Brazil — In the Juma forest reserve deep in Brazil’s Amazon, conservationists will receive money from a Brazilian bank and a global hotel chain to protect trees and combat global warming.
The project is seen as a test case watched by other potential donors, mostly in rich countries, who want to help preserve tropical forests as a way to reduce their carbon footprints but have doubts about accountability and measuring success.
The Washington, D.C., area-based Marriott hotel chain agreed on Friday to donate $2 million over four years to the Foundation for a Sustainable Amazon, which runs the project. The money is to compensate for the carbon emissions of its guests worldwide and will help the foundation protect 34 forest reserves totalling 41 million acres (16.4 million hectares), which it already manages.
“The Amazon plays a huge role in combating global warming,” Arne Sorenson, executive vice president of Marriott, was quoted as saying by the foundation.
Hotel guests will also be asked to donate $1 to the project, the foundation said.
Brazil’s Bradesco bank and the Amazonas state government each donated 20 million reais (US$9.4 million) to the foundation, which was created in December.
Brazil is one of the world’s largest carbon emitters 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.
Burning and clearing forests to create pastures or farmland in tropical forests from Brazil to Indonesia accounts for roughly 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Several developing countries, including Brazil, 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.
Some potential donors are concerned about transparency, accountability, and the difficulty of measuring carbon sequestration in tropical forest projects.
But external audits and international certifications of the foundation should help allay such concerns, said Viana, a Harvard-educated former Amazonas state secretary of environment.
In exchange for their donations, companies stand to gain good publicity.
“Companies do this because they want to win over customers,” said Viana.
“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. Satellite images will be used to document its preservation, said Viana.
The foundation hopes to capitalize further by selling carbon credits.
But Amazonas state Gov. Eduardo Braga said the current financial turmoil showed how important it was for companies to invest directly in conservation efforts and not rely only on carbon markets.
“The carbon of the Amazon cannot be treated like a security on financial markets,” Braga said late on Thursday during a ceremony in Manaus to launch the Marriott partnership.