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Open letter by the Swift Foundation rejects REDD and carbon trading as false solutions to climate change

On 11 September 2018, shortly before the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, 17 foundations signed on to a “Joint Statement Supporting Forests, Rights, and Lands for Climate”.

The foundations promised that by the end of 2022, they would provide at least US$459 million in support of land-based solutions to climate change.

The Swift Foundation, one of the foundations that signed on to the statement, issued an open letter yesterday, clarifying its interpretation and commitment to the statement. In the open letter, the Swift Foundation explicitly rejects REDD, and carbon trading schemes of any kind, as false solutions.

A press release from the Swift Foundation is available here, and below is the open letter, dated 11 March 2019, in full:

We want to share the following open letter, formally being released today, written in response to “Foundations Stand Together in Support of Forests, Rights and Lands for Climate”[1] and the almost half a billion dollar commitment signed by 17 philanthropies during the Climate Summit in San Francisco, California, on September 11, 2018:

What we mean when we say “Supporting Forests, Rights, and Lands for Climate”

By Sonja Swift on behalf of the Swift Foundation staff and board of directors.

We signed on. In advance of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco last September, the Swift Foundation was approached and agreed to become a signatory on an almost half-billion dollar pledge by 17 foundations to “step up our support to protect, restore, and expand forests, make land use more sustainable, and secure the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, who are the best stewards of their lands, territories, and forests.”

We were inspired by the acknowledgement of the integral role indigenous communities serve as caretakers of their home territories, especially given how conservation has problematically been viewed as separate from local caretaking. We agree to this commitment with 16 of our peer foundations in principle.

Guiding reflections

Of funding priorities articulated in the commitment, we offer the following reflections to clarify how we interpret and stand by this commitment in practice.

  • Community forest management based on customary traditional knowledge is the most effective way of protecting forests. An important first step is resolving outstanding land tenure issues. This work must be done in strict accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), human rights jurisprudence and Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). Many studies have shown that land managed by Indigenous Peoples with strong land tenure has significantly lower rates of deforestation than land under other governance systems, including protected areas.
  • Supporting Indigenous Peoples’ rights to their territory means investing in processes of governance and collective leadership that engage communities to manage their territories in ways that reflect their priorities and worldview.[2] This work is not a “quick fix” for carbon (dioxide) sequestration, but rather involves years of long-term partnerships that build up relationships and create resilient and inclusive models of community management in which diverse actors play a role.
  • There is a brutal and ineffective legacy of “conservation” kicking people off their homelands in order to “protect” Nature for the sake of recreationists and elites. This is premised on a misguided Euro-colonial idea of Nature as separate from people/culture. Working from a framework of biocultural diversity seeks to mend this imposed split and prioritize support for Indigenous Peoples’ territories, not protected areas.[3]
  • Oil, gas, coal, large scale infrastructure, mega-dams, industrial logging and agribusiness are the main causes of deforestation (not smallholder farmers or peasant agriculture) and must be held accountable. Strategies for holding these energy and agribusiness industries accountable include shareholder activism, divestment, and funding watchdog and advocacy groups.
  • Agribusiness, with its perverse promotion and use of GMO seeds and crops, chemical inputs (war chemicals turned into pesticides)[4], land grabbing and free trade agreements (NAFTA, CAFTA, etc.)[5] is a major contributor to climate change. Agroecology, on the other hand, is a science, practice and movement for social change that is central to food sovereignty and the healthy use, as well as preservation and restoration of remaining intact ecosystems.[6] Therefore agroecology is an effective conservation strategy for communities living in and around forests.
  • Essential to the broader change in economy that we need is making a “Just Transition,” that is, a shift from an extractive economy to a local, regenerative and living economy. We acknowledge that as a foundation this is why we must continue to transition our endowment away from extractive industries so our investments do not perpetuate the very problems we seek to address.
  • There are plenty of alternatives to extraction including community-led renewable energy, energy saving and efficiency. Community-led action is at the heart of any of these strategies, if they are to be just and durable. Clean energy projects that don’t respect indigenous land rights are not solutions.
  • The death toll of indigenous environmental defenders, and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, is directly related to extractive industries as well as industrial agriculture.[7] This is why applying a human rights based lens with regard to climate funding must be a priority because the issues are intrinsically and devastatingly related.

Swift Foundation rejects the privatization and commodification of Nature and REDD+

Given that carbon market schemes have for years been promoted in concert with “protecting forests” and “recognizing indigenous people’s rights” we want to make clear we do not support carbon trading programs within our interpretation of the commitment.

We explicitly and resolutely reject carbon trading schemes of any kind and consider these agendas to be false solutions. This includes REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) and/or by any name including: carbon pricing, cap and trade programs, carbon tax when used to create further infrastructure for carbon trading schemes, forest offsets, and California’s proposed Tropical Forest Standard.[8] We agree with grant partners that it would be far more effective to focus on stopping subsidies that go toward agribusiness and extractive energy industries.[9]

REDD schemes have already caused divisiveness, land grabbing and violence.[10] One of the core issues is that in the majority of researched cases in which REDD has been implemented, the results have been negative for the community due to noncompliance with FPIC.[11] In other words, REDD schemes have denied Indigenous Peoples their territorial and legal rights, leading to food insecurity, illegal land grabs, the increase of monoculture farming, and invasive stakeholders.

Ironically, REDD does not incentivize protection of forests and biodiversity, as forests can qualify as an offset while being clear-cut and replanted as monocultures. This means that REDD does not reduce emissions, but rather enables polluters to continue to increase greenhouse gas emissions, with particularly acute impacts on communities where those polluters are located.

Swift Foundation board and staff simply do not support this kind of greenwash of extractivism and privatization of Nature. Forests are alive, they are more than just “carbon.” To avoid ecological collapse, we must definitively halt further extraction; cut emissions at the source; leave fossil fuels and rare earth minerals in the ground and in the oceans; shut down the Canadian Tar Sands; stop pipelines destined to transport Tar Sands and fracked oil; stop fossil fuel subsidies, including agribusiness subsidies for agrofuels, and cease carbon and biodiversity offset projects that continue to allow polluters to pollute.

Providing extractive industries the option to buy offsets through carbon trading rather than cutting emissions at the source does nothing to address climate change, and only further imperils our children’s future and the future of Life on Earth.


Core to our role as a foundation is discernment, through listening and ideally also through accountability to our partners, such that we do not perpetuate ineffective or harmful initiatives through our funding.[12] We believe we must work with urgency, while also slowing down enough to support those that protect their own cultural and intellectual diversity.

For Swift Foundation, this means supporting grassroots leadership on the frontlines,[13] while also showing more active leadership among our own institutions in disrupting false solutions to climate change.[14] We recognize this as a pivotal moment in history when there is no more time for distractions or compromises, and we invite other foundations to join us in clarifying their own approaches to addressing the critical role of Indigenous Peoples in protecting and sustaining living forests.[15]


[2] The Wet’suwet’en Nation territorial governance of their Yintah, or homeland, is relevant not just because of the current attack by TransCanada (now TC Energy)/Coastal Gas Link but also because Swift Foundation has funded the Office of Wet’suwet’en for years, so we offer this as an example. For further background see: Knight, Natalie, “Wet’suwet’en Strong”: Indigenous Resistance in Canada,, (February 18, 2019).

[3] Two examples of indigenous led homeland protection include the Parque de la Papa in Peru and the Edéhzhíe in the Northwest Territories, Canada.

[4] Martindale, Dayton, “Beating Swords into Plowshares, Poison Gas into Pesticides,” (July 5, 2015).

[5] “Central America Free Trade Agreement,” Public Citizen, (2019).

[6] Also see: Community Agroecology Network – & Groundswell International – & Oakland Institute “Agroecology case studies”-

[7] “At What Cost? Irresponsible business and the murder of land and environmental defenders in 2017” Global Witness Report, &, (July 24, 2018).

[8] For further background on concerns regarding TFS see the following comments to the California Air Resources Board: Indigenous Environmental Network, (October 22, 2018) & Amazon Watch (October 29, 2018). NOTE: letters of support came from entities with entrenched interests, including Shell Oil and PG&E as well as large conservation organizations.

