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By Simone Lovera
An equitable, rights-based and low-cost forest policy has to include recognition of the territorial rights of Indigenous and tribal Peoples and support for small-scale and often women-led conservation and restoration projects that have already managed to save million hectares of forests. Initiatives of this type also improve forest governance, which is perhaps the most important challenge for forest policy in times of agrofuel expansion.
Reducing deforestation in the Climate Convention: is it about financing forests, plantations or forestry companies and consultants?
The melody "The money keeps rolling" from the musical "Evita" rang in my head as I witnessed the weaving and driving in relation to forests, which took place in December during the 13th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), held in Bali. This song talks about how populist governments try to win popular support by giving money to the people, instead of applying responsible policies that alleviate the poverty of the people in a sustainable way. The positions of governments on the proposals for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) show some obvious parallels.
The meeting itself had little success, having agreed to a two-year negotiation process (very carbon intensive, in view of all the meetings and air travel it will involve). However, in a desperate attempt to keep all parties in the same boat, including the United States, they failed to agree on a firm foundation for future climate change mitigation actions. A proposal to accept a minimum goal for reducing emissions from developed countries, between 25 and 40%, as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was watered down during last-minute negotiating sessions, leaving only a microscopic footnote suggesting that governments refer to the IPCC reports.
Decisions on forests also failed to reconfirm current binding commitments to reduce deforestation set out in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Rather, the final decision contains only a simple recommendation to governments to "take note" of these commitments.
The results also do not address a major outstanding issue: the need to improve the definition of "forest". In the absence of a new definition, any wooded area or group of trees, be they native or exotic and invasive, standing, or "temporarily out of stock", continues to count as forest under the Kyoto Protocol.
This poor definition is today more problematic than ever, now that the meeting has agreed to apply simplified procedures that allow "reforestation and afforestation" projects (read tree plantations) of medium size to be financed under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
The ignorance of governments about the importance of the difference between forests and tree plantations was evidenced by the fact that everywhere on the grounds of the Bali Conference, participants were invited to "offset" the emissions derived from their flights. long distance, helping to finance the establishment of teak and mahogany plantations on the island. As if the insecticide-saturated conference grounds weren't artificial enough.
Dance of dollars, cut of rights
On the other hand, what is even worse is that the results in Bali have been emptied of virtually any recognition of human rights or social justice. The rights of Indigenous Peoples, which were enshrined in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recently adopted by the United Nations, continue to be superbly ignored by the UNFCCC process. The social dimension of forest policy was condensed into a single vague reference in the preamble of the decision, which calls for addressing the needs of local communities and indigenous peoples. There is also no recognition of the specific needs and rights of women in relation to forests and climate change in general.
Yet despite the absence of virtually any guarantee for the implementation of sound policies that reduce deforestation and promote forest conservation, money was visibly running like water in Bali.
Donor countries demonstrated their commitment to reducing deforestation by pouring millions of dollars into the Fund to Reduce Emissions Through Protecting Forests (FCPF), recently created by the World Bank. Something really remarkable, if we consider that at the last annual World Bank meeting, the dominant theme was the publication of a report by the Bank's own Inspection Panel, which led to the latest World Bank scandal around forests: a post-conflict loan granted to the forestry sector of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was established that this loan violated practically all internal regulations and Bank guidelines, opening up the Congo Basin to large logging companies that destroyed huge tracts of pristine tropical forests and trampled on the rights and livelihoods of indigenous communities. .
Less than two months later, nearly a dozen governments lined up to contribute amounts of between $ 5 million and $ 40 million each, for another major Bank forestry venture. This shows, perhaps better than anything else, that Northern countries are more interested in creating a carbon offset market in which they can buy low-cost emission reduction credits than in establishing conservation policies and mechanisms. efficient and equitable, rights-based forest management.
Millions of dollars literally danced across the floor of the Hyatt Bali Ballroom on December 11, 2008 during the launch of the FCPF, to applause and self-praise that nearly drowned out the screams of people outside the room, demanding that the World Bank stayed out of its forests and demanding that its land rights be respected.
Northern donor countries win in all cases
The World Bank's FCPF certainly represents a risk-free, win-only option for donor countries. It's a simple way to be generous and appear to contribute to the conservation of tropical forests, without having to worry about responsible financing policies. And, if the fund turns out to be a disaster, the Bank is an easy black sheep to blame.
To include their forests in the international carbon market after 2012, the Fund also encourages potentially reluctant developing countries, giving donor countries access to abundant cheap credits to help them avoid painful emission reductions in their forests. own territories.
As an added bonus, most of the Fund's monies will undoubtedly end up back in those same donor countries, in the pockets of the forestry consultancy sector in those countries. A careful reading of the proposed draft reveals that the majority of the funds will go to the type of activities in which this booming trade specializes: establishing monitoring and accounting methodologies to estimate carbon stocks, and capacity building. in countries so that they can 'sell' existing forest conservation projects as 'new and additional' (and thus eligible for carbon credits).
