Category Archives: Chiapas

Reminder: Urgent Support Needed to Bring Medical Supplies to Amador Hernández, Chiapas

Note: Since we first sent out this appeal last week, we have raised $525 toward our goal of $750.  Please help us raise the last $225 to reach the goal needed to send these medical supplies to the remote Indigenous village of Amador Hernandez in Chiapas, Mexico.

Thanks so much for your solidarity.

–The GJEP Team

(Español debajo)

A man in Amador Hernåndez transporting vaccines by horseback. Photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

Since this past March, GJEP has been working with the community of Amador Hernandez in the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas, Mexico to document government efforts to evict them from their land under the pretense of climate mitigation. Part of this effort has been the government’s withdrawal of medical services from the community. Now, the villagers have been offered a large shipment of medical supplies, and have asked for our support to pay for transporting this material to the village by light plane.

We need to raise $750 US dollars by November 23 in order to make this happen. Every penny donated will go straight to the community to bring them this shipment of medical supplies. To learn more, read the message from Amador Hernandez, below. To donate click here and, in the window marked “Designation”, write Medical Supplies for Chiapas to ensure that every penny goes to the community.

“The struggle and the stance of the region of Amador Hernández in defense of land, territory, culture, and natural resources has generated forms of repression and coercion that are well-masked to try to dissuade even those whose commitment to our cause is clear. The region’s defense of the jungle by way of rejecting the brecha lacandona and the REDD+ project, brought, first, the total withdrawal of medical services; after sending an action alert in April, we saw a partial return of medical services. But this situation has since changed to become, once again, a complete absence of medical attention for our people.

Our indigenous peoples possess a profound culture of resistance, and full knowledge of how to walk with dignity in honor of the memory of our peoples; this commitment brings with it suffering, and sacrifice, as well as a high level of organization; it is for this reason that today our communities, and in particular Amador Hernández, are working hard to strengthen not only their struggle, but also the health of their people by building their own medical system, with the will and the effort of their community base, and accompanied in solidarity by organizations, groups and individuals who recognize health services as a form of love and compassion for those who suffer, and not as a form of social control and repression of the poorest and most vulnerable.

There is much to do; but some groups have responded already to our need for support, and have donated supplies that are essential to give proper medical attention in Amador Hernández. At this moment, we need to raise 7500 pesos (about $750 US Dollars) to transport the supplies that have arrived to date.

To help bring medical supplies to Amador Hernandez, please click here and, in the window marked “Designation”, write Medical Supplies for Chiapas to ensure that every penny goes to the community.

Español:

La lucha y el pronunciamiento de la región Amador Hernández en defensa de la tierra, el territorio, la cultura y los recursos naturales, ha generado sin duda modos de represión y coherción enmascaradas para tratar de doblegar las voluntades de quienes caminan con congruencia. Su definición en defensa de la Selva a través del rechazo de la brecha lacandona y el proyecto REDD plus, en un primer momento represento el retiro total de los servicios de salud y en otro segundo momento después de la alerta de acción un pequeño retorno que poco a poco se convierte nuevamente en ausencia total.

Siendo nuestros pueblos indígenas poseedores de una profunda cultura de resistencia, saben que caminar con dignidad para honrar la memoria histórica de sus pueblos, es un compromiso que implica sufrimiento, sacrificio y un alto nivel de organización; es por eso, que hoy en día estas comunidades y en particula Amador Hernández están tratando de fortalecer no solamente su lucha sino la salud de su gente a través de la construcción de sus propios modos, con la voluntad y el esfuerzo de su base comunitaria y en compañia de la solidaridad de personas, grupos y organizaciones que conciben la atención a la salud como una forma de servicio, amor y compasión por quienes sufren  y no como un medio de control social y represión en detrimento de los más pobres.

Todavía hay mucho camino que recorrer, pero hay algunos grupos que han respondido a la necesidad de las comunidades y han donado diferentes materiales y equipos que son muy importantes para la atención de salud en Amador Hernández y es necesario en este momento recaudar 7500 pesos para poder transportar la ayuda que ha ido llegando.

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Chiapas, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Indigenous Peoples, Land Grabs, Latin America-Caribbean

GJEP’s Short Video on REDD in Chiapas Chosen for Native Spirit Film Festival

We’re proud to announce that the short documentary video Global Justice Ecology Project produced this past Spring, Amador Hernandez, Chiapas: Starved of Medical Services for REDD+, (watch film below) is being shown this week in London as part of Native Spirit Film Festival. The festival is a season of films, performances and workshops celebrating the cultures of Indigenous Peoples across the Earth, founded and counselled by Indigenous people, as a platform to promote the voices of Indigenous cultures and the protection of their rights.

According to the festival’s program, which you can download here, the themes for this year are “defending culture in the face of modern development, responding to climate change, reconnecting with the land, the power of storytelling, cultural identity, guidance from the Elders and voices of youth, and finding a sense of belonging within the community.”

While our entry in the festival is a humble ten-minute documentary, the process of producing this short video, we think, was exemplary.

