“When I moved to the Amazon “Wild West” town of Paragominas in northern Brazil in 1984 as a young scientist studying forest recovery on abandoned pastures, I expected a town filled with bandits and land grabbers. Instead, what I mostly found were courageous, hard-working families from across Brazil who had come to the rugged town of sawmills, cattle ranches and smallholder settlements to improve their lot in life.
But as the global outcry over recent Amazon fires and the rise in deforestation has demonstrated yet again, the stigma surrounding Amazon farmers as accomplices in this destruction remains, making enemies of would-be allies.
Indeed, outrage over the fires and President Jair Bolsonaro’s rhetoric and actions obscures a central question: Can responsible, law-abiding landholders and businesspeople in the Amazon — like those I met in Paragominas — compete with people who break the law, grab land and forest resources and drive much of the deforestation?
The simple answer is no. And until that changes, it will be difficult to stop the cutting and burning of these forests, which worldwide account for about a tenth of the carbon dioxide emissions that are warming the planet. But two recent developments suggested things may be changing for the better.
This standard is designed to make sure that the carbon offsets that companies are buying are actually going to real, verifiable deforestation efforts. What’s significant about the standard is its size — it focuses on recognizing and rewarding successful forest conservation across entire states, provinces or even nations in the Amazon. Moreover, and this is critical, it includes principles for guaranteeing that indigenous groups and other local communities have a voice in the policies and programs that are developed.”