[9] See chapter 4 in Carbon Pricing: A Critical Perspective for Community Resistance: (October 2017).

[10] Also see: “The Darker Side of Green,” Oakland Institute, (November, 2014).

[11] Studies “find that outside entities (e.g. governments, investors or civil society organizations) with an agenda undermine the process to achieve their goals.” See: “Ecuador’s Forest Partners Program: An overview of Socio Bosque Contracts with Indigenous Communities,” Amazon Watch,, December 2011).

[12] See this interview with Edgar Villanueva, author of Decolonizing Wealth: Bornstein, David, “A Call to Modernize American Philanthropy,, (November 27, 2018). (November 8, 2018)

[13] Given the prevalent corruption in many governments, it is more productive and enduring to fund people on the ground than intermediaries.

[14] Nor do we support geoengineering, gene drives or other such technological manipulations of the complex intelligence of Nature. For background see: “Forcing the Farm: How Gene Drive Organisms Could Entrench Industrial Agriculture and Threaten Food Sovereignty,” ETC Group, (October 2018) & “China’s Plan to Seed Himalayan Clouds is Geoengineering – Unintentional or Otherwise,” ETC Group, (November 8, 2018).

[15] In solidarity with the Sarayaku people’s Kawsak Sacha (Living Forest) declaration: “The Sarayaku people present a declaration to preserve the territory and nature,” IUCN,, (August 3, 2018).

Kenya’s REDD programme risks exacerbating violence against indigenous Sengwer communities in Embobut forest

Prologue: Former Kenya Forest Service director Emilio Mugo was recently suspended and replaced over the ongoing destruction of forests all over the country. Environment CS Keriako Tobiko initiated a major shake-up in the corruption-riddled forest service.

Chris Lang in Kenya | 1 June 2018

Since January 2014, Kenya Forest Service guards have carried out a series of violent evictions of the Sengwer indigenous people from their homes in Embobut forest. While the evictions took place the Kenya Forest Service was funded by international donors, including the World Bank, the European Union, and the Finnish government.

These internationally funded aid projects failed to learn the lessons from the previous projects. The evictions and violence against the Sengwer, and other indigenous peoples in Kenya, were simply ignored in project documents.

Now the UNDP and the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) are working on developing a REDD programme in Kenya. A Draft Project Document produced in February 2018 shows no sign that any lessons have been learned.

Families torn apart

Ismail Kirop, a Sengwer man, describes what happened to him on 2 April 2017 when he was filming Kenya Forest Service guards burning houses in Embobut forest:

“I was spotted by KFS guards who started chasing me and shooting at me. I started running down a hill to evade the bullets whereby I tripped, injuring my knee and I fell down. The shooting stopped but a KFS officer got to where I was lying. He hit me very hard with the butt of a rifle, fracturing my upper right arm. The officer grabbed the bag that contained my two cameras, a laptop, iPad and other personal documents and disappeared into the forest.”

The quotation comes from a new report by Amnesty International that documents the ongoing impact of a series of violent evictions that have taken place since January 2014.

The report, titled, “Families torn apart: Forced eviction of indigenous people in Embobut Forest”, can be downloaded on Amnesty International’s website.

Amnesty International’s researchers interviewed more than 100 Sengwer people, some still living in Embobut forest, others who have been forcibly evicted. They also spoke to 50 decision-makers at local and national government level, and civil society activists and academics.

Embobut forest covers an area of about 22,000 hectares. It is the Sengwer Indigenous People’s ancestral home. In 2009, the government decided that in order to address deforestation, everyone living in the forest had to be resettled.

The Sengwer state that they have lived many generations in the forest and have protected it. The deforestation was a result of other communities arriving in the area. But the government did not differentiate between indigenous and newly arrived communities.

No free, prior and informed consent

In 2009, the government set up the Embobut Forest Task Force, consisting of politicians, forestry officials, community and civil society representatives. The decision to evict everyone living in Embobut forest was taken before the Task Force was created. The purpose of the Task Force was to determine how to implement that decision.

In March 2013, Sengwer representatives filed a petition at the High Court of Eldoret to challenge the eviction. The Sengwer state that during a consultation meeting, local government officials had threatened that if the Sengwer did not comply with the decision, they would face “unnamed dire consequences”.

Amnesty International notes that,

This constitutes a violation of the rights of Indigenous Peoples, whose free, prior and informed consent must be obtained if they are to be relocated from their ancestral land.

When the Task Force failed to find suitable parcels of land to move the forest residents to, instead of land, the central government imposed an offer of cash compensation to registered individuals of 400,000 Kenyan Shillings (about US$4,585).

Three Task Force members told Amnesty International that the Task Force opposed this decision. “It was wrong to go from 10 acres to 400,000 Shillings, they are not equivalent,” one member of the Task Force said.

January 2014: Violent evictions

In January and February 2014, Kenya Forest Service guards and police carried out mass forced evictions from Embobut forest. Somewhere between 800 and 1,500 homes were burned down.

Many people who were evicted received no compensation. One Sengwer woman who was evicted from Embobut forest is now living in a one room hut with three children and her mother. Her husband died six months ago. She told Amnesty International,

“This is the sixth place I have lived in since I moved out of the forest. My children face many problems with homework, you can see the capacity of the house is very small. I didn’t get compensation. If I had, I would have bought land… I lacked the money to afford transport to follow up and ensure my name was there [when forest residents were being registered for resettlement or compensation]. I did not complain. If did that, I would have had to spend a small amount of money, I had nothing.”

Evictions have continued. Sengwer representatives have reported more than 1,000 house burnings by the Kenya Forest Service since February 2014. Between December 2017 and April 2018 the Kenya Forest Service burned 341 homes.

On 16 January 2018, Kenya Forest Service guards shot and killed Robert Kirotich Kibor. They also seriously injured David Kosgei Kiptilkesi.

The responsibilities of external donors

Amnesty International’s report includes a section on the responsibilities of external donors, including the World Bank, the European Union, and the Government of Finland:

  • From 2007 to 2013, the World Bank Natural Resource Management Project in Kenya. In 2013, Sengwer representatives submitted a complaint to the World Bank’s Inspection Panel, arguing that evictions had continued under the project. The Inspection Panel found that while the project did not directly support the evictions, the World Bank had failed to uphold the rights of the Sengwer indigenous people.
  • In September 2016, the European Union launched its Water Tower Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation (WaTER) project. Project documents show no signs of any lessons learned from the World Bank’s Natural Resource Management Project. The EU funding for the WaTER project includes €4 million for the Kenya Forest Service.
    On 17 January 2018, one day after Robert Kirotich Kibor was killed, the EU announced the suspension of funding for the WaTER project. The EU is currently redesigning the project with the Kenyan government.
  • From 2009 to 2016 the Government of Finland funded a programme titled the “Support to Forest Sector Reform in Kenya”. The final report of the programme, written by the Kenya Forest Service and Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, makes no mention of the violent evictions of the Sengwer.
    Finland is planning a new €9.5 million project titled, “Private Forestry and Forest Enterprise Support in Kenya”. The project would be carried out by the Kenya Forest Service. In January 2018, Sengwer representatives, and Human rights and environmental organisations, wrote to the Finnish government asking it to suspend funding.
  • As a result of these letters, and public pressure in Finland on the government, Embobut forest has now been removed from the geographic scope of the project, and the project start date has been delayed.

REDD and risks of continued violence

The UN Development Programme is another international donor featured in Amnesty International’s report. Since January 2017, UNDP and the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) have been working on initiating Kenya’s REDD programme.

In February 2018, UNDP produced a 108-page Draft Project Document.

Siddharth Chatterjee, UNDP’s Resident Representative in Kenya, told Amnesty International that the Sengwer and other indigenous communities have been involved in designing the document. And UNDP’s Draft Project Document states that,

Measures have already been taken to ensure that forest communities people have been widely consulted during project preparations. These communities have representatives that are members of the interim task force for the development of the project document. This model was lauded by stakeholders as exemplary as time and resources were spent to engage in a serious and concerted manner before the project begun. Several contentious issues were discussed and it was agreed that the REDD+ readiness project would be an opportunity for dialogue and discussion of the way forward.