Komen Ilel's Fuyumi Labra (left) and Angél Galán (forefront) with GJEP's Communication Director,Jeff Conant (right) relax in Amador Hernandez before they begin a documentary overflight of the Lacandon jungle. photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC

When Orin Langelle and I traveled to Chiapas this past March to investigate the emerging impacts of REDD+, we met with a small film collective, Komen Ilel. Two members of Komen Ilel, Angél Galán and Fuyumi Labra, excited about our project, volunteered to accompany us on a trek into the jungle. Because of the nature of our visit to the remote community of Amador Hernández, even as we began our two-day trek, there was no certainty that Angél and Fuyumi would be allowed to film. Indeed, due to a long history of outsiders taking disrespectful advantage of the villagers, there was no certainty that our colleagues, or their cameras, would be allowed to even set foot in the village.

After a ten-hour drive from San Cristóbal de las Casas to the military-occupied village of San Quintín, where the road ends at the border of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, our small crew was met by representatives from Amador Hernández. They took us to a nearby village to spend the night before traveling further into the jungle.

There, we spoke, formally at first, and then with more ease. Our goal, we said, was to interview the villagers about any concerns they might have about REDD+ as it was manifesting there in the Lacandon jungle. The young man speaking for the village said that their concern, above all, was to let the world know of a particular injustice they were suffering: a year previous to our visit, the government had cancelled all medical service to the village. Several children and elders had died as a direct consequence.

After some length of discussion, it became clear that the two concerns were one: the negation of medical services appeared to be part of the government’s strategy to pressure Amador Hernández to negotiate for relocation, in large part due to the need to demarcate the borders of the Montes Azules Reserve for a forest-carbon inventory.

With this revelation, we asked the village representative: could we bring our film crew and capture some interviews on film. Our documentary work, we said, might help the village to demand restoration of its right to health, and to its territory. He agreed that this was a good idea, but whether we would be permitted to film was a question for the village assembly.

The next morning we hiked fifteen kilometers, through the Lacandon’s black, boot-sucking mud, and arrived at the village by afternoon. After darkness fell, an assembly was called, and we – Orin, Angel, Fuyumi, and myself – were invited to attend, and to speak. To the forty or fifty Tseltal Mayan campesinos gathered in the dusty half-light of a bare solar-powered bulb we presented ourselves and declared our intentions. Our words, translated into Tseltal, were batted around the assembly, fed into the age-old process of lajan laja, or consensus-building.

Finally, the assembly decided that, yes, we could conduct our interviews, and yes, we could film anything we wanted. The only condition on their part was that, aside from whatever other material we would produce, we make sure that their primary concern – the withdrawal of medical services – be addressed, so the world would know.

It is to Angel and Fuyumi’s credit that the short video they produced for GJEP does precisely what the Amador Hernández community assembly requested – it tells the story of the withdrawal of health services, while making it clear that this concern is directly linked to government efforts to remove the village due to the demands of impending carbon deals.

We are extremely pleased and proud to have had this short video chosen as a selection in this year’s Native Spirit Film Festival.

— Jeff Conant, for GJEP

Amador Hernandez, Chiapas: Starved of Medical Services for REDD+


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Filed under Biodiversity, Carbon Trading, Chiapas, Climate Change, False Solutions to Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples, Land Grabs, Latin America-Caribbean

World Bank Forest Carbon Schemes Charged with Displacing Communities in the Global South, Furthering Pollution in the Global North

For Immediate Release                                  21 September 2011

 (Español debajo)

 Washington, DC – As the World Bank, the largest source of multilateral financing for forestry projects, [1] prepares for its fall meetings here, Global Justice Ecology Project charges that the Bank’s promotion of the controversial forest-carbon scheme called REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) harms both forests and forest dependent communities in developing countries, while encouraging continued pollution in vulnerable communities in developed countries like the U.S.

Following the announcement of a new sub-national REDD agreement between the states of California, USA, Chiapas, Mexico and Acre, Brazil during the UN Climate Conference in Cancun last December, Global Justice Ecology Project launched an investigation into the potential on-the-ground impacts of REDD. In March and April of 2011, GJEP traveled to Chiapas to investigate social and ecological impacts of the REDD project there, which is being designed to create carbon offset credits by quantifying the carbon stored by trees in the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in the Lacandon Jungle.

“During our investigation, we went to the community of Amador Hernandez, deep in the jungle,” stated Orin Langelle, from Global Justice Ecology Project.  “The villagers reported to us that the Mexican government was withholding medical services as a means to pressure them to leave.  If they refused, they feared the Mexican military would force them to leave, as has happened to other Indigenous communities in the Lacandon jungle.” [2]

Environmental justice groups also warn that REDD agreement will have detrimental impacts on people in California. “The carbon offsets from this REDD agreement are going to allow people in places like Richmond and Wilmington, California to continue to be polluted and sickened by polluting industries like the Chevron and Tesoro oil refineries,” said Joaquín Quetzal Sánchez, Oakland, California-based Strategist for CrossRoots: Building a Sustainable Movement.

