Kenya: International Finance Corporation throws lifeline to REDD+ project and provides greenwashing for the largest mining company in the world
BHP Billiton is the world’s largest mining and petroleum company running mines in 13 countries. Its main offices are in Melbourne, Australia, and in London, UK, where the company sells shares on the London Stock Exchange.
The London Mining Network, an alliance of human rights, development, environmental and solidarity groups, has compiled information about the many conflicts between the company and communities and workers affected by its mining operations and environmental disasters caused by the company’s mines. (1) These include the catastrophic flood of 40 million tonnes of toxic mud waste released into the Doce river in Minas Gerais, Brazil, in 2015 – the biggest environmental spill in the country’s history. (2) The toxic mud spread all the way to the sea, killing 19 people and requiring the evacuation of 600 more. Almost two years on, the Doce river still runs red from the iron ore in the water. BHP Billiton co-owns the mine with Brazilian mining firm, Vale. The two companies have faced public campaigns over inadequate clean-up efforts and compensation to those affected by the disaster. They also face fines and national and international legal cases over responsibility for the breach of the dam that was supposed to prevent their toxic waste from spilling into the river.
Bail-out for REDD+ project in Kenya provides greenwashing for BHP Billiton
In October 2016 – almost exactly one year after the toxic spill at the BHP Billiton mine in Brazil – the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) (3) raised US 152 million dollars from private investors through the sale of what they named “forests bond”. (4) Investment funds and banks could buy the “forests bond”. Buying the bond means they lend their money to the IFC for five years during which the IFC uses the money to fund infrastructure and other corporate projects. At regular intervals, usually every year, the buyers of the bond receive interest payments from the IFC. After five years, the IFC has to pay back the money to the bond buyers: the investors swap the bond again for the money they originally invested. The IFC calls the bond “forests” bond because buyers can choose to receive their annual interest payment either in cash or as carbon credits from a REDD+ project (5) in Kenya, called the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project that claims to protect forests.
Italian social and environmental justice group Re:Common and the European Counter Balance network visited the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project area in July 2016 and documented evidence of ongoing negative impacts on local peasant communities. (6) The report confirms findings published in an article in 2015 (7) that describes how the REDD+ project strengthens historical injustices over land allocation: those most affected by the restrictions the REDD+ projects puts on land use, mainly ethnic Taita communities, receive very few benefits while (absentee) ranch shareholders receive a guaranteed 1/3 of the revenues from REDD+ credit sales.
For the five years that buyers of the “forests bond” receive interest payments, IFC has committed to buying carbon credits from the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project (Phase I and II). If a buyer prefers to receive the interest payment in cash, BHP Billiton will buy the REDD+ credits from the IFC instead and thus provide the cash for the interest payment to the “forests bond” buyer. That means five years of guaranteed REDD+ credit sales for the California-based company Wildlife Works Carbon, which set up the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project and the financial architecture of it. The company had just months before seen a big REDD+ credit sales agreement with a Luxembourg-based carbon market fund (Althelia Climate Fund) collapse. Finding a replacement soon might well have been a question of survival for the REDD+ project.
For BHP Billiton, the commitment to buying REDD+ credits at a fixed price of US 5 dollars if buyers don’t want them, provides green cover for its dirty mining and an opportunity to deflect global attention away from its responsibility for Brazil’s largest environmental disaster that still has dire consequences for the local population along the Doce river. Also involved in the “forests bond” deal is Conservation International (CI), a US-based conservation NGO. CI advised BHP Billiton on the “forests bond”, sits on the Althelia Climate Fund’s Expert Board, is involved in a REDD+ project near the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project and is among the most vocal REDD+ supporters.
The IFC’s “forests bond” is a dubious new way of propping up private sector REDD+ projects that have been unable to sell their carbon credits. The misleading name “forests” bond also suggests that there is more private sector investment for “forests” than there really is as the capital invested does not go into forest-related activities. The actual money loaned to IFC – the US 152 million dollars it got from buyers of the “forests bond” – is invested in the sort of corporate projects the IFC usually funds. The bondholders only forego a portion of their interest payments they receive from the IFC and accept to take these in the form of REDD+ credits rather than cash – or if the bondholder does not want them, BHP Billiton will take them and make a cash payment to the bond holder. The IFC works with the conservation industry to re-label a corporate investment as a “forests bond”, even though only (part of) the interest IFC pays to the buyer of the “bond” is used to subsidise a forest / REDD+ project.
So, in addition to more investment that may well cause harm to local communities, the IFC throws a lifeline to a REDD+ project run by a private company that is severely restricting land use of ethnic Taita communities in Kenya’s Kasigau Corridor area. Moreover, it presents the world’s largest mining company with responsibility for Brazil’s largest environmental disaster, BHP Billiton, with an opportunity to greenwash its image by offering to buy any Kasigau Corridor REDD+ credits that buyers of the IFC “forests bond” may not want. A triple win for the corporate sector, the conservation industry and the World Bank, with the costs borne by local communities and the climate.
Jutta Kill, jutta [at] wrm.org.uy Member of the WRM International Secretariat
In July 2017, California voted to extend its cap-and-trade scheme until 2030. Some environmental groups and the oil and gas industry support the legislation. Environmental justice groups oppose it. This post summarises some of the responses to the continuation of cap-and-trade in California.
Carbon trading is no solution
Dr. Michael Dorsey and Jane Williams write that “Pollution trading will never be the climate solution for California — or anywhere”. They point to the more than a dozen major banks that have closed their carbon trading desks. They write that,
Carbon trading was born with one foot in the grave and another on the banana peel. Gov. Brown’s championing free-market claims of the efficacy of cap-and-trade are a hair removed from the “voodoo economics” of the Reagan-era.
Nowhere on earth — not in the largest market (the EU ETS), nor in the smaller regional markets from the New England Regional Greenhouse Initiative (RGGI) market to the California cap-and-trade market to the newly minted Chinese market — has the carbon price ever been sufficiently high enough to drive the technological innovation to fully stop carbon pollution.
The climate science is clear, Dorsey and Williams write. We have to reduce emissions from all sources as soon as possible, especially fossil fuels. “AB 398 completely ignores the consensus scientific mandate to keep fossil fuels in the ground.” Instead it relies on the fallacy that emissions can be offset.
Against environmental justice
California Environmental Justice Alliance directors, Strela Cervas and Amy Vanderwarker, look in detail at the implications of AB 398 from an environmental justice perspective. CEJA works with low-income communities and communities of colour, who live next to California’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants: refineries and power plants.
CEJA pushed for legislation that would have required California to reduce emissions directly rather than relying on a market-based cap-and-trade mechanism. In addition to being the most direct way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the legislation would have also improved local air quality in communities living on the frontlines of pollution.
Cervas and Vanderwarker write that AB 398 fails to meet any of the desired environmental justice outcomes. They highlight three major problems with AB 398:
Regulatory rollbacks: Local air districts are prevented from enacting CO2 regulations on pollution sources covered by cap-and-trade. And the California Air Resources Board is prevented from enacting new regulations on oil and gas production facilities that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Making it more difficult to achieve 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction goals: AB 398 aims to make it as cheap as possible for industry to comply, through offsets, price reductions in the cap-and-trade market, and locking in free allowances. AB 398 fails to address the over-allocation of allowances, which keeps prices low, and helps avoid emissions reductions because industry can buy up cheap allowances.
Undermining climate revenues: A higher price of carbon might drive businesses to change. AB 398 “does nothing to help with that”, Cervas and Vanderwarker write. The bill includes tax breaks and a fee repeal that will reduce investments by about US$300-500 million per year.
Cervas and Vanderwarker conclude that,
In the coming years, CEJA, our members and partners will be working to minimize the negative impacts of these provisions. We will continue our fight for equitable climate policy, and hope that legislative offices, agencies and environmental organizations join our effort.
Millions of oily dollars behind cap-and-trade
Anne C. Mulkern writes on E&E News that business spent millions lobbying for the continuation of cap-and-trade in California:
At least seven oil companies and the petroleum trade group Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) together doled out more than $34 million to persuasion efforts from 2015 through the first quarter of this year. The parent companies of the three biggest investor-owned electric utilities spent a combined $9.1 million. Four agriculture groups bankrolled nearly $1.6 million.
Two days after Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 398, the California Air Resources Board approved a resolution 17-21. Writing on the website CALmatters, Julie Cart and Laurel Rosenhall note that a paragraph tucked away in this resolution “will likely result in benefits worth hundreds of millions of dollars for the oil and agriculture industries”. They write that,
The deal would provide maximum compensation to companies for the extra cost of doing business in a state with the nation’s toughest emissions standards. But some critics say it merely gives a lucrative financial leg-up to polluting firms that don’t need it—and by removing some of those firms’ incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, could even undermine cap and trade’s prime goal.
In Richmond, California, Chevron plans a major refinery expansion to process tar sands crude. For several years, environmental justice activists have been campaigning against the expansion. They fought for the regional air pollution regulator, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), to establish a refinery-based cap on pollution, including greenhouse gases.
In May 2017, BAAQMD approved a motion to finalise a refinery pollution cap – the world’s strongest and most ambitious. Public health experts estimate that the cap could prevent between 800 and 3,000 deaths over 40 years.
Chevron killed the pollution cap through the cap-and-trade bill AB 398, which prevents local air quality agencies from establishing rules limiting greenhouse gases. This was one of the items on the Western States Petroleum Association’s wishlist for California’s climate legislation.
In Richmond, 80% of the people living within 1.6 kilometres of Chevron’s refinery are people of colour. The vast majority of the people that Chevron’s increased pollution will kill, will be people of colour. And that’s exactly what environmental racism looks like.
For many people, REDD+ is about projects that save forests. In reality, however, REDD+ has never been about protecting forests and also no longer really is about projects but about programmes covering whole regions or provinces within a country. Though many REDD+ projects continue to exist, causing harm to indigenous peoples and forest communities by restricting their traditional forest use practises. (1)
The idea of REDD+ has its roots in the UN climate negotiations. It was negotiated as a tool that would allow companies and industrialized countries to continue burning petroleum, coal and natural gas while claiming the emissions this causes do not harm the climate. REDD+, its advocates claim, would provide cheap compensation for the release of these emissions into the atmosphere and provide money to finance forest protection. Companies in industrialized countries could burn fossil carbon at home, that is the carbon stored underground for millions of years, and pay someone in a tropical forest country to keep some trees standing as a replacement carbon store. (2)
The truth is that money alone doesn’t stop deforestation; that REDD+ isn’t tackling the actual causes of large-scale deforestation and that money from the private sector hasn’t been forthcoming at any scale. REDD+ advocates who had advertised REDD+ as a triple-win (cheap compensation for fossil fuel burning, extra money for forest conservation and supporting communities who live in and from the forest and contribution to climate protection that can be realized now while technology for move away from fossil fuel is developed) have also had to grudgingly acknowledge that halting deforestation is neither fast nor easy or cheap. Convincing evidence is missing that REDD+ has made a dent in deforestation despite claims to the contrary.
