Valuing rainforests as Global Eco-Utilities: a novel mechanism to pay communities for ecosystem services provided by the Amazon - Lead project
This project is the lead of linked project NE/G008485/1 - PI Dr P Meir
The Amazon basin is the largest fresh water and tropical forest ecosystem in the world, representing over half of all the remaining rainforest and housing one tenth of all the known species. It provides important ecosystem services, both locally and globally.
The indigenous and forest dwelling populations are directly dependent on the abundant services provided by the ecosystem, while the rest of the world depends on them too, primarily because the Amazon holds an extraordinarily high biodiversity and also because the forest influences the climate system by cooling the air and recycling and transporting the rainfall over a very large area.
However, the Amazon is a region of tension because large-scale commercial interests (including the production of food, biofuel and timber) threaten its continued functioning. Indigenous people and subsistence farmers with lifestyles adapted to abundant natural resource availability face diminishing access to resources and degradation of ecosystem service provision. The large commercial interests driving deforestation also depend on forest services for their continued profits.
There is no system to compensate the subsistence farmers for the loss of services and livelihoods, although potentially they are the stewards of the forest. This state of affairs exacerbates the high levels of economic inequality that characterize Brazil. This project therefore established a multidisciplinary international team, to effectively articulate a coherent model for a large-scale Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) system.
This knowledge capacity was embedded at the grass roots level in order that forest communities can claim their rights with respect to the ecosystem services that their natural resources provide, as well as reinforcing community land tenure claims in line with State and Federal laws.
Whilst the urban and peri-urban poor might not be affected directly by deforestation, a large-scale reduction in ecosytem service provision would be likely to impact them through rising energy prices, since more than 70% of electricity in Brazil comes from hydo-electric power, and through other value chain effects. This project assisted in establishing the groundwork necessary for a functional large scale Payments for Ecosystem Services system with the potential to contribute to pro-poor policy development, and act as a model for government driven wealth redistribution in the region.
This project built on the belief of Brazilian scientists, which the Global Canopy Programme had helped to catalyse over the last three years, that the water cycle of the Amazon represented a major opportunity for future Payments for Ecosystem Services systems. In order to design an effective project we consulted widely, assembled an international team that consisted of scientists, economists and experts in community development. The funding was mostly used to finance two major workshops, which we believed established the group as an influential world-leading authority, and paved the way for larger projects.
We focused on the Amazonian region, where the science base was especially strong as a result of a decade of intensive research by Brazilian scientists aided by the international research community, and where there was a high level of scientific expertise; however, the arguments outlined above were quite general and could be applied to the rest of the rain forest biome creating significant potential for subsequent south-south transfer.