“This REDD agreement will harm communities on all sides of the border.  The only ones that win are the polluters,” Sanchez said. [3]

In October, GJEP will travel to Acre, Brazil to meet with groups concerned about the REDD project there, and to document the actual and potential impacts of the project. GJEP plans to bring representatives from Chiapas to this meeting to further opportunities for cross-border strategizing regarding the California-Chiapas-Acre REDD deal.

The effort to “protect forests” by removing the people that depend on them contradicts recent studies that demonstrate forests are best protected when the communities depending on them have legal title.  In a six-year study, CIFOR (the Center for International Forestry Research) found that, “Tropical forests designated as strictly protected areas have annual deforestation rates much higher than those managed by local communities”. [4]

The World Bank has been involved in the global forest/climate program known as REDD through its Forest Carbon Partnership Facility[5], announced by World Bank President Robet Zoellick, during the 2007 UN Climate Conference in Bali, Indonesia. The announcement met with strong popular protest, and the World Bank continues to draw sharp criticism for its role in promoting schemes that displace forest dependent communities and promote large-scale industrial tree plantations that could potentially include socially and ecologically dangerous genetically engineered trees. [6] [7]

Today is the International Day of Action Against Monoculture Tree Plantations.  Last year GJEP released this video highlighting their concerns about tree plantations and genetically engineered trees.

Contacts:

Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project; North American Focal Point, Global Forest Coalition +1.802.578.0477 (on site in Washington, DC)

Jeff Conant, Communications Director, Global Justice Ecology Project, +1.575.770.2829

Joaquin Sanchez, CrossRoots, +1 917.575.3154

###

Notes to Editors

[1] World Bank Forests and Forestry Issue Brief: http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/NEWS/0,,contentMDK:20103458~menuPK:34480~pagePK:34370~piPK:34424~theSitePK:4607,00.html

[2] “Turning the Lacandon Jungle Over to the Carbon Market,” Z Magazine, July 2011: http://www.zcommunications.org/turning-the-lacandon-jungle-over-to-the-carbon-market-by-jeff-conant

[3] The California Report: AB32 and Environmentalists: http://www.californiareport.org/archive/R201103220850/a

[4] 2011 Center for International Forestry Resarch (CIFOR) report: Community managed forests and forest protected areas: An assessment of their conservation effectiveness across the tropics

[5] The World Bank maintains three roles in the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.  It is one of the main international climate initiatives set up to fund developing country REDD schemes.

[6] http://noredd.makenoise.org/

[7] http://nogetrees.org/

 

Para publicación inmediata

21 septiembre, 2011

Esquemas de carbono forestal del Banco Mundial acusados de adelantar la contaminación en el Norte Global, desplazando a las comunidades en el Sur Global

Washington, DC – Mientras el Banco Mundial, que es la mayor fuente de financiamiento multilateral para proyectos forestales, [1] se prepara para tener sus reuniones de otoño, el Proyecto por la Justicia Ecológica Global (Global Justice Ecology Project) acusa que la promocion por esta institución de la controversial plan conocido como REDD (Reducción de Emisiones por Deforestación y Degradación) esta perjudicando tanto a los bosques y las comunidades dependientes de los bosques en los países en desarrollo, y fomentando al mismo tiempo la contaminación continua en las comunidades más vulnerables en los países desarrollados como los EE.UU.

Tras el anuncio de un nuevo acuerdo sub-nacional de REDD entre los estados de California, EEUU, Chiapas, México y Acre, Brasil, durante la Conferencia Climática de la ONU en Cancún en diciembre pasado, el Proyecto por la Justicia Ecológica Global (GJEP) inició una investigación sobre los impactos potenciales y actuales de REDD. En marzo y abril del 2011, GJEP viajó a Chiapas para investigar los impactos sociales y ecológicos del proyecto REDD, que está siendo diseñado para crear créditos de compensación de carbono mediante la cuantificación del carbono almacenado por los árboles en la Reserva de la Biosfera Montes Azules en la Selva Lacandona.

“Durante nuestra investigación fuimos a la comunidad de Amador Hernández, en la selva profunda”, dijo Orin Langelle, del Proyecto por la Justicia Ecológica Global. “Los aldeanos nos informaron de que el gobierno mexicano está utilizando la retención de servicios médicos como un medio para presionarlos para que abandonen sus tierras. Tienen miedo de que al negarse abandonar sus tierras los militares mexicanos les obliguen a salir por la fuerza, como ha sucedido con otras comunidades indígenas en la selva Lacandona. “[2]

Grupos de justicia ambiental también advierten que el acuerdo REDD tendrá un impacto negativo en la población de California. “La compensación de carbono a partir de este acuerdo REDD va a seguir permitiendo la contaminación de comunidades como Richmond y Wilmington, California, causadas por refinerías de petróleo como Chevron y Tesoro”, dijo Joaquín Quetzal Sánchez, estratega basado en Oakland, California y parte del grupo CrossRoots: Construyendo un Movimiento Sostenible.

