OECD opens investigation into WWF in world first

This Baka girl was tortured by a WWF-funded anti-poaching squad in Cameroon early 2016.
She was 10 years old at the time.
© Survival International

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.

Survival submitted the complaint in February 2016, citing numerous examples of violent abuse and harassment against Baka “Pygmies” in Cameroon by WWF-funded anti-poaching squads. Survival also alleges that WWF failed to seek communities’ free, prior and informed consent for conservation projects on their ancestral land.

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.

Baka have been forced from large areas of their ancestral land, and face violence from WWF-funded anti-poaching squads if they hunt, forage, or visit sacred sites. © Survival International

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.”

Many Baka are forced to live on roadsides. Rates of alcoholism and diseases like malaria have soared, and their diet has deteriorated.
© Survival International

Background briefing
– 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’ tribes like the Baka have lived in the rainforests of the Congo Basin for millennia. They are being illegally evicted in the name of conservation, but logging, poaching and other threats to endangered species like gorillas, forest elephants and pangolins continue. © Selcen Kucukustel/Atlas

– “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.

Read this online: http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/11538

TAMS: Failed experiments with carbon in Madagascar

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.”

Epilogue

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;
  • administrative duplicities;
  • 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.

In 2016, Sara Peña Valderrama completed her PhD in social anthropology, where she studied a forest carbon project run by Conservation International in Madagascar. Her thesis is available on Durham University’s website: Entangling Molecules: an ethnography of a carbon offset project in Madagascar’s eastern rainforest. She submitted this Guest Post about what happened when the project changed to a carbon project. She is currently a Honorary Research Associate at Durham University.

Cap and Clear-Cut – California’s cap-and-trade system as investigated by East Bay Express

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 climate terror could endure for generations

By Patrick Bond

December 15, 2015
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.

 

PRESS CONFERENCE: “REDD: Contradiction and Violation of the Sacred”

PRESS CONFERENCE

(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.

 

Photo features:

•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

 

Escaping carbon slavery: the view from Nigeria

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.
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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?

Carbon colonialism

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.

Seeing REDD

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

The coming tragedy of Paris: A disastrous climate deal that will see the planet burn

Monday October 5th, 2015 | Originally Posted in Global Forest Coalition

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By: Mary Louise Malig*

Like reading the ancient Greek tragedy of Homer, we are at the pages of the Iliad where we can see what hell ahead shall befall Troy. We are now in that exact moment, seeing in the horizon the fires that will burn for ten years. However, we are not looking in the horizon of the ill-fated Trojans, but rather, we are looking at the future of humanity, nature and the planet.

There are only 5 negotiating days left before the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). From October 19-23, 2015, the UNFCCC is supposed to hammer out the modalities of the Paris deal. At this point, we should have a good sense of what the Paris deal will be. After all, since the COP17 in Durban, South Africa, where the mandate to draft a new climate agreement until 2030 was adopted, there have already been a total of 85 negotiating days, a carbon filled amount of flights for 193 parties to the convention, and at the wayside thousands of dead and displaced from destructively intense typhoons, hurricanes, floods or droughts. In the Philippines alone, the strongest typhoon to ever make landfall, Typhoon Haiyan, killed 6,000 and left thousands more homeless and without livelihood.

However, at this point, there is no agreed text yet for a Paris deal. Instead, there are a number of documents. First you have a “Co-Chairs Tool”(1) that lays out the possible scenario. At the last intersessional in Bonn in September, the co-chairs of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) presented a tool for the negotiations that has three parts: The first part includes the issues that can be included in a potential Paris agreement, the second part those issues that will be listed in a decision and the third part includes those issues that need further negotiation and will neither be in the COP21 agreement nor decision. In the Co-Chairs tool, the elements of a Paris deal are clear: emission cuts will be voluntary, flexibility mechanisms will be continued, more market mechanisms will be proposed and accounting loopholes and techno-fixes will abound. Already, the term “net zero” emissions indicates an accounting trick because “net zero” is a term to mean you’ve balanced your accounting columns out. “Net zero” emissions therefore does not translate to zero emissions, which is what the climate urgently needs.

This week, the co-chairs of the ADP, Ahmed Djoghlaf of Algeria and Daniel Reifsnyder of the US, as mandated have produced, in addition to the Co-Chair’s Tool, a non-paper note by the Co-Chairs (2) in time for the coming intersessional in Bonn. There is certainly an element of Greek tragedy in the fact that one of the co-chairs is from one of the biggest emitters and the one who, as a matter of irony, never ratified the last climate protocol. The October 5, 2015 non-paper details a draft agreement and a draft decision for Paris. The Chairs have also issued a draft decision on workstream 2 or the pre-2020 ambition. (3) All these documents are still under negotiation.

Another critical reason as to why we know that Paris is going to be a deal that burns the planet, is that, as of writing, following the October 1 deadline of the UNFCCC, 119 submissions of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) have been made. This includes the 28 member states of the EU as 1. All major emitters are in these 119 submissions. These INDCs are the voluntary pledges of the countries on how much emissions they are targeting to reduce by 2030. (4) An issue of the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development reporting on these submissions states, “although some estimates contend that the actions outlined thus far would result in a planetary warming of three degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, overshooting an international commitment by one degree.”(5) A recent study however by Stern etal, details that the reduction pledges from US, EU and China – who together account for 45 percent of global emissions will miss by almost double the 2030 target of 35 gigatons of CO2e emissions.(6) Emissions should be cut by 2030 to 35 gigatons of CO2e and with the current INDCs of the most important countries annual global emissions will be around 60 gigatons of CO2e in 2030.