Another motivation behind REDD+ is the intention of industrialized countries to avoid paying the bill for tropical forest protection although a “development” debt remains. Industrialized countries are increasingly transforming ‘development aid’ grants into loans and private-public-partnership schemes where the main role of public money is to provide a risk buffer for private capital investments in so-called developing countries. (3) Two reports commissioned by the UK government – the Stern report 2006 and the Eliasch review 2008 – helped governments to claim that ‘private sector capital is needed to save tropical forests because public money alone will not be sufficient’ to cover the supposed cost of reducing deforestation. It was these two reports that established the unfounded claim that reducing emissions from deforestation is cheap, fast and easy.
For international conservation organisations and the World Bank, REDD+ also provides a tool to expand their ‘parks without people’ model of forest conservation and ensures corporate and public funding for their conservation projects and organisational budgets. Conservation NGOs and consultants based in industrialized countries have to date probably received the lion’s share of public money spent on REDD+ in the last ten years. Even though these groups claim to do ‘participatory REDD+’ and ‘community REDD+’ projects, REDD+ is not an idea that originated from communities. REDD+ is also not suitable to address the needs and threats that forest-dependent communities face, as experience has clearly shown during the past ten years. (4) Critics of REDD+, including WRM, have discussed these misconceptions and hidden motivations behind REDD+ many times.
Less has been written about the change of REDD+ from projects to programmes that cover whole regions or provinces within a country. These new kinds of REDD+ initiatives are expected to eventually cover whole countries. They are often called ‘jurisdictional REDD+’ because they will be implemented not just on the land assigned to individual REDD+ projects but across a whole jurisdiction, like a department, a province, a state or a whole country. This article looks at what is motivating this change from projects to ‘jurisdictional’ REDD+.
What is ‘jurisdictional REDD+’?
Because REDD+ is linked to the UN climate negotiations, the UN climate talks also determine what REDD+ looks like. REDD+ initiatives that want to sell their carbon credits to the UN carbon market, will need to comply with the UN climate agreement rules. In reality, pilot programmes such as the World Bank Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and private sector REDD+ projects that already sell carbon credits to companies in the so-called voluntary carbon market, also have a big influence on these rules. Lobbyists from the World Bank and conservation NGOs are present at the UN climate meetings and meet with government officials that decide on the UN’s rules for REDD+.
From 2005, the World Bank, international conservation groups and private companies started to implement REDD+ projects that would be compatible with a mechanism more or less like the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism: individual projects or clusters of projects in countries without binding emission targets in the global South would sell carbon credits to companies and industrialized countries that have binding emission limits. But the UN Paris Agreement from 2015 turned out very different from the Kyoto Protocol (see also WRM Bulletin 228, January 2017). Under the Paris Agreement on climate change all countries have voluntary emission targets and will be presenting their national greenhouse gas balance sheet to the UN climate convention. These balance sheets will show how far a country has advanced in achieving the target they have set for their country. None of these Paris Agreement targets are binding. (5)
But carbon markets need binding targets, or some kind of pressure to limit emissions to function. The assumption that REDD+ could attract private sector funding if REDD+ projects are able to sell carbon credits in a global carbon market will not work anymore. Limits create the demand, hence: no (binding) limits, no demand for REDD+ credits from a UN carbon market.
Moreover, most tropical forest countries in the global South have included reductions in emissions from deforestation into their national commitments under the Paris Agreement. Therefore, they will have to calculate how much greenhouse gas emissions is happening in their country and present these figures in a national balance sheet. Most tropical countries decided to include emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in this national accounting sheet. And they will have to submit their national ‘carbon accounts’ regularly to the UN to demonstrate their progress towards the reduction goal they set for themselves (in UN climate language, these goals are called NDCs – nationally determined contributions).
From 2020, when the UN Paris Agreement comes into force, every carbon credit sold by a REDD+ project located in a country that also includes (carbon stored in) forests in its national carbon balance will have to be deducted from the country’s national carbon balance sheet. If the credit sold by the project is not deducted from the national balance sheet, there is what in UN climate language is called ‘double-counting’ because the buyer of the carbon credit will also claim a reduction in his own balance sheet – after all, that is why he bought the REDD+ credit. This means that the emissions look lower on paper than they are in reality. And that in turn increases the risk of dangerous climate change.
Double-counting will be very likely under the Paris Agreement if private sector REDD+ projects continue to sell carbon credits. (6) Even a report by the Gold Standard, a company certifying carbon credits, recently warned about this risk. (7) That continued selling of REDD+ carbon credits by private sector REDD+ projects will create a mess under these circumstances can already be seen in the Brazilian state of Acre. There, the German government is funding a ‘jurisdictional REDD+’ programme called ‘REDD Early Movers’. (8)
The German government programme has paid a total of 25 million Euro between 2012 and 2016 to the government of Acre in return for the state of Acre submitting documents showing that emissions from deforestation in Acre had stayed below a level agreed in the REDD contract between the two governments. That level was very generous. It did not require additional emission reductions to those already achieved in previous years because the calculation included the high-deforestation years 2003-2005. Law enforcement measures by the Brazilian state had already led to steep reductions in deforestation rates in the following years. One could argue that the German government was paying Acre for emission reductions achieved in the past through non-REDD+ measures, or that Germany was paying Acre to maintain the forest carbon stock, a concept that had been rejected as unaffordable during the early years of UN negotiations about REDD+.
The state of Acre can use the money for any activity it deems necessary to reduce deforestation. A closer look at what the Acre government has decided to spend the money on reveals among others that much money has gone into consultancy reports and studies and very little has reached communities. This is mirroring many of the widely documented problems with REDD+ elsewhere.
What does REDD Early Movers in Acre tell us about ‘jurisdictional REDD’?
Looking at the ‘REDD Early Movers’ programme in Acre also reveals the contradictions that arise when ‘jurisdictional REDD’ programmes try to integrate private sector REDD+ projects that are already selling carbon credits on the voluntary carbon market. In Acre, at least three such projects exist: The Purus, Valparaiso and Envira REDD+ projects. The carbon balance sheet prepared by the government of Acre for the ‘REDD Early Movers’ programme with Germany deducts 10 per cent of the state’s emission reductions from the balance sheet to account for the carbon credits sold by these three REDD+ projects. Purus for example sold carbon credits to the FIFA for compensation of part of the emissions from the 2014 Football World Cup. Adding up the numbers, however, shows that these three projects are claiming far more than the 10 per cent deducted in the state’s carbon balance sheet. That means, it is possible, if not likely, that some of the reductions (if they happened at all) are counted twice: By the private sector REDD+ project selling carbon credits, as in the FIFA case, and by the state of Acre in its carbon balance sheet. From 2020, that risk will arise in many more countries. Particularly likely are such situations in countries like Peru, Kenya or the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (9) with several or large existing private sector REDD+ projects already selling carbon credits and where the companies running these projects are involved in designing ‘jurisdictional REDD+’ programmes.
As the example of Acre shows, for communities, the impacts of ‘jurisdictional REDD’ programmes may well be much the same as those caused by individual REDD+ projects: being first in line to face restrictions on traditional forest use practises and last in line for receiving meaningful compensation or ‘benefits’ that REDD+ is supposed to generate for forest-dependent communities.
Jutta Kill, jutta [at] wrm.org.uy
Member of the International Secretariat of the WRM
(1) REDD stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. See WRM’s Collection of REDD+ Conflicts, Contradictions and Lies for examples of the many ways in which REDD+ projects are harmful to forest-dependent communities.
(5) It’s maybe also important to note that the total of these reductions that countries have committed to are far too low to avoid global temperature increases of less than 2 degrees Celsius: The USA, EU, China and India alone would take up the entire so-called carbon budget of fossil carbon that can still be released until 2050 to ensure a 50 per cent possibility that temperatures increase by no more than 2 degrees. And a good part of China’s emissions are from producing goods exported to the USA and the EU. http://www.globalcarbonproject.org/carbonbudget/16/files/GCP_CarbonBudget_2016.pdf
Early in June 2017, two Assembly Bills (AB 151 and AB 378) failed to get past California’s Assembly.
AB 378 was authored by Christina Garcia and two other Democrat Assembly members. It was supported by the California Environmental Justice Alliance and other members of California’s Environmental Justice movement.
AB 151 was also authored by Democrat Assembly members – Autumn Burke and Jim Cooper. It was far more industry-friendly than AB 378, and was supported by the Western States Petroleum Association and other industry groups.
AB 151 has not been put to a vote in California’s Assembly.
A third bill, SB 775, is also supported by Environmental Justice organisations. It was put forward by state Senator Bob Wieckowskiand state Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León. The bill remains in the Senate.
SB 775 proposes a new cap-and-trade scheme that would not allow carbon credits to be carried forward from the existing scheme. It would include no offsets, no free pollution allowances, and a per-capita dividend. Under SB 775 carbon credits would be auctioned off. There would be a floor price of US$20 per ton, and a price ceiling of US$30. The floor would rise by US$5 each year and the ceiling by US$10, plus inflation. Credits cannot be carried over from one quarter to the next, so firms cannot “bank” credits.
By ruling out carbon offsets, SB 775 would also rule out the possibility of the oil industry and other polluters in California using REDD credits to continue polluting.
Carbon traders, the oil industry, and “environmental” groups like EDF, opposed SB 775.
In response to a question about the impact of SB 775 on carbon markets during a press conference, de León replied,
Let me go back to the folks who are actually holding the allowances right now, as we speak. Our goal and our responsibility and our objective is to create jobs and put people to work and expand the middle class. That’s our job. Our job is not for those who are speculating on the market right now, who are trying to profit and buy low and sell high. That’s not our responsibility. Our responsibility is for economic growth, create jobs, expand the middle class, create the necessary technologies that will actually help us meet our 2030 targets, and reduce carbon and other harmful pollutants that our children breathe into their lungs.
At the end of May 2017, Adam Gray and other business-friendly Democrats put forward their proposal for extending cap-and-trade beyond 2020.
Jerry Brown’s oily friends
This, then, is the political environment in which Governor Brown has turned to his friends in the oil industry. In These Timesreports that leaked documents show that “California’s fossil fuel industry is trying to write state climate policy to its liking”. The evidence is pretty overwhelming.
And allowing the oil industry to be involved in writing climate policy is like asking the fox how big the holes in the fence around the chicken coup should be.
A previous post on REDD-Monitor looks at Brown’s cosy links with the oil industry – the industry that California’s climate policy is supposed to be regulating.
It’s also worrying that Brown appears not to understand how cap-and-trade works. Brown says that,
“Cleaning up the air where it’s most dirty makes a lot of sense. With cap and trade, we’ll have billions of dollars to achieve just that.”
Rather than the government paying to clean up the air, it’s obviously better to stop corporations from polluting in the first place. By allowing companies to buy carbon credits, cap-and-trade allows pollution to continue.
The irony is that California has reduced its emissions under AB 32. But not as a result of carbon trading. As David Roberts points out in an article about SB 775 on Vox,
Regulations, not carbon pricing, have been the main driver of California’s carbon reductions to date. In fact, they have been so effective, and carbon reductions so much cheaper than expected, that there hasn’t been much work left for the cap-and-trade program to do. Near-term emission goals are being reached without its help.
The logical way forward is to strengthen regulations and limit carbon trading. That’s more or less what SB 775 does. Even better would be abolishing carbon trading altogether, of course.
Brown wanted a decision on extending California’s cap-and-trade scheme by the end of budget negotiations in June 2017. That didn’t happen, but the Los Angeles Times reports that Brown’s advisers hope to get a vote on extending cap-and-trade in early July 2017. California’s lawmakers leave for their summer recess on 21 July 2017.