“Este acuerdo de REDD dañará las comunidades en ambos lados de la frontera. Los únicos que ganan son los que contaminan”, dijo Sánchez [3]

En octubre, GJEP viajará a Acre, Brasil, para reunirse con los grupos interesados ​​en el proyecto REDD en ese lugar y para documentar los impactos reales y potenciales del proyecto. GJEP planea traer a representantes de Chiapas a este encuentro para crear nuevas oportunidades y establecer estrategias transfronterizas en relación con el acuerdo sobre REDD en California-Chiapas-Acre.
La idea de “proteger los bosques” mediante la expulsión de las comunidades que dependen de ellos contradice estudios recientes que demuestran que los bosques están mejor protegidos cuando aquellas comunidades que dependen de ellos tienen títulos de propiedad. En un estudio de seis años, el CIFOR (Centro para la Investigación Forestal Internacional) encontró que, “Los bosques tropicales designados como áreas de protección tienen las tasas anuales de deforestación mucho más altas que aquellas administradas por las comunidades locales” [4]

El Banco Mundial ha estado involucrado en el programa global forestal/climático conocido como REDD a través de su “Forest Carbon Partnership Facility” [5], anunciado por el presidente del Banco Mundial Robet Zoellick, durante la Conferencia Climática de la ONU en 2007 en Bali, Indonesia. El anuncio fue recibido con fuertes protestas populares, el Banco Mundial continúa atrayendo duras críticas por su papel en la promoción de esquemas que desplazan a las comunidades dependientes de los bosques y al mismo tiempo promover grandes plantaciones industriales de árboles que podrían afectar socialmente y ecológicamente por este tipo de árboles genéticamente modificados. [6] [7]

Hoy es el Día Internacional de Acción Contra los “Monocultivos” de Árboles. GJEP publicó el año pasado este video destacando su preocupación por las plantaciones de árboles y árboles de ingeniería genética.

Contactos:

Anne Petermann, Directora Ejecutiva, Proyecto por la Justicia Ecológica Global; North American Focal Point, Global Forest Coalition +1.802.578.0477 (localizada en Washington, DC)

Jeff Conant, Director de Comunicación, Proyecto por la Justicia Ecológica Global, +1.575.770.2829

Joaquín Sanchez, CrossRoots, +1.917.575.3154

###

Notas:

[1] World Bank Forests and Forestry Issue Brief: http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/NEWS/0,,contentMDK:20103458~menuPK:34480~pagePK:34370~piPK:34424~theSitePK:4607,00.html

[2] “Turning the Lacandon Jungle Over to the Carbon Market,” Z Magazine, July 2011: http://www.zcommunications.org/turning-the-lacandon-jungle-over-to-the-carbon-market-by-jeff-conant

[3] The California Report: AB32 and Environmentalists: http://www.californiareport.org/archive/R201103220850/a

[4] 2011 Center for International Forestry Resarch (CIFOR) report: Community managed forests and forest protected areas: An assessment of their conservation effectiveness across the tropics

[5] The World Bank maintains three roles in the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.  It is one of the main international climate initiatives set up to fund developing country REDD schemes.

[6] http://noredd.makenoise.org/

[7] http://nogetrees.org/

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Filed under Biodiversity, Carbon Trading, Chiapas, Climate Change, Climate Justice, GE Trees, Indigenous Peoples, REDD

Jeff Conant on KPFA’s Against the Grain Today

Following on the publicationof his article Do Trees Grow on Money in Earth Island Journal this month (with photos by Orin Langelle), GJEP Communications Director Jeff Conant was invited to appear on KPFA’s show Against the Grain today, to speak about REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). Listen to the broadcast, here.

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Filed under Chiapas, False Solutions to Climate Change, Green Economy, REDD

Do Trees Grow on Money?

 A UN-Backed Plan to Address Climate Change by Slowing Deforestation Sounds Like a Good Idea. Unless You Live in the Forest

Note: Global Justice Ecology Project Comunications Director Jeff Conant and Co-Director/ Strategist Orin Langelle traveled to the community of Amador Hernandez in the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas, Mexico in March of this year.  While there, residents were interviewed about their opinions regarding use of forests as carbon offsets, and about the threats of relocation the community was facing due to plans to “protect” the forest and sell its carbon to California companies as offsets.  A statement was recently released by the communities of the region of Amador Hernandez condemning REDD+ (the scheme to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).  You can read that statement here.

Cross-Posted from the Autumn 2011 edition of Earth Island Journal

BY JEFF CONANT (Communications Director for Global Justice Ecology Project)

In Mayan cosmology, the ceiba tree, with its elephantine, silver-grey trunk that towers above the jungle, is the tree of life, shoring up the corners of the sky and sending its roots deep into the underworld. In the centuries following the conquest of the New World, Mayans by the thousands were forced to work in monterias, or timber camps, and the ancestral role of the ceiba as a bridge between the world above and the world below gave way to the board-feet of timber the trees surrendered when felled. The ensuing rush for sugar, for rubber, for minerals, and for cattle left the jungles of Mesoamerica reduced to a fraction of their original area and devastated the peoples who once thrived there.