AS IN THE ILIAD, TROY WILL BURN

This 2 degree target was internationally agreed on in 2007, after the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Fourth Assessment Report (7) which detailed that to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, that emissions had to be kept to below 2 degrees by 2020. It is now 2015, and the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report has come out to reiterate that danger and has even highlighted that “Many aspects of climate change and associated impacts will continue for centuries, even if anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are stopped. The risks of abrupt or irreversible changes increase as the magnitude of the warming increases.” (8) This means that the longer the delay in reducing emissions, the higher the danger that the feedback mechanism of the climate system will go beyond the 2 degree “safe” limit.

This is the heart of the problem of the Paris deal. The emission targets of the countries are not under negotiation. They are voluntary promises that they may or may not implement and may even use market mechanisms to cheat their way out of. Emissions need to be cut deeply, at source, without loopholes or market mechanisms, today, not 10 years from now. The decade lost waiting to reduce by 2030, will be a decade lost forever. The climate system does not work like the movies – where warming stops the moment the protagonist saves the day – the emissions put into the system now will burn well beyond 2030. There may not be a planet to “save” by 2030.

The whole process being captured by corporations especially by the fossil fuel and extractive industry – the main source of emissions – is most evident in the support of business as usual. In the entire 88 pages of the Co-Chair’s Tool, “fossil fuel” is only mentioned once and only to encourage governments to reduce or eliminate incentives for fossil fuel subsidies: “52 a. [Parties [are encouraged] to [take steps to] [reduce][eliminate] [international support][public incentives] [for][phase down] high-carbon investments[, [including][and] international fossil fuel subsidies];] {paras 102, 103 and 113 bis d. SCT}” (9)

In the statement of the Climate Space, it reiterates the demand of social movements for 80 percent of the fossil fuel reserves to be left underground in order to stay below the 2 degree limit. (10) And how will this demand be met if the sponsors of the COP21 are from fossil fuel and large carbon emitting corporations such as EDF, Engie, Air France, Renault-Nissan and BNP Paribas? (11)

THE TROJAN HORSE OF CARBON ACCOUNTING & CLIMATE SMART AGRICULTURE

In addition to not addressing the main sources of emissions, the climate agreement, since the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, has allowed the use of market mechanisms. The creation of this carbon market has led to the massive cheating by Annex 1 countries (37 industrialized countries), escaping their legal commitment to cut emissions by at least 5 percent below 1990 levels in the commitment period 2008-2012. The Kyoto Protocol flexibility mechanism allowed Annex 1 countries to “offset” their emissions by doing “clean development” projects in developing countries or by buying and selling their carbon credits.

The Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plus (REDD+) scheme, the final rules of which are supposed to be formally adopted in Paris, adds significantly to this cheating by allowing countries to present any kind of tree planting or protection as a contribution to mitigation, even when such activities are not additional or permanent, or when they trigger deforestation in other areas or countries or are otherwise environmentally or socially damaging. It allows countries to commodify or even sell their forests as carbon sinks, ignores the real drivers of forest loss, but blames indigenous peoples and small farmers for deforestation instead. As the NO-REDD in Africa Network has stated, “Reports show that deforestation and the related emissions continue, and that REDD+, instead of reducing them, is harming and vilifying forest-dependent communities and those who produce the majority of the world’s food – small scale farmers.” (12)

The belief in carbon markets as panacea extends to the proposed Paris agreement, with proposals on the inclusion of land use related emissions and emission reductions. Already a loophole by itself in the flawed accounting approaches it proposes, combined with market mechanisms, will create an entire new grab for land as it creates a REDD+ for agriculture and soils.

The impermanence of land in the first place, makes it a far more theoretical carbon sink for emissions compared to the very real continued burning of fossil fuels. More importantly, the logic of carbon accounting determining agricultural policy means that agriculture will prioritize the needs of the carbon market rather than feeding people and that of food sovereignty.

The World Bank and other transnational corporations (TNCs) in the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture are pushing for this Climate Smart Agriculture – a system that produces more food on less land, while being weather resistant and absorbing carbon. The production of more food on less land is clearly supported by corporations pushing the use of GM seeds. But it is the creation of a new market for soils and agriculture that poses the greatest attraction to TNCs. Just how the monetary incentive of REDD+ displaced Indigenous Peoples, the potential financial gains will displace small farmers and add further to the already existing land grab. As La Via Campesina, the world’s largest movement of small farmers states, “Climate smart agriculture will lead to further consolidation of land, pushing peasant and family farmers towards World Bank Projects, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other institutions, creating dependency on so-called new technologies through their complete packages that include prescriptions of “climate smart varieties”, inputs, and credit, while ignoring traditional tried and true adaptive farming techniques and stewardship of seed varieties in practice by farmers.” (13) It continues, “The possibility of big profits with investments in carbon credits generated from farmlands involved in climate smart agriculture projects will increase speculation in the carbon market, leading to further “carbon land grabs” by large-scale investors and producers, and the further displacement of peasant and smallholder farmers, just as REDD displaces indigenous people. Under this climate smart agriculture framework, there is little hope of reducing and removing greenhouse gases, trying to solve food insecurity or any significant rural economic and social development.” (14)

CHANGE THE STORY, CHANGE THE SYSTEM

This story does not need to end in tragedy. In fact, it is being challenged valiantly, everyday, with all the daily struggles being carried out by frontline communities, Indigenous Peoples, small farmers, women, workers, students, activists and heroes and heroines of Mother Nature. The future needs to be reclaimed, the system changed and peoples alternatives be pushed forward.

