How research in carbon credits in Brazil led Dr. Grace Iara Souza to a PhD in Political Ecology

Featured photo: Celebrating the passing of the Motion 129 (WCC 2020 Resolution 129) to protect 80% of the Amazon by 2025 with COICA at IUCN 2021

Dr Grace Iara Souza spends some of her time advising Synchronicity Earth as their Latin America affiliate. In this interview, she speaks to Jim Pettiward about her introduction into environmental conservation. This blog is a condensed version of the original, reposted with permission from Synchronicity Earth. Read the full interview here.

My introduction to environmental conservation began when I was working in the private sector for the fourth-largest producer of sugar and ethanol in Brazil. That was back in the early 2000s, and the company was looking into producing carbon credit certificates in line with the Kyoto Protocol. I spent a lot of time researching the theme and preparing the team for all the phases of the Clean Development Mechanism certification, which meant travelling around Brazil to get a feel for what was happening in different regions.

Grace Iara and the Guarani leader Kerexu Yxapyry at the Indigenous Free Land Camp (ATL) 2022

At that time, I was also studying international relations, but I found that rather than foreign trade, my main interest was in the relationship between what was happening at a local level and global policy and governance systems. But it was only once studying in the UK and being exposed to a more critical view of environmental history that I started to develop a more critical understanding of global governance and offsetting initiatives like carbon credits (or ‘licenses to pollute’, as I call them).

In 2007, I moved to the UK to study English, and I ended up going on to a master’s degree on Environment, Politics and Globalisation at King’s College, London, in 2010.

As my knowledge developed, I began to understand there was something wrong with the whole concept of offsetting carbon emissions.

Countries and companies with higher greenhouse gas emissions have been doing little to reduce their contributions to climate change and it is unfair to the planet and biodiversity-rich countries to provide ‘licences to pollute’ when they are the ones most impacted by deforestation, pollution, and the impacts of climate change.

I knew that the best place for me to carry out my master’s research would be in the Amazon. At that point, I was one of those ‘paulistas’ (resident of São Paulo), a Brazilian who had to leave Brazil to really see Brazil. I had grown up inside the country, but my understanding was limited by the social mobility and privileges of living in the country’s business capital. This added to how little I’d seen of the multiple versions of Brazil and my vision of the world back then.

I felt I needed to see how local people in the Amazon understood the profound importance of the rainforest and its role in global human security. I started looking into the idea of the ‘internationalisation’ of the Amazon. And once I was there, I realised the price local people paid by being a part of a global natural resource, something vitally important to global human and environmental security.

From that moment on, the way I perceived the world changed, particularly in relation to concepts such as wealth, development, and security. I realised I needed more time in the Amazon. That was when I decided to study for a PhD in Political Ecology, seeking to understand the power dynamics between a vast range of stakeholders. Political ecology is a set of lenses through which to see the world. The lenses I was most interested in were the post-colonial context and forms of resistance, but also politics of scale. Who should be protected? By whom? And at whose expense?


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