But David Kiptum Yator, Chairperson at the Sengwer Indigenous Peoples Coordinating Committee, told Amnesty International that,

“We requested them to organize for consultative meetings at community level in order to have support or rejection, but they insisted there are no funds… it is the Sengwer position that there’ll be no need of REDD+ if KFS are not ready to stop evictions and commit themselves to a constructive dialogue process that will lead to Sengwer securing their rights to live in and own their ancestral lands, working together with KFS and other state agencies and stakeholders to promote conservation.”

The Draft Project Document acknowledges “conflicts” between forest communities and the Kenya Forest Service:

[S]ome forests have been faced with competing conservation needs on one hand and livelihoods and historical land rights claims on the other. This has led to continued conflicts between the Kenya Forest Service and communities living in these forests.

But there is no mention in the Draft Project Document of the violence that the Sengwer have faced at the hands of the Kenya Forest Service guards. The document mentions the Sengwer only once. And that’s in a footnote, confirming that under the 2010 Kenyan Constitution, the Sengwer are recognised as Indigenous People.

An “Offline risk log” dated 22 November 2016 is included in the Draft Project Document. This acknowledges that REDD presents risks for Indigenous Peoples:

Indigenous Peoples are present in the project area; referred to as marginalized and vulnerable populations. There is potential that the project may affect their human rights, traditional ways of living and access to lands and natural resources.

But a “Social and Environmental Risk Screening Check-list”, also included in the Draft Project Document, includes the following question:

Would the proposed Project potentially affect the human rights, lands, natural resources, territories, and traditional livelihoods of indigenous peoples?

To which UNDP answers “No”. A note on the check-list explains that, if the answer to this question is “yes”, “the potential risk impacts are considered potentially severe and/or critical and the Project would be categorized as either Moderate or High Risk”.

The Draft Project Document states that, “No displacement and resettlement will be implemented as part of the project.” But as Amnesty International points out, the draft project document “does not clarify what approach will be taken under the project if the government continues to disregard their land rights”.

See also the Sengwer sections at

Petition: Stop all forms of abuse against women in large monoculture tree plantations

On occasion of September 21st, International day of Struggle against Tree Plantations, women from several countries from West and Central Africa have taken the initiative to release simultaneously the petition we enclose below.

The petition is an urgent request from women in Africa to stop the suffering and the violent impacts the expansion of industrial oil palm plantations is creating on womens´ lives, that affect women in and outside the African continent: Violence, sexual abuses, rape, harassment, persecution, destruction of their means of livelihoods.

Women want their lands back from the companies  that got illegitimately hold of these through concessions given to them by governments. The women want their lands and forests back to continue being able to produce their food, they want food sovereignty!

If you wish to endorse the petition in solidarity with the women in Africa, please fill the following form with your name and/or the name of the organization you belong to and the country. On March 8, 2018, when the International Women’s Day is celebrated, the petition will be handed over or sent , to national governments in Africa and other relevant actors promoting industrial oil palm expansion in African countries.


Petition text: Stop all forms of abuse against women in and around large monoculture tree plantations

We, women from here and elsewhere, have witnessed the horrible poverty of families living next to large monoculture plantations, particularly oil palm plantations, everywhere these plantations have been established. Women, the backbone of the family unit, are the most affected.

— Women are displaced from the lands on which they have always produced food to feed their families and communities, and food becomes scarce and families go hungry;

— Women are harassed, abused, tortured and dragged into the courts just for possessing some palm nuts or palm oil, even if these nuts come from their own oil palms and are staples for their cooking;

— Some women are even raped in and around the plantations, with the rapists remaining unpunished;

— The forests and biodiversity that provide women with much of their economic and cultural resources, and are the cradle of their traditional values, are destroyed to make way for plantations, further aggravating the consequences of climate change;

— Livelihoods are drastically affected and women are forced to work as labourers in plantations where their wages are too low for them to be able to pay school fees, compromising their children’s future. Children end up resorting to theft and are regularly thrown in jail. Without decent jobs, even young children are drawn into taking drugs and end up following their fathers in drinking alcohol.

— Rivers are polluted by chemicals from the large plantations and diseases and other health problems multiply.

— Promises made to communities by the companies are never fulfilled.

We demand respect for the rights of women in and around large monoculture plantations. These women demand that their lands be returned to them in order to continue to enjoy their customary rights to use these lands to produce foods and ensure the food security and food sovereignty of their communities, the well-being of their families, and peace and development in their localities. Women must have control over decisions about the use of their lands.

By way of our signatures, we call for an end to all violence against women and we stand with the families destroyed by famine, conflict, marginalisation, theft, rape, illness, and death due to the monopolisation of their lands by large national and multinational companies. We call on governments to protect the people and for these companies to respect national laws and the lives of local peoples.



IFC Throws Lifeline to REDD+ Project-Shoring up World’s Largest Mining Co.

Kenya: International Finance Corporation throws lifeline to REDD+ project and provides greenwashing for the largest mining company in the world

BHP Billiton is the world’s largest mining and petroleum company running mines in 13 countries. Its main offices are in Melbourne, Australia, and in London, UK, where the company sells shares on the London Stock Exchange.

The London Mining Network, an alliance of human rights, development, environmental and solidarity groups, has compiled information about the many conflicts between the company and communities and workers affected by its mining operations and environmental disasters caused by the company’s mines. (1) These include the catastrophic flood of 40 million tonnes of toxic mud waste released into the Doce river in Minas Gerais, Brazil, in 2015 – the biggest environmental spill in the country’s history. (2) The toxic mud spread all the way to the sea, killing 19 people and requiring the evacuation of 600 more. Almost two years on, the Doce river still runs red from the iron ore in the water. BHP Billiton co-owns the mine with Brazilian mining firm, Vale. The two companies have faced public campaigns over inadequate clean-up efforts and compensation to those affected by the disaster. They also face fines and national and international legal cases over responsibility for the breach of the dam that was supposed to prevent their toxic waste from spilling into the river.

Bail-out for REDD+ project in Kenya provides greenwashing for BHP Billiton

In October 2016 – almost exactly one year after the toxic spill at the BHP Billiton mine in Brazil – the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) (3) raised US 152 million dollars from private investors through the sale of what they named “forests bond”. (4) Investment funds and banks could buy the “forests bond”. Buying the bond means they lend their money to the IFC for five years during which the IFC uses the money to fund infrastructure and other corporate projects. At regular intervals, usually every year, the buyers of the bond receive interest payments from the IFC. After five years, the IFC has to pay back the money to the bond buyers: the investors swap the bond again for the money they originally invested. The IFC calls the bond “forests” bond because buyers can choose to receive their annual interest payment either in cash or as carbon credits from a REDD+ project (5) in Kenya, called the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project that claims to protect forests.

Italian social and environmental justice group Re:Common and the European Counter Balance network visited the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project area in July 2016 and documented evidence of ongoing negative impacts on local peasant communities. (6) The report confirms findings published in an article in 2015 (7) that describes how the REDD+ project strengthens historical injustices over land allocation: those most affected by the restrictions the REDD+ projects puts on land use, mainly ethnic Taita communities, receive very few benefits while (absentee) ranch shareholders receive a guaranteed 1/3 of the revenues from REDD+ credit sales.

For the five years that buyers of the “forests bond” receive interest payments, IFC has committed to buying carbon credits from the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project (Phase I and II). If a buyer prefers to receive the interest payment in cash, BHP Billiton will buy the REDD+ credits from the IFC instead and thus provide the cash for the interest payment to the “forests bond” buyer. That means five years of guaranteed REDD+ credit sales for the California-based company Wildlife Works Carbon, which set up the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project and the financial architecture of it. The company had just months before seen a big REDD+ credit sales agreement with a Luxembourg-based carbon market fund (Althelia Climate Fund) collapse. Finding a replacement soon might well have been a question of survival for the REDD+ project.

For BHP Billiton, the commitment to buying REDD+ credits at a fixed price of US 5 dollars if buyers don’t want them, provides green cover for its dirty mining and an opportunity to deflect global attention away from its responsibility for Brazil’s largest environmental disaster that still has dire consequences for the local population along the Doce river. Also involved in the “forests bond” deal is Conservation International (CI), a US-based conservation NGO. CI advised BHP Billiton on the “forests bond”, sits on the Althelia Climate Fund’s Expert Board, is involved in a REDD+ project near the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project and is among the most vocal REDD+ supporters.