The draft Chairman proposals for the Paris deal: the agreement and the decision – need to be squarely rejected. The real danger of a bad deal is the fact that it will lock us into a permanent agreement of business as usual of burning the planet. The extreme hype around the Paris deal being desperately needed to “save the world” is scaremongering people into accepting a disastrously bad deal. Reminiscent of the days campaigning against the World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Development Agenda, the call for no deal is better than a bad deal, rings true. No Paris deal is better than a bad and false Paris deal – exactly because just like the WTO Doha Development Agenda has locked the world into unfair trade rules on food and agriculture; will a false Paris Climate Agreement lock the world into a laissez faire regime of polluting as always, countries making cuts when they feel like it, manipulating accounting loopholes to cheat their way out of emissions cuts, and using and creating even more market mechanisms to commodify, financialize and profit from the remaining resources of the planet. If we are to make Paris about saving the planet, then it should be about rejecting the false deal that is on the table.

The original Climate Convention that was adopted in 1992 and ratified by practically every country in the world, including the US and other big polluters, is a rather generic but important agreement. It obliges countries to prevent dangerous climate change and is firmly based on the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities. Ever since the Kyoto Protocol was established and introduced a cap and trade regime based on quantified accounting and flexibility mechanisms, the climate negotiations have moved nowhere but backwards. Legally binding commitments have turned into voluntary pledges, and then into intended nationally determined contributions. Common but differentiated responsibility has turned into a vague regime applicable to all parties, disregarding both historical accountability and responsibility of Annex 1 countries and the fact that those who have done the least are least responsible. The long-standing demand of real compensation for loss and damage has just been paid lip service with the acknowledgement of the impacts of climate change.

A no Paris deal scenario in December is not a disaster – it is an opportunity. It will create the space for a recuperation to the original goals of the climate convention to halt dangerous climate change by holding polluters to account. It would also create the space for community-driven solutions some of which are already in practice and are cooling the planet – from peasant agroecology and community-based sustainable energy solutions to community forest conservation. It would allow for alternative proposals such as holistic policies and measures that are not centered on carbon accounting and markets. It will give space for transformative measures to be implemented to accomplish the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals including the historical zero deforestation by 2020 target. There are many more alternatives and proposals that can be given space for – rights of nature, climate jobs, “buen vivir”, food sovereignty, degrowth, deglobalization, and many more.

A world without a Paris deal is not only possible, it is necessary if we are to avoid tragedy. There are no limits to the alternatives.

*Mary Louise Malig, a researcher and trade analyst, is Campaigns Coordinator of the Global Forest Coalition.

 

ENDNOTES

(1) http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/adp2/eng/4infnot.pdf
(2) http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/adp2/eng/8infnot.pdf
(3) http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/adp2/eng/9infnot.pdf
(4) http://www4.unfccc.int/submissions/indc/Submission%20Pages/submissions.aspx
(5) http://www.ictsd.org/bridges-news/biores/news/un-members-adopt-post-2015-development-agenda-prepare-climate-talks
(6)http://www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Boyd_et_al_policy_paper_May_2015.pdf
(7) https://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_ipcc_fourth_assessment_report_synthesis_report.htm
(8) https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/
(9) http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/adp2/eng/4infnot.pdf
(10) https://climatespace2013.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/fight-for-system-change-now-why-we-need-to-build-alternatives-and-dismantle-a-process-that-will-lock-us-into-another-decade-of-burning-the-planet/
(11) http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/may/29/paris-climate-summit-sponsors-include-fossil-fuel-firms-and-big-carbon-emitters
(12) http://www.no-redd-africa.org/index.php/declarations/147-durban-declaration-on-redd
(13) http://viacampesina.org/en/index.php/main-issues-mainmenu-27/sustainable-peasants-agriculture-mainmenu-42/1670-un-masking-climate-smart-agriculture
(14) ibid

 

 

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What do the criticism of the Pope’s encyclical by carbon market and REDD proponents reveal?

editorial_216

The new Pope Francis’ “Laudato Sí” encyclical addressing the ecological crisis, particularly the climate crisis, has been much discussed in the last month. It is uncommon to see so many organizations and individuals discussing a papal encyclical. Although it did not take into account important issues such as the place and role of women in these matters, the document was quite incisive and effective in its analysis and questioning of the current globalized capitalist over-consumption and production model. With this, the encyclical reinforced what social movements and other groups have been pointing out and denouncing for a long time.

In this document, the Pope also questioned some of the false solutions to the climate crisis that have been presented to the people of the world. The document states that carbon trading “can lead to a new form of speculation, which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide“. It also affirms “in no way does it [this mechanism] allow for the radical change which present circumstances require. Rather, it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors”. Some defenders of the carbon offset mechanism, which allows the selling and buying of carbon credits, also known as carbon trading, were upset. The question then is: What does the criticism publiched by some of them reveal?

Such defenders start their answers affirming that the sale and purchase of carbon credits is an excellent and effective tool since it already has shown results, with projects that even were “certified” and awarded “quality labels”. This defensive posture reveals an intransigent desire to protect carbon trading, without a willingness to acknowledge the widespread conclusive criticism of carbon market mechanisms as a whole (1), as well as the experiences on the ground with tools that aim at commodifying carbon in tropical forests, such as REDD (2). Likewise, carbon market defenders cannot provide even basic developed responses to the content of each enquiry raised in the Pope’s statements.

