Bolivia gets clean by staying green
Project pays Bolivia for the forests it does not cut - a potential model in the battle against climate change.
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Science is one concern in REDD schemes, but the role of indigenous communities and forest peoples must be central, leaders agree. In April, representatives of rain-forest peoples across Latin America met in Manaus, Brazil, to demand a greater say in REDD schemes. Peter Cronkleton, a scientist in Bolivia with CIFOR, says that REDD could boost such communities, since, for example, it should clarify land rights. “There is a lot of potential in REDD schemes for involving local people, which could have a [positive] impact on poverty,” he says.Skip to next paragraph
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Stretching across a grassy field along the banks of the Paragua River, the community of Florida consists of 30-some families living in thatched-roof homes. The 150 residents are among the most affected by the Noel Kempff Climate Action Project. Their livelihoods, directly and indirectly, revolved around the logging that was banned when the project was put in place. At that time, most in the community rejected it. “It was a sudden slump,” says Manuel Arias, Florida’s cacique, or tribal leader, as he walks through a wooded path to the river’s edge.
The community has rebounded with ecotourism and microcredit enterprises – ranging from chicken farms to rustic bakeries – supported by the project. A hotel with neat, wood-plank floors and screened windows is open to visitors, who arrive via private plane or by taking an arduous 12-hour ride down a dirt road. Villagers trained as tour guides take visitors into the park, where they might visit the Arco Iris Waterfall that pours over the Huanchaca Plateau – a sight that must have been, if anything was, the paradise described in “The Lost World.”
Villagers have running water and electricity now. But the logging trucks that provided transportation to the nearest city, 300 miles away, are gone. Mr. Arias says that, to some, life has improved. For others, life will never be as good.
Most significantly, residents were not treated as partners in the process. None of the 1,000 people living in the seven communities around the park sits on the project’s board of directors. As a consequence, says FAN’s Seifert-Granzin, the community still hasn’t received payment from the 2005 verification process: a one-time payment of $400,000, based on the price of carbon offsets sold on the voluntary market, and about $150,000 annually from 2006 onward.
Promised cash has yet to appear
The money hasn’t arrived yet because the Bolivian government – a full partner in the project with a right to 49 percent of the carbon offsets – has yet to cash in its shares. Staff turnover, political uncertainty, and structural changes have also affected the project, leaders say.
Detractors of REDD question the ability of a developing country to oversee a multimillion-dollar project, given corruption and a weak legal system. Above all, says Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, the former environment minister of Costa Rica (he now works for Conservation International), nations need to demonstrate “good environment governance.”
As countries move forward, with lessons learned from one another, some wonder whether, inadvertently, the scheme rewards the wrong people.
Mr. Cronkleton says some at CIFOR argue that the ranchers or loggers are the ones who will reap the benefits, because they are the ones destroying the forest. But rubber tappers and brazil-nut gatherers, who eke out a subsistence living and have a clear stake in preserving the forest, will be left out of a payment scheme.
Here at Noel Kempff, the program also has an unintended benefit: The economics of the scheme, if plotted on a chart, might be a wash, says Arias. But a sense of environmental responsibility, of the need to preserve the forest, the river, and the creatures that inhabit both, has blossomed where it never was before. “We never had a culture of conservation,” says Arias, looking out at the Paragua River, his nephew playing in the grass at his feet. “I feel proud to be a part of this.”