The Brown Administration’s draft proposals echo the oil industry’s wishlist
The Brown Administration’s latest draft proposals would continue California’s current cap-and-trade scheme. The draft proposals have not been publicly released, but are available here, here, and here. When asked by the Los Angeles Times about the proposals, Brown replied, “Can’t talk about it.”
The Western States Petroleum Association has produced a wish list of what it wants to see in California’s climate legislation:
In adopting a regulation applicable from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2030 pursuant to this subdivision, the state board shall do all of the following:
(1) Establish a price ceiling at $63 per metric tonne in 2021, increasing by 2 percent plus the consumer price index annually thereafter. The price ceiling shall ensure compliance can be achieved at a price no greater than the ceiling, and monies generated through compliance at the price ceiling shall be used by the state board to achieve emissions reductions that are real, permanent, quantifiable, verifiable, enforceable by the state board and in addition to any greenhouse gas emission reduction otherwise required by law or regulation, and any other greenhouse gas emission reduction that otherwise would occur.
(2) Establish two price containment points at levels below the price ceiling. The state board shall offer to covered entities non-tradable allowances from the allowance price containment reserve for sale at these price containment points.
(3) Establish a limit of no greater than 6 percent of a covered entity’s compliance obligation that may be met by surrendering offset credits.
(4) Develop approaches to increase offset projects in California.
(5) Set industry assistance factors for allowance allocation commencing in 2021 set at the levels applicable in the 2015-2017 compliance period. Apply a declining cap adjustment factor to the industry allocation equivalent to the overall statewide emissions declining cap.
(6) In 2025, the state board shall assess changes in trade-exposure and the need to achieve greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and may revise the requirements established in sections (1), (3), and (5) above based on this assessment.
The second draft proposal describes provisions to monitor air quality at selected location in California, including in disadvantaged communities, and at major pollutants such as oil refineries. It also includes a community plan programme aimed at reducing pollution, prioritising disadvantaged communities.
The third draft proposal would replace the regulation of refineries (which would reduce emissions) with carbon trading (which would allow emissions to continue):
The state board shall designate the market-based compliance mechanism … as the rule for petroleum refineries and oil and gas production facilities to achieve their greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Having weakened how emissions from refineries are regulated, the third draft proposal then prevents local districts from regulating emissions of greenhouse gases from polluting corporations if those corporations are subject to the carbon trading mechanism.
Liza Tucker of Consumer Watchdog told In These Times why the oil and gas industry is so keen on carbon trading,
“They want to eliminate the possibility of direct regulation of their pollution, because that’s going to be more expensive … because of the advantageous way that the cap-and-trade system is currently structured, so they can view carbon trading as a flim-flam where they can keep doing business as usual.”
Brown as stenographer for Chevron
The Brown Administration’s draft proposals clearly echo the Western States Petroleum Association’s requests for loopholes to be built into California’s climate legislation.
RL Miller, Chair of the Environmental Caucus of the California Democratic Party, accuses Brown of “acting as the stenographer for Chevron”.
SOURCE & Full disclosure: This post is part of a series of posts and interviews about California’s cap-and-trade scheme, with funding from Friends of the Earth US. Click here for all of REDD-Monitor’s funding sources.
California Governor Jerry Brown has aggressively positioned himself as a global climate leader to fill the vacuum created by the arrival of an ignorant climate change denier in the White House. But not all that glitters is green. The Governor has spent the last months promoting the expansion of complicated market-based carbon trading mechanisms, known as “Cap-and-Trade,” as a cornerstone of state and global climate policy — in a move that directly threatens vulnerable communities both in California and abroad.
California’s current Cap-and-Trade program is set to expire in 2020. Last summer the state legislature established ambitious and unprecedented emissions reductions goals for 2030, without extending the authorization of Cap-and-Trade. The Governor signed the emission reductions goals into law — but he made it clear that Cap-and-Trade was the primary option he would consider for meeting those goals.
Intertwined with Governor Brown’s persistent campaigning for Cap-and-Trade, the oil and gas lobby in California, along with a multitude of industrial manufacturers, the carbon-trading lobby, and a number of business friendly environmental organizations, have also been pushing hard to make the market-based mechanism the foundation of future California climate policy.
This summer Governor Brown has gone into a full-court press to pressure the California legislature to approve a Cap-and-Trade program that would rely heavily on “offsets” — a type of carbon “credit” that a polluter, such as an oil refinery can purchase to legally “neutralize” its pollution — despite the fact that the pollution still occurs. Regardless of the dubious science and documented injustices of offset schemes, Governor Brown, the oil and gas industry, and their allies among a few of the big green groups have continued to aggressively promote the use of offsets as a primary means to achieving California’s emission reductions goals.
Among the offset schemes that the Governor and fossil fuel companies such as Shell, BP, and Chevron want incorporated into the state’s Cap-and-Trade program are a variety of tropical forest carbon offset which would come from partner jurisdictions around the world, such as Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, or Cross River State, Nigeria. Governor Brown has also continued to operate from a 2010 Memorandum of Understanding signed between California and the states of Chiapas, México and Acre, Brazil back when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor of California. Acre is specifically highlighted in current proposals as the first tropical forest state with which California plans to “link” its carbon market. The linkage would be based on an international carbon trading program known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD. Due to conflicts and human rights concerns regarding indigenous land rights and violations of the right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent, REDD has become one of the most controversial and high-risk climate policy programs out there.
In facing the development of these market-based policies in far-away places like California, forest communities of the Brazilian Amazon recently held a gathering in the rubber tapper stronghold of Xapuri. Xapuri was the home of the internationally known labor and land rights advocate Chico Mendes, who was assassinated in the late 1980’s for opposing road building and other mega-projects in the Amazon. Representatives of indigenous and traditional communities that are currently and potentially affected by REDD projects and associated tropical forest management schemes came together in Xapuri at the end of May to discuss the impacts of climate policy on their access to territory, their forests, and their livelihoods.
Among the organizers of the gathering was Dercy Telles, who worked side by side with Chico Mendes in the years before his assassination. During the gathering Dercy was moved to make a brief video statement for California policy makers and climate activists who may not be aware of the problems with tropical forest carbon offset schemes, and for California activists on the frontlines of day-to-day pollution from California’s fossil fuel industry.
In her statement, Dercy describes how their forest communities must fight against policies like REDD that “aim to exterminate rural populations.” She minces no words in describing that their communities have come to see these climate policies as “nothing but a bunch of false solutions to global warming issues” “based on lies” and “on selling illusions to the less privileged.” The forest people of the Amazon, Dercy says, “want people in California to know that we are fighting the same fight in solidarity” and that “we are going to keep on fighting for as long as we have strength and courage.”
From 26 to 28 May 2017, a meeting took place in Xapuri, in the state of Acre, Brazil. The meeting brought together Apurinã, Huni Kui, Jaminawa, Manchineri and Shawadawa indigenous peoples, representatives of traditional communities, rubber tappers, academics and supporting organisations. The meeting’s theme was, “The effects of environmental / climatic policies on traditional populations”.
The meeting was supported by Friends of the Earth International, the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and the World Rainforest Movement.
In a short report about the meeting, Daniel Santini of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, writes that the participants reject the term “carbon credits”, because they are actually “pollution credits”. Trading pollution makes the climate problem worse by giving the illusion that something is being done, when in fact it allows pollution to continue.
Instead of policies based on restrictions on the way of life of traditional peoples, the participants argued that the political-economic model of occupation of the region should be changed, with the suspension of generous public financing for agricultural expansion, industrial logging, and monoculture tree plantations.
Days before the meeting, in Rio Branco, the capital of Acre, corporate and state government representatives met to discuss the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). This is the aviation industry’s disastrous proposal to continue polluting, while using carbon credits to “offset” its emissions.
The World Bank is in talks with the International Civil Aviation Organization about using REDD credits in CORSIA.
Acre is one of the states from which California is looking to buy REDD credits as part of its cap-and-trade scheme. In April 2016, Dave Clegern, a Public Information Officer at the California Air Resources Board, said that,
“The projects that we’re looking at are supported by the locals. They are what is known as sector-based projects, which means that they would be run in conjunction with the government of that country which would provide the opportunity for regular monitoring, verification of the quality of the offsets.”
REDD-Monitor asked Clegern some questions about this statement, including whether a process of free, prior, and informed consent had been carried out about REDD in Acre. And if not, which “locals” was Clegern talking about?
REDD-Monitor is still waiting for Clegern’s reply.
At the end of the meeting in Xapuri, those attending produced the Xapuri Declaration, posted below in full in English and Portuguese:
Xapuri Declaration, May 28, 2017
We, forest dwellers, rubber tappers, Apurinã, Huni Kui, Jaminawa, Manchineri and Shawadawa indigenous people, members of supportive organizations and the Jesuit Travelling Team, teachers from different universities, united in the city of Xapuri in the Brazilian state of Acre from 26 to 28 May 2017, at the meeting “The effects of environmental / climatic policies on traditional populations”, declare:
– That, at this moment of resurgence, we are unifying the struggles of indigenous peoples and rubber tappers in the same cause. Our union is our main weapon against capital.
– That, aware of the history of resistance of the forest peoples and the legacy of Chico Mendes, we will stand firm in the defense of our territories. Like the ones that preceded us, we will continue to oppose attempts to expropriate our ways of life. We demand the demarcation and recognition of our rights to land and territory.
– We reject the ongoing initiatives materialized in policies that aim to convey our territories to private capital groups, including ranchers and loggers. We are concerned about the lack of transparency and the way that different mechanisms have been put forward, including payments for environmental services such as REDD and its variations, unsustainable forest management plans and mechanisms foreseen in the new Brazilian Forest Code, many of which are imposed through intimidation, blackmail, negotiations under false pretences and with bad faith.
– We express our indignation about the false solutions, which legitimize the continuity and expansion of a socially and environmentally destructive model. We reject initiatives to offset pollution. We do not accept mechanisms based on restrictions on our way of life, and we express solidarity with people living in the areas that are contaminated by companies seeking compensation (offsets). We stand by the people from other countries who live in the areas impacted by the pollution generated by destructive companies. No one should live in contaminated areas; it is time to end all kinds of racism, including environmental racism.
– We are being harmed by the arrangements and negotiations between the government of Acre and other states and countries in favor of corporations eager for pollution credits, including oil and mining companies, loggers and agribusiness companies. We are concerned about ongoing talks about aviation emissions compensation through Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation of Tropical Forests, the so-called REDD mechanisms. We refuse to use the term carbon credits, understanding that they are actually pollution credits, which aggravate rather than solve the problem. We reject any form of climate colonialism.
– We express total solidarity with women and men who, forced to fulfill impossible prerogatives, get fined, criminalized, indebted, without conditions to maintain their ways of life, trapped in schemes that refer back to semi-slavery and debt bondage of rubber tappers in colonial times. We also express solidarity with the residents of the rubber tree areas Valparaíso and Russas, who, coerced to submit to a REDD project, are threatened with expropriation of the lands that are rightfully theirs.
