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Guaraqueçaba Climate Action Project in traditional communities in Paraná, Brazil


The Guaraqueçaba Climate Action Project is a nearly 19,000 hectares forest conservation project in the Brazilian State of Paraná. Initiated by the NGOs The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Sociedade de Pesquisa em Vida Selvagem e Educação Ambiental (SPVS) in 2001, it is one of the world’s first forest carbon offset projects. [1] It has been internationally presented as pioneer model for REDD (Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and Forest Degradation) to mitigate climate change. It is an attempt to quantify emissions saved by not cutting down forests – implying that these would be otherwise deforested – and selling these as carbon credits, creating economic incentive. [2] [3]

The Paraná coastal area is traditionally inhabited by Caiçara, Quilombola and Guarani communities. For centuries the local communities have used the land and the surrounding area for fishing, hunting and small-scale extraction of palmito, vines and wood. [1] [2] In the area, land has been in shared use over generations and communities practiced agricultural activities, sometimes individually, in families, or collectively but in most cases communities never became registered as land owners. They livelihoods were based on the forest and on traditional practices of subsistence farming (of crops such as cassava) which relied on shifting cultivation as well as on hunting and fishing. Thus, communities depend directly on the forest and an harmonious coexistence, having left the area as one of the most well-preserved ones of the Atlantic Forest biome which in other areas has already suffered from high levels of destruction. In the 1960s, the region experienced the arrival of loggers, and in the following, ranchers came who began to register and take over control of the land. A common practice was grilagem, the illegal registration and appropriation of land. Ranchers used jagunços (hired gunmen) to invade the territory and threaten small farmers. Due to the local conditions of deforested land prone to be flooded, they mostly held water buffaloes instead of cattle. [1] [3] [4]

First conservation units of today’s Guaraqueçaba protection zone were established in the 1980s without public consultation and planning, thus already creating a series of conflicts due to restrictions of access and the loss of commonly shared space. In the 1990s, conservation NGOs such as SPVS arrived in the region with the main interest to conduct conservation studies but without engaging in dialogue with the affected communities. In 1994, SPVS was donated areas within the protection zone and established the conservation unit of Morro da Mina, and in 1999 they acquired further areas forming the units of Serra do Itaqui and Rio Cachoeira. They thus controlled a total of 18,600 hectares of protected land in the municipalities of Guaraqueçaba and Antonina, parts of it were however degraded from grazing. [5] To generate funding for the necessary reforestation and conservation measures, they, together with TNC, initiated the Guaraqueçaba Climate Action Project as a pioneer carbon offset model and in 2001 officially started a cooperation with the three U.S.  companies General Motors, American Electric Power and Chevron. [1] [6] As one of the first actions, SPVS prohibited further farming in the area and the use of the forest through the local community. [7] They removed all buffalo from the area and adopted accounting and monitoring measures. The installing of the forest police known as Força Verde together with the restrictions of usage is perhaps the clearest controversy in this conflict. [1] [3] From official side the projects has been presented as one giving benefits back to the community, providing workshops in skills such as ecology or first aid, employing dozens of people from the region (e.g. as forest rangers) and promoting sustainable business in the area. [7] It is stated that “The main goals of the project are biodiversity conservation, restoration of degraded pasture, sustainable development of local communities, and generation of carbon offsets that are real, measurable, and verifiable.” [8] At the beginning, 47 people from the local communities (three of them women) were employed as forest rangers and paid slightly more than minimum wage. It was promised that like the project these jobs would last for 40 years. However, the opportunities for income generation were not long-lasting as from the initial employees almost all got fired and other training and skill-building initiatives that were initially provided to the community have gradually dwindled out over the years as the conservation groups ran out of money. A honey production project is the only initiative that was reported to be successfully ongoing, and a ecotourism cooperative has recently started to operate. [1] [9]

On the Nature Conservancy’s website the project is promoted as an example of corporate partnership that makes an invaluable contribution to protecting biodiversity. [1] However, journalists and environmental justice organizations have documented community voices about experienced negative impacts of the project. Interviews with the affected communities reveal that the idea of carbon trade is not tangible to people, they do not understand why money is paid but does not arrive at the communities. [6] People report that their access to the abundant forest and rivers gradually became restricted, including the prohibition of cutting down trees for self-sustenance, even on community owned land. A community member stated: “We have always preserved the forest, except that sometimes we need to cut a few trees too, sometimes we need to build a house, we need wood. But it’s not allowed, so things are difficult. When the SPVS arrived, it was the end of anything.“ [1] Community members also reported that park rangers shot after them when collecting vines. Another local community member reported that Força Verde came into his house several times without authorization, wearing weapons, harassing his family and even confiscating knives. Other reports include the handcuffing of people and a fine following several days of imprisonment for a community member who cut down a tree to build a canoe. [1] [2] [6]

