by Claire Vanderslice
President – League of Women Voters of Ozaukee County, Wisconsin
As part of the US League of Women Voters delegation to Copenhagen in December 2009, I investigated REDD; “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation”, a mechanism originally conceived to reward “custodians” to keep the remaining tropical forests intact instead of cutting them down. Carbon dioxide is released when trees are cut and burned and the soil is exposed to oxidation. Living trees, on the other hand, convert CO2 to oxygen and sequestered carbon. So protecting forests reduces atmospheric greenhouse gases.
The UN Permanent Forum of Indigenous Peoples played an important role in both presentations and negotiations in Copenhagen. Indigenous delegations from the Amazon Basin, Peru, America, Africa, Indonesia, Pacific Islands, the Philippines, the Arctic, Papua New Guinea, and other regions discussed the effects that climate change, climate change policies, and treaty language will have and is having on them and their homelands. Hundreds of millions of indigenous people maintain an unbroken connection with the languages and cultures of their distant ancestors. They count all of nature as their kin and live in areas of great biodiversity and natural forests. Their lives will be disproportionately affected by negotiations relating to REDD.
Efforts to write a strong and effective draft text for the REDD proposal were unfortunately stalled in Copenhagen and needed safeguards have not been adopted.
The funding mechanism is a very big issue. Different methods have been proposed:
(1) carbon trading; (2) a dedicated fund; or (3) a mixture.
Some assume that funding will come via “free market” processes such as carbon offsets or some emission unit that can be bought and sold. REDD is a component of carbon markets whereby carbon credits are assigned to a forest to quantify the environmental “service” the forest provides to the climate. A big part of a nation’s carbon reduction targets could, therefore, be sourced internationally. If financed through trading of carbon credits, REDD will create the world’s biggest loophole – effectively allowing major polluters to continue and even expand burning of fossil fuels in exchange for buying forests in other parts of the world in order to obtain “carbon offsets”.
The REDD definition of “sustainable forests” thus far fails to differentiate between extensive monoculture plantations and healthy forest diversity with wildlife habitat, clean watersheds, and indigenous human populations. Corporations and investors would, in effect, be subsidized to acquire native forests for carbon credits, and eventually or quickly replace these forests with “more profitable” commodity plantations that depend on fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, genetically modified trees, and eliminating the biological diversity, wildlife, and indigenous inhabitants. The text does not address enforcement to control massive clear cutting, illegal logging, and large scale agribusiness practices. Ironically, the definition of “degradation” could, however, criminalize indigenous forest dwellers for subsistence farming, medicinal plant collection, and traditional cultural practices.
REDD will be part of negotiations over the next months leading up to COP 16 in Mexico City. Missing safeguards must be put in place or REDD will have perverse consequences:
(1) Destruction of the worlds remaining natural forests could actually be accelerated, rather than arrested;
(2) Indigenous Peoples’ rights referenced in the text could be undermined, and Indigenous peoples, local communities, and women are likely to be excluded from decision making;
(3) Hedge-fund investors and derivatives speculators are eagerly anticipating this prospective trillion dollar market which, in the absence of still needed regulations and enforcement, could become the next (and worst ever) financial bubble to burst upon the world economy and also crash efforts to arrest climate change.
Now doesn’t that help connect the dots just a bit for you?
The author, along with three other women who were official observer-delegates at the recent Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (COP-15) are presenting a forum discussion on Saturday April 24 at the Mequon Nature Preserve under the auspices of the non-partisan League of Women Voters of MIlwaukee and the LWV of Ozaukee County. Go to this web site for details and an invitation to this important event to which all are invited. Please RSVP by April 16 if at all possible. But please come.