The IFC’s “forests bond” is a dubious new way of propping up private sector REDD+ projects that have been unable to sell their carbon credits. The misleading name “forests” bond also suggests that there is more private sector investment for “forests” than there really is as the capital invested does not go into forest-related activities. The actual money loaned to IFC – the US 152 million dollars it got from buyers of the “forests bond” – is invested in the sort of corporate projects the IFC usually funds. The bondholders only forego a portion of their interest payments they receive from the IFC and accept to take these in the form of REDD+ credits rather than cash – or if the bondholder does not want them, BHP Billiton will take them and make a cash payment to the bond holder. The IFC works with the conservation industry to re-label a corporate investment as a “forests bond”, even though only (part of) the interest IFC pays to the buyer of the “bond” is used to subsidise a forest / REDD+ project.

So, in addition to more investment that may well cause harm to local communities, the IFC throws a lifeline to a REDD+ project run by a private company that is severely restricting land use of ethnic Taita communities in Kenya’s Kasigau Corridor area. Moreover, it presents the world’s largest mining company with responsibility for Brazil’s largest environmental disaster, BHP Billiton, with an opportunity to greenwash its image by offering to buy any Kasigau Corridor REDD+ credits that buyers of the IFC “forests bond” may not want. A triple win for the corporate sector, the conservation industry and the World Bank, with the costs borne by local communities and the climate.

Jutta Kill, jutta [at]
Member of the WRM International Secretariat

(1) London Mining Network
(2) Brazil’s River of Mud. Aljazeera documentary film.
(3) The International Finance Corporation is the part of the World Bank Group that provides financing for the corporate sector.
(4) IFC Press release IFC Issues Innovative $152 Million Bond to Protect Forests and Deepen Carbon-Credit Markets.
(5) REDD+ stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. For more information, see
(6) Counter Balance (2016): The Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project in Kenya: A crash dive for Althelia Climate Fund. And: Re:Common (2016) Mad Carbon Laundering. How the IFC subsidies mining companies and failing REDD projects. Briefing in cooperation with Counter Balance.
(7) S. Chomba et al. (2016): Roots of inequity: How the implementation of REDD+ reinforces past injustices. Land Use Policy. Volume 50: 202–213.


Environmental racism and cap-and-trade in California

In July 2017, California voted to extend its cap-and-trade scheme until 2030. Some environmental groups and the oil and gas industry support the legislation. Environmental justice groups oppose it. This post summarises some of the responses to the continuation of cap-and-trade in California.

Carbon trading is no solution

Dr. Michael Dorsey and Jane Williams write that “Pollution trading will never be the climate solution for California — or anywhere”. They point to the more than a dozen major banks that have closed their carbon trading desks. They write that,

Carbon trading was born with one foot in the grave and another on the banana peel. Gov. Brown’s championing free-market claims of the efficacy of cap-and-trade are a hair removed from the “voodoo economics” of the Reagan-era.

Nowhere on earth — not in the largest market (the EU ETS), nor in the smaller regional markets from the New England Regional Greenhouse Initiative (RGGI) market to the California cap-and-trade market to the newly minted Chinese market — has the carbon price ever been sufficiently high enough to drive the technological innovation to fully stop carbon pollution.

The climate science is clear, Dorsey and Williams write. We have to reduce emissions from all sources as soon as possible, especially fossil fuels. “AB 398 completely ignores the consensus scientific mandate to keep fossil fuels in the ground.” Instead it relies on the fallacy that emissions can be offset.

Against environmental justice

California Environmental Justice Alliance directors, Strela Cervas and Amy Vanderwarker, look in detail at the implications of AB 398 from an environmental justice perspective. CEJA works with low-income communities and communities of colour, who live next to California’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants: refineries and power plants.

CEJA pushed for legislation that would have required California to reduce emissions directly rather than relying on a market-based cap-and-trade mechanism. In addition to being the most direct way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the legislation would have also improved local air quality in communities living on the frontlines of pollution.

Cervas and Vanderwarker write that AB 398 fails to meet any of the desired environmental justice outcomes. They highlight three major problems with AB 398:

  1. Regulatory rollbacks: Local air districts are prevented from enacting CO2 regulations on pollution sources covered by cap-and-trade. And the California Air Resources Board is prevented from enacting new regulations on oil and gas production facilities that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. Making it more difficult to achieve 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction goals: AB 398 aims to make it as cheap as possible for industry to comply, through offsets, price reductions in the cap-and-trade market, and locking in free allowances. AB 398 fails to address the over-allocation of allowances, which keeps prices low, and helps avoid emissions reductions because industry can buy up cheap allowances.
  3. Undermining climate revenues: A higher price of carbon might drive businesses to change. AB 398 “does nothing to help with that”, Cervas and Vanderwarker write. The bill includes tax breaks and a fee repeal that will reduce investments by about US$300-500 million per year.

Cervas and Vanderwarker conclude that,

In the coming years, CEJA, our members and partners will be working to minimize the negative impacts of these provisions. We will continue our fight for equitable climate policy, and hope that legislative offices, agencies and environmental organizations join our effort.

Millions of oily dollars behind cap-and-trade

Anne C. Mulkern writes on E&E News that business spent millions lobbying for the continuation of cap-and-trade in California:

At least seven oil companies and the petroleum trade group Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) together doled out more than $34 million to persuasion efforts from 2015 through the first quarter of this year. The parent companies of the three biggest investor-owned electric utilities spent a combined $9.1 million. Four agriculture groups bankrolled nearly $1.6 million.

Two days after Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 398, the California Air Resources Board approved a resolution 17-21. Writing on the website CALmatters, Julie Cart and Laurel Rosenhall note that a paragraph tucked away in this resolution “will likely result in benefits worth hundreds of millions of dollars for the oil and agriculture industries”. They write that,

The deal would provide maximum compensation to companies for the extra cost of doing business in a state with the nation’s toughest emissions standards. But some critics say it merely gives a lucrative financial leg-up to polluting firms that don’t need it—and by removing some of those firms’ incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, could even undermine cap and trade’s prime goal.

Environmental racism

Michelle Chan, Vice President of Programs at Friends of the Earth US, describes California’s climate bill as “a huge blow to the cause of environmental justice worldwide”.

In Richmond, California, Chevron plans a major refinery expansion to process tar sands crude. For several years, environmental justice activists have been campaigning against the expansion. They fought for the regional air pollution regulator, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), to establish a refinery-based cap on pollution, including greenhouse gases.

In May 2017, BAAQMD approved a motion to finalise a refinery pollution cap – the world’s strongest and most ambitious. Public health experts estimate that the cap could prevent between 800 and 3,000 deaths over 40 years.

Chevron killed the pollution cap through the cap-and-trade bill AB 398, which prevents local air quality agencies from establishing rules limiting greenhouse gases. This was one of the items on the Western States Petroleum Association’s wishlist for California’s climate legislation.

In Richmond, 80% of the people living within 1.6 kilometres of Chevron’s refinery are people of colour. The vast majority of the people that Chevron’s increased pollution will kill, will be people of colour. And that’s exactly what environmental racism looks like.

Source: REDD Monitor:

Full disclosure: This post is part of a series of posts and interviews about California’s cap-and-trade scheme, with funding from Friends of the Earth US. Click here for all of REDD-Monitor’s funding sources.

From REDD+ projects to ‘jurisdictional REDD+’: more bad news for the climate and communities

World Rainforest Movement – Bulletin 231

For many people, REDD+ is about projects that save forests. In reality, however, REDD+ has never been about protecting forests and also no longer really is about projects but about programmes covering whole regions or provinces within a country. Though many REDD+ projects continue to exist, causing harm to indigenous peoples and forest communities by restricting their traditional forest use practises. (1)

The idea of REDD+ has its roots in the UN climate negotiations. It was negotiated as a tool that would allow companies and industrialized countries to continue burning petroleum, coal and natural gas while claiming the emissions this causes do not harm the climate. REDD+, its advocates claim, would provide cheap compensation for the release of these emissions into the atmosphere and provide money to finance forest protection. Companies in industrialized countries could burn fossil carbon at home, that is the carbon stored underground for millions of years, and pay someone in a tropical forest country to keep some trees standing as a replacement carbon store. (2)

The truth is that money alone doesn’t stop deforestation; that REDD+ isn’t tackling the actual causes of large-scale deforestation and that money from the private sector hasn’t been forthcoming at any scale. REDD+ advocates who had advertised REDD+ as a triple-win (cheap compensation for fossil fuel burning, extra money for forest conservation and supporting communities who live in and from the forest and contribution to climate protection that can be realized now while technology for move away from fossil fuel is developed) have also had to grudgingly acknowledge that halting deforestation is neither fast nor easy or cheap. Convincing evidence is missing that REDD+ has made a dent in deforestation despite claims to the contrary.