Today, another vision is shaping the jungles of southern Mexico: The idea that protecting forests is central to the struggle against global warming.

aerial photo of a tree plantation
photo of two women conversing

photos courtesy Orin Langelle  

Under REDD, “forests” may also mean plantations.

Tropical deforestation and forest degradation contribute between 12 and 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, as some 13 million hectares of forest are lost annually. The Lacandon Jungle on the border of Chiapas and Guatemala is a case in point: Only about 10 percent of the jungle remains intact. Saving forested areas like the Lacandon is key to reducing the impacts of runaway climate change.

Past efforts to reduce deforestation, like setting up protected areas or promoting sustainable land-use practices, have had limited success. That’s because the drivers of deforestation – agriculture, mining, fossil fuel extraction, paper demand – offer rich financial rewards. But what if forests were more valuable left standing than cut down?

A new policy mechanism is being developed to do just that. Dubbed REDD, for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, the mechanism (along with a list of spin-offs such as REDD+ and REDD++) is backed by major multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and the World Bank. Support for REDD spans the spectrum of green groups, from market-minded conservation NGOs likeEnvironmental Defense and Conservation International to more capital-skeptic outfits like Greenpeace.

At a high-level event during COP16, the UN climate summit last year in Cancún, Mexico, pilot REDD projects were hailed by heads of state and a gamut of global figures including primatologist Jane Goodall, Walmart CEO Sam Walton, and billionaire philanthropist George Soros. The World Bank’s Robert Zoellick called REDD “the best chance, perhaps the last chance, to save the world’s forests.” Zoellick admitted that the policy still has some kinks, but closed his remarks to great applause with one of the mantras of the summit: “Let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

After the applause died down, Linda Adams, the head of California EPA, took the stage and announced that, as one of his last acts in office, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had signed a carbon trading agreement, predicated on a REDD scheme, with the state of Chiapas. Adams called the plan “a way for California to help the developing world by investing in forests.”

“Saving our forests is good not only for the atmosphere,” she said. “It’s also good for Indigenous Peoples.” Chiapas Governor Juan Sabines, on hand to promote his state’s comprehensive Climate Change Action Program, nodded in vigorous agreement.

But as official delegates applauded REDD in Cancún’s plenary halls, grassroots activists in the streets were staging protests against the policy. Benign as it may appear, what outsiders see as forest protection many locals see as the potential loss of their homes. REDD is fiercely contested by many human rights advocates and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, who see in it the continuation of colonial resource extraction at best, and at worst perhaps the largest land grab in history.

Tom Goldtooth, Director of the North America-based Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), has called REDD “a violation of the sacred, and the commodification of life.” Goldtooth warns that the policy won’t actually reduce emissions, that it is already violating communities’ rights, and that it relies too much on the market. IEN, along with the Global Forest CoalitionWorld Rainforest MovementFriends of the Earth International, and La Via Campesina, the world’s largest federation of peasant farmers, came away from Cancún charging that the UN, in promoting REDD, had become “the World Trade Organization of the Sky.”

“When a natural function like forest respiration becomes a product with a price, it’s easy to see who’s going to end up with control of the forests.”

The REDD scheme unfolding in Chiapas offers a particularly compelling test for this controversial idea. Home to most of Mexico’s tropical trees, a third of its mammal species, and half of its bird and butterfly species, the Lacandon is also, famously, home to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, the insurgent rebel group that rose up in 1994 to demand that Indigenous Peoples be allowed to control their own territories. That struggle, and the Mexican government’s response, has engendered paramilitary massacres, years of counterinsurgency, and tens of thousands of displaced people – and it can be traced, in part, to a decades-old agreement that took as its pretext the protection of the Lacandon. The region’s rich biodiversity, open conflicts over land tenure, and the potential investment from California make Lacandon a fascinating test case – or an instructive cautionary tale – of what REDD may bring.

REDD, in Black and White

REDD works like this: Because trees capture and store CO2, maintaining intact forests is essential to mitigating climate change. REDD proposes that governments, companies, or forest owners in the global South be given financial incentives for keeping their forests standing. REDD was formally taken up by the UN-sponsored climate change talks in Bali in 2007. Since then it has moved rapidly to the forefront of the climate agenda. Norway, its biggest donor, has pledged upwards of $120 million to the UN REDD program, and given $1 billion each to Indonesia and a confederation of Amazonian states to establish the program. In December 2010, REDD was adopted into the UN’s Cancún Agreements, the closest thing to an extension of the Kyoto Protocol.

While paying to preserve forests appears to be a long-overdue gesture of goodwill, it brings up an array of thorny questions. For starters, what is meant by “forests”? Because the UN’s definition is unclear, “forests” under REDD may include monoculture tree plantations or even genetically engineered trees. Since timber, paper, and biofuel plantations are more lucrative than natural forests, REDD could fund the destruction of native forests and their replacement with tree plantations.

