Forests Not for Absorbing Carbon, Say Activists
COCHABAMBA, Bolivia, Apr 27 (IPS) - The UN-led global initiative to use forest conservation as a way to offset greenhouse gas emissions heated things up at the people's summit against climate change in Bolivia. In the end, the participants reached a consensus - and rejected the plan.
Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) has quickly risen to the top of the discrepancies between the environmentalists and social activists on one hand, and the wealthy countries on the other, with the latter wanting to pay to preserve forests in developing countries as a way to offset their climate-changing carbon emissions at home.
The battle of words was especially loud at the Forest Workshop of the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, held Apr. 19-22 in the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba.
In the end, a sign underscored the resounding "No to the REDD" as a slogan of the indigenous peoples, who fear that they will lose territory or that the land that is their living space will be plundered as a result of the United Nations initiative.
Tom Goldtooth, native Dakota and Navajo, and director of the Indigenous Environmental Network in the United States, with his austere bearing was a strong presence in the protest.
The activist called on Bolivia's President Evo Morales to "categorically reject" and cancel all mechanisms of REDD, which began in Bolivia with the Climate Action Project in the Noel Kempff National Park, located in the eastern department of Santa Cruz.
In 1997, the Bolivian government, the energy companies American Electric Power, BP and PacifiCorp, and environmental groups The Nature Conservancy and the Bolivian Friends of Nature Foundation (FAN) paid 1.6 million dollars to release some 800,000 hectares from timber rights, with the aim of selling the carbon emissions rights associated with forest preservation.
In a Mar. 9 letter from Goldtooth to Morales, himself indigenous Aymara, the activists states that the fact that the only country in the world with an indigenous head of states is hosting the Noel Kempff climate project - considered a star example - is being used by carbon credit traders to justify and promote REDD.
"We haven't had a response yet" to the letter, Goldtooth told Tierramérica during a break in the Cochabamba debates.
He explained that the Network opposes the project because it lacks guarantees for respecting indigenous lands and because the communities can end up renting their lands and renouncing their property.
According to Goldtooth, if indigenous peoples sell carbon credits to the same governments and multinational corporations that are destroying the atmosphere and the ecosystems that we all rely on to survive, they become accomplices in their own destruction.
In the opening speech of the conference, President Morales declared open war on capitalism, which he blames for the destruction of the planet.
However, his government just recently set up an agreement for the UN-REDD Bolivia programme, a plan to "strengthen institutional capacities," to be executed from May of this year to April 2013, with 4.4 million dollars in UN financing and support from the World Bank and German international cooperation.
UN-REDD is defined in the project document as a collaborative UN programme for reducing carbon emissions resulting from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries.
Tierramérica twice attempted to consult Bolivia's deputy environment minister Juan Pablo Ramos about the agreement and about preserving the Noel Kempff National Park, but he declined to respond, citing his obligations in organising the Cochabamba conference.
The agreement indicates cooperation to "increase the capacity of the national governmental organisations" in order to enter the next phase, known as "REDD+", which in addition to forest conservation calls for expansion of its capacity to absorb carbon.
"Who will be the owners of the trees? Who will benefit? The issue becomes a debate on private property," says Goldtooth.
Costa Rican Isaac Rojas, coordinator of Friends of the Earth International's forest and biodiversity programme, told Tierramérica, "there is a capitalist ideology behind REDD... Across Latin America they are introducing projects like this and they become hooks for taking advantage of the poverty of the communities."
"The Noel Kempff project has been criticised because it does not fulfil the emissions mitigation planned. In Colombia, human rights have been violated, and the only consensus of the Forest Workshop has been that the mitigation mechanisms should not be market-based," he added.
Camila Moreno, one of the heads of the Forest Workshop and member of Friends of the Earth-Brazil, described REDD as "a Trojan horse that announces a threat of monopolising land and territory" in the forests inhabited by indigenous peoples.
"It's hard to believe that the mechanisms conceived in multilateral bodies like the World Bank can benefit the peoples," she said.
Moreno believes that the system of credits was created to permit the entry of international agencies and to monitor people's lives, and then to create a financial mechanism for negotiating rights, with speculative ends.
"Life is not for sale," she said. "We have to fight to reject this mechanism and to preserve what is sacred in the forest."
REDD, as an instrument of flexibilisation, "applies the market approach, but does not contribute to reducing the carbon dioxide emissions in the countries that generate them," Rafael Rebolledo, of the engineering institute of Venezuela's Ministry of Science, but speaking for himself, told Tierramérica.
(*This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.) (FIN/2010)