Despite some praises to the analysis of the causes of the climate crisis in the papal encyclical, defenders end up evaluating the proposed solutions as weak and unrealistic, partly because it would cost an amount of money that would not exist. For them, defending a “radical change” is synonymous with not being “down to earth”. This reveals how they try to convince us that we must accept the world as it is, especially the fact that it is dominated by a capitalist market economy. Apparently they do not care that this economy is controlled by just a few hundred corporations, which despite being largely responsible for the climate crisis, receive all sorts of concessions from our governments – and for that there is money – and do not accept limits to the continuous expansion of their markets and profits at the expense of the majority of the people and the destruction of the environment. Some examples can be seen in the articles in this bulletin on the growth of large-scale monoculture projects in Papua, as well as mining expansion in Madagascar and the criminalization of social movements in India for fighting against the construction of a dam. The fact that carbon market advocates do not speak about, much less defend, the urgent need to dramatically curb these concessions, reveals how they live and collaborate with the world of financial institutions and companies representing big capital. Those are also the institutions and companies that so far have taken full advantage of the existence of carbon trading and these are the key players taking advantage of this new market and its speculative potential. In their anxiety to show the success of carbon trading, proponents also reveal another position: the “technician” or “specialist” who “knows” and understands that his/her role is to inform men and women who (still) “do not know” about these so called “complex” issues like “CO2″ and “carbon credits”, since only the “technician” or “specialist” (generally from the North) really understands those issues.

Communities affected by REDD projects have suffered first-handed. The “technicians” who come to the communities to propose projects decide which information the “beneficiaries” of the project will have access to. They rarely inform for example, that REDD does not reduce the impacts of the climate crisis because it allows pollution and destruction to continue, so in practice it is in fact a diversion from the main problem. Moreover, the time and energy invested in REDD discussions within climate conferences have confirmed why there are still no decisions to approve and implement real solutions, such as a drastic reduction of carbon emissions by the main responsible parties. “Specialists” do not inform either that if continuing with this situation for much longer, climate change will be intensified, and will particularly affect the livelihoods of rural communities and/or those living in the forest – because the climate crisis even compromises the future of the forests which many communities depend on. They also fail to mention that due to REDD projects, other communities neighboring main polluters in countries like the US or Canada, which buy carbon credits to supposedly “offset” their emissions, will keep suffering more and for longer because of polluting activities, such as extraction and/or refining of oil; activities that would have now been “compensated” with REDD. These communities are often indigenous and/or black communities which have been suffering from environmental racism for years due to the fact that they are neighbors of the oil companies (3)

Finally, there are advocates who argue that the Pope’ criticism is not applicable since the carbon market mechanism was already accepted by governments, i.e., it is already part of the negotiations for a new global climate agreement to be decided in Paris later this year. This reveals how carbon market advocates have made progress in their strategy to capture governments to serve their interests. But above all, it reveals that these advocates do not seem to be bothered by the disturbing fact that communities generally are not invited, and much less can influence the extremely important decisions that will define the direction the world will take in relation to the climate change struggle  – or lack thereof, and which impacts will be felt by everyone. The disinterest in allowing more popular involvement and voice has a reason: If communities were actually present, they could see up close how many of their representatives -governments and the UN – are “prisoners” of the interests of a small group of corporations and NGOs, which in order to avoid structural changes, have been “selling” false solutions to the climate crisis for years, mainly the idea of ​​carbon trading, including REDD. If people really were represented and present in these discussions, they could rebel and change the course of events.

We reaffirm the need for our governments to make decisions that “the present circumstances require” by the end of the year in Paris. The “radical change” advocated for years by many organizations and social movements merely lies in exercising to take conclusions based on the analysis of the facts that led and aggravate environmental destruction and climate change; namely, being “down to earth”! Our governments should also act accordingly, if they were serious about their role and if they cared about the future of the people they supposedly represent. It also means that false solutions like carbon trading and REDD, which do not represent any actual or structural change, must be rejected.

We call on everyone to join the Call to Action to reject REDD and the extractive industries, already signed by over 150 organizations and social movements worldwide – see also the article in this bulletin – which was released in the run up to the climate conference in Lima, Peru, in 2014

  1. See for example: http://www.fern.org/tradingcarbon
  2. See for example: http://wrm.org.uy/books-and-briefings/redd-a-collection-of-conflicts-contradictions-and-lies/
  3. See for example: http://www.ienearth.org/category/climate-justice/carbon-trading-and-offsets/

Will Paris save the climate? Of course it won’t

2015-07-09-124824_1037x1026_scrot“U.N. climate deal in Paris may be graveyard for 2C goal,” is the headline of a recent Reuters article, which points out that the chances of keeping global warming below 2°C are rapidly disappearing.

The article includes a quotation from Oliver Geden, of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs:

“It’s just not feasible. Two degrees is a focal point for the climate debate but it doesn’t seem to be a focal point for political action.”

Christine Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, disagrees. Reuters reports her as saying that new mechanisms for future rounds of pledges, perhaps in 2025 and 2030, can hit the 2°C mark. “You don’t run a marathon with one step,” Figueres comments.

It’s an interesting metaphor. Paris will be the 21st Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC. That’s 21 years of negotiations. And, to paraphrase Figueres, you don’t run a marathon for 21 years.

It’s not surprising that Figueres argues that COP21 is just another step on the way towards addressing climate change. She knows that there will be no decision that comes out of Paris that will come anywhere near keeping emissions below 2°C. And it’s understandable that the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC doesn’t want to admit that the UNFCCC is failing abysmally.

