Forest carbon projects: inequalities in reducing climate change in Chiapas

Forest carbon projects: inequalities in reducing climate change in Chiapas

By Juan Romero

Forest carbon projects are a mechanism to respond to the problem of global climate change - caused largely by
partly due to lifestyles based on excessive consumption - precisely through consumerism. In practical terms, those who will be able to "offset" their carbon emissions - the world's rich - will continue to pollute.


In recent years it has been recognized around the world that climate change is a serious threat to the well-being of human beings and to the environment around us. Scientists and academics have confirmed that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are a key factor behind the changes, carbon dioxide (CO2) being key in particular. In recent years, efforts to reduce climate change have focused in part on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and capturing gases - such as CO2 - from the atmosphere. Some ways to accomplish this are afforestation, reforestation, and forest conservation projects. The idea behind these projects is that forests are an important element for the capture of carbon dioxide and therefore the revitalization of marginal forests, the creation of forests in areas where there were not before and the conservation of existing forests are a part important in the service they perform in carbon sequestration, or what has come to be called ecosystem services.

Another important aspect of these projects are the national and international measures that have been formulated in the United Nations and in different countries such as Mexico that seek to offset carbon emissions through the purchase of "carbon credits." These carbon credits are generated through different payment mechanisms for ecosystem services (PES), in which a
monetary compensation to people who participate in afforestation, reforestation or in the conservation of forests that capture carbon from the atmosphere, and in this way create carbon credits. Carbon credits are traded in the market where consumers of ecosystem services participate - which can be national governments, private companies and individuals who seek to reduce global climate change by reducing the impact of their carbon-generating activities.

Forest carbon projects are carried out in several developing countries, including in Latin America. Defenders claim that these projects have at least two positive social effects: first, they are sensible attempts to reduce global climate change through carbon sequestration; Furthermore, they have the possibility of promoting economic development in the communities, thanks to the monetary payments made to the inhabitants who participate in these projects. In Chiapas, the first forest carbon projects were carried out in the mid-1990s when the Bioclimatic Fund was created in the municipalities of Chilón, Las Margaritas and Comitán. Since then, similar projects have been carried out in the Lacandon Jungle, in the communities of Marqués de Comillas and Maravilla Tenejapa, in the northeast of the state in the municipality of Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacán and, more recently, in the Sierra Madre, in the La Reserves. Sepultura and El Triunfo. In interviews conducted for this Bulletin, several people who participate in forest carbon projects indicated that they have multiplied, to such an extent that Chiapas is today the leading state in Mexico in carbon projects.

However, despite the benefits attributed to forest carbon projects, the social impact they have on communities is seldom analyzed. In fact, given the supposed benefits that the projects bring in terms of economic development in the communities, it would be important to carefully analyze the implications of that development, who in the community benefits, and whether the projects are truly beneficial as their advocates claim. This Bulletin will first examine the main topics related to global climate change reduction projects linked to the capitalist market; secondly, it analyzes aspects of equity in the Chiapas Bioclimatic Fund.

The reduction of climate change through the capitalist market

Important is the fact that attempts to reduce global climate change through forest carbon projects are made from a capitalist perspective. In the logic of these projects, nature, especially trees and the ecological services they generate, are goods that can be exchanged in the market, that is, in a market attended by a wide variety of stakeholders interested in "offsetting" their emissions. carbon. At first glance, this approach to combating global climate change may seem innovative; however, the commodification of forests, their "ecological services" and their sale through the carbon market has serious implications that require further analysis.

In the first place, forest carbon projects are a mechanism to respond to the problem of global climate change - caused in large part by lifestyles based on excessive consumption - precisely through consumerism. It is essentially a neoliberal response to global climate change that leads to more consumption, but which is incapable of responding to the problems inherent to excessive consumption, which itself generated the increase in carbon dioxide (according to the International Labor on Indigenous Affairs or International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs, 2009). In more direct words, instead of taking into account that excessive consumption is a cause of global climate change and that it is necessary to transform consumption patterns, these projects in fact encourage more consumption. In practical terms, those who will be able to "offset" their carbon emissions - the world's rich - will continue to pollute.

Second, the commodification of inhabited forests may lead to the transfer of title to ecological services from the buyer to the seller (Brown and Adger). That is, in a context where forest ecosystems are commercialized, they can be traded in the market for ecosystem services, which can lead to a change in ownership where the ecosystems no longer belong to the people who live in the forests. but rather of the actors (people and companies) who want to "offset" their carbon emissions and who can buy the forests. In Chiapas, where land tenure is in conflict, the transfer of property rights from the people who live and work the land to individuals, companies or countries that buy carbon credits on the world market can lead to conflicts.

Finally, forest carbon projects that respond to the logic of the capitalist market, where forests and their ecological services are commodified, are isolated from the ecosystems of which they are a part (Kosoy and Corbera, 2009). In other words, commodification ends up defining forests and their ecological services as an isolated good and an object of consumption. Thus, forests and their ecological services are no longer defined by the ecological and social realities of which they are an integral part, but by their value in the carbon market that was created to offset carbon emissions and reduce global climate change. . The danger that exists when trees are considered as something apart from the complex ecosystem of which they are part is that afforestation or reforestation projects that are carried out under this logic can cause serious ecological problems. For example, it can lead to monoculture of trees in order to create large areas of carbon sequestration, without taking into account the ecological reality of the particular place where such projects are carried out.

