Opinion

Joining hands on climate change: Brazil, California

In the Amazon rain forest of Acre, Brazil. (Photo: Andre Dib, Shutterstock)

Protecting our climate is very important to the indigenous people of the Amazon. In the Brazilian state of Acre, where I live, we’re already seeing terrible heat, floods and droughts that we never used to experience. That’s why cooperation with California to protect our forests is important to people here.

My father taught me when I was little that the forest tells us what’s coming – flood or drought, abundance or scarcity. This is why we are working hard to protect our forests – and not only for ourselves. We will survive in the forest no matter what, but imagine a city without water, or electricity. We believe that the people who work to protect the forest should be justly compensated.

By California providing us with incentives for forest protection, we can help the climate, our forest, and support our people at the same time.

I’m a leader of the Arara indigenous people of the state of Acre, in the western Brazilian Amazon. I’m writing this to tell people why I think what California is doing for the atmosphere through its climate program is so important – and what it might have to do with what my people and I are doing to defend forests in Acre.

I was born on a rubber estate in the middle of the Amazonian rainforest. My parents – and my people –collected and sold rubber from the trees. In the 1980s there were only 76 of the Arara people left, and times were very hard, with some people living in poverty in the city, and others in constant conflicts with the rubber baron patrons who wanted to treat us like slaves.

Through the Pro-Indian Commission, I was able to go to school and became a teacher and also started thinking about how to manage the future of our land to ensure sustainability, food security, and protection of the forest.

The work we started in Acre, such as bilingual education and Indigenous Territorial Management Plans, became national policy. When Jorge Viana became governor in 1999, we got support from the state government and everything changed for the better. More recently, Acre adopted the state System of Incentives for Environmental Services, a statewide system of incentives for forest protection and sustainable development — and we began talking about climate change and reducing emissions from deforestation.

It’s important that California is reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions, and that California is seeking ways to help stop deforestation in Acre, too.

We believe that we must have safeguards in place to protect our rights and ensure that we share in the program’s benefits. We also believe that the government has to consult with us so that we  design projects together. Initial funding from the German Development Bank helped 30 of the 36 indigenous territories in Acre develop management plans, laying out their vision for forest protection and sustainable development. Now, they need funds to implement those plans.

That’s where California’s landmark climate change law comes in. By California providing us with incentives for forest protection, we can help the climate, our forest, and support our people at the same time.

It’s important that California is reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions, and that California is seeking ways to help stop deforestation in Acre, too. While we indigenous people need to continue discussing the idea of carbon credits amongst ourselves, if California accepts carbon credits from Acre we think we have the right to participate, the right to benefit and the right to choose how that participation happens. We need support to guarantee the sustainability of our lands, and since we’re in control of what happens in our territories, the state incentive program can help us – and help us help the world – a lot.

Ed’s Note: Francisca (“Xica Arara”) Oliveira de Lima is leader of the Arara indigenous people in Acre, Brazil. This commentary appears as told to Stephan Schwartzman of Environmental Defense Fund.


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