Seeing REDD

5 Dec

There’s a new plan afoot to lower greenhouse gas emissions, some 18 to 20 per cent of which are caused by destroying the world’s forests. It is known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD. While it can make some people a great deal of money, I don’t think it is going to do much to save the world’s endangered forests.

This is how it works. Simply put, national governments or companies that plant lots of trees can apply for millions of dollars from the United Nations to set up a REDD project and at the same time earn credits that can be traded on carbon exchange markets. Companies that pollute—and are facing new Kyoto-type regulations which prohibit them from doing so – can buy these credits and use them as proof that they are reducing emissions.

What’s more, corporations can join governments in countries with tropical forest cover to set up projects preventing deforestation and get those same credits. They have to prove – somehow – that the area would not have been protected without the project and also measure how much less CO2 will thus be produced.

So this is where the problems come in – and there are plenty of them. One is the simple fact that companies in industrialized nations can keep on producing emissions instead of finding (often more expensive) ways of cutting them down.

Another is the measuring of how much CO2 has been cut back. In Bolivia for example, the protection of the Noel Kemph Mercado National Forest was estimated to cut back 55 million tonnes of carbon, but subsequent studies showed that only about 5 million tonnes was the more realistic figure. Meanwhile the polluting companies from the United States that went into the deal got the much higher number of credits.

Then there is this, even more pernicious, feature. Companies can destroy virgin forest and plant monocultures instead. Strictly speaking, they are still planted with trees – like palm and eucalyptus – and this qualifies for credit.

Finally, as is to be expected, local communities are not so much partners but powerless recipients of a few dollars a month of compensation at best, and disregarded at worst. It’s no wonder that the Peasants Union of Indonesia has joined with environmental organizations to expose the REDD scam. Their forest peasant members are being expelled from the forests they have lived with and from for generations, or denied access if they live nearby. Neither their tenure rights nor their conservation methods are being respected.

So while big business has the potential to make millions buying and selling carbon credits, the poor are disregarded. Their solutions to deforestation – the sustainable use of forests and protection of a resource that ensures their livelihoods – are not part of the effort to reduce deforestation and degradation. While experts talk about the millions, even billions, of dollars protecting forests will cost the average taxpayer, the simple, sensible and inexpensive way of doing so isn’t even on the cards. Why? Because respecting the rights of forest dwellers and indigenous peoples is still a political fact developing and developed-country governments don’t want to touch.

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