Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A gift from Scotland to Brazil: drought and despair

SEU Dodo walks through the lush Brazilian woodland he knows well, picking out medicinal plants: lobera for diabetes, one known as "the king of medicines" for the menopause, another he claims can cure flu in a day.

But the search for the plants is getting harder and harder. "A lot of our medicinal plants died this year because of the lack of water," he says ruefully.

According to Seu Dodo and others living near the village of Sao Jose do Buriti, springs that once watered the natural forest are being sucked dry by vast tracts of fast-growing eucalyptus trees used in the production of iron at a local company.

Six thousand miles away, the flames leap from one of the chimneys at the Grangemouth oil refinery on the banks of the Firth of Forth. The orange haze from the massive plant lights up the night sky as thousands of barrels of oil are refined into petrol, diesel and other products for the motor industry. The flares from the chimneys belch carbon dioxide into the sky.

Brazil-Scotland; refinery-rainforest. At first glance, the two places seem totally unconnected. But Grangemouth and Sao Jose do Buriti are tied by a single thread: carbon trading.

For, according to a new investigation, the eucalyptus trees causing such damage in Brazil were part-funded by the money from the former owners of the Grangemouth complex, BP .

BP wanted to offset the it was producing from Grangemouth. So it paid money into a scheme created by the World Bank which would "offset" these emissions by funding schemes elsewhere in the world that would reduce emissions by the same amount.

If the scheme works well, so the theory goes, the net emissions will be zero.


But according to local people, interviewed for a documentary, The Carbon Connection - which had its premiere in Edinburgh last month - the scheme had a dreadful environmental cost.

Standing in a bone-dry river bed in Sao Jose do Buriti, Synara de Fatima Almedia Thomas made her own video diary for the documentary. She said: "Local people say they used to fish here. You can see that it was a really big stream, but today during the rainy season there is not a drop of water."

She explains how one-third of the local area - 100,000 acres - is covered with eucalyptus trees owned by Plantar and other firms. "They pollute there in the north and we here in the south are obliged to clean up because there are more green areas."


In the documentary, one Brazilian woman explains: "In this game of buying and selling carbon credits, the World Bank doesn't factor in the problems caused by eucalyptus monoculture in this region. We tried to tell them, but they don't listen.

"Meanwhile, the company continues destroying our community, destroying our citizens, destroying our fauna, destroying our flora, and nobody does anything."

Here is the full article.