While the 55 communities within the Climate Action Project are forced to adopt a way of life that depends more on the generation of economic income, having to buy food instead of collecting or growing it, most of them do not see an increase in income through the project. In fact, the restriction of territory and modes of production and criminalization of their traditional way of life due to the Climate Action Project might partly explain why the region shows the lowest human development indicators in the State of Paraná and one of the lowest in whole Brazil. [5][6] Many residents were left without means of survival and thus men had to look for work outside the area and leave women and children alone in an unsafe state. [1] As a consequence, this has led to profound socio-economic changes. Many families have chosen to move away from the place they have lived for generations. The community became more dependent on wage labor, instead of producing cassava they now have to buy it, and dietary habits have changed. As people moved away, communities became smaller and middle-class families from Curitiba have started to buy up land and houses to spend weekends and holidays. [1] [2][10] Some villages in the interior parts are now almost abandoned as life has become too difficult. A villager reported that his family is the only one left. Many people moved to Antonina, the closest village. They have difficulties to adapt to life in the urban environment, lack skills to find work and generate income, and often live in inhospitable, irregular accommodations. Their situation has increased the number of diseases and a circle of poverty and formerly unknown social problems such as the separation of families, prostitution, drugs or alcoholism. [6]

Some local inhabitants have organized to resist the restrictive action of SPVS. In 2003, some local communities, with support of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), occupied an area of land to prevent its sale to SPVS. This was done in a move to solidarize with posseiros – small landless farmers without official land ownership who had come to occupy abandoned and degraded land but were at the risk of eviction. Until today, 20 families live there in an established camp named Acampamento Agroflorestal José Lutzenberger (the name of an environmentalist) and hope to be able to recognize it as an agrarian reform settlement by the Brazilian government. In 2017, the Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária (INCRA) was still in negotiations to buy the land from old owners. The community reported repeated pressure against them as well as the use of toxic agrochemicals by the ranch owners polluting the local river, which was however ignored by the environmental authorities. As an alternative approach, they have carried out small reforestation projects and collective afro-forestry projects, combining organic farming at about 10 percent of the surface with the cultivation of trees which led to the recuperation of formerly abandoned land. Food is sold to nearby schools via a national school nutrition program, but families also cultivate small parcels for their own use. While there are no direct mobilizations against SPVS, communities have received international support with several environmental justice organizations and journalists raising awareness for their struggle and the reported changed living circumstances due to the project, but also against carbon offsetting policies in general as these would just allow corporations to buy credits to make up for their caused environmental damage. In 2017, the community in the José Lutzenberger camp received the Juliana Santilli award and some financial support for their efforts in conservation and sustainable practices of agroecological production (e. g. café, banana, cabbage). [1] [4][11]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Guaraqueçaba Climate Action Project in traditional communities in Paraná, Brazil
State or province:Paraná
Location of conflict:Antonia / Guaraqueçaba
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:REDD/CDM
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Carbon offsets
Ecosystem Services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The Guaraqueçaba Environmental Protection Area consists of three conservation units created between 2000 and 2002: Serra do Itaqui which is financed with 5 million USD from American Electric Power, Morro da Mina (3 million USD from Chevron) and Cachoeira (10 million USD from General Motors) with a total of 18,600 hectares. The three companies are among the biggest greenhouse gas polluters in the United States. American Electric Power is also involved in the Bolivian Noel Kempff project that is initiated by The Nature Conservancy. While TNC sets up the deals with the corporative investors, it has recruited SPVS as a Brazilian partner organization to buy the land and manage the project. Força Verde receives training from SPVS. While in the past all three companies have lobbied the U.S. government against signing the Kyoto climate accord, they seem to have a clear interest in supporting pioneer carbon offset projects and the creation of a carbon market that allows them to exceed potential regulations. However, as the project is based on an ‘avoided deforestation’ logic instead of reforestation, it is so far not included in the international carbon market launched by the UN Kyoto accord. Instead they are sold on the United States domestic carbon market at about half of the price of credits in the Kyoto market. The project area has 190 carbon measuring stations that serve monitoring and calculating the stored carbon. The project officially started in 2001 and lasts for 40 years. SPVS claimed in 2010 that the so far created conservation and reforestation activities have already removed 860,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere and will prevent the emission of another 370,000 tons in course of the rest of the project. Close to one of the communities is a forest research center of SPVS financed through the HSBC Climate Partnership Programme. [1][3][6][8][9]