Leap of Faith

One reason why REDD appears compelling is that, given the rapacious demand for resources, it is difficult to imagine a counterforce strong enough to halt forest destruction. Another is the deadlock in the UN negotiations. Nations’ resistance to binding emissions reductions makes REDD one of the only games around.

But even such a bastion of market fundamentalism asThe Economist magazine suggests that “REDD may not be possible at all,” due to factors including corruption and the fact that most of those who live in and care for forests do not have legal title to their lands.

Still, if there is an opportunity for business, business will be done. New private carbon-marketing firms are springing up daily to prepare for the windfall from REDD. One such firm is Boston-based Ecologic Development Fund. Ecologic’s director, Sean Paul, has years of experience promoting Payment for Environmental Services projects. Paul appears genuinely devoted to preserving forests; REDD is one way to do this, and Ecologic supports it, including a REDD initiative in the Lacandon. Yet Paul himself is ambivalent: “Part of the challenge of REDD,” Paul says, “is that a lot of people see a gravy train, a gold rush. I see a lot of investors excited at the prospect of carbon trading. But all that excitement is around the trading – it has so little to do with the people, and the forest.”

Pavan Sukhdev, former head of the UN Environment Programme’s Green Economy Initiative, estimates the value of global ecosystem goods at $4.5 trillion per year. “The rewards are very clear,” Sukhdev says.

The problem is how to generate these rewards, literally out of thin air. The offsets-based REDD scheme that is in the pipeline requires a stable and reliable carbon market. And so far there isn’t one.

The US Government Accountability Office reports that carbon offsets are impossible to verify, warning that “it is not possible to ensure that every credit represents a real, measurable, and long-term reduction in emissions.” The US Congress failed to pass a national carbon-trading initiative last July, and the European Carbon Market – the largest in the world – is proving fatally flawed, with uncontrollable price volatility and regulations that seem to incentivize more climate pollution, not less. After European emissions rose to unprecedented levels in 2010, Friends of the Earth-Europe called the system “an abject failure.”

But in business, failure can be generative: Billions have been made through ventures that failed, such as subprime mortgages and derivatives. For the believers, faith in the market remains strong. At a Carbon Expo in Barcelona this summer, representatives of Point Carbon, a global firm that provides technical support for business, wore buttons that read, “I can’t help it – I still believe in markets.”—JC

Beyond the ecological concerns, REDD is proving exceedingly elusive to put into practice. One fundamental question is: Where will the money come from? At present, there is no “compliance market” for REDD – meaning it is not yet part of any mandated legislative effort to reduce emissions. Of numerous government-sponsored REDD projects worldwide, the agreement between California and Chiapas, expected to come on line by 2015, is the most advanced.

The most likely source of funding for REDD is a combination of private investment and multilateral funds, boosted by a huge dose of carbon offsets from industry in wealthy nations. An offset-based REDD will allow those who protect forests to earn carbon credits – financial rewards based on the amount of CO2 a forest can store and a market-derived price per ton of CO2. Governments (or NGOs, or local communities) that protect forests can then trade these credits to industrial polluters for revenue that, in theory, provides incentive not to cut down trees.

But if the money comes from carbon offsets, as the UN and the California protocol propose, this means that even if deforestation is reduced, industrial emissions – the main driver of climate change – will not be.

The offsets component brings REDD strong support from the fossil fuel industry. BP (yes, that BP) recently became the first company to join the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, which will allow the company to offset its emissions. REDD’s market-share potential has also attracted the financial services industry – Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley – the same Wall Street speculators that threw the global banking systems into a tailspin.

The whole idea is based on the notion of “Payment for Environmental Services.” To the market-minded, this is a pioneering method for quantifying the worth of ecosystems, thus incentivizing their preservation. Many in the global South, however, see it as the rationale for a wholesale privatization of territories and natural resources. Gustavo Castro of the Chiapas-based NGO Otros Mundos says, “When a natural function like forest respiration becomes a product with a price, it’s easy to see who’s going to end up with control of the forests.”

That is, the people who have the cash to put up the protection money.

REDD Alert in Chiapas

Amador Hernández is a village of about 1,500 Tzeltal Mayan peasant farmers set deep inside the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in the Lacandon Jungle. Three months after the Cancún talks, as darkness fell over the village assembly hall there, a few dozen villagers gathered in the dusty glare of a single solar-powered lightbulb to talk about the climate policies that were lapping at the edges of their territory like the first ripples of an oncoming flood. One villager, Santiago Martinez, explained REDD to the assembly in broad strokes: “REDD is a program the government is promoting to do what they call ‘capturing carbon,’ and conserving the jungle,” he said. “From what we’ve heard, it’s a global program led by rich people, businessmen, Europeans.”