But it is perhaps surprising to read that Joe Romm supports Figueres’ position. Romm is the Founding Editor of Climate Progress. He believes that action is urgently needed to address climate change. Yet in February 2015, he wrote,

“I don’t think one can call Paris a failure merely because it doesn’t create an agreement that would limit warming to 2°C, much as we ultimately need to keep to that limit.”

Romm recycled his article yesterday in response to the Reuters article.

Romm argues that it is impossible to get onto what Figueres calls “the 2°C pathway” in Paris, “without every major player agreeing to specific and serious post 2030 cuts, an outcome that was never on the table”.

This is crazy. Romm is a climate hawk who has worked tirelessly for action on climate change for many years. Yet his vision of success involves emissions reductions targets 15 years in the future. The fact that even targets way off in the future were never on the Paris table is a sure guarantee that the meeting will fail.

Romm compares the climate negotiations to the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. His point is that the negotiations were difficult, the initial targets too weak, and it took a long time. But in the end, the Montreal Protocol.

The first problem with the comparison is that, as Romm acknowledges, reducing CFCs is a lot simpler than reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But the differences between the climate negotiations and the ozone negotiations are more interesting than the similarities. When the Montreal Protocol was negotiated, there wasn’t a massive, well-funded misinformation campaign attempting to sabotage any chance of a successful outcome.

The Montreal Protocol reduced CFC concentrations in the atmosphere by banning CFCs. There was no CFC trading programme in the Montreal Protocol.

And the meetings leading up to the Montreal Protocol were not sponsored by companies that manufacture CFCs. About 20% of the €170 million that COP21 will cost is to come from companies, including some serious polluters:

  • Électricité de France (EDF) runs coal-fired power stations. In 2013, EDF sued 21 climate activists who occupied its power station in Nottinghamshire in the UK for a week. EDF later dropped the £5 million lawsuit.
  • Engie (formerly GDF Suez) is a large energy company. It is planning a 1200 MW coal plant in South Africa. In May 2015, hundreds of people protested against Engie’s plans. Also in May, the company’s chairman and CEO, Gérard Mestrallet, visited the World Bank telling the Bank about Engie’s support for carbon pricing and the EU Emissions Trading System.
  • Suez Environnement is one-third owned by Engie. Both companies are members of the Centre for Non-Conventional Hydrocarbons – a fracking lobby group. Suez is the world’s second largest environmental services provider, with a focus on water. In 2006, Buenos Aires took back control of its water services from Suez. The company sued, and recently won a court case for US$405 million compensation.
  • Renault-Nissan is a car manufacturer. The company will provide 200 electric cars to COP21. In total, Renault-Nissan has sold 250,000 electric cars. Last year, Renault-Nissan sold 8.5 million cars.
  • BNP Paribas was the leading French bank in terms of support for coal between 2005 and 2014. BankTrack lists a series of problematic projects that BNP Paribas has financed, including the biggest coal mine in Indonesia, Kaltim Prima Coal Mine, the Nam Theun 2 dam in Laos, an LNG project in Papua New Guinea, and the Tata Mundra Ultra Mega Power Plant in India.
  • Air France is an airline company. On its website, the company points out that, “around 80% of Air France’s emissions come from long-haul aircraft”. The company’s position on reducing these emissions could safely be described as stubborn:

    There is no substitute method of transport for passengers or for cargo aircarfts [sic] carrying express goods such as valuables or perishable foodstuffs.

    In 2012, Air France was one of nine airline companies that opposed a European carbon tax on aviation.

    Here’s a petition you can sign to kick the polluters out of the climate talks:

    kickbigpollutersout.com

Genetically engineered eucalyptus trees approved in Brazil. How long before we see GE tree monocultures in REDD?

eucalyptus-tree-425x281Paulo Pase de Andrade works in the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics at the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco. Until September 2012, he was a member of CTNBio. The day before CTNBio approved the release of GE eucalyptus, he wrote to theCampaign to STOP GE Trees, explaining that the decision had already been taken – the CTNBio meeting the following day was a technicality.

The CTNBio decision, Andrade explained, was based solely on the biological risks of GE eucalyptus. Andrade also sent a 23-pagerisk assessment (in Portuguese) of GE eucalyptus that he co-authored.

What CTNBio did not consider is that industrial tree plantations have serious social and environmental impacts. GE tree plantations intensify these impacts. Industrial tree plantations take up vast areas of land, land that is often already in use. Faster growing treesneed more water, sucking streams dry and leaving less water for communities living nearby.

In March 2015, a meeting of CTNBio was occupied by 300 peasants from Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement (MST). The decision to approve FuturaGene’s GE trees was postponed.

FuturaGene claims that because its GE eucalyptus trees grow faster, they absorb more carbon dioxide. Here’s Stanley Hirsch, FuturaGene’s chief executive, quoted in a 2014 article in Nature News & Comment:

The tree’s speedy growth boosts absorption of carbon dioxide from the air by about 12% … aiding in the fight to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Hirsch’s argument makes no sense, because the trees are clearcut and converted to short-lived paper products, at which point the carbon dioxide returns to the atmosphere.

But does the approval of GE trees in Brazil mean that we can now expect REDD payments to go to companies planting vast monocultures of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees? After all, business as usual would mean planting slower growing non-GE eucalyptus trees that would absorb less carbon dioxide.

As far as I am aware, the issue of GE trees has not been discussed during the UN climate negotiations on REDD. (If anyone knows otherwise, please let me know via the comments.)

Part of REDD, as agreed at the UN climate negotiations in Cancun (COP-16) in 2010, is “Enhancement of forest carbon stocks”.

