Cosmetics company pays for Amazonians to manage forests

Sensemaking / Cosmetics company pays for Amazonians to manage forests

Natura Cosméticos buys 120,000 tonnes of carbon from the Paiter Suruí people to prevent logging.

By Jon Turney / 02 Oct 2013

Brazil’s largest cosmetics company has helped realise a pioneering plan to reward indigenous people for preserving the country’s forests, by agreeing to buy carbon from the Paiter Suruí people of the southwestern Amazon.

The deal, which sees Natura Cosméticos buy 120,000 tonnes of carbon, sets the seal on six years of planning to set up the Suruí Forest Carbon Project. It is the first time a project which falls under the REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, plus sustainable forest management) mechanism has been set up by the indigenous owners of the land.

The project, which aims to circumvent 5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions over 30 years by protecting the forest from loggers, will provide income for sustainable development for the Suruí.

Since the Suruí ceased living in isolation in the late 1960s, they have earned income from logging, including illegal deforestation. This switch to the often proposed but rarely realised alternative of being paid to maintain ecosystem services has been a lengthy process, animated by Chief Almir Surui. It began with confirming his people’s legal title to their land, then moved to a detailed consultation with the four Suruí clans, who signed an agreement to support the carbon project and share the benefits in 2009.

The agreement aligns with a 50-year development plan which will begin by using the carbon revenues to improve schools and health care. It rests on strenuous efforts to ensure everyone in Surui villages understands how REDD+ works, and how the forest protection – and carbon savings – can be verified.

Local NGOs hope this will be a model for other indigenous peoples, who control around 13% of Brazil’s land, to get involved with REDD+.

The sale to Natura Cosméticos demonstrates that there is a market for the carbon credits the scheme is now generating. The company’s product development resembles that of the Body Shop in Europe, an approach it combines with carbon neutrality, either by eliminating or offsetting its emissions.

Scott Poynton of The Forest Trust welcomed the fact that the scheme secures revenue for forest conservation. However, he cautions that doing so via carbon offsetting does nothing to reduce CO2 emissions from use of fossil fuels, so does not safeguard the long-term future of forests in the face of climate change. “It may end up only a short term win unless those funding the project move away from the whole offsetting concept and instead work intensively to reduce their overall carbon footprint”, he said. – Jon Turney

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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