UN Forest “Protection” Plan Could Displace Millions

Published on Tuesday, November 25, 2008 by The Guardian/UK

Forest Protection Plan Could Displace Millions, say Campaigners
Livelihoods of 60m indigenous people at risk from plans to tackle climate change by protecting forests, says Friends of the Earth

by Alok Jha

International proposals to protect forests to tackle climate change could displace millions of indigenous people and fail to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, according to environmentalists.

Friends of the Earth International (FoE) will argue in a report to be published on Thursday, that plans to slow the decline of forests, which would see rich countries pay for the protection of forests in tropical regions, are open to abuse by corrupt politicians or illegal logging companies.

Forests store a significant amount of carbon and cutting them down is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions – currently this accounts for around 20% of the world’s total.

Deforestation also threatens biodiversity and puts the livelihoods of more than 60 million indigenous people who are dependent upon forests at risk.

Working out a way to protect forests will be one of the key issues discussed next week in the United Nations climate change summit in Poznan, Poland, which marks the start of global negotiations to replace for the Kyoto protocol after 2012.

Government representatives at the meeting will consider the adoption of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (Redd) mechanismin which richer countries pay to maintain forests in tropical regions to offset their own emissions.

The idea was based on Nicholas Stern’s 2006 review of the economics of climate change. Stern said that £2.5bn a year could be enough to prevent deforestation across the eight most important countries. But Stern also argued that, for such a scheme to work, institutional and policy reforms would be required in many of the countries that would end up with the protected forests, such as Indonesia, Cameroon or Papua New Guinea.

FoE agrees that forests could be included in climate change targets but argues that, in its current form, Redd is fraught with problems. In its report, the group says that the proposals seem to be aimed at setting up a way to generate profits from forests rather than to stop climate change.

“It re-focuses us on the question, who do forests belong to? In the absence of secure land rights, indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent communities have no guarantees that they’ll benefit from Redd,” said Joseph Zacune, a climate and energy coordinator at Friends of the Earth International. “There’s increased likelihood of state and corporate control of their land especially if the value of forests rises.”

During the climate talks next week, Zacune said FoE will lobby for forests to be kept out of carbon markets and that land rights are enforced as the basis of any future forest policy. “We want some kind of mechanism to stop deforestation,” said Zacune. “If there was to be any agreement, it would have to be developed through a joint process with other relevant forest conventions and human-rights instruments like the UN declaration on the rights on indigenous peoples.”

Redd also has no clear definition for what a forest is-the FoE report highlights that the UN includes single-species plantations, such as those grown for palm oil or other agriculture agriculture, which are often grown in areas that have been cleared of virgin rainforests.

“Even at their very best, they store only 20% of the carbon that intact forests do. In Brazil, they’re now talking about ‘net deforestation’, and this probably means designing Redd and forest policies to match the amount of trees being cut down due to the expansion of plantations,” said Zacune.

FoE’s conclusions echo those of the Rights and Resources Initiative, an international coalition of global NGOs which has argued that the rush to protect forests could have unintended consequences. In two reports published in July, the Rights and Resources Initiative said that the money aimed at protecting trees might end up in the hands of central government officials in areas of the world where they were closely tied to illegal logging and mining activities.

“It is widely acknowledged that poor governance and corruption also need to be addressed if deforestation is to be stopped,” said the FoE report. “The question is whether Redd can address these issues and how it links to existing established processes intended to deal with illegal deforestation (which includes illegal logging and illegal forest conversion to agriculture). Furthermore, would the use of a Redd fund rather than carbon markets improve governments’ ability to reign in such illegal activities?”

Zacune said that the best way to manage forests was to devolve the responsibility to local people-an idea proposed by Tuvalu. “The idea is that they would provide incentives for protecting and retaining their forests. It’s the communities and indigenous people who have managed the forests for generations that should be in control of the forest.”

The FoE report also argues that protecting forests should not become a way for rich countries to pay their way out of reducing their emissions. “If governments are serious about tackling climate change, deforestation must be stopped once and for all,” said Zacune. “To do this we need to tackle the consumption of agrofuels, meat and timber products which is driving deforestation and support good governance of forest resources.”

Tony Juniper, a sustainability adviser to the Prince’s Rainforests Project, a group set up by the Prince of Wales to work out way to fund forest protection, said there was no single solution to the complex challenge posed by tropical deforestation. “There are clearly dangers in raising finance via a tradable commodity from forest carbon, but there are also dangers in closing off options that could make a positive difference assuming adequate safeguards are put in place. It is also important to remember that the market is one approach among several possible funding mechanisms. For example, major finance could be mobilised via the auctioning of pollution credits under the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme, or through taxes on aviation fuel for example.”

© 2008 Guardian News and Media Limited


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