Instead of REDD, perhaps GE tree plantations would be included in the clean development mechanism’s afforestation/reforestation methodologies. But because there is still no agreed definition of “forest” in the REDD negotiations, plantations (including GE tree plantations) are not explicitly excluded.

Of course, “safeguards” were also agreed in Cancun, including this one:

(e) That actions are consistent with the conservation of natural forests and biological diversity, ensuring that the actions referred to in paragraph 70 of this decision are not used for the conversion of natural forests, but are instead used to incentivize the protection and conservation of natural forests and their ecosystem services, and to enhance other social and environmental benefits;[1]


[1] Taking into account the need for sustainable livelihoods of indigenous peoples and local communities and their interdependence on forests in most countries, reflected in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the International Mother Earth Day.

But as I’ve previously pointed out on REDD-Monitor, the UN only encourages governments to “promote and support” the safeguards. This safeguard translates as follows:

Governments are encouraged to “promote and support” “actions” to conserve forests, biodiversity, and to ensure that REDD does not lead to clearcutting forests in order to replace them with industrial tree plantations.

None of this rules out clearcutting industrial tree plantations (as part of business as usual) and replacing them with industrial tree plantations of genetically engineered trees.

We can look forward to arguments about faster growing GE trees requiring less land to produce the same amount of timber, thus allowing more room for biodiversity and conservation. But given that Suzano plans to expand its pulp production from 1.92 million tons in 2013, to 3.42 million tons by 2015, these arguments don’t stand up. The plantations to feed Suzano’s expanding pulp production will require more and more land.

Clear definitions of “forests”, “deforestation” and “degradation” in the REDD negotiations could exclude the possibility of REDD payments going to monoculture GE tree plantations. But there are still no agreed definitions to differentiate rainforests from monoculture tree plantations (genetically engineered or otherwise) in the UNFCCC REDD negotiations.

To reject REDD+ and extractive industries to confront capitalism and defend life and territories

Due to the UN climate negotiations -COP20- and the Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change, held in Lima, Peru, in December 2014, over 100 organizations and social movements made a Call to Action to strongly and collectively reject REDD+ and the ‘environmental services’ – towards the COP21 in Paris, France, in December 2015.

With this Call we want to make clear that these mechanisms are a central part of our struggle against capitalism and extractive industries and for the defense of territories and life.

Therefore, we ask your organization, group, network or movement to join the call and support communities in resistance who warn us of the dangers of these mechanisms. The call is available in:English, Spanish, Portuguese and French.

To support the call, we ask to send an email to [NoREDDCop20@wrm.org.uy] with the name of your group, the country or region of your work and your contact.

In solidarity,
WRM team

Call to action to reject REDD+ and extractive industries to confront capitalism and defend life and territories

The Rio de Janeiro Green Exchange (BVRio): Trading away Brazil’s forests

By Chris Lang

Founded in October 2011, the Rio de Janeiro Green Exchange (Bolsa Verde do Rio de Janeiro, BVRio) is a market for trading “environmental assets”, including carbon credits, forest credits, industrial effluent credits, tire disposal credits, and recycling credits.

BVRio was set up by Pedro Moura Costa, co-founder of the UK-based carbon trading company, EcoSecurities. Moura Costa made his millions when he sold some of his shares in the company. Moura Costa left EcoSecurities in 2009.

Moura Costa’s brother, Mauricio, is Chief Operating Officer of BVRio and President of BVTrade, the trading platform.

BVRio is a not-for-profit company, but the trading platform is a commercial firm. Here’s how BVRio explains this in its 2011-2013 Operational Report:

“[I]t was decided that [BVRio’s] trading activities should be conducted by BVTrade as a separate vehicle, structured in a way that it can leverage private sector capital to scale up the concepts initially
developed by BVRio.”

BVRio has received financial support from the Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency (via Forest Trends), the UK Prosperity Fund, the Climate and Land Use Alliance, Climate Works Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Oak Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund, and E2 Brasil Sócio Ambiental (Moura Costa’s company).

“Facilitating compliance” with watered down forest laws

BVRio’s mission is “To promote the use of market mechanisms to facilitate compliance with social and environmental laws.” And BVRio operates hand-in-glove with Brazil’s controversial 2012 revision of its Forest Code. The first market on BVTrade was in Environmental Reserve Quotas (Cotas de Reserva Ambiental, CRAs), which were created through the 2012 Forest Code.

Under Brazil’s Forest Code, farmers cannot clear all the forest on their land. An area of forest has to be preserved as a Forest Legal Reserve. This varies between 20% and 80% of the total area of the property. (Forest Legal Reserves are 80% of the property in the Amazon region, and 20% in Atlantic Forest, Cerrado, Pampa, Caatinga and Pantanal.)

In its 2011-2013 Operational Report, BVRio quotes a study by the Brazilian Institute of Geography that found that about four million rural properties in Brazil don’t have a large enough forest reserve (out of a total of more than five million rural properties). Under the previous version of the Forest Code owners of properties with too little forest had the option of planting trees or regenerating forest, at their own expense.

Impunity for forest destroyers under the 2012 Forest Code

The 2012 Forest Code grants amnesty to “small” properties, ranging in size from 20 hectares in southern Brazil to 440 hectares in the Amazon. According to a 2014 study in Science, 90% of Brazilian rural properties qualify for the amnesty. The study found that an area of about 50 million hectares of forest had been illegally cleared up to 2008. But under the 2012 Forest Code amnesty, the area to be restored is reduced by 58% to about 21 million hectares.

