A Done Deal?
Some observers are saying that a deal on avoiding deforestation (or “REDD” in UN jargon) is near to being closed in Cancun. World Bank head Robert Zoellick (not that he has any interest in these matters…) said yesterday, “This one’s wrapped up and ready to move.” On Tuesday Ban-Ki Moon said conditions were “ripe” for a deal on forestry…Writing in The Guardian today, Suzanne Goldenberg reports (in the latest in a series of articles that omit any detail of the problems with, or the opposition to, REDD) that “by Wednesday evening, officials had boiled down the negotiating text to its essentials, a two-page document just waiting for ministers signatures. There were, according to campaign groups, only five points remaining where ministers will actually have to render a decision.”
Campaigners too now fear the worst. Simon Counsell, executive director of the Rainforest Foundation UK, writes in yesterday’s Guardian: “forest conservationists such as myself now expect only the worst to emerge from Cancún – a deal that promises to reduce emissions from deforestation, but will almost certainly fail to do so, while we continue spewing carbon dioxide into an ever-warming atmosphere.”
But it’s not over until it’s over…
Civil Society Opposition
That this deal is being pushed by big business and rich nations is clear. But as Counsell notes, “those who are most passionate about stopping the destruction of rainforests are also those most adamantly opposed to Redd.” Yesterday Friends of the Earth, FERN and the Rainforest Foundation UK put out a joint press release flagging up that “Civil Society supports growing rejection of carbon trading to finance REDD.”
The press release reports that:
Bolivia, backed by Brazil, has asked for a decision that REDD will not constitute the establishment of market mechanisms or the use of offsets. This position has wide support from environmental groups, social movements and indigenous peoples organisations, but strong opposition from Australia, Canada and others whose main interest in REDD is for offsets in order to avoid any emissions reductions at home.
[…] Critically, the EU is unwilling to support an option which does not include reference to markets under pressure from the UK and Dutch governments to establish a global forest carbon market.
Outright opposition to REDD also comes from La Via Campesina, the global peasants movement who have come to Cancun and organised a parallel summit. In their press release of 5 December, they say that opposition to REDD was the issue that dominated the opening day of their conference. The Ecosystems Climate Alliance (ECA) – a coalition of ten expert groups including Environmental Investigation Agency, Global Witness, Rainforest Foundation, Wetlands International, Rainforest Action Network and The Wilderness Society – have long been critical of the REDD approach. On 29 November Indigenouns Environmental Network (IEN) and the Global Forest Coalition issued announced: Forest and Indigenous Groups Reject Cancun Forest Deal.
This week has also seen the launch of NO REDD! A Reader published by Carbon Trade Watch and IEN with chapters by REDD Monitor, Global Justice Ecology Project, Censat Agua Viva, Amazon Watch, Acción Ecológica, World Rainforest Movement, RisingTide, ETC Group and others. The Reader was launched in Cancun at a press conference organised by IEN, Cornerhouse and Climate Justice Now!
A new global market in forest offsets?
If funding for REDD is provided by the carbon markets, then rich governments and polluting industries will be able to purchase forest offsets rather than change their own behaviour. However, physical science tells us that we need to both protect forests and make deep emissions cuts.
We have seen that using carbon markets as a solution for transferring clean technology to poor countries (the UN’s “Clean Development Mechanism”) has proven to be a disaster. If we repeated this mistake and used the carbon markets to fund REDD, we would provide an offset opportunity for rich nations of an unprecedented magnitude. Turning carbon into a commodity would also make it prey for speculative traders which would make it a volatile, unreliable source of funding liable to repeat the bubble-and-crash scenario we have seen recently in the financial markets.
Problems with REDD and solutions to deforestation
Financing by carbon markets is not the only potential problem with REDD. This week, the Ecosystems Climate Alliance has been highlighting the insufficient social and environmental safeguards in the draft REDD texts. Safeguards are needed to ensure the rights of indigenous peoples are protected and that natural forests are kept intact. The former is important, not just for the indigenous people themselves, but for the climate as a 15 year study of 80 forests showed that giving the forests back to the people who live in them is the best way to protect them. Governments, conversely, have proven to be the worst protectors of forests.
As to the protection of natural forests (!), as Counsell puts it:
the UN’s definition of “forests” includes many things that actually cause their destruction, such as plantations of oil palm and fast-growing exotic tree species, which often replace natural forest. Areas that have been smashed up by logging companies equally count as “forest”, as does bare land which, in the UN’s gloriously euphemistic term, is “temporarily unstocked” of trees. Some tropical countries have spotted an opportunity here to cash in on payments to protect “forests” in order to subsidise yet more plantations of oil palm and “fastwood”. Early attempts to set up well-meaning Redd schemes in countries such as Guyana and Indonesia have quickly hit the buffers of vested interest and corruption, with “avoided deforestation funds” already being lined up for projects – such as hydroelectric dams and associated infrastructure – that will increase the destruction of forests.
The idea of REDD that has been cooked up in rich countries has it that money will sort everything out. However, an excellent new report by Friends of the Earth International released at the start of the talks in Cancun, REDD – The Realities in Black & White, which looks at the experience of REDD pilot projects, concludes:
Essential elements in any new approach to stopping deforestation are: reducing demand for agricultural and timber commodities; reviewing the definition of forests to ensure that plantations are excluded; and making sure that any such scheme, in so far as it requires financing, excludes any rewards for climate polluters, and is based on public funding and repayment of the carbon debt. Such a mechanism should reward those who have already conserved their forests. It should build on the experiences of Indigenous Peoples around the world who already know how to manage and benefit from forests sustainably, and whose rights are recognised by UNDRIP. There are many lessons waiting to be learned.
The point about reducing demand is key: unless demand is curbed for meat & dairy, biofuels, timber, paper and so on, the problem of deforestation will not go away, it will simply be displaced. A new Global Forestry Commission report, Getting to the Roots, looks at these underlying drivers of deforestation and makes a number of recommendations for tackling them and reversing current trends.
Update: At the start of Thursday in Cancun, ECA are saying that REDD is deadlocked and NOT a done deal. Several countries are “furious” that the Chair continues to ignore requests for the “safeguards” for natural forests and indigenous peoples rights to be strengthened.
Climate Radio explored international action on forestry in a number of programmes last year, including in interviews with Nathaniel Dyer of Rainforest Foundation UK, Tony Juniper of the Prince of Wales Rainforest Project, Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth Kate Dooley of FERN and the Accra Caucus, and Chris Henschel of the Climate Action Network’s working group on LULUCF. In 2008 we spoke to Miguel Lovera of Global Forest Coalition and Robert Bailey of Oxfam on these issues.
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