Forest carbon projects and the resulting inequities in Chiapas

Given the argument made that forest carbon projects can induce economic and sustainable development of communities, it is important to critically analyze these projects from the perspective of equity. This means analyzing projects in terms of their objective of producing economic development and determining whether the development is actually equitable. Indeed, it is necessary to analyze who participates in these projects, what gender implications they have and what effects they have on intra-community and intra-community relations. The following is based on the work that has been done on forest carbon projects in the Bioclimatic Fund in Chiapas. The equity of these projects is particularly analyzed, especially in relation to gender, income differences, and differences between and within communities.

Given the historical marginalization of women in development projects, it is important to review their participation in forest carbon projects. Esteve Corbera (2005; 2007), a student of forest carbon projects in Chiapas, has pointed out that despite the discourse on the potential for economic and sustainable development of communities that enclose forest carbon projects, women are often they are excluded from the decision-making process and their opinions are rarely taken into account in meetings on the matter.

Esteve Corbera affirms the above based on what has been experienced by the Rincón Chamula community in the Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacán municipality where there are forest carbon projects. The participation of women in these projects has been almost nil. In fact, the scarce participation of women shows in a conclusive way that the development potential of forest carbon projects cannot be based on equity where gender inequality exists per se. The foregoing calls into question the legitimacy of these projects as a mechanism to promote the economic and sustainable development of the communities; rather, the projects tend to maintain and perhaps deepen gender inequalities between men and women in the participating communities.

In addition to gender inequalities, Corbera (2007) argues that forest carbon projects have sometimes avoided the participation of the poorest peasants and therefore have contributed to creating an income stratification among those who participate in these development projects. and those who are excluded. In addition, Corbera has determined that the farmers with the largest extensions of land are the ones who tend to participate more actively in these projects, since they can dedicate part of their plot to planting trees without sacrificing corn production. Farmers with smaller plots cannot set aside land for tree planting at the expense of producing corn, and thus end up being excluded from forest carbon projects.

A possible serious effect on the participating communities, as a result of the inequitable characteristics of forest carbon projects, are, on the one hand, intra-community divisions between men and women who do not have the same access to the development of projects or to participate in them ; on the other hand there are the divisions between households with more or less income that also have unequal participation in the projects. In each case, it is one group (men and higher-income households) that receives the economic benefits of participating in the projects, while the other groups are excluded. The result may well be greater divisions between men and women, or between rich and poor, new divisions could even be created where they did not exist before. They are not precisely antecedents that give rise to sustainable economic development for the communities but to possible destructive conflicts in them. Of course, the inequities found by Corbera raise doubts as to whether forest carbon projects in Chiapas could generate sustainable economic development under conditions of equality. On the contrary, Corbera's research refutes the discourse disseminated by the United Nations and not a few governments in the sense that forest carbon projects are part of the solution to reduce global climate change and achieve sustainable economic development for communities.


Despite the discourse that promotes the virtues of forest carbon projects as a partial measure to reduce global climate change, serious problems arise when implementing them that raise doubts about their validity and viability as a mechanism to reduce climate change and produce sustainable economic development in poor countries. Even the fact that forest carbon projects encourage more consumerism and avoid promoting solutions to one of the major causes of global climate change, that is, excessive consumption, raises serious questions about whether they can be an adequate response to the abundant carbon in the atmosphere. .

Likewise, the implicit transfer of property rights produced by this mechanism to respond to global climate change is an example of some adverse effects of these projects. And finally, the gender and income inequalities found in the Bioclimatic Fund in Chiapas are an indication that the social costs of these projects to reduce climate change can be enormous and in fact can deepen social divisions rather than induce positive community development.

Juan Romero - December-2010 - Newsletter "Chiapas al Dia" - CIEPAC, San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico -

Cited works:

* Brown, Katrina and Neil Adger. Forests for International Offsets: Economic and Political Issues of Carbon Sequestration. The Center for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment (CSERGE).

* Corbera, E. 2005. Bringing Development into Carbon Forestry Markets: Challenges and outcomes of small-scale carbon forestry activities in Mexico. In Carbon Sequestration and Sustainable Livelihoods, ed. D. M. a. H. Herawati, 42-56. Bogor.

* Corbera, E., Katrina Brown and W. Neil Adger (2007) The Equity and Legitimacy of Markets for Ecosystem Services. Development and Change, 38, 587-613.

* Corbera, E., Carmen González Soberanis and Katrina Brown (2009) Institutional dimensions of Payments for Ecosystem Services: An analysis of Mexico`s carbon forestry program. Ecological Economics, 68, 7 4 3 - 7 6 1.

* International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) (2009) Briefing Paper: Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change. Ecosystem Market Place: Community Portal

* Kosoy, Nicolás and Esteve Corbera (2009) Payments for ecosystem services as commodity fetishism. Ecological Economics, 69, 1228-1236.

Video: Making Forest Carbon Offset Projects an Option for Family Forest Owners (January 2022).