Even worse, the 2012 Forest Code allows the legal destruction of 88 million hectares of forest on private properties, including 40 million hectares of the Cerrado. “Allowing that to happen would be an environmental disaster,” says Marcia Macedo, of the Woods Hole Research Center, one of the co-authors of the study.

As well as the amnesty, the 2012 Forest Code creates two offsetting mechanisms: Environmental Reserve Quotas; and Consolidation of Conservation Areas Offsets. The Science study calculated that if these offset mechanisms are fully implemented, only 550,000 hectares of farmland will legally need to be restored. Nevertheless, Woods Hole Research Center describes the offset mechanisms as one of two “key conservation measures” in the Forest Code. (The other being an online land registry system.)

We’ll look at these two offset mechanisms in turn.

Environmental Reserve Quotas (CRAs)

One CRA represents one hectare of forest legal reserve (or regenerating forest) above the legal minimum requirement. BVRio explains:

CRAs can be used to compensate for the lack of legal reserve in another rural property provided the latter is located in the same biome and in the same State where the CRAs are created.

In the three months after BVRio launched its trading plaform, more than 800 participants were offering Forest Reserve Credits on the platform. Now BVTrade has 2,500 participants offering CRAs, with a total area of 2.3 million hectares of rural properties.

BVRio explains on its website that this not enough for a spot market in CRAs. So BVRio developed a contract to allow CRAs to be traded before they are created: Contracts for the development of Forest Reserve Credits for Future Delivery (CRAFs).

Under these contracts, sellers (i.e. land owners with more forest area than legally required under the 2012 Forest Code) have an obligation to create CRAs and deliver them to buyers (i.e. land owners with less forest area than legally required under the 2012 Forest Code). The buyer pays for the CRAs on delivery, and the price is agreed when the contract is signed.

Conservation Area Offsets

The other type of offset that rural property owners can trade on BVRio are Conservation Area Offsets (Compensação em Unidades de Conservação). Under this type of offset, rural property owners who are in breach of the Forest Code pay the owners of land inside Conservation Areas to transfer the land to a government environmental agency.

BVTrade will allow landowners inside Conservation Areas to offer their land as an offset to rural property owners with less than the legally required area of forest on their land. So under this mechanism an area of already protected forest will change ownership, from privately-owned to government-owned. And as a result, an equivalent area of forest somewhere else will be destroyed.

Creating loopholes in watered down forest laws

The obvious problem with both of these forest offsets is that they provide a loophole in an already watered down Forest Code. The fact that the 2012 Forest Code created an amnesty for past illegal forest clearing creates the probability that the powerful agricultural sector in Brazil will continue to deforest in the expectation of another exemption from the law.

The offset mechanisms do nothing to protect the already heavily deforested Atlantic Forest or the Cerrado.

Meanwhile, the offset mechanisms allow land-owners to destroy forest that should be protected under the Forest Code, as long as they “offset” the destruction by buying Environmental Reserve Quotas or Conservation Area offsets.


PHOTO Credit: Marcia Macedo, Woods Hole Research Center.

Safeguarding Investment: Safeguards for REDD+, women and indigenous peoples

REDD_mujeres

Originally posted on Mar 10, 2015 in World Forest Movement

The meaning of the term “safeguards” depends on who uses it and in what context. It may imply positive action in terms of human rights or the environment, or it may simply be a rhetorical flourish aimed at preventing losses of investments and profits. Nowadays there is much talk around the world about safeguards for the implementation of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) projects, conservation, sustainable forest management and increasing forest carbon stocks. (1)

Safeguards have an economic origin. When the World Trade Organization (WTO) was created in 1995, there was already debate about trade safeguards. The idea was to protect or look after national interests when problems arose related to international trade. However, they generated countless controversies and ultimately all safeguards were declared illegal. This shows that when the interests of trade conflict with any other interests, trade interests always win. Given this history, nothing better could be expected in the case of REDD+ safeguards.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the World Bank (WB) have also established their own safeguards and social and environmental standards for the projects they fund. However, we know that instead of protecting communities and nature, what they seek is to protect their projects or “the natural resource assets implicated in the execution of a project.” (1) The World Bank is currently revising its safeguards and standards policies downwards, as it is seeking even greater flexibilisation of environmental and social “requirements” for its projects. The consequences are serious, as the World Bank influences and guides social and environmental policy standards for many public and private, national and international entities. It is no coincidence that this review is taking place now. It is framed within the context of the new international scenario defined by the application of the REDD+ mechanism.

The seven REDD+ safeguards approved at the 2010 United Nations climate negotiations (2) are: complementarity and consistency with national forestry systems and natural forest conservation, transparent and effective governance, full stakeholder participation, respect for the knowledge and rights of native peoples, and two other “safeguards” of a clearly commercial nature to do with reversals and emissions displacement.

REDD+ project safeguards seem to be a merely formal requirement, almost in the shape of a checklist, with the goal not of ensuring respect for the rights of local communities, but of avoiding social conflict at minimum cost, while guaranteeing the working of the carbon market. These safeguards would in fact be aimed at effective implementation of REDD+ through minimizing – not preventing – the social and environmental risks inherent in REDD activities. (3)

As in every similar process, the United Nations REDD+ program (UN-REDD) has set up phony participation processes for national endorsement of the safeguards, carrying out consultations with different stakeholders to arrive at a “consensus” on the safeguards to be instituted to ensure the success of REDD+. (4) Moreover, in addition to the safeguards there is a series of “guidelines,” “principles” “participation systems,” “fair value assignment,” and other tools. Behind the jargon they hide purely commercial interests.