Another motivation behind REDD+ is the intention of industrialized countries to avoid paying the bill for tropical forest protection although a “development” debt remains. Industrialized countries are increasingly transforming ‘development aid’ grants into loans and private-public-partnership schemes where the main role of public money is to provide a risk buffer for private capital investments in so-called developing countries. (3) Two reports commissioned by the UK government – the Stern report 2006 and the Eliasch review 2008 – helped governments to claim that ‘private sector capital is needed to save tropical forests because public money alone will not be sufficient’ to cover the supposed cost of reducing deforestation. It was these two reports that established the unfounded claim that reducing emissions from deforestation is cheap, fast and easy.

For international conservation organisations and the World Bank, REDD+ also provides a tool to expand their ‘parks without people’ model of forest conservation and ensures corporate and public funding for their conservation projects and organisational budgets. Conservation NGOs and consultants based in industrialized countries have to date probably received the lion’s share of public money spent on REDD+ in the last ten years. Even though these groups claim to do ‘participatory REDD+’ and ‘community REDD+’ projects, REDD+ is not an idea that originated from communities. REDD+ is also not suitable to address the needs and threats that forest-dependent communities face, as experience has clearly shown during the past ten years. (4) Critics of REDD+, including WRM, have discussed these misconceptions and hidden motivations behind REDD+ many times.

Less has been written about the change of REDD+ from projects to programmes that cover whole regions or provinces within a country. These new kinds of REDD+ initiatives are expected to eventually cover whole countries. They are often called ‘jurisdictional REDD+’ because they will be implemented not just on the land assigned to individual REDD+ projects but across a whole jurisdiction, like a department, a province, a state or a whole country. This article looks at what is motivating this change from projects to ‘jurisdictional’ REDD+.

What is ‘jurisdictional REDD+’?

Because REDD+ is linked to the UN climate negotiations, the UN climate talks also determine what REDD+ looks like. REDD+ initiatives that want to sell their carbon credits to the UN carbon market, will need to comply with the UN climate agreement rules. In reality, pilot programmes such as the World Bank Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and private sector REDD+ projects that already sell carbon credits to companies in the so-called voluntary carbon market, also have a big influence on these rules. Lobbyists from the World Bank and conservation NGOs are present at the UN climate meetings and meet with government officials that decide on the UN’s rules for REDD+.

From 2005, the World Bank, international conservation groups and private companies started to implement REDD+ projects that would be compatible with a mechanism more or less like the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism: individual projects or clusters of projects in countries without binding emission targets in the global South would sell carbon credits to companies and industrialized countries that have binding emission limits. But the UN Paris Agreement from 2015 turned out very different from the Kyoto Protocol (see also WRM Bulletin 228, January 2017). Under the Paris Agreement on climate change all countries have voluntary emission targets and will be presenting their national greenhouse gas balance sheet to the UN climate convention. These balance sheets will show how far a country has advanced in achieving the target they have set for their country. None of these Paris Agreement targets are binding. (5)

But carbon markets need binding targets, or some kind of pressure to limit emissions to function. The assumption that REDD+ could attract private sector funding if REDD+ projects are able to sell carbon credits in a global carbon market will not work anymore. Limits create the demand, hence: no (binding) limits, no demand for REDD+ credits from a UN carbon market.

Moreover, most tropical forest countries in the global South have included reductions in emissions from deforestation into their national commitments under the Paris Agreement. Therefore, they will have to calculate how much greenhouse gas emissions is happening in their country and present these figures in a national balance sheet. Most tropical countries decided to include emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in this national accounting sheet. And they will have to submit their national ‘carbon accounts’ regularly to the UN to demonstrate their progress towards the reduction goal they set for themselves (in UN climate language, these goals are called NDCs – nationally determined contributions).

From 2020, when the UN Paris Agreement comes into force, every carbon credit sold by a REDD+ project located in a country that also includes (carbon stored in) forests in its national carbon balance will have to be deducted from the country’s national carbon balance sheet. If the credit sold by the project is not deducted from the national balance sheet, there is what in UN climate language is called ‘double-counting’ because the buyer of the carbon credit will also claim a reduction in his own balance sheet – after all, that is why he bought the REDD+ credit. This means that the emissions look lower on paper than they are in reality. And that in turn increases the risk of dangerous climate change.

Double-counting will be very likely under the Paris Agreement if private sector REDD+ projects continue to sell carbon credits. (6) Even a report by the Gold Standard, a company certifying carbon credits, recently warned about this risk. (7) That continued selling of REDD+ carbon credits by private sector REDD+ projects will create a mess under these circumstances can already be seen in the Brazilian state of Acre. There, the German government is funding a ‘jurisdictional REDD+’ programme called ‘REDD Early Movers’.  (8)

The German government programme has paid a total of 25 million Euro between 2012 and 2016 to the government of Acre in return for the state of Acre submitting documents showing that emissions from deforestation in Acre had stayed below a level agreed in the REDD contract between the two governments. That level was very generous. It did not require additional emission reductions to those already achieved in previous years because the calculation included the high-deforestation years 2003-2005. Law enforcement measures by the Brazilian state had already led to steep reductions in deforestation rates in the following years. One could argue that the German government was paying Acre for emission reductions achieved in the past through non-REDD+ measures, or that Germany was paying Acre to maintain the forest carbon stock, a concept that had been rejected as unaffordable during the early years of UN negotiations about REDD+.

The state of Acre can use the money for any activity it deems necessary to reduce deforestation. A closer look at what the Acre government has decided to spend the money on reveals among others that much money has gone into consultancy reports and studies and very little has reached communities. This is mirroring many of the widely documented problems with REDD+ elsewhere.

What does REDD Early Movers in Acre tell us about ‘jurisdictional REDD’?

Looking at the ‘REDD Early Movers’ programme in Acre also reveals the contradictions that arise when ‘jurisdictional REDD’ programmes try to integrate private sector REDD+ projects that are already selling carbon credits on the voluntary carbon market. In Acre, at least three such projects exist: The Purus, Valparaiso and Envira REDD+ projects. The carbon balance sheet prepared by the government of Acre for the ‘REDD Early Movers’ programme with Germany deducts 10 per cent of the state’s emission reductions from the balance sheet to account for the carbon credits sold by these three REDD+ projects. Purus for example sold carbon credits to the FIFA for compensation of part of the emissions from the 2014 Football World Cup. Adding up the numbers, however, shows that these three projects are claiming far more than the 10 per cent deducted in the state’s carbon balance sheet. That means, it is possible, if not likely, that some of the reductions (if they happened at all) are counted twice: By the private sector REDD+ project selling carbon credits, as in the FIFA case, and by the state of Acre in its carbon balance sheet. From 2020, that risk will arise in many more countries. Particularly likely are such situations in countries like Peru, Kenya or the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (9) with several or large existing private sector REDD+ projects already selling carbon credits and where the companies running these projects are involved in designing ‘jurisdictional REDD+’ programmes.

As the example of Acre shows, for communities, the impacts of ‘jurisdictional REDD’ programmes may well be much the same as those caused by individual REDD+ projects: being first in line to face restrictions on traditional forest use practises and last in line for receiving meaningful compensation or ‘benefits’ that REDD+ is supposed to generate for forest-dependent communities.

Jutta Kill, jutta [at]

Member of the International Secretariat of the WRM

(1) REDD stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. See WRM’s Collection of REDD+ Conflicts, Contradictions and Lies for examples of the many ways in which REDD+ projects are harmful to forest-dependent communities.

