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REDD Light!

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May 30, 2011

REDD Light!

Indigenous say offset plan threatens traditional title

by Dawn Paley

Hector Rodriguez, posing defiantly in front of riot police, was among the thousands of Indigenous peoples, small farmers, women, environmental groups and other activists who took action and made their voices heard throughout the two-week COP 16 conference. "The market will not protect our rights," reads a statement by the Indigenous Environmental Network, which represents front-line Indigenous communities. "Approaches based on carbon offsetting, like Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation [REDD], will permit polluters to continue poisoning land, water, air, and our bodies [and] will only encourage the buying and selling of our human and environmental rights." Photo: Allan Cedillo Lissner

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, MEXICO—The carbon market was the hottest issue at last year’s Conference of the Parties (COP)-16 summit in Cancun. Inside the meeting, delegates approved the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and Conservation program (REDD+). However, outside the official meeting, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Indigenous-led organizations clashed over its merits.

Opponents of REDD+ (or simply “REDD”), say the mechanism is a false solution to the climate crisis which will intensify a pattern of land grabs by the private sector throughout the Third World. The final Cancun text on REDD does little to address these concerns, as it does not contain wording that would prevent conservation projects from encroaching on the rights and title of Indigenous peoples living in forest-rich lands.

Deforestation is responsible for at least 18 per cent of global carbon emissions—more than aviation and global transport combined—according to a report by carbon management company Carbon Planet. REDD is a mechanism by which forests in developing countries are “sustainably managed” or designated as carbon sinks in order to mitigate climate change. Though REDD primarily emerged from the COP-13 in Bali in 2007, the idea germinated during Kyoto Protocol negotiations in 1997.

In Cancun, a clear anti-REDD message unified many Mexican Indigenous, environmental and peasant groups, but NGOs such as Greenpeace International, the World Wildlife Federation, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Conservation International promoted the REDD agreement.

No REDD projects have yet been implemented in Chiapas, which, as a state with heavy forest cover, is a target region for the program. According to Gustavo Castro Soto, an organizer with Otros Mundos (“Other Worlds,” a social and environmental justice organization) in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, the mechanisms for measuring the effectiveness and impact of REDD programs have yet to be designed.

Already, precursors to the implementation of REDD have people like Castro worried. Barring people’s access to forests on ejidos (communally-held lands) is the first necessary step in putting these forested areas on the carbon market.

“This is how the government will ensure that there is a forest in each ejido, and this will obviously be sold as an Environmental Service [a UN-defined category of the carbon market], for which the government will receive a quantity of money, of which the community will receive a fraction,” said Castro.

“This is what they call sustainable community forest management,” he said dryly.

Decisions about how exactly to finance REDD have been postponed to COP-17 in Durban.

“If REDD is going to be financed through the carbon market, it won’t be a real solution to climate change,” Mariana Porras of Friends of the Earth Costa Rica told The Dominion in a phone interview from San Jose. “We’ve denounced this, but government groups don’t see it the same way,” she said.

Market-based financing for REDD will likely complement the ongoing privatization of forest reserves, which moves ownership and access rights of forests currently owned communally by Indigenous or peasant communities into the hands of individuals.

In Costa Rica, as in Mexico, the government is in the early phases of implementing REDD, which means engaging in public consultations. “If you see who gets invited to the meetings about REDD—to the consultations—it’s rare that you’ll see a peasant community, or peasant organizations,” said Porras. “Mostly, you’ll see people who own private lands, or people from private organizations.”

In Cancun, the Indigenous Environmental Network stood in opposition to the discourse of many other NGOs. In a final statement from Cancun, they berated COP-16 as the “World Trade Organization of the sky,” and harshly criticized the REDD plan. “The agreements implicitly promote carbon markets, offsets, unproven technologies and land grabs—anything but a commitment to real emissions reductions,” reads their final release.

In the streets of Cancun, Greenpeace International brought delegates from around the world to show support for popular movements, but the organization’s language fell short of grassroots solidarity. Days before the final agreement was reached, Executive Director Kumi Naidoo released a statement saying that “a good REDD deal would benefit biodiversity, people and the climate.”

Greenpeace was steadfast in its support for the outcome of the climate negotiations in Mexico, and after COP-16 wound down, Naidoo posed for a photo with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, and praised the president’s leadership in reaching a global climate agreement.

Resistance to the REDD program did not end with COP-16. Activists say that the COP-17 meeting in Durban at the end of the year will be decisive as to the future of REDD, and the carbon market is sure to be a key issue in the months preceding the conference.

Dawn Paley is a journalist based in Vancouver.

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