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Pernambuco_Mulheres do Pajeú

Local resilience actions following Just Transition Principles in Pernambuco, Brazil

18 March 2024, 10:00 UTC 5 min read

Government of Pernambuco

Pernambuco and climate change

The state of Pernambuco in northeast Brazil is facing a wide range of climate change impacts. While the coastal area suffers from concentrated rains, floods and sea level rise, the regions of Sertão and Agreste must cope with droughts which, alongside other factors, like deforestation, elevate the risk of desertification. 

Dealing with these impacts is becoming a greater priority for the state government, particularly as more than half of its population still lives below the poverty line. Pernambuco therefore has to ensure that its resilience and adaptation solutions follow just transition principles so that no one is left behind. This involves redirecting Pernambuco’s production processes towards low-carbon industries and reducing the region’s vulnerability to extreme events – including by making structural changes in society. 

What are the biggest challenges the state faces?

The path to a low carbon economy must be fair so that it ensures an improved quality of life for all social groups, while reducing climate vulnerabilities at the same time. To achieve this, we need a just transition with mechanisms and incentives to attract business and resources to create accessible green jobs with higher incomes that also protect the local biodiversity. 

The biggest challenge is to this objective that, as of today, the transition continues to be delivered through centralized models with significant environmental impacts - and often without bringing real benefits to those who really need them.

What does just transition mean in the Pernambuco context?

A just transition should generate jobs, improve quality of life, protect the environment, reduce inequalities and create prosperity for local people. With that in mind, the Government of Pernambuco is implementing Actions to Recover Areas in the Process of Degradation and to Protect Riparian Forests, Springs and Reservoirs for Public Supply: a programme aimed at improving rural communities’ living conditions while protecting the state’s natural resources. 

Training farmers_Pernambuco
Training farmers to implement agroforestry systems in the Recovering Degraded Areas in Agrarian Reform Settlements project

In 2021, the Secretariat of Environment and Sustainability selected six pilot projects from local organisations to reforest, restore water springs and recover degraded land in the Caatinga biome and Atlantic Forest regions. The former, a dry xeric shrubland and thorn forest, is one of six biomes in Brazil with a unique biological heritage, few drinkable water sources and irregular rainfall. The latter is a biodiversity hotspot known as the Mata Atlântica: a moist tropical forest currently in a very fragmented state due to land conversion to urbanization, pasture and agriculture.

1.8 million reais (around £287,000) from the State Environment Fund (Fema) was distributed among these six projects to benefit vulnerable farmers through new water and climate adaptation measures. Overall, the projects are supporting actions that help to improve family income at the same time as delivering results for the state’s biodiversity, through protecting forest cover and promoting the conservation of springs. Water springs are essential for rural areas as they supply dams, provide regulation services for vegetation and animals and support agricultural activities. An added positive outcome is that these projects will reduce greenhouse gas emissions through reforestation and more environmentally-sensitive agroforestry systems – helping to support the state government’s climate targets.

Projects that combine gender, social inclusion and environmental priorities

Two of the projects specifically highlight gender and inclusion. Women Restoring the Caatinga Biome is a partnership between the Government of Pernambuco and the Pajeú Women's Network that has been supporting women farmers in constructing a fully-functioning seedling nursery. Farmers are then able to sell the seedlings, many of them fruit trees, which in turn contribute to planting and reforestation actions in the region and help reduce food insecurity. To date, they have produced one thousand seedlings and planted two hectares, recovering riparian forest areas and three springs. 

Seedling nursery_Pernambuco
Nursery and seedlings (under construction) of the Recovering Degraded Areas in Agrarian Reform Settlements project

This project also introduced greywater reuse technology to 50 families. This technology reuses water that would normally be discarded through food production and other domestic activities, and thereby reduces local water insecurity.

A second project, Women sowing agroforestry from the countryside to the city: Recovering degraded areas in agrarian reform settlements,is supported by the Association of North-Eastern Peasant Youth – Free Land Mother Earth. It is working to expand agroforest areas in the agrarian reform settlements, improving both agricultural production and forest cover. To ensure the longevity of this agroforestry system, the project is supporting construction of a nursery to cultivation seedlings of Atlantic Forest species. This nursery has capacity for an incredible 250 thousand seedlings, so there is huge potential for making a difference. In addition to improving production and driving environmental conservation, this project seeks, through training, to boost the agency of women and the generation of income by connecting production with local markets.

Results of the projects

The six projects covered 13 municipalities and have seen considerable success. To date they have:

  • Trained 750 farmers (200 women and 30 students)
  • Implemented 155 agroforestry systems
  • Recovered 17 springs -10 of them through collaborative mapping and recovery plans
  • Helped to build three seedling nurseries (with one under construction)
  • Reforested 60 hectares of land

These actions now need to be scaled up to improve on the results that have been achieved. This means substantial investments in public consultations, collaboration between national and local institutions and training to reduce the vulnerability of farming families. 

Lessons learned and next steps

We have learnt that establishing strong partnerships is essential for the success of projects. So we hope that future initiatives will be able to include NGOs, research and extension institutions and private companies as well as governments and local people. In this way we can ensure the projects are understood by more people and can generate more value to society. 

Seedlings being planted_Pernambuco
Planting seedlings in the Recovering Degraded Areas in Agrarian Reform Settlements project

Actions like conserving soil, native vegetation, springs and watercourses need to offer benefits to farmers once they have borne the initial costs. At the moment they are taking on all the costs when actually this should be reflected across the supply chain to ensure fairness. So we need to advance low-carbon agricultural techniques, incentives, and financial instruments across the productive chain to maximise their value.

Additionally, wind and solar generation projects have been installed in many rural areas of the state, contributing to the decarbonization of the energy sector but, in many cases, these have led to negative social and environmental impacts like deforestation and the displacement of farmers. Pernambuco is concerned with these issues and has been developing strategies that could develop the renewable energy sector and create green jobs while minimising social and environmental impacts.

Working with the Under2 Coalition

The Under2 Coalition has been supporting Pernambuco in implementing its climate agenda, through the promotion of training and knowledge exchange with other states. This has included engaging local actors on greenhouse gas emissions through the Climate Footprint Project and, more recently, on developing just transition principles and best practices through the Just Transition Taskforce: a partnership between Climate Group and the Government of Scotland.