– Solidarity to the native community of Nova Oceania, of the Upper Tauhamanu River, in the municipality of Iberia, Peru. Our brothers and sisters Pyru Yini and other communities in isolation face the advance of deforestation, driven by timber concessions, which rely on the direct participation of businesspersons from Acre and others. These groups are involved in REDD projects and, while brokering international agreements with the support of Brazilian authorities, maintain predatory practices. We share the complaint that a village was destroyed, with 18 houses burned, in July 2014, with absolutely no action taken by the authorities, in an episode stained by impunity.
– We call on other rural and urban working people to reject this destructive pattern, marked by inequality and violation of the rights of indigenous peoples and traditional communities. We reiterate our unity in the struggle and willingness to resist to the end. Chico Mendes lives, not in the actions of governmental marketing, but in the struggle of the forest peoples.
Declaração de Xapuri, 28 de maio de 2017
Nós, moradores da floresta, seringueiras e seringueiros, indígenas Apurinã, Huni Kui, Jaminawa, Manchineri, Shawadawa, integrantes de organizações solidárias e Equipe Itinerante, professores e professoras de diferentes universidades, reunidos em Xapuri, no período de 26 a 28 de maio de 2017, no encontro “Os efeitos das políticas ambientais/climáticas para as populações tradicionais”, declaramos:
– Que, neste momento de retomada, estamos unindo as lutas dos povos indígenas e seringueiros em uma mesma causa. Nossa união é nossa principal arma de ação contra o capital.
– Que, cientes da história de resistência dos povos da floresta e do legado de Chico Mendes, nos manteremos firmes na defesa de nossos territórios. Assim como os que nos antecederam, seguiremos nos opondo às tentativas de expropriação de nossos modos de vida. Exigimos a demarcação e reconhecimento de nossos direitos a terra e território.
– Rejeição às iniciativas em curso materializadas em políticas que têm como objetivo entregar nossos territórios a grupos de capital privado, entre os quais fazendeiros e madeireiros. Manifestamos preocupação com a falta de transparência e maneira como diferentes mecanismos têm sido apresentados, incluindo pagamentos por serviços ambientais como REDD e suas variáveis, planos de manejo florestal insustentáveis, e mecanismos previstos no novo Código Florestal, muitos dos quais impostos por meio de intimidação, chantagem, negociações marcadas por estelionatos e má fé.
– Nossa indignação com as falsas soluções, que legitimam a continuidade e expansão de um modelo social e ambientalmente destrutivo. Rejeitamos as iniciativas voltadas para compensar a poluição. Não aceitamos os mecanismos baseados em restrições aos nossos modos de vida, e manifestamos solidariedade em relação às populações que vivem nas áreas contaminadas pelas empresas que buscam compensação. Somos solidários e estamos juntos das pessoas de outros países que vivem nas áreas impactadas pela poluição gerada por empresas destrutivas. Ninguém deve viver em áreas envenenadas, é hora de pôr fim a todo tipo de racismo, incluindo o ambiental.
– Que estamos sendo lesados pelos acordos pactuados e negociatas feitas entre o governo do Acre e outros estados e países em benefício de corporações ávidas por créditos de poluição, entre as quais petroleiras, mineradoras, madeireiras e empresas do agronegócio. Manifestamos preocupação com as conversas em curso sobre compensação de emissões da aviação através da Redução de Emissão por Desmatamento e Degradação de Florestas Tropicais, os chamados mecanismos REDD. Nos recusamos a usar o termo crédito de carbono, entendendo que são na verdade créditos de poluição, que agravam em vez de solucionar o problema. Rejeitamos toda e qualquer forma de colonialismo climático.
– Solidariedade total com as mulheres e homens que, forçados a cumprir prerrogativas impossíveis, acabam multados, criminalizados, endividados, sem condições de manter seus modos de vida, presos em esquemas que remetem às práticas de aviamento e barracão, incluindo escravidão por dívida. Manifestamos solidariedade também com os moradores do seringal Valparaíso e Russas, que, coagidos a se submeterem a um projeto de REDD, sofrem ameaças de expropriação das terras que são deles por direito.
– Solidariedade à comunidade nativa Nova Oceania, do Alto Rio Tauhamanu, no município Ibéria, no Peru. Nossos irmãos e irmãs Pyru Yini e outros grupos em isolamento enfrentam o avanço do desmatamento, impulsionado por concessões madeireiras, que contam com participação direta de empresários acreanos e outros. São grupos envolvidos em projetos de REDD, que, ao mesmo tempo que costuram acordos internacionais com apoio das autoridades brasileiras, mantém práticas predatórias. Compartilhamos a denúncia que uma aldeia foi destruída com 18 casas incendiadas em julho de 2014, sem absolutamente nenhuma providência por parte das autoridades, em um episódio manchado pela impunidade.
– Conclamamos outros povos, trabalhadores e trabalhadoras do campo e da cidade, a recusar esse padrão destrutivo, marcado pela desigualdade e pela violação dos direitos dos povos indígenas e comunidades tradicionais. Reiteramos nossa unidade na luta e disposição de resistir até o fim. Chico Mendes vive, não nas ações de marketing governamental, mas sim na luta dos povos da floresta.
– European Commission publishes new study on Clean Development Mechanism – Study finds 73% of potential offsets to be issued under the scheme between 2013 and 2020 are worthless –
Brussels 19 April 2017. The European Commission has released a new study showing major flaws in carbon offsets from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). As countries flesh out the rules to implement the Paris Agreement, Carbon Market Watch calls for an end to the scheme, and a shift away from offsetting as a climate policy approach.
The Commission’s study, carried out by the Öko-Institut, finds that 85% of projects covered in the analysis and 73% of the potential supply of CDM credits from 2013 to 2020 are unlikely to deliver “real, measurable and additional” emission reductions. If these carbon credits were to be used, this could lead to an increase in overall greenhouse gas emissions of over 3.5 billion tonnes of CO2 from 2013 to 2020 alone, equivalent to almost 2 years of emissions in the EU Emissions Trading System.
Flaws in offsetting
The study adds to a growing body of evidence that shows manifold problems with using carbon offsets. The findings follow a similar study from 2015 showing that the Joint Implementation offsetting system, led to increased emissions of approximately 600 million tonnes.
“These new findings are not surprising but they are another reminder that carbon offsetting has not worked as a reliable climate tool.” said Aki Kachi, Carbon Market Watch’s International Policy Director. “The CDM and the emissions shifting concept of offsetting are not fit for the climate challenges ahead – the Paris Agreement’s changed policy landscape calls for a new approach to international climate cooperation.”
Demand from aviation
The most probable buyers of these CDM credits could be the aviation industry through its recently established offset market: the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). The scheme intends to accept CDM and other UN credits that meet additional standards which the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) aim to finalise this year.
“It’s baffling to think that the aviation industry could potentially use credits that do nothing to compensate for their rapidly growing climate impact. To avoid greenwashing, aviation’s new offset market has to exclude credits that have not proven to be effective.” Kelsey Perlman, Aviation Policy Officer at Carbon Market Watch.
Negotiations on the role of carbon market mechanisms under the Paris Agreement reconvene next month at the UNFCCC intersessional in Bonn, Germany.
In an unprecedented move, a member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has agreed to investigate a complaint that the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has funded human rights abuses in Cameroon, beginning a process which until now has only been used for multinational businesses.
This is the first time a non-profit organization has been scrutinized in this way. The acceptance of the complaint indicates that the OECD will hold WWF to the same human rights standards as profit-making corporations.
WWF funds anti-poaching squads in Cameroon and elsewhere in the Congo Basin. Baka and other rainforest tribes have reported systematic abuse at the hands of these squads, including arrest and beatings, torture and even death, for well over 20 years.
Survival first urged WWF to change its approach in the region in 1991, but since then the situation has worsened.
Baka have repeatedly testified to Survival about the activities of these anti-poaching squads in the region. One Baka man told Survival in 2016: “[The anti-poaching squad] beat the children as well as an elderly woman with machetes. My daughter is still unwell. They made her crouch down and they beat her everywhere – on her back, on her bottom everywhere, with a machete.”
In two open letters Baka made impassioned pleas to conservationists to be allowed to stay on their land. “Conservation projects need to have mercy on how we can use the forest … because our lives depend on it.”
WWF has rejected Survival’s claims. It accepts that abuse has taken place but, in a statement in 2015, a spokesman stated that such incidents “appear to have tailed off” despite repeated testimonies from Baka themselves. In its response to the OECD, the organization cited political instability in the region and difficulties in the process of creating “protected areas” for wildlife conservation as the main reasons human rights abuses had taken place. It did not deny its involvement in funding, training and equipping guards.
Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said: “The OECD admitting our complaint is a giant step for vulnerable peoples. They can already use OECD Guidelines to try and stop corporations riding roughshod over them, but this is first time ever it’s agreed that the rules also apply to industrial-scale NGOs like WWF. WWF’s work has led to decades of pain for tribal peoples in the Congo Basin. It’s done nothing effective to address the concerns of the thousands of tribal people dispossessed and mistreated through its projects. That has to change. If WWF can’t ensure those schemes meet UN and OECD standards, it simply shouldn’t be funding them. Whatever good works it might be doing elsewhere, nothing excuses its financing of human rights abuses. The big conservation organizations must stop colluding in the theft of tribal land. Tribal peoples are the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world. They should be at the forefront of the environmental movement.”
– The OECD is an international body with 35 member countries. It has developed Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises which are monitored by national contact points in each country, and offer one of the very few opportunities to hold MNEs to account if they fail to respect the human rights of communities affected by their projects.
– WWF International’s headquarters are in Switzerland, so Survival’s complaint was submitted to the Swiss contact point, as Cameroon is not a member of the OECD.
– In 2008, Survival International lodged a complaint against British-owned mining company Vedanta Resources when it was seeking to mine on the territory of the Dongria Kondh in India without the tribe’s consent. The OECD stated that Vedanta had broken its guidelines.
– WWF is the largest conservation organization in the world. According to the organization itself, only 33% of its income comes from individual donors. The rest is derived from sources including government grants, foundations, and corporations
– “Pygmy” is an umbrella term commonly used to refer to the hunter-gatherer peoples of the Congo Basin and elsewhere in Central Africa. The word is considered pejorative and avoided by some tribespeople, but used by others as a convenient and easily recognized way of describing themselves.
Andasibe, Madagascar: A laboratory for Green Growth. That’s the title of this video on Conservation International’s Madagascar website. Through a series of iconic images of lemurs, baobabs and deforestation – most of which do not belong to Andasibe, a small area located in the country’s eastern rainforest – we learn how “carbon programs are a new source of funding for Andasibe”, and that Andasibe itself is ”an important test site” where we can see how “forest carbon can work”. This is “a success story” according to Conservation International’s video.
Although the video doesn’t mention the name, the carbon project featured here is TAMS (Tetik’Asa Mampody Savoka, or “the project to restore the fallows”). For about two decades, the forests of Andasibe witnessed the birth, growth and decay of this forest carbon project.
Once hailed as a pilot carbon project for the whole of Africa, by the time this video was made, in 2010, TAMS was at a halt and would never resume. In its wake it left unfulfilled promises of forest restoration, work and revenue. Andasibe did indeed become a test site for carbon projects, but the results have not been as widespread as its original promises.
TAMS, the other story
The story of TAMS is an interesting one because it did not start life as a carbon project. Instead it transformed into one in its search for funding.
