October 17, 2008

Brazil Sponsors Carbon Reduction In Amazon Forest

Conservationists are set to receive money from a Brazilian bank and a global hotel chain in an effort to protect trees and combat global warming in the Juma forest reserve deep in Brazil's Amazon.

For other potential donors, mostly in rich countries, who want to help preserve tropical forests as a way to reduce their carbon footprints, this test case will hopefully shed any doubts about accountability and measuring success.

The Foundation for a Sustainable Amazon, which runs the project, will receive a $2 million donation over four years from the Washington, D.C., area-based Marriott hotel chain. The money is to compensate for the carbon emissions of its guests worldwide and will help the foundation protect 34 forest reserves totaling 41 million acres (16.4 million hectares), which it already manages.

Arne Sorenson, executive vice president of Marriott, said the Amazon plays a huge role in combating global warming.

The foundation said hotel guests would also be asked to donate $1 to the project.

Brazil's Bradesco bank and the Amazonas state government each donated 20 million reais ($9.4 million) to the foundation.

Because of the 2.9 million acres (1.2 million hectares) of Amazon forest that are destroyed each year, mostly by illegal loggers, poor settlers, cattle ranchers and farmers, Brazil is one of the world's largest carbon emitters.

Roughly 20 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions account from burning and clearing forests to create pastures or farmland in tropical forests from Brazil to Indonesia.

Brazil and several other developing countries are proposing that the United Nations Kyoto climate treaty be revised so that polluters can buy carbon credits for the protection of forests.

"Our message to the world is that obstacles to include forests in the Kyoto Protocol can be overcome," said Virgilio Viana, head of the foundation.

But some potential donors are concerned about transparency, accountability, and the difficulty of measuring carbon sequestration in tropical forest projects.

But Viana, a Harvard-educated former Amazonas state secretary of environment, said external audits and international certifications of the foundation should help allay such concerns.

Companies stand to gain good publicity in exchange for their donations.

Viana said companies do this because they want to win over customers.

"The world is on fire and aware citizens want companies to do something about it," he added.

The 1.5 million-acre (590,000-hectare) Juma forest reserve was certified by TUV SUD, a German testing and inspections group, as complying with the standards of the Climate Community and Biodiversity Alliance, a group of 20 leading companies and environmental groups.

Juma claims to be the first certified Brazilian project to reduce greenhouse gases through forest preservation. Viana said satellite images would be used to document its preservation.

By selling carbon credits, the foundation hopes to capitalize further.

The current financial turmoil showed how important it was for companies to invest directly in conservation efforts and not rely only on carbon markets, said Amazonas state Gov. Eduardo Braga.

Braga spoke late on Thursday during a ceremony in Manaus to launch the Marriott partnership: "The carbon of the Amazon cannot be treated like a security on financial markets," he warned.