A pioneer in forest protection

Aerial photograpgh of a forest area in Brazil

Aerial photograpgh of a forest area in Brazil; picture: Cyro Jose Soares

As it is in many regions of the world, the tropical forest in the Brazilian state of Acre is under threat. Primary forest has been cleared and damaged for decades, chiefly to make room for livestock farming. The consequences for nature and humankind are disastrous as these forests are home to many people and to an enormous diversity of animal and plant species, and they store vast quantities of carbon. However, things have been improving in Acre for some time. The Brazilian government is now strongly committed to the protection and sustainable management of the remaining forests. It has doubled the number of conservation areas and nature reserves - they now cover 46 per cent of the state's area. Fábio Vaz, Deputy Secretary of Forest Development and Industry at SEDENS, explains the government's approach: 'In order to succeed in protecting forests, we need a balanced mix of conservation areas and income alternatives for the local population. In a poor rural region, protection and bans alone will get you nowhere.'

Compensation payments for proven greenhouse gas reduction

But forest protection costs money, particularly because countries that have tropical forests would forego revenue from other forms of use such as forestry or agriculture. Developing and emerging economies in particular need support and financial incentives to embrace this approach. The mechanism of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) is designed to provide a solution to this challenge. REDD+ is based on the principle that those who protect or regrow their forests receive compensation payments for their efforts. However, in order to be entitled to REDD+ payments in future, developing and emerging countries must prove that they are effectively reducing deforestation. Acre is a pioneer in this respect, an early mover. Using satellite data, it records forest cover and any changes with high accuracy and scientifically verifies them against a benchmark based on historic deforestation rates. On the basis of a fixed amount of carbon stored in each hectare of forest, it can then calculate the greenhouse gas emissions avoided. The state government of Acre retroactively receives funds from the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMUB), and from other donors for avoided deforestation on the basis of this carbon accounting. KfW Development Bank administers the IKI project funds and deposits them in the State Forest Fund (FEF) after the appropriate verification has been provided in accordance with international standards.

In this way, in December 2013 compensation was paid from IKI funds for reductions totalling 2.47 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. This corresponds with the annual per capita emissions of about 216,000 people in Germany¹. In addition, the state of Acre will cancel the same number of carbon certificates so that they can no longer be traded on the carbon market. The BMUB has made available a total of EUR 9 million through the IKI for this progressive REDD+ financing mechanism. The Federal Development Ministry (BMZ) provides additional funding for the project.

Distributing forest protection benefits equitably

Fábio VazThe funds of the FEF are being used to finance a large variety of different measures for the protection and sustainable management of forests. They open up new sources of income for the population while preserving the forest. Staff of SEDENS field offices are responsible for implementing selected measures. They work together with local cooperatives, small farmer associations and extractive reserves that are being managed by rubber tappers and other local communities. The contractual partners agree to refrain from cutting and burning down the forest. In return, they receive concessional funds which they can then use to adopt sustainable farming practices, for example. Increasing the efficiency of livestock farming is a particularly important approach. 'An average of one and a half heads of cattle on a single hectare of pasture is simply not enough. Extensive livestock farming occupies roughly 1.7 million hectares, or 80 per cent, of the state's deforested area.' Vaz describes the challenge: "We can make it more intensive, and we have to, in order to reduce pressure on the forests. Starting with 500 family farms, we will generate positive examples of sustainable dairy and meat production. This will involve introducing improved animal husbandry, pasture management and animal hygiene methods. We will also expand marketing chains in order to achieve higher incomes." Further examples of the cooperation between SEDENS and the local population – made possible by REDD+ funds – include measures to promote sustainable forestry, small livestock farming, fish farming and honey production in the Chico Mendes and Juruá extractive reserves.

REDD+ funding and the measures implemented with it are making a difference. In 2013, the rate of deforestation in Acre declined significantly by more than one third against the previous year and against the general trend in Brazilian Amazonia. In the years ahead, the government of Acre wants to continue this positive development. The success story of Acre can serve as a model for further Brazilian states and for other tropical forest countries. Furthermore, the experience gathered with outcomes-based REDD+ compensation provides valuable information that can be used in designing the REDD+ mechanism in the international climate negotiations.

Outline of the cash flows in the REDD+ mechanism in Acre:

Outline of the cash flows in the REDD+ mechanism in Acre

¹Based on data from 2012; source: European Environment Agency.