The Suruí Forest Carbon Project in the state of Pará, Brazil was launched by the Paiter Suruí indigenous people in 2009. During the first five years the project was operational, it dramatically reduced deforestation within the 248,147 ha Sete de Setembro Indigenous Territory, even as deforestation rates in surrounding territories nearly doubled. The project was able to achieve this through the creation and implementation of a REDD+ project that sought to halt deforestation through the promotion of four main activities: 1) Supporting the Paiter Suruí in monitoring and defending their territory against encroachment; 2) Enhancing food security and sustainable economic use of natural resources; 3) Strengthening the community institutions and autonomy of the Paiter Suruí; and 4) Implementing the Suruí Fund as a financial mechanism to manage the REDD+ project.

In 2014/2015, gold and diamond miners encroached into the Suruí’s territory, and their illegal mining activities, along with agricultural expansion financed by mining profits, changed the dynamics and drivers of deforestation, leading to the loss of a substantial amount of forest. This ultimately resulted in the suspension of the activities of the Suruís’ forest carbon project.

During the time the project was operational, the Suruí were able to generate 299,895 emission reductions, and 251,529 of these were issued as Verified Carbon Units (VCUs) under the VCS Program, and the remaining 48,366 reductions were deposited in the VCS Program Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) global buffer pool.[1] As a result of the loss of forest and the suspension of the project activities, and in order to maintain the environmental integrity of the issued VCUs, Verra has put on hold an equivalent number of credits (251,529) in the AFOLU global buffer pool, which serves to ensure the permanence of all VCUs issued. These credits will be canceled when a future verification of the project confirms the loss, or automatically after a set period of time, per VCS rules.

The use of a buffer pool, pioneered by the VCS Program more than 10 years ago to enable carbon finance to flow to land-based projects, has now become a widely recognized approach for ensuring the permanence of credits from such projects. Under the requirements of the VCS Program, all land-based projects with a risk of non-permanence must conduct an assessment to determine the risk profile of a project. Specifically, the VCS Program requires projects to assess internal risks (such as financial planning and project management), external risks (such as community engagement and political risk based on the World Bank’s Governance Indicators), and the frequency and significance of natural risk (such as fire, pests and disease, and extreme weather). All of these risks are tallied to determine an overall risk rating for the project to determine the number of emissions reductions that the project has to contribute to the buffer pool. In the event of any unforeseen losses of carbon stocks, an equivalent number of credits from the buffer pool are cancelled, thereby ensuring the environmental integrity of all issued VCUs. The AFOLU buffer currently holds 27.4 million buffer credits. In the case of the Suruí project, all of its 48,366 buffer credits are on hold, and an additional 203,163 buffer credits from the pool have also been put on hold to fully cover the total number of credits issued to the project.

“While we are deeply saddened to hear about the unforeseen challenges this promising project has encountered, it is important to remember that the Suruí’s efforts were not in vain,” says David Antonioli, CEO of Verra, which manages the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). “The Suruí community made a valiant effort to stop deforestation; they unfortunately ran into very strong and rapidly changing economic forces that are destroying the forest. At the same time, all the carbon credits the project ever issued are intact given that the VCS Program relies on a global non-permanence buffer pool that ensures the environmental integrity of all VCUs.”

[1] One VCU represents one metric ton of reduced carbon dioxide emissions.