Project area:18,600
Level of Investment for the conflictive project18,000,000 (initial investment)
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:unknown
Start of the conflict:01/07/2001
Company names or state enterprises:American Electric Power from United States of America - finances Serra do Itaqui conservation unit
General Motors (GM) from United States of America - finances Cachoeira conservation unit
Chevron Polska Energy Resources Sp. z o.o. from United States of America - finances Morro da Mina conservation unit
International and Finance InstitutionsHSBC United Kingdom (HSCB) from United Kingdom
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:World Rainforerst Movement -
Acampamento Agroflorestal José Lutzenberger -
MST - Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra -
Associação para o Desenvolvimento da Agroecologia -

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Landless peasants
Social movements
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactspotential loss of biodiversity sustained by traditional land use practices such as shifting cultivation
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Potential: Malnutrition, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Land dispossession
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
Proposal and development of alternatives:An alternative pathway is also shown by the José Lutzenberger camp and its collective and sustainable agroforestry practices. Such a model would allow subsistence use of the forest through communities who have proven to live there in a sustainable way. A member of the affected community in Guaraqueçaba stated: “The forest cannot be sold, it’s ours. The others can use it but they need to know how to share it with us, not buy everything and expel us.” [2]
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Impacts on the local communities seem to have been tremendous and irreversible, leading to profound socio-economic changes and social problems for many people due to the restrictions and pressures on their way of life. At the same time, media coverage of the case has created a critical awareness of problems arising from REDD and similar conservation projects. The social mobilization around the José Lutzenberger camp has provided a sustainable community response to the conflict and recently found wider acknowledgement.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[3] Kill, J. (2014): REDD in Brazil: Two case studies on early forest carbon offset projects. Rio de Janeiro: Heinrich Böll Stiftung Brasil.

[5] Sibuya, N. et al. (2013): A dicotomia entre a conservação e o reconhecimento e fixação das comunidades tradicionais: um estudo de caso na APA de Guaraqueçaba – PR. Jornada Questão Agrária, Universisade Federal do Paraná.

[11] Banzato, V. (2015): Alternativas aos impérios agroalimentares a partir do campesinato agroecológico: as experiências do acampamento agroflorestal José Lutzenberger (MST – Antonina/PR). Revista Nera, 18/29 – Julho/Dezembro de 2015.

[1] World Rainforest Movement (2011): Um projeto de redução de desmatamento no Paraná, Brasil, e a perseguição das comunidades. Boletim Mensual 169 – Agosto 2011.

[2] FERN (2012): Suffering here to help them over there. (accessed online 15 July, 2018)

[4] Rohden, J. (2017): Ocupação do MST no Paraná ganha prêmio por recuperação da Mata Atlântica. Article at ‘Brasil de Fato’, 28 October, 2017. (accessed online 15 July, 2018)

[6] Schapiro, M. (2009): GM’s Money Trees. Article at ‘Mother Jones’, November / December Issue. (accessed online 15 July, 2018)

[7] Zwick, S. (2009): Guaraqueaba: Where the Buffalo Roamed. Article at ‘Forest Trends’ on 18 March, 2009. (accessed online 15 July, 2018)

[8] Forest Trends (2018): Action Project against Global Warming in Guaraqueçaba. (accessed online 15 July, 2018)

[9] TNC (2010): Projeto de carbono colabora com o desenvolvimento sustentavel de comunidades no Parana. Article at UC Socioambiental, 18 November, 2011. (accessed online 15 July, 2018)

[10] Lang, C. (2012): Community voices on The Nature Conservancy’s Guaraqueçaba Climate Action Project: “We’re suffering here to help them over there”. Article at ‘Redd Monitor’ on 7 June, 2012 (accessed online 15 July, 2018)

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Video coverage: "Suffering here to help them over there"

Video by SPVS and TNC: "SPVS/TNC - Carbon Sequestration and REDD Project in Brazil"

Video by FERN on REDD: "The Story of REDD: A real solution to deforestation?"

Video coverage: "Brazil: The money tree"

Meta information

Contributor:Max Stoisser
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:3589



Banner in protest against SPVS

Força Verde on patrol

An interviewed resident

An alternative proposal: Acampamento Agroflorestal José Lutzenberger