TAMS began as a small-scale idea in the early 1990s developed by Louise Holloway, an independent environmental researcher. She devised a project that would reconnect forest fragments caused by slash-and-burn agriculture – locally known as tavy – while providing farmers with agricultural techniques that would allow for a faster regeneration of the fallows, so they could keep practicing tavy without the need for further forest encroachment.
The project didn’t managed to secure funds until it began to be posed as a potential carbon sequestration project. It was at this point, around 2002, that TAMS came to Conservation International’s (CI) attention, later bringing the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund and the Government of Madagascar into the project.
TAMS had transformed into a Clean Development Mechanism project: it would reforest 3,000 hectares of degraded fallows and provide agricultural alternatives to participating farmers, many of whom gave land to the project in exchange for the promise of work and, some claim, the revenue from the sale of carbon credits.
Bringing carbon into play completely transformed the project that Holloway had devised, with serious consequences. As a CDM project, its main objective became the production of carbon offsets through reforestation.
This had the effect of relegating the agricultural techniques that had once been integral to the project to the background, as funds were dedicated to the costly process of reforestation and the heavy bureaucratic procedures of project preparation, carbon measurement and verification. The agricultural techniques were bundled into “Sustainable Livelihood Activities” (SLAs) but were only applied late and very timidly through some “demonstration” activities, never transforming into real alternatives for farmers. (One of these SLAs appears in the video, carried out by the village chief, or Tangalamena, on his own land).
The high-costs of producing carbon led to a profound transformation of TAMS, where only the one activity that was deemed profitable in carbon terms – reforestation – was properly carried out. Although this activity did provide employment for farmers in the area, its specific features meant that, while well paid, this source of work was highly unstable and temporary – very far from the “30 year relationship” that CI mentions in the video and which some farmers believed they were entering.
A similar thing happened with the carbon payments that farmers had been promised in exchange for giving up land for the project. Although direct payments to farmers had been on the table during the early days of TAMS as a carbon project, they were eventually ruled out when it transpired that the costs of setting up the project and producing carbon were too high to allow for payments to farmers.
As Holloway wrote in a 2005 project report, it was,
“ironic that low payments/tCO2 offered by the BioCF combined with high preparation costs (heavy bureaucracy and stringent eligibility criteria), make even the highest carbon generating activities too costly to allow the project to make direct carbon payments.”
Without carbon payments, SLAs became the main form of “compensation” to farmers, although these were never fully developed.
While largely useless to people, however, the SLAs did play an essential role in the production of offsets, because they became the “sustainable development” elements and “leakage measures” that TAMS required in order to comply as CDM project.
Carbon, imagined by Holloway as a tool to fund her project, had transformed TAMS into something else completely. Her premonitory comment in a report she wrote for CI in 2008 is highly revealing of the effects of incorporating carbon into a conservation/development project:
“TAMS is so much more than a carbon production machine…it is necessary to consider if we want to make the project fit a particular market or to harness a market to facilitate our project. … There is a danger that preoccupation with meeting the demands of the market could subsume the original goals, ultimately also threatening the viability of the carbon market aspect of TAMS.”
But even as carbon project, TAMS failed to survive.
The reasons for its demise are multiple and complex:
a dizzying network of actors with internal competition to lead the project and cash in on benefits;
unclear (and, up to a point, unclarifiable) land tenure;
lack of a legal framework to establish carbon ownership;
the government’s impasse in establishing a benefit-sharing agreement;
complex and expensive verification practices; and
trees that refused to grow or even grew too fast.
In 2012 the BioCarbon Fund cancelled the Emissions Reductions Purchasing Agreement (ERPA), and although CI had hoped to keep the project going, partly to justify their bigger REDD+ project in the area of which TAMS was a kind of pilot, it never did.
In Mahatsara, a little village in the area of Andasibe were I carried out fieldwork and where people worked for, and gave land to the project, TAMS became known as a scam. After years of patiently waiting, and with no signs of carbon payments coming from anywhere, people felt that they had been tricked into giving their land.
The problem was that while knowing that TAMS had ended and would not provide any benefits, people were scared to clear the land because of the contracts they had signed with the project back in 2009. By now, they have probably been turned into arable land again.
While TAMS still features today in CI Madagascar’s website, the environmental and social benefits it claims to have created are nowhere to be seen.
PHOTO Credit: Sara Peña Valderrama, an abandoned TAMS tree nursery from 2011.
Just earlier this week, the East Bay Express, known for it’s investigative and longform news and feature stories, just released an in depth article covering California’s involvement in REDD. The Oakland-based weekly newspaper serving the Berkeley, Oakland, and East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, is the first to break a full in-depth story on the pitfalls of REDD.
California’s cap-and-trade system, which has been touted as a model for reducing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, allows timber companies to clear-cut forests.
As reported by Will Parish
Jerry Brown basked in adulation during his whirlwind trip to Paris, and the evening of December 8 figured to offer more of the same. Standing alongside governors of states and provinces from Brazil, Mexico, and Peru, California’s governor planned to tout his state’s leadership role on global climate policy. The event was one of 21 presentations that Brown delivered during a five-day swing through France during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 21). His busy schedule included a stately private meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and presentations at events organized by the French, German, Chinese, and US governments.
The December 8 event was held at a mid-19th-century-mansion-turned-hotel and was hosted by the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force, which is a collaboration of 29 states and provinces in forest-rich countries that are preparing to join a program called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). Crucially, though, it was Brown’s only Paris presentation to which non-invited members of the public could purchase tickets.
As Brown concluded his remarks, Pennie Opal Plant, an East Bay resident and member of the group Idle No More Solidarity San Francisco Bay, stood up near the front of the room, directly in front of the governor. “Richmond, California says ‘no’ to REDD!” she shouted, ‘”no’ to evicting indigenous people from their forests, and ‘no’ to poisoning my community!”
About thirty people, who had dispersed themselves throughout the room to avoid prior suspicion of coordinated dissent, soon joined in a chant of “No REDD! No REDD!”
Organizers quickly escorted the flustered Brown to a nearby exit. Before disappearing, the governor claimed to agree with the protesters, witnesses said.
Brown and California are widely regarded as global leaders in the fight against climate change in large part because of the state’s cap-and-trade program, which was authorized by the 2006 California Global Warming Solutions Act (Assembly Bill 32). The law caps the total amount of carbon emissions in the state and is designed to reduce emissions by allowing polluters to buy “credits” or “offsets” from carbon-saving projects or to sell credits themselves if they’ve significantly reduced their own emissions. California’s largest polluters — including power plants and refineries, like the Chevron refinery in Richmond — can also invest in carbon-saving projects elsewhere in the United States, or in Québec, on a commodity exchange market. The oil giant Shell, for example, is using forests in Michigan to offset its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from its refinery in Martinez.
California’s cap-and-trade program is the first of its kind in the nation. And the state’s leaders are pushing to become the only jurisdiction in the world that also offsets its climate pollution through investments in tropical forest regions in the Southern Hemisphere. The common name for such efforts is REDD. Several industrialized countries, as well as the World Bank and the United Nations, have already invested money in REDD pilot projects.
Proponents say that REDD is urgently needed to prevent the degradation and loss of forests, a problem that accounts for roughly 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide — more than the entire global transportation sector and second only to the energy sector.
But critics warn that California’s adoption of REDD would have far-reaching human rights and environmental consequences. Initial investments by the World Bank and United Nations in REDD have already precipitated violent evictions of indigenous people from their forested homelands in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya — to make way for carbon-saving projects. In fact, countless activists and grassroots organizations regard REDD as a recipe for a global land grab, prompting them to dub it a case of “CO2lonialism.”
Given California’s trailblazing status with regard to climate policy, its adoption of REDD would likely trigger similar policies throughout the globe. “People all over the world are terrified that California will open the floodgates on REDD,” said Ayse Gürsöz, an Oakland resident who was among those who joined in chanting “No REDD!” at Governor Brown in Paris last month. A video producer and volunteer for the Indigenous Environmental Network, Gürsöz has gathered video testimonies in Africa and Peru from indigenous people who oppose California’s program.
Yet despite the opposition, California appears poised to adopt REDD. And Brown might do so at a time when many environmentalists have increasingly challenged the climate benefits of the state’s own cap-and-trade program. They note that California’s cap-and-trade system allows large lumber companies to generate and sell carbon credits when they engage in standard logging practices and clear-cut forests. As a result, cap-and-trade in California is proving to be a financial boon for timber corporations that practice many of the same forms of destructive logging that occur in tropical regions of the Global South.
The world’s forests are in deep trouble. Since 1970, the year of the first Earth Day celebration in the United States, more than 1 billion acres of tropical forest have vanished: They’ve been cut or burned, or have died from insects and disease. The amount of forest lost equals an area about half the size of the continental United States. The environmental group Rainforest Action Network estimates that 2.5 acres of forest are cut worldwide every second — equivalent to two and a half football fields — which translates to about 215,000 acres every day, an area larger than New York City.
In the past several years, though, conservation of these forests has gained a fresh impetus as many scientists have begun to view them through a new lens: as global sponges that soak up heat-trapping carbon dioxide molecules emitted from burning coal, oil, and natural gas. Ecologists have started to measure the ability of every major forest in the world to absorb CO2, a process known as sequestration.
They have figured out — with the precise numbers deduced only recently — that forests have been absorbing the equivalent of about one-quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted from burning fossil fuels and other activities. Trees store an amount equal to the emissions from all of the world’s cars and trucks.
The imperative to preserve the world’s forests in order to stave off catastrophic climate change has led to arguments that they be monetized and sold as credits or offsets to greenhouse gas emitters who need them to comply with regulatory limits. And under cap-and-trade programs, such as that in California, owners of forestland, including timber companies, can generate carbon credits after they enlist licensed certifiers who use complex methodologies to tally the volume of carbon dioxide being stored in the trees on their property.
Critics contend that offsets awarded to lumber companies represent a loophole that could undermine greenhouse gas reduction efforts. They say pledges of carbon reductions by timber corporations cannot be considered real, because those companies might have conducted the same amount of logging anyway without the extra money from selling credits. “Poorly measured offsets could lead to an increase in emissions,” said Brian Nowicki of the conservation group Center for Biological Diversity.
Under California’s rules, businesses can offset up to 8 percent of their total emissions through purchasing credits. The number of metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions allowed in the state is capped, and the allowable levels of pollution are steadily reduced, creating an economic incentive for companies to cut emissions. The state’s overall emissions cap declined 2 percent each year from 2012 through 2014. From 2015 to 2020, the cap is dropping by 3 percent per year.
Because companies are required to purchase pollution permits, the state is expected to collect about $5 billion a year in fees by 2020, with the bulk of the money being recycled into clean-energy projects, the construction of housing near mass transit hubs, and building the state’s high-speed rail system.
But, overall, California’s cap-and-trade system has split environmental organizations. Many progressive groups question its effectiveness, while some more moderate ones — including The Nature Conservancy, Pacific Forest Trust, and the Natural Resources Defense Council — have joined state officials and large timber companies in supporting it.
“It’s been a huge success,” said Laurie Wayburn, president of the Pacific Forest Trust, which has been instrumental in developing California’s program. “This really has gone from a what-are-you-smoking kind of reception to every single forest owner who manages their land looking at the protocols as part of a business approach.”
