3 Ways Carbon Offset Projects are Protecting Indigenous Lands

By Alyssa Bueno

A champion of far-right policies and dubbed ‘Trump of the Tropics’, congressman Jair Bolsonaro is elected President of Brazil. He pledges to expand soy production and cattle grazing at the expense of rainforest biodiversity.

Bolsonaro states, “There won’t be a square centimeter demarcated as an indigenous reserve”.

In the wake of Bolsonaro’s win, I felt compelled to dispute common misconceptions about forestry-related carbon offset projects, stop in-house fighting among climate activists, and get real about what our options are.

Economists commonly favor carbon pricing as the most effective way to combat climate change. Carbon pricing policies charge polluters a fee to account for the negative externalities that arise from emitting carbon.The generated revenue is funneled into purchasing carbon credits that sponsor environmental projects. The precise definition of carbon credits are:

A mechanism that companies and individuals can purchase to nullify or offset their carbon footprint by supporting projects that mitigate, capture, sequester, or avoid CO2 from entering the atmosphere. 1 carbon credit is equivalent to 1 metric ton of CO2e.

So what does this have to do with indigenous lands? Here are 3 ways carbon credits protect native lands.


1. Carbon offset projects prevent exploitation of native lands

Using native lands to generate revenue from sequestered CO2 prevents other interests from exploiting their resources. By registering their lands to create forest-based offset projects, natives can protect their trees from being logged by for-profit companies. Offset revenue adds an extra layer of market-based incentives to guarantee the preservation of natural resources, the minimum time frame being around 100 years.

Sources: OpenStreetMap, Mapzen, Paul Duginski/ @latimesgraphics

Unfortunately, native american lands in the US have been historically stolen and exploited. The Yurok tribe’s ancestral lands in California have been colonized, seized by the federal government, then divvied up among governmental agencies for a myriad of state and federal projects.

Hydrodamming and upstream agriculture have decimated the once thriving salmon populations, and as a result of severe loss of biodiversity and way of life, native people across the country live below the poverty line, suffer from addiction, and face high rates of suicide.

Instead of going the legal route, and potentially losing an expensive case, the Yurok tribe was advised to buy their land back. To date, they’ve bought back 60,000 acres of land through California’s carbon market.


2. Generating carbon credits from natives’ untapped resources promotes sustainable economic development

Carbon credits are providing natives with revenue that they would not have otherwise gained. For the Yurok tribe, this money is their main source of discretionary income and is being used to buy back land from the state. Revenues can also be funneled back into the welfare of the tribe.

Reforesting lands through afforestation and agroforestry will further stimulate the economy because increased biodiversity and wildlife will garner ecotourism opportunities. Some tribes offer tours that showcase their cultural and historic sites. This activity illuminates outsiders of the importance of land stewardship while supplying jobs and generating dollars for natives.


3. Safeguarding the land enables tribes to preserve their cultural heritage

Carbon offset projects allow tribes to access forest resources for subsistence and cultural needs, such as

Sources: Global Carbon Pricing Initiatives,World Bank Carbon Pricing Dashboard

constructing totems and canoes. At the heart of Native American culture is stewardship and environmental ethics. Actively empowering these historically disenfranchised groups to manage their resources and prevent exploitation will ensure that this work will be passed down to future generations.

The majority of carbon offset projects occur in the developing world. The Amazon is a hotspot for agroforestry-related projects because trees south of the equator sequester more CO2 than in temperate deciduous forests. There are immense co-benefits including promoting peace, improving education, and reducing income inequality (all of which are defined as UN Sustainable Development Goals). Carbon pricing schemes are expanding across the globe, which means greater opportunities for private, nonprofit, and governmental sectors to help mitigate climate change in a way that also promotes financial gain.

Every carbon credit you purchase will directly help emissions reduction projects. For more info on the projects we support, click here.