(2) See “What do forests have to do with climate change, carbon markets and REDD?,

(3) See also the book Licensed Larceny by Nick Hildyard.

(4) How REDD projects undermine peasant farming. Report by GRAIN and WRM.

(5) It’s maybe also important to note that the total of these reductions that countries have committed to are far too low to avoid global temperature increases of less than 2 degrees Celsius: The USA, EU, China and India alone would take up the entire so-called carbon budget of fossil carbon that can still be released until 2050 to ensure a 50 per cent possibility that temperatures increase by no more than 2 degrees. And a good part of China’s emissions are from producing goods exported to the USA and the EU.

(6) Who takes the credit? Report by Fern and Third World Network.

(7) A New Paradigm for Voluntary Climate Action: Reduce Within, Finance Beyond. Gold Standard report.

(8) Economía Verde, Povos das Florestas e Territórios: violações de direitos no estado do Acre. Plataforma Dhesca Brasil.

(9) Rainforest Foundation UK: Logging in Congo’s rainforests: A ‘carbon bomb’ about to be primed by the Government of Norway?

Governor Jerry Brown is working with the oil industry on California’s climate policy

California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) expires in 2020. California’s governor, Jerry Brown, is holding a series of closed-door negotiations with the fossil fuel industry to re-write California’s climate change policy for the period 2021 to 2030.

Early in June 2017, two Assembly Bills (AB 151 and AB 378) failed to get past California’s Assembly.

AB 378 was authored by Christina Garcia and two other Democrat Assembly members. It was supported by the California Environmental Justice Alliance and other members of California’s Environmental Justice movement.

In an Assembly vote on 1 June 2017, AB 378 was rejected by AB-378 was rejected by 35 votes for to 39 votes against.

AB 151 was also authored by Democrat Assembly members – Autumn Burke and Jim Cooper. It was far more industry-friendly than AB 378, and was supported by the Western States Petroleum Association and other industry groups.

AB 151 has not been put to a vote in California’s Assembly.

A third bill, SB 775, is also supported by Environmental Justice organisations. It was put forward by state Senator Bob Wieckowskiand state Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León. The bill remains in the Senate.

SB 775 proposes a new cap-and-trade scheme that would not allow carbon credits to be carried forward from the existing scheme. It would include no offsets, no free pollution allowances, and a per-capita dividend. Under SB 775 carbon credits would be auctioned off. There would be a floor price of US$20 per ton, and a price ceiling of US$30. The floor would rise by US$5 each year and the ceiling by US$10, plus inflation. Credits cannot be carried over from one quarter to the next, so firms cannot “bank” credits.

By ruling out carbon offsets, SB 775 would also rule out the possibility of the oil industry and other polluters in California using REDD credits to continue polluting.

Carbon traders, the oil industry, and “environmental” groups like EDF, opposed SB 775.

In response to a question about the impact of SB 775 on carbon markets during a press conference, de León replied,

Let me go back to the folks who are actually holding the allowances right now, as we speak. Our goal and our responsibility and our objective is to create jobs and put people to work and expand the middle class. That’s our job. Our job is not for those who are speculating on the market right now, who are trying to profit and buy low and sell high. That’s not our responsibility. Our responsibility is for economic growth, create jobs, expand the middle class, create the necessary technologies that will actually help us meet our 2030 targets, and reduce carbon and other harmful pollutants that our children breathe into their lungs.

At the end of May 2017, Adam Gray and other business-friendly Democrats put forward their proposal for extending cap-and-trade beyond 2020.

Jerry Brown’s oily friends

This, then, is the political environment in which Governor Brown has turned to his friends in the oil industry. In These Times reports that leaked documents show that “California’s fossil fuel industry is trying to write state climate policy to its liking”. The evidence is pretty overwhelming.

And allowing the oil industry to be involved in writing climate policy is like asking the fox how big the holes in the fence around the chicken coup should be.

A previous post on REDD-Monitor looks at Brown’s cosy links with the oil industry – the industry that California’s climate policy is supposed to be regulating.

It’s also worrying that Brown appears not to understand how cap-and-trade works. Brown says that,

“Cleaning up the air where it’s most dirty makes a lot of sense. With cap and trade, we’ll have billions of dollars to achieve just that.”

Rather than the government paying to clean up the air, it’s obviously better to stop corporations from polluting in the first place. By allowing companies to buy carbon credits, cap-and-trade allows pollution to continue.

The irony is that California has reduced its emissions under AB 32. But not as a result of carbon trading. As David Roberts points out in an article about SB 775 on Vox,

Regulations, not carbon pricing, have been the main driver of California’s carbon reductions to date. In fact, they have been so effective, and carbon reductions so much cheaper than expected, that there hasn’t been much work left for the cap-and-trade program to do. Near-term emission goals are being reached without its help.

The logical way forward is to strengthen regulations and limit carbon trading. That’s more or less what SB 775 does. Even better would be abolishing carbon trading altogether, of course.

Brown wanted a decision on extending California’s cap-and-trade scheme by the end of budget negotiations in June 2017. That didn’t happen, but the Los Angeles Times reports that Brown’s advisers hope to get a vote on extending cap-and-trade in early July 2017. California’s lawmakers leave for their summer recess on 21 July 2017.

The Brown Administration’s draft proposals echo the oil industry’s wishlist

The Brown Administration’s latest draft proposals would continue California’s current cap-and-trade scheme. The draft proposals have not been publicly released, but are available here, here, and here. When asked by the Los Angeles Times about the proposals, Brown replied, “Can’t talk about it.”

The Western States Petroleum Association has produced a wish list of what it wants to see in California’s climate legislation:

The Brown Administration’s first draft proposal includes the following:

In adopting a regulation applicable from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2030 pursuant to this subdivision, the state board shall do all of the following:

(1) Establish a price ceiling at $63 per metric tonne in 2021, increasing by 2 percent plus the consumer price index annually thereafter. The price ceiling shall ensure compliance can be achieved at a price no greater than the ceiling, and monies generated through compliance at the price ceiling shall be used by the state board to achieve emissions reductions that are real, permanent, quantifiable, verifiable, enforceable by the state board and in addition to any greenhouse gas emission reduction otherwise required by law or regulation, and any other greenhouse gas emission reduction that otherwise would occur.

(2) Establish two price containment points at levels below the price ceiling. The state board shall offer to covered entities non-tradable allowances from the allowance price containment reserve for sale at these price containment points.

(3) Establish a limit of no greater than 6 percent of a covered entity’s compliance obligation that may be met by surrendering offset credits.

(4) Develop approaches to increase offset projects in California.

(5) Set industry assistance factors for allowance allocation commencing in 2021 set at the levels applicable in the 2015-2017 compliance period. Apply a declining cap adjustment factor to the industry allocation equivalent to the overall statewide emissions declining cap.

(6) In 2025, the state board shall assess changes in trade-exposure and the need to achieve greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and may revise the requirements established in sections (1), (3), and (5) above based on this assessment.

The second draft proposal describes provisions to monitor air quality at selected location in California, including in disadvantaged communities, and at major pollutants such as oil refineries. It also includes a community plan programme aimed at reducing pollution, prioritising disadvantaged communities.

The third draft proposal is probably the most egregious. In its 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan Update, the California Air Resources Board proposes reducing emissions from oil refineries by 20%: “Direct regulations would be promulgated to improve efficiencies across the sector”.

The third draft proposal would replace the regulation of refineries (which would reduce emissions) with carbon trading (which would allow emissions to continue):

The state board shall designate the market-based compliance mechanism … as the rule for petroleum refineries and oil and gas production facilities to achieve their greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

Having weakened how emissions from refineries are regulated, the third draft proposal then prevents local districts from regulating emissions of greenhouse gases from polluting corporations if those corporations are subject to the carbon trading mechanism.

Liza Tucker of Consumer Watchdog told In These Times why the oil and gas industry is so keen on carbon trading,

“They want to eliminate the possibility of direct regulation of their pollution, because that’s going to be more expensive … because of the advantageous way that the cap-and-trade system is currently structured, so they can view carbon trading as a flim-flam where they can keep doing business as usual.”