Indigenous peoples obviously had to be included in these safeguards since they are the owners of most of the world’s remaining natural forests. Women, too, were quickly incorporated as stakeholders in REDD+ national programs, a decision that was part of social pacification policies in the face of increasing conflict and rejection – above all by women in local communities – of projects and public policies  of an extractivist nature, and others. So in order to sugar the pill of these developments, indigenous people and women were integrated as “stakeholders” in all investment projects, including REDD+.

No “safeguard” will liberate women

The UN-REDD process has incorporated the concept of gender equality to make “REDD+ more efficient, effective and sustainable.” (5) This approach has already attracted criticism of various kinds. For instance, the Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities on Climate Change against REDD+ and for Life has said: “It is clear that REDD+ also constitutes a new form of violence against women because it limits or prohibits women’s access to the land where we farm, gather food and draw water (for) our families.” (6) Women are responsible for 90 percent of these activities in rural communities worldwide. Moreover, women own less, inherit less, and in general have less access to community goods than men.

It should also be noted that under the mechanisms of payment for environmental services – like the carbon credits marketed through REDD+ – it is generally the men of the communities who receive the benefits, since the agreements are signed with associations or organizations’ councils, made up mostly of men. And when women are the recipients of payments, usually incentives for planting forestry plantations, it may lead to increased domestic violence, with men wanting to control the money. Worse still, women are tasked with preventing forest clearance (7) although they are not responsible for the problem. In this way, women have been recruited to the global pool of cheap labour that watches over the merchandise (carbon, water, biodiversity, or any defined environmental service) from which capital derives profits. They are obliged to travel for hours to receive the payments; they must not only act as rangers in their own forests, but police officers in their own communities. They have become exploited workers (8) toiling for a pittance.

We are experiencing a global economic crisis due to overproduction and overaccumulation which has led to poverty, debt, unemployment and so on; and an environmental crisis with serious effects, such as climate change, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, pollution, etcetera. In such a context, inequalities are always exacerbated, affecting mainly women and indigenous peoples. This is a foregone conclusion, since under capitalism and its crises, the weakest are obviously the most vulnerable. Women are exposed to a double risk: they face capitalist exploitation, and on top of that, the oppression of the crises it generates.

According to feminist author Silvia Federici, (9) the United Nations has effectively redefined the feminist agenda. The inclusion of the gender perspective in instruments like REDD+ is an example of this. But in practice it might turn out to be a trap. According to Federici, when women receive payment for their work, they are not really gaining autonomy or liberation. This is not to say there should not be differential subsidies for women; however, the capitalist system undervalues the work of caring, and women care for their families, their farm plots and the forest. Therefore capitalism devalues the lives of women in order to continue devaluing workers. By means of REDD+, capitalism is extracting the labour of millions of indigenous women. This signifies a commodification of women’s emotions and particular needs. That is why no “safeguard” can liberate women.

This thesis is fundamental to an understanding of why we must oppose the marketing of environmental services. A woman, or a community, given a payment for looking after the forest under REDD+ is indirectly allowing capitalism to reproduce and be strengthened through the exploitation of workers who produce goods, extract oil, work in mines, etcetera. By making these payments, States, banks and companies buy the right to continue to overproduce and overaccumulate by means of the exploitation of workers and nature.

This is a fundamental issue that is not being taken into account in the debate on REDD+, but is key in the agenda of the defence of women’s rights and debates on climate change, forests and environmental services.

Ivonne Yanez, Acción Ecológica, Ecuador

Email: ivonney@accionecologica.org

(1) World Bank. Social and Environmental Safeguards Workshop. July 14, 2012 – in Spanishhttp://www.bancomundial.org/es/news/feature/2012/07/14/taller-de-salvaguardas-sociales-y-ambientales-bolivia
(2) http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2010/cop16/eng/07a01.pdf
(3) On the Road to REDD+. The UN-REDD Programme’s Support to REDD+ Readiness 2008-2013, UN-REDD Programme, Geneva. 2014. http://www.un-redd.org/Portals/15/documents/FINAL%20Road%20to%20REDD%2017-06-14.pdf
See also, REDD: A Gallery of Conflicts, Contradictions and Lies, WRM, 2014,
http://wrm.org.uy/books-and-briefings/redd-a-gallery-of-conflicts-contradictions-and-lies/
(4) Developing Social and Environmental Safeguards for REDD+: A guide for a bottom-up approach. Imaflora, 2010,
http://www.imaflora.org/downloads/biblioteca/guiaREDD_ingles_digital2.pdf
(5) Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Women in REDD+. UN-REDD Programme,http://www.leafasia.org/sites/default/files/public/resources/GenderLit_LessonsLearnBrochure.pdf
(6) http://www.ienearth.org/global-alliance-of-indigenous-peoples-and-local-communities-on-climate-change-against-redd-and-for-life/
(7) The forest grant programme and payment systems for environmental services (in Portuguese), JUS,http://jus.com.br/artigos/32871/o-programa-bolsa-floresta-e-os-sistemas-de-pagamento-por-servicos-ambientais
(8) See WRM Bulletin 208. November 2014. Why are women fighting against extractivism and climate change? http://wrm.org.uy/articles-from-the-wrm-bulletin/section1/why-are-women-fighting-against-extractivism-and-climate-change/
(9) The Italian writer has pointed out that capitalism seeks to control all the sources of the workforce, all the sources that produce workers, and women’s bodies are the primary source of this wealth. See Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, 2004, https://libcom.org/files/Caliban%20and%20the%20Witch.pdf