Martinez was opposed to the program; among the reasons was concern that it would require abandoning their lands and traditional farming methods. The worries were fueled by recent government messages warning that a team would come through the village shortly to measure property lines and evict any ‘irregular settlers.”

The villagers clearly perceived this as the legacy of a land tenure arrangement that has been at the heart of conflicts in the Lacandon for decades. In 1971, the Mexican government ceded over a 1.5 million acres to the Lacandon tribe – one of the six Indigenous groups in Chiapas – which at the time consisted of only 66 families. Seven years later, the government created the 800,000-acre Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, overlapping the Lacandon territory. In order to give the first chunk of territory to the Lacandones, and to protect the second as a reserve, 2,000 Tzeltal and Ch’ol families – 26 villages – were moved. Among the displaced were some families who later came to form Amador Hernández.

The resulting tension between the Lacandones and the rest of the region’s Indigenous groups led to the formation of several peasant farmer organizations demanding redress; some of these groups later coalesced into the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. The militant response made it impossible for the Mexican government to draw solid boundaries around the land in question. Now, with the promise of financing under REDD, the government is making a renewed attempt to get the boundaries drawn, to expel anyone without land title, and to inventory the Montes Azules Reserve to quantify, and then bring to market, the area’s carbon storage potential.

Earlier this year, the Chiapas government began distributing 2,000 pesos a month (roughly $200) to each Lacandon landholder. The payments were authorized, according to a government statement, “to allow the completion of the forest inventory so that [the Lacandon community] can access federal and international funds, as well as complement these funds with projects such as agricultural conversion outside the Reserve with species such as oil palm and rubber.” In the abstract, the money is incentivizing forest protection. But in the words of the villagers of Amador Hernández, the purpose of the payments is “to guard the border against their neighbors – that is, us.”

The most publicized aspects of REDD in Chiapas are the payments to the Lacandones and a program to train them as “environmental police.” As a Lacandon man named Chankayun said, “Yes, there are other poor Indigenous communities living in our territory, and I hope we can come to a peaceful agreement for them to find another place to live.” Governor Sabines speaks openly about the need to resettle jungle communities, and makes regular visits to the Lacandon to distribute funds and good will. “The jungle can’t wait,” he said in June. “Of 179 ‘irregular’ settlements within the jungle’s protected area, most have been removed and only eleven remain. Of these, some are Zapatistas. We hope they leave voluntarily, but if they want to stay, they stay.”

But what Governor Sabines describes as voluntary resettlement takes on a darker shade from the viewpoint of those with no land rights. At the village assembly in Amador Hernández, villagers stood up one by one to denounce what they perceived as a land grab. A year before, the villagers said, all government medical services, including vaccinations, had been cut off; several elderly people and children died due to lack of medical attention. This neglect, they believed, was due to their refusal to capitulate to the demands of REDD. “They’re attacking our health as a way of getting access to our land,” Martinez said.

The case of Amador Hernández appears extreme, but it’s hardly unique. As preparations for REDD are laid around the world, Indigenous communities in other countries – Ecuador, Peru, Congo – are saying, with increasing urgency, that forest protection without land rights represents a direct threat to their ways of life.

The Price of an Arm and a Leg?

A cornerstone of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a provision called Free, Prior, and Informed Consent. FPIC, as it is known, offers a theoretical bulwark against human rights abuses by declaring that Indigenous Peoples must have a say in projects that affect them. It is central to debates over REDD. Some argue that REDD can work as long as it includes FPIC safeguards. But FPIC is nonbinding, and as the case of Amador Hernández shows, it rarely works.

In Chiapas, where the Zapatista movement rose up in arms precisely because Indigenous voices had been disregarded for five centuries, “informed consent” has never been a consideration. Gustavo Castro says: “There’s a lot of talk in the government’s documents, in the REDD scheme, of the need for consultation. But there haven’t been any consultations, and I don’t believe there will be.”

photo of a girl carrying a package in a field
photo of a man and a boy

photos courtesy Orin Langelle   

What outsiders see as forest protection many locals see as loss of their homes.

Discussing the practical aspects of community participation, Castro is dour: “When we talk about consultations, we have to take into account who does it, and what we mean by ‘prior’ and ‘informed.’ What they say to the communities is, ‘We’re protecting the planet, we’re fighting climate change, and we’ll pay you to help.’ So then the consultation consists of one question: ‘Are you with us?’ And the answer you can expect from rural communities is, ‘Of course we are.’”

There’s little doubt that pouring money into rural communities involves serious challenges. As Miguel Angel García, whose NGO Maderas del Pueblo supports ecological projects in the Lacandon, says, “This whole thing is bringing on a terrible cultural transformation. Putting forests, a common good, into the market has the effect of tearing the social fabric and generating economic interests that go directly against the interests and values of the Indigenous peoples. And it’s causing death; not only physical death, but the death of a culture, and of a cosmovision. It’s an ethnocide.”