Brown as stenographer for Chevron

The Brown Administration’s draft proposals clearly echo the Western States Petroleum Association’s requests for loopholes to be built into California’s climate legislation.

RL Miller, Chair of the Environmental Caucus of the California Democratic Party, accuses Brown of “acting as the stenographer for Chevron”.

Miller has set up a petition, with over 10,000 signatures, demanding that Brown stops taking his climate negotiating points from Chevron.

SOURCE & Full disclosure: This post is part of a series of posts and interviews about California’s cap-and-trade scheme, with funding from Friends of the Earth US. Click here for all of REDD-Monitor’s funding sources.

Forest peoples in Brazil send a message to California: reject tropical forest offsets

California Governor Jerry Brown has aggressively positioned himself as a global climate leader to fill the vacuum created by the arrival of an ignorant climate change denier in the White House. But not all that glitters is green. The Governor has spent the last months promoting the expansion of complicated market-based carbon trading mechanisms, known as “Cap-and-Trade,” as a cornerstone of state and global climate policy — in a move that directly threatens vulnerable communities both in California and abroad.

California’s current Cap-and-Trade program is set to expire in 2020. Last summer the state legislature established ambitious and unprecedented emissions reductions goals for 2030, without extending the authorization of Cap-and-Trade. The Governor signed the emission reductions goals into law — but he made it clear that Cap-and-Trade was the primary option he would consider for meeting those goals.

Intertwined with Governor Brown’s persistent campaigning for Cap-and-Trade, the oil and gas lobby in California, along with a multitude of industrial manufacturers, the carbon-trading lobby, and a number of business friendly environmental organizations, have also been pushing hard to make the market-based mechanism the foundation of future California climate policy.

This summer Governor Brown has gone into a full-court press to pressure the California legislature to approve a Cap-and-Trade program that would rely heavily on “offsets” — a type of carbon “credit” that a polluter, such as an oil refinery can purchase to legally “neutralize” its pollution — despite the fact that the pollution still occurs. Regardless of the dubious science and documented injustices of offset schemes, Governor Brown, the oil and gas industry, and their allies among a few of the big green groups have continued to aggressively promote the use of offsets as a primary means to achieving California’s emission reductions goals.

Among the offset schemes that the Governor and fossil fuel companies such as Shell, BP, and Chevron want incorporated into the state’s Cap-and-Trade program are a variety of tropical forest carbon offset which would come from partner jurisdictions around the world, such as Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, or Cross River State, Nigeria. Governor Brown has also continued to operate from a 2010 Memorandum of Understanding signed between California and the states of Chiapas, México and Acre, Brazil back when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor of California. Acre is specifically highlighted in current proposals as the first tropical forest state with which California plans to “link” its carbon market. The linkage would be based on an international carbon trading program known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD. Due to conflicts and human rights concerns regarding indigenous land rights and violations of the right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent, REDD has become one of the most controversial and high-risk climate policy programs out there.

In facing the development of these market-based policies in far-away places like California, forest communities of the Brazilian Amazon recently held a gathering in the rubber tapper stronghold of Xapuri. Xapuri was the home of the internationally known labor and land rights advocate Chico Mendes, who was assassinated in the late 1980’s for opposing road building and other mega-projects in the Amazon. Representatives of indigenous and traditional communities that are currently and potentially affected by REDD projects and associated tropical forest management schemes came together in Xapuri at the end of May to discuss the impacts of climate policy on their access to territory, their forests, and their livelihoods.

Among the organizers of the gathering was Dercy Telles, who worked side by side with Chico Mendes in the years before his assassination. During the gathering Dercy was moved to make a brief video statement for California policy makers and climate activists who may not be aware of the problems with tropical forest carbon offset schemes, and for California activists on the frontlines of day-to-day pollution from California’s fossil fuel industry.

In her statement, Dercy describes how their forest communities must fight against policies like REDD that “aim to exterminate rural populations.” She minces no words in describing that their communities have come to see these climate policies as “nothing but a bunch of false solutions to global warming issues” “based on lies” and “on selling illusions to the less privileged.” The forest people of the Amazon, Dercy says, “want people in California to know that we are fighting the same fight in solidarity” and that “we are going to keep on fighting for as long as we have strength and courage.”

Xapuri Declaration: “We reject any form of climate colonialism”

From 26 to 28 May 2017, a meeting took place in Xapuri, in the state of Acre, Brazil. The meeting brought together Apurinã, Huni Kui, Jaminawa, Manchineri and Shawadawa indigenous peoples, representatives of traditional communities, rubber tappers, academics and supporting organisations. The meeting’s theme was, “The effects of environmental / climatic policies on traditional populations”.

The meeting was supported by Friends of the Earth International, the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and the World Rainforest Movement.

In a short report about the meeting, Daniel Santini of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, writes that the participants reject the term “carbon credits”, because they are actually “pollution credits”. Trading pollution makes the climate problem worse by giving the illusion that something is being done, when in fact it allows pollution to continue.

Santini writes,

Instead of policies based on restrictions on the way of life of traditional peoples, the participants argued that the political-economic model of occupation of the region should be changed, with the suspension of generous public financing for agricultural expansion, industrial logging, and monoculture tree plantations.

Days before the meeting, in Rio Branco, the capital of Acre, corporate and state government representatives met to discuss the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). This is the aviation industry’s disastrous proposal to continue polluting, while using carbon credits to “offset” its emissions.

The World Bank is in talks with the International Civil Aviation Organization about using REDD credits in CORSIA.

Acre is one of the states from which California is looking to buy REDD credits as part of its cap-and-trade scheme. In April 2016, Dave Clegern, a Public Information Officer at the California Air Resources Board, said that,

“The projects that we’re looking at are supported by the locals. They are what is known as sector-based projects, which means that they would be run in conjunction with the government of that country which would provide the opportunity for regular monitoring, verification of the quality of the offsets.”

REDD-Monitor asked Clegern some questions about this statement, including whether a process of free, prior, and informed consent had been carried out about REDD in Acre. And if not, which “locals” was Clegern talking about?

REDD-Monitor is still waiting for Clegern’s reply.

At the end of the meeting in Xapuri, those attending produced the Xapuri Declaration, posted below in full in English and Portuguese:

Xapuri Declaration, May 28, 2017

We, forest dwellers, rubber tappers, Apurinã, Huni Kui, Jaminawa, Manchineri and Shawadawa indigenous people, members of supportive organizations and the Jesuit Travelling Team, teachers from different universities, united in the city of Xapuri in the Brazilian state of Acre from 26 to 28 May 2017, at the meeting “The effects of environmental / climatic policies on traditional populations”, declare:

– That, at this moment of resurgence, we are unifying the struggles of indigenous peoples and rubber tappers in the same cause. Our union is our main weapon against capital.

– That, aware of the history of resistance of the forest peoples and the legacy of Chico Mendes, we will stand firm in the defense of our territories. Like the ones that preceded us, we will continue to oppose attempts to expropriate our ways of life. We demand the demarcation and recognition of our rights to land and territory.

– We reject the ongoing initiatives materialized in policies that aim to convey our territories to private capital groups, including ranchers and loggers. We are concerned about the lack of transparency and the way that different mechanisms have been put forward, including payments for environmental services such as REDD and its variations, unsustainable forest management plans and mechanisms foreseen in the new Brazilian Forest Code, many of which are imposed through intimidation, blackmail, negotiations under false pretences and with bad faith.

– We express our indignation about the false solutions, which legitimize the continuity and expansion of a socially and environmentally destructive model. We reject initiatives to offset pollution. We do not accept mechanisms based on restrictions on our way of life, and we express solidarity with people living in the areas that are contaminated by companies seeking compensation (offsets). We stand by the people from other countries who live in the areas impacted by the pollution generated by destructive companies. No one should live in contaminated areas; it is time to end all kinds of racism, including environmental racism.

– We are being harmed by the arrangements and negotiations between the government of Acre and other states and countries in favor of corporations eager for pollution credits, including oil and mining companies, loggers and agribusiness companies. We are concerned about ongoing talks about aviation emissions compensation through Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation of Tropical Forests, the so-called REDD mechanisms. We refuse to use the term carbon credits, understanding that they are actually pollution credits, which aggravate rather than solve the problem. We reject any form of climate colonialism.