But both the California and European Union cap-and-trade systems have countless critics, perhaps the most famous of whom is Pope Francis, who surprised many observers last year when he took the programs to task in his wide-ranging encyclical on the environment and global warming. “The strategy of buying and selling ‘carbon credits’ can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide,” Francis wrote.
“This system seems to provide a quick and easy solution under the guise of a certain commitment to the environment, but in no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require,” Francis continued. “Rather, it may simply become a ploy [that] permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.”
The legislative history of California’s cap-and-trade program dates to 2002, when then-state Senator Byron Sher, D-Palo Alto, sponsored Senate Bill 812, which helped create California’s first voluntary carbon market. Jeff Shellito — a former longtime aide to Sher who worked on the bill — made it clear in a recent interview that he thinks the program has become irredeemably corrupted. And he identified the culprits. “The process went off the rails ethically,” he said, “when it allowed corporate timber interests like Sierra Pacific Industries to rewrite the protocols to fit their business models.”
SB 812 was originally sponsored by Pacific Forest Trust, and it expanded the responsibilities of the California Climate Action Registry, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit. SB 812 directed the registry, which was created two years earlier by the state legislature, to adopt procedures for monitoring, calculating, and certifying CO2 emissions resulting from the conservation of California’s native forests. The registry’s rules were designed to reward individuals and companies doing the most to protect California’s forests. Specifically, they forbade clear-cutting of forests included in carbon-sequestration projects and required offset-project developers to establish forest conservation easements that restricted logging and did not allow the forest to be converted to other land uses.
Four years later, the legislature passed AB 32, thereby established a mandatory carbon trading market. And the state’s powerful timber industry — particularly, Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), a corporate behemoth based in Redding — was determined to modify the registry’s rules. Of the roughly 4.5 million acres of California land zoned for timber production, SPI owns about one-third, making it, by far, the state’s largest private landowner. The main architect of the company’s success is Archie Aldis “Red” Emmerson, who, according to Forbes, is worth $3.6 billion.
While clear-cutting in national forests was phased out in the late Nineties (except for so-called “salvage logging” following fires), SPI still depends heavily on this method of denuding its own forestland. Between 1999 and 2006, SPI received approval from the California Department of Fire and Forestry Protection (Cal Fire) to clear-cut roughly 239,300 acres of forest in the Sierra, Klamath, and Coast mountain ranges, according to a study by the environmental group Forest Ethics. Since then, SPI has continued a similar rate of clear-cutting. Other large timber firms, such as Seattle-based Green Diamond Resources Company, which owns more than 400,000 acres of mainly redwood and Douglas fir forestland in Humboldt, Del Norte, and Trinity counties, also rely heavily on clear-cutting.
Under intense pressure from the timber lobby, the California Air Resources Board in 2009 jettisoned the registry’s forestry protocols, which had stemmed from Sher’s 2002 legislation. CARB then rubber-stamped a new set of protocols that had been developed by a new “stakeholders” group. This 27-member group included a who’s who of timber company managers and foresters, staff members of large conservation organizations, academics, and government representatives. Among them was an SPI forester named Ed Murphy.
In October 2009, Nowicki of the Center for Biological Diversity, logged onto CAR’s website from his Sacramento office. He said that according to the “Properties” function in the PDF that he downloaded, the final person to edit the state’s new forest protocols before CAR posted them online was Ed Murphy.
The state’s cap-and-trade program gives timber coompanies “credits” for clear-cutting.
The new protocols, which CARB adopted in 2010, lifted the requirement to place forestland in conservation easements in exchange for assigning them carbon credits, in favor of a practice called “improved forest management,” which essentially permits traditional logging under the standards established in 1973 by the California Forest Practice Act. The new protocols also allowed timber operators to generate carbon credits when they clear-cut a forest, so long as the cut is no larger than forty acres in size.
University of Oregon forestry professor Mark Harmon was among the many critics of CARB’s new protocols. A member of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Biogenics Carbon Emissions Panel, which is reviewing the EPA’s accounting framework for CO2 emissions from biologically based materials, including forests and soil, Harmon is regarded as a leading expert on the dynamics of carbon storage and sequestration. “I have to say I was a bit shocked by what they were proposing,” Harmon recalled in a recent interview. “Frankly, it didn’t make scientific sense. Timber harvest, clear-cutting in particular, removes more carbon from the forest than any other disturbance, including fire. The result is that harvesting forests generally reduces carbon stores and results in a net release of carbon to the atmosphere. So, if the goal was to increase carbon storage in US forests, the California program totally missed the mark.”
But proponents of the revised protocols staunchly defend them. They note that timber companies must replant the areas they clear-cut in order to generate carbon credits, and that the projects must demonstrate that they are meeting carbon storage targets over a one-hundred-year span.
However, critics note that clear-cutting produces serious environmental problems. It eliminates canopy cover, thereby warming the soil surface and increasing the rate at which logging debris and tree roots decompose, resulting in a dramatic increase in carbon emissions. They also argue that, rather than reducing fossil fuel emissions at the source — like at refineries and power plants — cap-and-trade provides extra income for business-as-usual timber operations.
“As it’s set up, [California’s cap-and-trade] program allows timber companies to get millions of dollars in carbon credits for the sorts of logging they are already doing,” Nowicki noted.
Sierra Pacific Industries has already developed more than 20 projects involving more than 200,000 acres of forestland. The projects have been approved for carbon offsets on the state’s voluntary market, and two of them are on the verge of generating offsets to be traded as part of California’s cap-and-trade program. They are the Buck Mountain Forest Improvement Project, which encompasses 12,487 acres in Siskiyou County, and the Sacramento River Canyon Forest Improvement Project, which covers 16,491 acres nearby. CARB staffers are currently performing spot checks on each property in advance of approving SPI’s sale of offsets.
In an interview, Mark Pawlicki, director of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at Sierra Pacific Industries, said he was unable to say how much these projects are worth. But Pawlicki argued that the projects show that his company is a key player in preventing climate change, and that its practices represent an optimal way to sequester greenhouse gases. “We think that forestry has a great story to the tell, and that the more forests we grow, and continue to keep in a healthy state, the better off the air is,” he said. “We can continue to harvest as long as we grow at least the volume we sell in the carbon market, and as long as we maintain that level of carbon storage for one hundred years. And we’re doing that.”
The forestry protocols stakeholders group included three members of Pacific Forest Trust. The organization’s president, Wayburn, also defended the effectiveness of the protocols, in spite of the inclusion of timber industry-friendly provisions. If environmentalists want to change logging practices, she said, they should focus on the existing laws related to forest management. She noted that CARB essentially adopted the logging practices established in the 1973 Forest Practice Act, and deemed them helpful in the fight against climate change. “If your goal is to change forest practices, you should focus on changing the Forest Practice Act,” she said. “That’s the law that governs logging in the state.”
CARB’s controversial protocols also made California the first place in the world to assign carbon credits to wood products, such as decking. In an interview, CARB spokesperson Dave Clegern defended the inclusion of wood products in the agency’s accounting. “The main point to keep in mind with carbon in wood products is that the carbon must stay in place for at least one hundred years,” he said. “So we’re talking about wood used in large items intended to be permanent, like homes.”
But professor Harmon’s research raises doubt about this aspect of CARB’S program as well. In a 1994 study of carbon storage in wood products using historical data and modeling in the states of Washington and Oregon, Harmon and two colleagues found that only 23 percent of carbon in wood products remained sequestered from 1902 to 1992. Most of the rest had been disposed of and is decomposing in landfills.
Although much of the global zeal to protect forests focuses on tropical regions of the Global South, recent scientific studies have turned conventional wisdom on its head. An analysis of NASA satellite imagery, for example, found that forest disturbance from logging in the southern United States is actually four times greater than that in the South American rainforests on a per-acre basis.
Moreover, before the advent of modern logging, Northern California and the Pacific Northwest housed an “unprecedented carbon budget,” according to Jerry Franklin, a University of Washington professor of ecosystem analysis who is known as “the father of old-growth research.” As Franklin explained at a conference sponsored by Pacific Forest Trust in Arcata in August 2014, the conifer-dominated Pacific temperate rainforest, which runs from Prince William Sound in Alaska through the British Columbia coast to California’s Central Coast, contains the largest mass of living and decaying material of any ecosystem in the world. Redwood forests, he noted, exceed the capacity of any on Earth to store carbon “by a factor of three or four.” The mixed Douglas fir and hardwood forests that grow adjacent to the redwoods, as well as the montane-mixed conifer ecosystems of the Cascades and Sierra mountain ranges (where Sierra Pacific Industries conducts its clear-cuts), among other forests of the so-called “Pacific Slopes,” also play a notable role in regulating atmospheric carbon.
But while much global attention has focused on emissions caused by deforestation in the Global South, the United States has broadly failed to prevent degradation of its own forests in the name of fighting climate change. For example, the US Department of Agriculture has determined that the Tongass National Forest in southwestern Alaska — the world’s largest continuous stretch of temperate rainforest — accounts for 8 percent of all forest carbon stored in the United States. But a plan approved by the Obama administration will allow an estimated 676,000 board-feet of old-growth in the forest, or about 27,000 acres, to be logged in the next ten years. The administration has promised to transition away from old-growth logging after that, but the phase-out won’t be complete for another fifteen years.
Last month, John Talberth of the Center for Sustainable Economy in Oregon, conducted a climate assessment of Oregon’s forestry practices and determined that logging and clear-cutting were emitting roughly the same amount of greenhouse gases as those produced each year by 2 million vehicles, or seven coal-fired power plants. That makes forestry one of the biggest polluters in the state. Yet Oregon — like other US states — has failed to account for these emissions in its climate mitigation planning.
“Oregon has not done proper accounting,” said Dominick DellaSala, president and chief scientist of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon, one of the sponsors of the climate assessment, in an interview. “They’ve been unquestioningly accepting what the timber industry is saying, which is, ‘We’re a net sink for carbon.'” DellaSala was referring to the fact that the industry maintains that it sequesters more carbon than it emits.
California Air Resources Board chairperson Mary Nichols has defended the cap-and-trade protocols by arguing that rules established by the 1973 Forest Practice Act are the most stringent in the world. But environmentalists say the protections that the rules afford are limited, as witnessed by the ongoing degradation of the state’s forests since the state adopted the rules. One of the most rapid depletions of California’s remaining redwood forests occurred in the 1980s and ’90s, when companies such as MAXXAM, Louisiana-Pacific, and Georgia-Pacific (which is now owned by the right-wing Koch brothers) logged the majority of the remaining mature redwood forests.
Even in the Nineties, the main political bulwark against the adoption of stronger forest protections was Sierra Pacific Industries. Former Cal Fire director Richard Wilson called SPI’s Red Emerson “a genius at generating profitable lumber from a mill.” But Wilson said his efforts in the Nineties to reform California forestry practices to be more sustainable failed due to SPI’s opposition.
“The whole [California] Board of Forestry was sort of an SPI cabal,” Wilson recalled. “Forest practices were not going to see much change in California, and that’s mainly because of the relationship between Sierra Pacific, [then-Governor] Pete [Wilson], and the Board of Forestry.”
