Protect the amazon rainforest


The “carbon pirates” that target indigenous communities in the Amazon.

Local leaders claim that selling credits should be used to pay for forest protection, but dishonest businesses are making deals where land stewards lose out.

Western companies are attempting to negotiate deals in their territories for offsetting projects, and as a result, “carbon pirates” have become a threat to the way of life of a number of Indigenous communities in the Amazon.

As the $2 billion (£1.6 billion) market booms with net zero commitments from companies in Europe and North America, Indigenous leaders say they are being approached by carbon offsetting firms promising significant financial benefits from the sale of carbon credits if they establish new projects on their lands.

At the Cop15 biodiversity summit last month, governments agreed to a massive global expansion of protected areas during this decade, with a goal of protecting 30% of land and sea by 2030. Despite concerns about land grabs, the agreement places respect for Indigenous rights and territories at its core.

Carbon credits are a good way to fund the new areas and pay Indigenous communities for the stewardship of their lands, as they have been shown to be the best protectors of forest and vital ecosystems, according to supporters of carbon markets, particularly those who aim to protect rainforests. Western businesses could then use the credits for climate commitments.

Even though carbon credits aren’t perfect, many people believe they can provide the crucial financing these projects require. The following was recently stated by Johan Rockström, chief scientist at Conservation International, which oversees a number of carbon offsetting projects: On the one hand, carbon offsetting is necessary and has the potential to generate much-needed investments, such as in natural climate solutions like forests, by providing incentives. On the other hand, he says, are the chances that people won’t cut their own emissions in time.

As part of its investigation into forest-based carbon offsetting, The Guardian spoke with Indigenous leaders from all over Latin America at Cop27, Cop15, a summit of Amazon Indigenous leaders in September, and during visits to communities in Peru.

Even though some leaders acknowledged the potential benefits of well-designed carbon markets, they warned that Indigenous communities are being exploited in the unregulated sector, with long contracts written in English, opaque deals for carbon rights that can last up to a century, and communities being driven off their lands for projects.

Examples include the Kichwa community’s claim that they were forced from their land in the Cordillera Azul national park and received nothing from the $87 million agreement, which was Peru’s largest carbon deal ever and involved an unidentified extractive company. The park authorities say everything has been done in “strict compliance with current legal regulations and with special respect for the rights of Indigenous peoples”.

In order to assist others in avoiding becoming victims of “carbon pirates,” several Indigenous communities mentioned training themselves in carbon market regulation and organizing global exchanges.

According to Indigenous Uitoto leader Fany Kuiru Castro, the problem affects nearly every community in the Amazon river basin.

“When I visit other territories, nearly all of them are in contact with a business related to carbon. Normally they arrive with a promise of big money if the community agrees to set up a project. Sometimes they don’t let communities have access to their lands as part of the agreement but we live from hunting and fishing. For me, it’s dangerous,” she says. “The most cruel thing is they arrive in communities with long legal documents in English and don’t explain what’s in them. Many Indigenous communities don’t read or have low literacy, so they don’t understand what they’re agreeing to.”

Wilfredo Tsamash, a member of the Awajun community in the northern part of Peru, asserts that organizations are teaching themselves to comprehend the workings of carbon markets so that they do not get ripped off in deals. Additionally, he asserts that he does not believe that extractive companies ought to be able to purchase credits due to the fact that they contribute to global warming.

“They are trying to divide us. Carbon pirates enter communities but we often do not know where they come from, how they work or who they are,” he says. “It’s a big issue. Some of these NGOs are ghosts, working in the background. I do not think we should sell the credits to oil companies or mining firms. They are the ones doing the damage.”

In a recent interview with Yale e360, Bribri community leader Levi Sucre Romero stated that he believed that the expansion of protected areas agreed upon at Cop15 could be a significant opportunity for Indigenous communities. But he tells the Guardian that any market must include respect for Indigenous territories and a share of the benefits from carbon deals.

“We are organising ourselves at a global level, from the Congo to the Amazon. The first thing that needs to be recognised is a right to land, our right to be consulted, not just centrally but locally. We also need political representation that we are the ones that look after the forest. Where there are forests, there are Indigenous communities,” he says.

While indigenous communities preserve 80% of the world’s biodiversity, they only make up about 5% of the world’s population. However, illegal miners, loggers, and drug traffickers frequently violate the rights of the communities and attack them.

According to Shipibo Indigenous leader Julio Cusurichi, who won the Goldman Prize in 2007 and hails from the Madre de Dios region of Peru and is the leader of the Shipibo Indigenous people, with careful planning, money from carbon credits could assist in paying for improved educational and health facilities. However, all too frequently, this does not take place.

“It’s important to strengthen the structures of Indigenous communities [as part of these offsetting projects]. This issue of carbon pirates is happening across the Amazon. They can be 30-, 40-, 100-year projects. Who has the money, has the power,” he says.


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