This new forest carbon industry showed its true face at the first ever Forest Day conference, organized on 8 December by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) together with other members of the Collaborative Association. on Forests (Collaborative Partnership on Forest).
Despite CIFOR's own attempts to add some gender balance and some indigenous approaches to the meeting, the event was dominated by hundreds of forestry advisers, mainly from the North and men, who flocked to promote what was undoubtedly it will become a very profitable business for them. After all, it is the forestry consultancy sector that will be called upon to help developing countries "prepare" for the emissions market.
The World Bank will no doubt call them to ask them to develop monitoring systems and accounting methodologies, and to design and execute the "pilot projects" that the World Bank has been proposing. Additionally, consulting overheads on World Bank projects have always been very high. As an example, the failed Sundarbans Biodiversity Conservation Project in Bangladesh, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) administered by the World Bank, wasted no less than 53% of its budget on foreign consultants and an additional 19% in local consultants and travel-related consultancies.
Human guinea pigs have everything to lose
Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale, the forest peoples who will be the human guinea pigs in this "learning process" have all to lose. In the first place they will lose their forests, due to the appropriation of their lands. This is already happening, now that the big landowners realize that they can apply the formula "pay me or keep cutting down" on every hectare of forest that they manage to take from Indigenous Peoples and landless peasants.
Payment for environmental services projects are already having negative effects on land reform and indigenous land claims, and large-scale indirect effects will not be resolved with vague promises of prior and informed consultations associated with specific projects. Obviously, as Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, Chairperson of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, made clear during the launch of the World Bank Fund, prior and informed consent around initiatives like the FCPF is totally different than prior consultation. and informed information conducted in the field, especially when there is no guarantee that the results of such consultation will be taken seriously. The World Bank's proposed solution - three more months of hasty consultations with indigenous communities - does not inspire much confidence in this regard.
Second, most Indigenous Peoples and local communities will not gain any benefit from these deforestation reduction "pilot projects" as they do not have deforestation rates to reduce, because most have successfully conserved their forests for over a period of time. centuries. However, the Fund and other similar proposals to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), clearly aim to reward destructive logging and soybean and oil palm companies, and countries that practice deforestation . Those same countries and companies that for years received funding from the World Bank and other banks to destroy forests will now be rewarded for their eventual willingness to stop.
Third, these men and women will lose out because they are on the front lines of climate change, with little or no protection from the impacts that lie ahead. The offsetting of carbon emissions through avoided or reduced deforestation will put into question the adoption of the severe climate regime, yes, but equitable and respectful of rights, which is so urgently needed to be able to overcome this social and moral challenge, which it is the largest ever raised to the world community.
Blinded by El Dorado from carbon offsetting
Unsurprisingly, the formal conclusions of the Bali conference on REDD do not address the fundamental question: will decreasing deforestation contribute to mitigating climate change, or will this mechanism undermine the climate regime because of its inclusion? in the international emissions market?
By definition, carbon offsets do not reduce emissions (they simply offset the continuity of emissions elsewhere). Therefore, the fact of including forest-related activities does not mean that the instruments for reducing deforestation necessarily generate a reduction in emissions.
Despite that simple reality, and despite the deafening speeches from Bali about the need for urgent action, a large number of countries and many conservation organizations continue to support financing of REDD activities through slow and ineffective emission markets. The El Dorado of the millions of dollars available for its forest conservation activities is obviously too tempting to ignore. However, the idea that emissions offset projects are incompatible with equity, conservation, human rights and an effective climate regime appears to be gaining ground. And, happily, there are other alternative options too. One of them, clearly, is the announcement by the Norwegian government that it will donate US $ 545 million per year during the period 2008-2012 to help developing countries conserve their forests. This generous contribution does not replace Norway's emission reductions, but rather complements it.
The argument that "there is not enough official aid money" to conserve forests is false. The challenge lies not so much in the amount of money that goes into conserving forests, but in how it is used. If this money were dedicated to generating the political will necessary to conserve forests through awareness raising, education and capacity building of civil society organizations and Indigenous Peoples, effective forest conservation policies would not have why be expensive.
An equitable, rights-based and low-cost forest policy has to include recognition of the territorial rights of Indigenous and tribal Peoples and support for small-scale and often women-led conservation and restoration projects that have already managed to save million hectares of forests. Initiatives of this type also improve forest governance, which is perhaps the most important challenge for forest policy in times of agrofuel expansion. However, because they are relatively inexpensive, these projects are much less attractive to the forest consultants trade.
Hopefully, when following the path started in Bali, governments will be willing to put the interests of forests and the peoples that inhabit them above the interests of forest companies and consultants and their tree plantations.
* Simone lovera works for the Global Forest Coalition, Paraguay. This article was first published in Forest Cover, the newsletter of the World Forest Coalition, which can be downloaded from the website: www.globalforestcoalition.org. For more information on the UNFCCC and forests, visit: http://unfccc.int and in particular http://unfccc.int/files/meetings/cop_13/application/pdf/cp_redd.pdf / Focus On Trade, newsletter published by Focus on the Global South (FOCUS) - http://www.focusweb.org