to secure rights for villagers. However, in most cases, efforts are restricted by the lack of addressing tenure at the national policy level.

Discussion Summary 

Clear and secure land tenure rights have been identified as one of the key elements for successful conditional payment schemes promoting forest conservation, including strategies for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+). REDD+ can be defined as a performance-based mechanism, in which funds are used to compensate developing countries for the reduction of forest carbon emissions as compared to a national baseline.The “+” refers to environmental and social co-benefits.

REDD+ is included in Paris Agreements, and is now an accepted part of what international mitigation could look like. It is controversial as to whether or not reductions in deforestation can be used as offsets.

The Case of Acre
The whole state of Acre was made into the world’s most respected REDD+ program through SISA, Acre’s State System of Incentives for Environmental Services. The state sells carbon credits and distributes money, not based on land rights like a typical program, but instead based on environmental labor. This leads to a kind of redistribution in a place that never had a welfare state. People don’t have secure land tenure or access it. Although it is disputable, REDD+ may not work as well with secure land tenure and may exacerbate inequalities.

SISA gives incentives that are supposed to nudge farmers to produce differently, in a low carbon way. For example, the government is building fish ponds for free/very subsidized, as a way to combat deforestation by using already-cleared land more intensively, so more deforestation is not required.

The REDD+ program works in Acre because you have a very specific situation where the jurisdictional approach works – democratic rule, environmental elite, etc. This is a state that is oriented in the right direction and wants to redistribute the money in a progressive manner.

Challenges of REDD+
The issue of consent is important to discuss. For example, proponents of the program in Acre have lauded the extent of the consultation – 15 workshops and 300 comments from stakeholders. Critics of SISA say there hasn’t been adequate consultation. What would adequate consultation actually look like? Does having elected representatives mean there is consent? What is the role of advisory groups? How much communication is needed and what type?

Overall there are many questions about the role of REDD+ in carbon markets. It assumes pricing some unit of land area is equivalent to some amount of carbon. That said, it’s not actually putting anything in the ground like carbon sequestration. It’s a vulnerable part of the climate system and brings up questions of permanence and leakage.

Questions for Consideration

  • How should we think about the sociopolitical impacts and responsibilities of mitigation and adaptation? Should adaptation and mitigation measures address existing structural or systemic issues?
  • In mitigation and adaptation research and design, how much are ideas/beliefs from developed world contexts imported into developing world contexts, and why might it matter?
  • To what extent should the urgency of climate change adaptation and mitigation supersede other considerations, like land, resource, and other rights?
  • What should count as adequate participation and consent for adaptation and mitigation programs/projects?
  • How should we think about the relationship between adaptation and mitigation? Should mitigation projects also be adaptation projects?

Click here for a full summary of the discussion.