SPI has also had close ties with the administrations of Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jerry Brown. According to data from the California Secretary of State’s Office, the company donated $115,000 to the 2012 campaign for Proposition 30, Brown’s tax measure. This contribution has raised eyebrows among environmentalists, particularly in light of the Associated Press’ revelation last year that Brown had fired two state regulators who stood in the way of expedited oil leases in Southern California, after which he received a $500,000 donation toward the same campaign from the company that stood to benefit the most from the firings — Occidental Petroleum.
According to critics, timber industry influence has long caused the agency that regulates timber harvesting, Cal Fire, to be an industry captive. Correspondence between Cal Fire staffers and Sierra Pacific Industries personnel, obtained via the California Public Records Act, strongly supports this view.
For example, in an April 26, 2013 document, Cal Fire’s Deputy Director of Resource Management, Duane Shintaku, who oversees the state’s timber harvest review process, coached a staffer on how to rebuff concerns that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife had raised about the detrimental impacts of SPI’s herbicide spraying and clear-cutting on the gene pool of a protected plant species — the Klamath Manzanita.
“The governor is the one who could force immediate change at Cal Fire,” said a Cal Fire staffer who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But his integrity is in question.”
Another revealing incident took place in 2014, after a California Air Resources Board staffer issued a proposal that sought to tighten restrictions on clear-cutting as a feature of carbon offsets projects. At the December 2014 Board of Forestry meeting, Executive Officer George Gentry sought permission to send CARB a letter on the board’s behalf. The board approved, directing him to ask CARB formally for clarifications about its intentions.
Yet in his actual December 15, 2014 letter, Gentry went beyond seeking clarification and instead actively backed the timber industry’s position, complaining that “recently proposed changes … may have the unintended consequences of preventing participation of over half of the private timberland base in California. The proposed changes may also conflict with the Forest Practice Rules of this [s]tate … the BOF has unanimously asked me to forward this concern to you.”
In a classic case of revolving-door politics, Gentry soon thereafter left the Board of Forestry to take a position as the vice president of Regulatory Affairs at the California timber industry’s main lobbying organization, the California Forestry Association. CARB later backed away from the proposal to curb clear-cutting, with the staffer involved saying her original proposal was misconstrued.
As opponents of REDD and California forest protection activists alike regularly note, a forest is not just composed of inert stocks of carbon. Logging, the use of heavy equipment, and the spraying of herbicide before and after logging to kill native vegetation all can take a profound toll on soil and wildlife. Historically, logging has caused enormous quantities of soil erosion that discharge sediment into streams. Sedimentation results in flooding, landslides, diminished water quality, and scoured and destabilized streambeds (and damage to property). Streams become impaired. Fish suffocate.
In the Battle Creek watershed of the Sacramento River, which lies between Redding and Lassen National Park and Forest, SPI has logged 21,000 acres of forest since 1998. Battle Creek Alliance founder Marily Woodhouse, a resident of the western slopes of Mount Lassen, has campaigned for years for a ban on clear-cutting in California, due to its impacts on local residents, wildlife, and, indeed, climate change. “Sierra Pacific Industries is doing essentially the same things that are occurring in the Amazon,” she said. “Yet there it’s categorized as ‘bad’ while here it’s ‘no problem.'”
Throughout the Global South, indigenous people commonly depend on their traditional forested homelands as the basis of their cultures and subsistence. According to a 2008 World Bank study, areas in which indigenous people occupy or control their traditional territory encompass 22 percent of the world’s land surface and coincide with areas that hold 80 percent of the planet’s biodiversity. In addition, the greatest diversity of indigenous groups in the world reside in the globe’s largest tropical forest wilderness areas in the Americas (including the Amazon), Africa, and Asia, and 11 percent of world forestlands are legally owned by indigenous peoples and communities.
In October 2015, CARB released a white paper regarding its progress on establishing REDD as part of cap-and-trade. “CARB staff believes there is value in developing proposed regulatory amendments and pursuing a sector-based REDD linkage in time for the third compliance period of the Cap-and-Trade Program,” it stated, referring to the years 2017–2020. It notes that the “sub-national” governments that California is targeting for inclusion in cap-and-trade include Acre, Brazil and Chiapas, Mexico. Establishing such links, the paper notes, “could result in partnering on other mutually beneficial climate and low emissions development initiatives.”
Under the proposed program, the state would use satellite technology to track deforestation rates as a way to prevent “leakage” — curbing logging in one area while allowing logging in another. As the thinking goes, any attempt to do so would show up on the satellites. But critics note that moving bulldozers and chainsaws across state lines would still be perfectly legal under the program, even though this also represents leakage.
“Capital flows to where it finds a profit, and if there is money to be made in deforestation for whatever purpose — for palm oil or cattle ranching or hardwoods that are there — resource shuffling will lead to increased levels elsewhere,” said Nowicki of the Center for Biological Diversity. “All the concerns we had about US carbon credits under the California cap-and-trade program are bearing out, and the problems in this country will be even greater when it comes to international offsets.”
For Nowicki and other critics, concerns about human rights are every bit as important as these practical considerations. When California conducted a public forum in Sacramento concerning REDD last fall, Jeff Conant of Friends of the Earth was on hand, and Gary Hughes of the same organization was in Chiapas. The Chiapas region, which was the location of the well-known 1994 Zapatista rebellion, is also a hotbed of opposition to REDD. In 2012, when a previous meeting of the Governors’ Forest and Climate Task Force convened in the city, indigenous people gained entry to the proceedings and read a statement denouncing REDD.
“People on the ground there see REDD as a threat to their livelihood, to their connection with place and the land, in much the same way they perceive a timber company, a gold mine, or someone coming for fossil fuels,” Hughes said.
Corrections: The original version of this report stated that the Geos Institute conducted a climate assessment of Oregon’s forestry practices. The assessment was developed collaboratively by the Center for Sustainable Economy, the Geos Institute, and Oregon Wild. It also stated that 676,000 acres of old-growth forest in Tongass National Forest in Alaska would be logged in the next 10 years; it is actually 676,000 board-feet, or about 27,000 acres. It also stated that Marily Woodhouse lives on the eastern slope of Mt. Lassen. She lives on the western slope.
Paris witnessed both explicit terrorism by religious extremists on November 13 and a month later, implicit terrorism by carbon addicts negotiating a world treaty that guarantees catastrophic climate change. The first incident left more than 130 people dead in just one evening’s mayhem; the second lasted a fortnight but over the next century can be expected to kill hundreds of millions, especially in Africa.
But because the latest version of the annual United Nations climate talks has three kinds of spin-doctors, the extent of damage may not be well understood. The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) generated reactions ranging from smug denialism to righteous fury. The first reaction is ‘from above’ (the Establishment) and is self-satisfied; the second is from the middle (‘Climate Action’) and is semi-satisfied; the third, from below (‘Climate Justice’), is justifiably outraged.
Guzzling French champagne last Saturday, the Establishment quickly proclaimed, in essence, “The Paris climate glass is nearly full – so why not get drunk on planet-saving rhetoric?” The New York Times reported with a straight face, “President Obama said the historic agreement is a tribute to American climate change leadership” (and in a criminally-negligent way, this is not untrue).
Since 2009, US State Department chief negotiator Todd Stern successfully drove the negotiations away from four essential principles: ensuring emissions-cut commitments would be sufficient to halt runaway climate change; making the cuts legally binding with accountability mechanisms; distributing the burden of cuts fairly based on responsibility for causing the crisis; and making financial transfers to repair weather-related loss and damage following directly from that historic liability. Washington elites always prefer ‘market mechanisms’ like carbon trading instead of paying their climate debt even though the US national carbon market fatally crashed in 2010.
In part because the Durban COP17 in 2011 provided lubrication and – with South Africa’s blessing – empowered Stern to wreck the idea of Common But Differentiated Responsibility while giving “a Viagra shot to flailing carbon markets” (as a male Bank of America official cheerfully celebrated), Paris witnessed the demise of these essential principles. And again, “South Africa played a key role negotiating on behalf of the developing countries of the world,” according to Pretoria’s environment minister Edna Molewa, who proclaimed from Paris “an ambitious, fair and effective legally-binding outcome.”
Arrogant fibbery. The collective Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – i.e. voluntary cuts – will put the temperature rise at above 3 degrees. From coal-based South Africa, the word ambitious loses meaning given Molewa’s weak INDCs – ranked by ClimateActionTracker as amongst the world’s most “inadequate” – and given that South Africa hosts the world’s two largest coal-fired power stations now under construction, with no objection by Molewa. She regularly approves increased (highly-subsidized) coal burning and exports, vast fracking, offshore-oil drilling, exemptions from pollution regulation, emissions-intensive corporate farming and fast-worsening suburban sprawl.
A second narrative comes from large NGOs that mobilized over the past six months to provide mild-mannered pressure points on negotiators. Their line is, essentially, “The Paris glass is partly full – so sip up and enjoy!”
This line derives not merely from the predictable back-slapping associated with petit-bourgeois vanity, gazing upwards to power for validation, such as one finds at the Worldwide Fund for Nature and Climate Action Network, what with their corporate sponsorships. All of us reading this are often tempted in this direction, aren’t we, because such unnatural twisting of the neck is a permanent occupational hazard in this line of work.
And such opportunism was to be expected from Paris, especially after Avaaz and Greenpeace endorsed G7 leadership posturing in June, when at their meeting in Germany the Establishment made a meaningless commitment to a decarbonized economy – in the year 2100, at least fifty years too late.
Perhaps worse than their upward gaze, though, the lead NGOs suffered a hyper-reaction to the 2009 Copenhagen Syndrome. Having hyped the COP15 Establishment negotiators as “Seal the Deal!” planet-saviours, NGOs mourned the devastating Copenhagen Accord signed in secret by leaders from Washington, Brasilia, Beijing, New Delhi and Pretoria. This was soon followed by a collapse of climate consciousness and mobilization. Such alienation is often attributed to activist heart-break: a roller-coaster of raised NGO expectations and plummeting Establishment performance.
Possessing only an incremental theory of social change, NGOs toasting the Paris deal now feel the need to confirm that they did as best they could, and that they have grounds to continue along the same lines in future. To be sure, insider-oriented persuasion tactics pursued by the 42-million member clicktivist group Avaaz are certainly impressive in their breadth and scope. Yet for Avaaz, “most importantly, [the Paris deal] sends a clear message to investors everywhere: sinking money into fossil fuels is a dead bet. Renewables are the profit centre. Technology to bring us to 100% clean energy is the money-maker of the future.”
Once again, Avaaz validates the COP process, the Establishment’s negotiators and the overall incentive structure of capitalism that are the proximate causes of the crisis.
The third narrative is actually the most realistic: “The Paris glass is full of toxic fairy dust – don’t dare even sniff!” The traditional Climate Justice (CJ) stance is to delegitimize the Establishment and return the focus of activism to grassroots sites of struggle, in future radically changing the balance of forces locally, nationally and then globally. But until that change in power is achieved, the UNFCCC COPs are just Conferences of Polluters.
The landless movement Via Campesina was clearest: “There is nothing binding for states, national contributions lead us towards a global warming of over 3°C and multinationals are the main beneficiaries. It was essentially a media circus.”
Asad Rehman coordinates climate advocacy at the world’s leading North-South CJ organization, Friends of the Earth International: “The reviews [of whether INDCs are adhered to and then need strengthening] are too weak and too late. The political number mentioned for finance has no bearing on the scale of need. It’s empty. The iceberg has struck, the ship is going down and the band is still playing to warm applause.”