– We express total solidarity with women and men who, forced to fulfill impossible prerogatives, get fined, criminalized, indebted, without conditions to maintain their ways of life, trapped in schemes that refer back to semi-slavery and debt bondage of rubber tappers in colonial times. We also express solidarity with the residents of the rubber tree areas Valparaíso and Russas, who, coerced to submit to a REDD project, are threatened with expropriation of the lands that are rightfully theirs.

– Solidarity to the native community of Nova Oceania, of the Upper Tauhamanu River, in the municipality of Iberia, Peru. Our brothers and sisters Pyru Yini and other communities in isolation face the advance of deforestation, driven by timber concessions, which rely on the direct participation of businesspersons from Acre and others. These groups are involved in REDD projects and, while brokering international agreements with the support of Brazilian authorities, maintain predatory practices. We share the complaint that a village was destroyed, with 18 houses burned, in July 2014, with absolutely no action taken by the authorities, in an episode stained by impunity.

– We call on other rural and urban working people to reject this destructive pattern, marked by inequality and violation of the rights of indigenous peoples and traditional communities. We reiterate our unity in the struggle and willingness to resist to the end. Chico Mendes lives, not in the actions of governmental marketing, but in the struggle of the forest peoples.


Declaração de Xapuri, 28 de maio de 2017

Nós, moradores da floresta, seringueiras e seringueiros, indígenas Apurinã, Huni Kui, Jaminawa, Manchineri, Shawadawa, integrantes de organizações solidárias e Equipe Itinerante, professores e professoras de diferentes universidades, reunidos em Xapuri, no período de 26 a 28 de maio de 2017, no encontro “Os efeitos das políticas ambientais/climáticas para as populações tradicionais”, declaramos:

– Que, neste momento de retomada, estamos unindo as lutas dos povos indígenas e seringueiros em uma mesma causa. Nossa união é nossa principal arma de ação contra o capital.

– Que, cientes da história de resistência dos povos da floresta e do legado de Chico Mendes, nos manteremos firmes na defesa de nossos territórios. Assim como os que nos antecederam, seguiremos nos opondo às tentativas de expropriação de nossos modos de vida. Exigimos a demarcação e reconhecimento de nossos direitos a terra e território.

– Rejeição às iniciativas em curso materializadas em políticas que têm como objetivo entregar nossos territórios a grupos de capital privado, entre os quais fazendeiros e madeireiros. Manifestamos preocupação com a falta de transparência e maneira como diferentes mecanismos têm sido apresentados, incluindo pagamentos por serviços ambientais como REDD e suas variáveis, planos de manejo florestal insustentáveis, e mecanismos previstos no novo Código Florestal, muitos dos quais impostos por meio de intimidação, chantagem, negociações marcadas por estelionatos e má fé.

– Nossa indignação com as falsas soluções, que legitimam a continuidade e expansão de um modelo social e ambientalmente destrutivo. Rejeitamos as iniciativas voltadas para compensar a poluição. Não aceitamos os mecanismos baseados em restrições aos nossos modos de vida, e manifestamos solidariedade em relação às populações que vivem nas áreas contaminadas pelas empresas que buscam compensação. Somos solidários e estamos juntos das pessoas de outros países que vivem nas áreas impactadas pela poluição gerada por empresas destrutivas. Ninguém deve viver em áreas envenenadas, é hora de pôr fim a todo tipo de racismo, incluindo o ambiental.

– Que estamos sendo lesados pelos acordos pactuados e negociatas feitas entre o governo do Acre e outros estados e países em benefício de corporações ávidas por créditos de poluição, entre as quais petroleiras, mineradoras, madeireiras e empresas do agronegócio. Manifestamos preocupação com as conversas em curso sobre compensação de emissões da aviação através da Redução de Emissão por Desmatamento e Degradação de Florestas Tropicais, os chamados mecanismos REDD. Nos recusamos a usar o termo crédito de carbono, entendendo que são na verdade créditos de poluição, que agravam em vez de solucionar o problema. Rejeitamos toda e qualquer forma de colonialismo climático.

– Solidariedade total com as mulheres e homens que, forçados a cumprir prerrogativas impossíveis, acabam multados, criminalizados, endividados, sem condições de manter seus modos de vida, presos em esquemas que remetem às práticas de aviamento e barracão, incluindo escravidão por dívida. Manifestamos solidariedade também com os moradores do seringal Valparaíso e Russas, que, coagidos a se submeterem a um projeto de REDD, sofrem ameaças de expropriação das terras que são deles por direito.

– Solidariedade à comunidade nativa Nova Oceania, do Alto Rio Tauhamanu, no município Ibéria, no Peru. Nossos irmãos e irmãs Pyru Yini e outros grupos em isolamento enfrentam o avanço do desmatamento, impulsionado por concessões madeireiras, que contam com participação direta de empresários acreanos e outros. São grupos envolvidos em projetos de REDD, que, ao mesmo tempo que costuram acordos internacionais com apoio das autoridades brasileiras, mantém práticas predatórias. Compartilhamos a denúncia que uma aldeia foi destruída com 18 casas incendiadas em julho de 2014, sem absolutamente nenhuma providência por parte das autoridades, em um episódio manchado pela impunidade.

– Conclamamos outros povos, trabalhadores e trabalhadoras do campo e da cidade, a recusar esse padrão destrutivo, marcado pela desigualdade e pela violação dos direitos dos povos indígenas e comunidades tradicionais. Reiteramos nossa unidade na luta e disposição de resistir até o fim. Chico Mendes vive, não nas ações de marketing governamental, mas sim na luta dos povos da floresta.

New study adds urgency to end UN carbon offsetting scheme

– European Commission publishes new study on Clean Development Mechanism – Study finds 73% of potential offsets to be issued under the scheme between 2013 and 2020 are worthless –

Brussels 19 April 2017. The European Commission has released a new study showing major flaws in carbon offsets from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). As countries flesh out the rules to implement the Paris Agreement, Carbon Market Watch calls for an end to the scheme, and a shift away from offsetting as a climate policy approach.

The Commission’s study, carried out by the Öko-Institut, finds that 85% of projects covered in the analysis and 73% of the potential supply of CDM credits from 2013 to 2020 are unlikely to deliver “real, measurable and additional” emission reductions. If these carbon credits were to be used, this could lead to an increase in overall greenhouse gas emissions of over 3.5 billion tonnes of CO2 from 2013 to 2020 alone, equivalent to almost 2 years of emissions in the EU Emissions Trading System.

Flaws in offsetting

The study adds to a growing body of evidence that shows manifold problems with using carbon offsets. The findings follow a similar study from 2015 showing that the Joint Implementation offsetting system, led to increased emissions of approximately 600 million tonnes.

“These new findings are not surprising but they are another reminder that carbon offsetting has not worked as a reliable climate tool.” said Aki Kachi, Carbon Market Watch’s International Policy Director. “The CDM and the emissions shifting concept of offsetting are not fit for the climate challenges ahead – the Paris Agreement’s changed policy landscape calls for a new approach to international climate cooperation.”

Demand from aviation

The most probable buyers of these CDM credits could be the aviation industry through its recently established offset market: the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). The scheme intends to accept CDM and other UN credits that meet additional standards which the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) aim to finalise this year.

“It’s baffling to think that the aviation industry could potentially use credits that do nothing to compensate for their rapidly growing climate impact.  To avoid greenwashing, aviation’s new offset market has to exclude credits that have not proven to be effective.” Kelsey Perlman, Aviation Policy Officer at Carbon Market Watch.

Negotiations on the role of carbon market mechanisms under the Paris Agreement reconvene next month at the UNFCCC intersessional in Bonn, Germany.

Aki Kachi – International Policy Director
Tel: +49 157 868 00855

Kelsey Perlman – Aviation Policy Officer
Tel: +32 487 13 02 80

Andrew Coiley – Communications Director
Tel: +32 483 65 50 78

Notes to Editor:

  • Find Carbon Market Watch’s Briefing on the CDM phase out here
  • Find Transport & Environment’s statement on the study’s implications for aviation policy here
  • Local realities of CDM projects – A compilation of case studies here (Nov 2013).


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:

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.”


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”


(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