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Local leadership in the Amazon at the Paris Climate Conference


At the start of the Paris Climate Change Conference (COP21) Prince Charles was among the many voices calling for increased action to safeguard the world’s forests, pointing out that “There is no Plan B to tackle climate change without them.” This blog is about one state in the Amazon showing local level leadership on forests.

Brazil is one of the most forested countries in the world, and houses the largest expanse of tropical rainforest. Deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon have fallen significantly since a peak in 2004, however they showed a worrying upturn of 16% between 2014 and 2015.

In Brazil’s federal system and vast territory,  the states play a central role in delivering on the country’s commitments and targets on tackling deforestation and the carbon emission it causes.

We’ve been working closely with the state government in Acre and more recently in Amazonas with support from the partnership between WWF and UK broadcasting and entertainment company Sky, called Sky Rainforest Rescue. Acre is seen as a leader in respect to developing policy instruments to value its ecosystem services, including forest carbon. The Sky Rainforest Rescue project has been working to help save a billion trees in one region of Acre, developing incentives for forest conservation and benefit sharing mechanisms that can inform the state-wide policy.

Areal shot of the Amazon © Andre Bartschi - WWF-CanonAreal shot of the Amazon © Andre Bartschi – WWF-Canon

New protected area to be created

At a side-event to the Paris COP on December 7, the state announced plans to create a 155,000 hectare new protected area in 2016 as part of its state system of protected areas, in a key part of the Sky Rainforest Rescue project area. This will help ensure the legacy of the project’s work, providing a new level of protected status to the forests and biodiversity there. The category of protected area is still to be defined, but is most likely to be one which allows local families living in the rainforest to use the area’s natural resources in a sustainable way. This will add to the system of protected areas and indigenous lands in Acre that already cover almost 50% of the state’s territory.   The news comes at a time when the creation of new protected areas in the Amazon by the Brazilian national government has all but ground to a halt, and illustrates how forward-looking regional administrations can drive progress at sub-national level.

REDD+ Social and Environmental Safeguards

As part of its state-wide law on incentives for ecosystem services (SISA law) and forest carbon programme, the Acre government has been developing and implementing a system of social and environmental safeguards. Under the UNFCCC agreements, each country is required to develop such a system, as part of its REDD+ programme. We therefore viewed it as important to document the experience at the state-level, to inform other sub-national and national safeguard information systems. Our Inspiring Practices report tells the story of Acre’s safeguard approach.  Acre was recognised in Paris as the first to have completed the REDD+ Social and Environmental Safeguards (REDD+ SES) project’s 10 step process on safeguards.

Eliminating illegal deforestation

On the same day, the states of Acre, Mato Grosso and Brazil’s national Environment Ministry announced their ambition to join forces to eliminate all illegal deforestation in these two Amazonian states by 2020, an ambition that Acre’s Governor Tiao Viana would like to achieve even earlier, in just three years’ time.  This is 12 years earlier than the federal’s target to stamp out illegal deforestation by 2030. Brazil’s Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira recognised the inherent difficulties in stamping out illegal deforestation but emphasized to those present that illegal deforestation can no longer be part of Brazil’s development pathway. Acre State Governor Tiao Viana said “we need to be hand-in-hand with the federal government in reaching this goal. I hope this can happen in every Amazon state”.

Acre Governor Tiao Viana speaking at Acre Day in ParisAcre Governor Tião Viana speaking at Acre Day in Paris © Acre Government / WWF

To first understand what deforestation is legal and what is illegal, Brazil’s forest code and its rural environment register will need to be fully implemented, but again here Acre has made great progress with 83% of private rural properties already registered in the land registry that is a key instrument for delivering on the forest code.

REDD+ financing must reach the ground

One of the key challenges going forwards is defining how Brazil will manage REDD+ funding between the federal and state level. Under its recently published REDD+ decree and strategy, a national commission for REDD+ will be established, which will define the mechanisms for the receipt of results-based REDD+ funds. For deforestation to be effectively tackled in the Amazon and for positive incentives to be established for those conserving rainforest, the states need to be able to finance an agenda of action that reaches people on the ground. There is an urgent need to promote viable alternatives for a forest-based economy that benefits those living in the forest and that integrates different land uses and economic activities. The national REDD+ strategy should consider funding mechanisms that allow both the federal government as well as the states to secure and disburse funds for REDD+, in a way which avoids double counting of reduced forest-carbon emissions.

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