sAround the end of the rainy season in 2021, Abel Carrasco’s home in the Alto Mayo sheltered area was razed to the ground using saws, axes and ropes, he told the Guardian. The 39-year-old coffee farmer, his pregnant wife, and eight children have been instructed not to return by park authorities.
“My children begged them to, however [the police] They said they had to follow their orders. They told us to pack our stuff and leave. They said it is a protected forest, no one can be here. Carrasco said in September last year. He was crying as he watched the video his teenage daughter recorded of the incident, the silence of the forest broken by the sound of his children crying over chainsaws.
The Guardian came to Alto Mayo, on the western edge of the Peruvian Amazon, as part of an ongoing investigation into forest-based carbon offsetting. The project in this conservation area is known as the Master Scheme, which has been hailed as a success story for the booming $2 billion (£1.6 billion) voluntary market in the West, where dozens of businesses and organizations buy credits for their zero-sum claims.
This project is of particular interest to Disney, as Alto Mayo credits accounted for about 40% of the company’s compensation between 2012 and 2020, according to its annual reports, in theory, offsetting rising emissions from cruise ships and theme parks. Coffee from Alto Mayo has been sold at Disney Parks and Resorts.
While several of the Fira-approved offset projects examined by Guardian journalists showed little or no success in halting deforestation, Alto Mayo was one of a handful that had achieved results, stopping some 3,329 hectares (8,226 acres) of forest from disappearing. to 2020, according to a new study published by a group of international researchers. The researchers calculated that the project is worth about 720,000 carbon credits, which is pretty impressive (although it’s less than 7.5m by Vera).
But there were also rumors of problems with the project. It may have achieved positive results in halting deforestation, but a Bloomberg investigation in 2020 found that the project appeared to resolve conflict and disharmony among communities there.
It’s impossible not to be in awe of the sights and sounds of the world’s largest rainforest at its best. In this part of Peru the roads end and often the Amazon River can only be crossed on foot or by boat. Under the tree’s canopy, air plants hang from the branches and trunks, surviving on moisture from the usual rains. Armies of ants clean the forest floor and lower foliage and recycle nutrients around the roots of huge trees.
The project covers an area twice the size of New York City in the foothills of the Andes, and the cloud-shrouded peaks are home to adorable bears and hundreds of species of orchids. In the villages of Alto Mayo there always seems to be coffee beans drying in the sun, and life ebbs and flows around the men working in the fields, returning home to lunch with machetes in hand.
Deforestation has been a growing threat to the forest, thanks to illegal logging and expanding agricultural demand in the lowlands, but in 2009 a donation from Disney launched a massive conservation effort. The model is based on discouraging more people from moving into the forest while encouraging residents to sign conservation agreementsAnd It has so far made about $45 million from selling credits. The Guardian visited beekeeping and birdwatching projects funded in part by Conservation International funds, along with a scheme to raise orchids in isolated villages on the edge of Alto Mayo.
Supporters of voluntary carbon markets say schemes such as Alto Mayo must be urgently scaled up to help end global deforestation, a “nature-based solution” that is vital in limiting global warming to 1.5°C and achieving a new target of protecting 30% of global warming. Earth for nature. Conservation International’s Chief Conservation Finance Executive is part of Mark Carney’s initiative to expand the voluntary carbon market, providing much-needed climate finance to rural areas of the tropics.
The US NGO Conservation International, which runs the project with the country’s National Park Service, said it is one of the few projects in the world of its kind that is still successful. Days before visiting the Guardian, Vera had cited it as a good example of how carbon finance could provide a lifeline to the communities living in and around those forests in response to mockery of American satirist John Oliver’s balancing act.
But during the visit to Alto Mayo, the Guardian found evidence that while some local residents support the scheme, others say they have been forced from their homes by park authorities, in a series of approvals between January and May 2021.
The villagers here are mostly ronderos, members of independent peasant groups formed in the 1980s as a response to the killings by Maoist separatist terrorists. Today, they work in Peruvian civil society and are recognized by law, protecting their communities in the absence of state support in rural areas.
Although many Alto Mayo residents have been living in the forest for decades, they have no formal right to be in the protected area. Many Andeans either moved before Alto Mayo became a protected area or bought land without knowing it was protected before the compensation scheme was created. It’s a very complex situation, as the teams running the project are aware.
Some residents don’t want to leave — but they also don’t want to sign conservation agreements. Some feared that signing would mean they gave up the right to live on their homes and smallholdings, and a few of these groups have resisted with force in the past. Park rangers were kidnapped, there were violent clashes with police, and the head of Conservation International was forced to flee the area, first reported in a 2020 Bloomberg article. Hundreds of local residents chose not to renew conservation agreements and say even the signers were among those Their homes were demolished.
In total, The Guardian spoke with eight people, including Carrasco, who said they had their homes demolished between January and May 2021, including a 57-year-old woman and her disabled son and a 25-year-old woman with four children. children; Some provided video evidence, saying park rangers and police had demolished about 50 homes.
Villagers said the majority were removed on Mother’s Day in May 2021, when people were visiting families in nearby villages. Clearing operations stopped after an emergency appeal. They said the park had become increasingly militarized with the establishment of police bases for heavily armed patrols.
Angela Carrasco, 57, who says she is part of a coffee cooperative organized by Conservation International, said her jungle home was also demolished last year, traumatizing her son Ovidio.
“I have a disabled boy, he is special. He was screaming and crying when they destroyed the house. There were others before me. Mine was one of three houses they demolished. They threatened us and said they warned us.
They came at night and removed the house at six in the morning. They arrived in a helicopter with axes, ropes and rifles and were masked. like ghosts. They didn’t want us to know who they were.”
Conservation International said it takes the reports seriously and has confirmed by Sernap that no occupied homes have been cleared. It was confirmed that any buildings shown to be dismantled by the park authorities were abandoned and the community was informed well in advance that the buildings would collapse. Disney has referred the Guardian to Conservation International for comment.
The Guardian was able to verify some but not all of the footage shared by locals, but shared it with Conservation International, which said it would conduct an independent review of the videos and make public the findings.
Cernap said the accusations of human rights violations are not in line with reality and are based on errors. She added that parts of the protected area have been exposed to illegal logging and land grabbing, and it is her duty to protect the area.
Conservation International also raised concerns about the methodology the scientists used in the studies the Guardian analyzed.
Some of these issues may be specific to Alto Mayo only. But it could also be a reflection of a larger problem with carbon offset projects, where “outsiders” appear and seem to tell people how to live in the land they’ve called home their whole lives.
Kelsey Alford-Jones says: “Rainforest conservation projects are often undertaken in jurisdictions with histories of complex land tenure challenges, violent forced evictions in some cases, and protracted armed conflicts that make it difficult to understand real land tenure rights and private customary land ownership rights. difficult.” , a PhD student at UC Berkeley looking for land rights in these offsetting projects.
“[Alto Mayo] It is not an isolated case. There seem to be many examples where communities have been forcibly evicted.”
Manuel Flores, the main rondero leader in Alto Mayo, says he wants to live in peace and work with the project to preserve the rainforest while allowing him to maintain his farms.
“No one here can live in peace but there is nowhere else to go. If the authorities support us more, there will be more guarantees for the future of the forest.”