And not forgetting the voice of climate science, putting it most bluntly, James Hansen called Paris, simply, “bullshit.”
Where does that leave us? If the glass-half-full NGOs get serious – and I hope to be pleasantly surprised in 2016 – then the only way forward is for them to apply their substantial influence on behalf of solidarity with those CJ activists making a real difference, at the base.
Close to my own home, the weeks before COP21 witnessed potential victories in two major struggles: opposition to corporate coal mining – led mainly by women peasants, campaigners and lawyers – in rural Zululand, bordering the historic iMfolozi wilderness reserve (where the world’s largest white rhino population is threatened by poachers); and South Durban residents fighting the massive expansion of Africa’s largest port-petrochemical complex. In both attacks, the climate-defence weapon was part of the activists’ arsenal.
But it is only when these campaigns have conclusively done the work COP negotiators and NGO cheerleaders just shirked – leaving fossil fuels in the ground and pointing the way to a just, post-carbon society – that we can raise our glasses and toast humanity, with integrity. Until then, pimps for the Paris Conference of Polluters should be told to sober up and halt what will soon be understood as their fatal attack on Mother Earth.
(Dec 1, 2015) Indigenous leaders, Tom Goldtooth, Gloria Ushigua, Alberto Saldamondo, and Berenice Sanchez spoke at the COP 21 at a Press Conference on how REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) violates Natural Law and the Sacred. REDD, a carbon offset mechanism with forests and ecosystems, is a major part of the false solutions to climate change promoted by the United Nations draft climate agreement at the world climate summit in Paris.
•Berenice Sanchez, Food Sovereignty Expert
•Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of Indigenous Environmental Network
•Gloria Ushigua, President of Sapara Women’s Association
•Alberto Saldamando, International Indigenous Rights Lawyer
via New Internationalist Magazine
The climate negotiations have done worse than nothing to prevent climate change. Nigerian activist Adesuwa Uwagie-Ero takes us on a historical journey, and suggests some ways to shift the international process onto a path toward climate justice.
As governments from more than 190 nations prepare to gather in Paris to discuss a new global agreement on climate change, Nigeria is still battling with fundamental problems. These include increasing poverty levels of citizens, floods, gas flaring in the South, increased threat of desertification in the North, lack of sector coordination, and a population explosion. All these have direct implications for our food supply systems, water scarcity and health.
The sorry state of the Nigerian environment is best seen through the lens of the impacts of the oil and gas sector. A United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) assessment documented the level of ecocide inflicted on the Ogoni environment over 50 years of reckless exploitation. UNEP surmised that it will require about three decades of work to detoxify the Ogoni environment, where active oil extraction was shut down in 1993.
Four years after the launch of that report, little has been done about this clear ecological emergency. Only recently has the Buhari-led Nigerian administration committed the sum of $10 million to the clean-up. It is time to place the ecological question at the heart of our political debates and action plans. We are the people of the environment: our lives, culture and production are embedded and intertwined with nature.
The powerful browbeat the weak
Current commitments on greenhouse gas emission cuts will run out in 2020, so in Paris governments are expected to produce an agreement on what happens for the next decade, and potentially beyond. The optimism that fossil fuels will remain the dominant energy source into the foreseeable future is delusory and not founded in fact. The world may ramp up extreme extraction such as fracking, but that will not stop the shift away from climate-changing fossil fuels occurring.
As the exploitation of nature reaches the zenith of unreasonableness, traders are now seeing nature as an object for speculation and wholesale commodification. Good concepts such as sustainable development are being turned on their heads. The concept of ‘Green Economy’ on which even the brownest sectors cling turns out to be a platform for insisting that nature cannot be defended. It must be assigned a monetary value; its intrinsic value is absolutely ignored.
The conferences of parties (COP) to the climate change convention have over the years turned into sessions where the powerful browbeat the weak and efforts are made to avoid responsibility and to act in narrow national or regional interest.
The rapid slide down this slope took root at COP15 in Copenhagen. It was deepened at COP16 in Cancun where the concept of ‘consensus’ got redefined as ‘agreement by the majority’.
COP17 in Durban took the medal as the conference whose critical achievement was the blatant postponement of action while the earth burns. Nations like the US, Canada, Japan and Australia openly throw spanners in the works. Some go as far as foreclosing any participation in legal and accountability formats.
COP18 at Doha was a sigh, as leaders kicked the noisy decision-making can further down the road. In the negotiations following Doha, the talks in Bonn and Geneva continued to show the strains between developed, emerging economies and differently developed nations – especially with regard to emissions reductions commitments and mitigation actions.
At the negotiations held in May 2013 at Geneva the developed countries pushed for a legally binding ‘spectrum of commitments’ from both developed and developing countries. However, their stance was based on targets determined by each government according to their national capabilities and circumstances – not by what science requires. They suggested that these would be reviewed periodically, with the aim of keeping global temperature rise in line with the 2 degree Celsius goal.
These trends leave us with the burning question: has the COP process really helped the world tackle climate change?
Climate change has become big business, and false solutions are celebrated. Whereas it has been clear for a long time now that global warming is mostly man-made and is due to the huge amount of greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere by polluting activities involving the use of fossil fuels, preferred actions taken by nations and industries have been patently false actions.
These actions are mostly predicated on the specious notion of carbon offsetting. The notion itself is built on the creed that financial markets hold the key to solving humankind’s problems.
Carbon was first placed on the market at the Kyoto COP in 1997. It means polluters can keep polluting, provided they pay for it in cash (a carbon tax) or imagine that some trees somewhere else in the world are absorbing an equivalent amount of carbon as they are emitting. Polluters perform acts of indulgence through offsets.
The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) covers some such offset schemes, where projects that help reduce carbon emissions earn carbon credits. Some really obnoxious projects get listed under the CDM.
Gas-to-power projects utilizing gas that would otherwise be flared seem to make sense, except that gas flaring has been illegal in Nigeria since 1984. There has also been a High Court ruling against Shell over its gas flares at Iwerekhan, Delta State. The court ruled that gas flaring is illegal, unconstitutional and an affront to people’s rights. That judgment was delivered in November 2005 but the flares continue to roar.
Projects that qualify for the CDM are expected to be ones that bring in ‘additionality’. But Nnimmo Bassey, former Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action, makes the point that ‘any compensation for such an activity flies in the face of reason. Gas flares are the most cynical manifestations of corporate insolence in the face of climate change and environmental health. The flares release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous and sulphur oxides with other harmful substances that greatly affect human health.’ Just when we thought we had overcome slavery we are getting dragged into not just carbon colonialism, but carbon slavery.
Market mechanisms threw Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) into the ring at the Bali climate meeting of 2009. REDD and its variants allow polluters to keep on at their business of polluting while ‘showing’ that trees in a forest or plantation elsewhere absorb the carbon they emit. Thus REDD projects permit pollution and cannot be said to reduce emissions. The name itself is a sad joke: REDD does not stop deforestation, but at best defers or displaces it. A REDD scheme is a business scheme, pure and simple.
A declaration from the Climate Space at the Tunis World Social Forum in March 2013 insisted ‘we cannot put the future of nature and humanity in the hands of financial speculative mechanisms like carbon trading and REDD. REDD, like Clean Development Mechanisms, is not a solution to climate change and is a new form of colonialism. In defence of Indigenous Peoples, local communities and the environment, we reject REDD+ and the grabbing of the forests, farmlands, soils, mangroves, marine algae and oceans of the world, which act as sponges for greenhouse gas pollution…’
No REDD in Africa Network (NRAN) recalls a situation in Mozambique, where a study found that thousands of farmers in the N’hambita REDD project were paid meagre amounts for seven years for tending trees. ‘Because the contract is for 99 years, if the farmer dies his or her children and their children must tend the trees without any further pay or compensation. This has been interpreted as a clear case of carbon slavery.’
Agrofuels and technofixes
Another false solution has been the presentation of agrofuels as a replacement of fossil fuels, when in fact it keeps the fossil fuels paradigm and is equally polluting. Moreover, it has triggered massive land-grabs. Even at its peak agrofuels cannot replace fossil fuels because the amount of land needed to cultivate crops and the feedstock needed for production is simply not available on planet Earth.
Geo-engineering and agricultural genetic engineering are other false solutions that lull humans into thinking that they can keep current polluting lifestyles and find techno-fixes for their addiction.
Criteria for climate justice
So what must be done? Time is ticking fast, the peoples of the world must continually press for climate justice, understanding that no nation, rich or poor, is immune to the challenges posed by global warming. Reflections on the challenge can leave us utterly exasperated, considering the corporate capture of governments and the refusal of states to take actions that would benefit the people and the planet, and not just the corporations.
This has been amply illustrated by the tragic weather events that have fairly democratically impacted nations around the world. These effects are undeniable: sea-levels are rising, Arctic ice is melting and may lead to changes in ocean circulation, sea-surface temperatures are rising, sea water is acidifying, due to an increase of dissolved carbon dioxide, we are seeing a heavier rainfall pattern, hurricanes and floods, emerging crop diseases and crop failures, intense droughts and desertification, to mention just a few impacts. These negatively affect human lives and that of other species.
Urgent actions are needed across the globe. These include:
Urgent actions are needed across the globe. These include:
Rapid transition from dependence on fossil fuels – including in transportation, power generation and agriculture;
A just global climate treaty that recognises historical responsibility, climate debt and the need for legally binding emissions reduction;
Elimination of market mechanisms (including CDM, REDD, REDD+) and all other false solutions from the climate regime;
Recycling of waste and reducing consumption in line with planetary limits;
National laws that build mechanisms for climate mitigation and adaptation actions, including coastal protection and combating desertification;
Stop gas flaring in the Niger Delta and at Badagary communities in Nigeria immediately;
Stop fracking and other extreme extraction, including drilling in the Arctic region;
Educate grassroots communities and the creation of community climate defence committees that would set rules for physical developments as well as monitor impacts of climate change;
Universal respect of Mother Earth’s rights as articulated at the Cochabamba People’s Summit on Climate Change;
Leave the fossil fuels in the soil. Besides global warming, the environmental cost of fossil fuels cannot justify a continued reliance on the resource. Reflect on Shell’s pollution of Ogoni land. Think about the open scars created by tar sand extraction in Alberta.
Awake, arise, mobilize!
Our narrative must be the story of our lives, told by us and dipped in our experiences. As Arundhati Roy puts it, ‘If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives low to the ground, with its arms around the people who go to battle every day to protect their forests, their mountains and their rivers because they know that the forests, the mountains and the rivers protect them and are their source of livelihood.
The first step toward re-imagining a world gone terribly wrong would be to stop the annihilation of those who have a different imagination – an imagination that is outside capitalism as well as communism. An imagination which has an altogether different understanding of what constitutes happiness and fulfilment.’
It is our life. We know how the rain has beaten us and for how long. Indeed we did not inherit the Earth; we borrowed it from our children.
Our narrative must not be stuck in the crisis narrative imagined by others. We must awake, arise, mobilize and work for the transformation of our society and planet – by all legitimate means available and necessary.
Adesuwa Uwagie-Ero is a campaigner with Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria.
– See more at: http://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2015/11/26/escaping-carbon-slavery-the-view-from-nigeria/#sthash.9KE6lqfu.dpuf