To be clear: Groups that oppose REDD are not against receiving funds from wealthy nations to maintain forests. The social movements that oppose REDD generally favor the creation of a fund to pay for the resources that industrialized nations have consumed. This is the idea of “climate debt.” Led by Bolivia, a coalition of more than 50 governments has submitted a proposal to the UN demanding that the costs of adapting to the climate crisis be borne by the countries that created the crisis, as a kind of reparations. It’s not that they don’t want payment; it’s that they don’t want payment based on pollution permits and market speculation.

Pablo Solon, until recently Bolivia’s Ambassador to the UN, offers a haunting analogy: “Through REDD they want to put a price on nature. Our point of view is that you can’t do that, and I’ll explain why: In Bolivia, if you lose an arm or a leg, you receive compensation of around $1,000. But can you imagine a situation where you create a market for arms and legs for $1,000 each? Sure, we need the money to pay for the operation. But the intention is not to commodify your arm.”

Solon’s analogy points to the core tension in the REDD scheme: We should protect forests because, like our own limbs, they have intrinsic value.

To think that global policy will ever be guided by the principle of forests’ inherent worth and Indigenous Peoples’ rights is perhaps naïve. But no less naïve, and certainly no less dangerous, is faith that the market, and the industrial society that drives it, can solve the global catastrophe it precipitated.

As global climate negotiations continue to generate friction without momentum, the world’s forests continue to burn in great blazes and to fall before an onslaught of mining, agribusiness, and timber plantations. REDD’s proponents envision a way to buy our way out of the cycle of destruction. And those who have inhabited and protected the world’s forests for millennia – and whose cultures have been devastated by the race to exploit resources – continue to press for a better deal. 7142.jpg

Jeff Conant is author of A Community Guide to Environmental Health and is Communications Director at Global Justice Ecology Project.

For the complete list of articles, photo essays and action alerts from the situation in the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas, click here

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Filed under Biodiversity, Carbon Trading, Chiapas, Climate Change, False Solutions to Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples, Latin America-Caribbean, REDD

Communique from the communities of the Amador Hernandez region, Montes Azules, Lacandon Jungle

A view of the Lacandon jungle from Amador Hernandez. Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC

Note: GJEP received this communique from COMPITCH (Consejo de Médicos y Parteras Indígenas Tradicionales de Chiapas –Council of Traditional Indigenous Doctors and Midwives from Chiapas).  The communique was translated into English by Trisha Novak.  In March of 2011, GJEP’s Jeff Conant and Orin Langelle went to Amador Hernandez in Chiapas, Mexico to investigate the threatened forced relocation of the community and it’s relation to REDD+ and the California-Chiapas, Mexico-Acre, Brazil climate deal.

Español debajo

The indigenous communities of the Amador Hernandez region, Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, in the Lacandon Jungle communicate the following:

To the people of Mexico, to the people of the world, to the organizations and groups that do not serve the power interests but those of their own people, the lower classes.

On 20 and 21 August, the communities of the region had a forum in the Amador Hernandez common area entitled:  Regional Forum Against the Lacandona Brecha (the official border that would delimit the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve) and the Capitalist Looting of the Lacandon Jungle, and we approved the following:

D E C L A R A T I O N

  1. We reject and will not tire of confirming our rejection of the passing through the Lacandona Brecha next to our lands because it has as its purpose to make available the lands in the [Biosphere Reserve] to the service of the capitalist powers.
  1. The REDD+ project in the Montes Azules Reserve is the new mask, a climate mask, with which the federal government of Felipe Calderon and the Chiapas government of Juan Sabines attempt to cover up the dispossession of the biodiversity of the peoples.
  1. Speaking of climate change, it is clear to us that those who are most responsible are the capitalist enterprises and their governments, just like the federal government of Felipe Calderon and the Chiapas government of Juan Sabines, who have made a pact with the wealthy countries to allow that their greenhouse gas emissions be mitigated by the forests of our people.
  1. We reject all the ways in which the federal and the Chiapas governments and directors of organizations in service to the capitalists, want to dispossess us of our lands and our resources, through programs such as:  REDD+ (in the Montes Azules Reserve), Reconversion Productiva (Productive Restructuring), Pago de Servicios Ambientales (Payment for Environmental Services) and FANAR (Fund for Agricultural Entities without Regularization).

We point out the dual purpose of these programs: to dispossess us, but also to change our culture in order to disorganize us and neutralize our resistance.

  1. We denounce the control that the federal government exercises over the   people which, by decree (1972), it called the Lacandon, and which it has been using to legitimize all the plans for taking the lands and displacement of our peoples.
  1. We reject the projects for tourism by the capitalists or of the federal or Chiapas governments, such as the one that has divided the common lands of Emiliano Zapata in Laguna de Miramar.
  1. We reject monocultures, especially for biofuels and the new peonage that the peasant undergoes on his own land, just as the big landowners imposed in times of the Porfirio dictatorship.
  1. We reject the policy of land seizures promoted by the World Bank, conservationist organizations and their neo-liberal governments like that of Chiapas.
  1. Likewise, we reject the other face of “development:”  mining projects approved for regions that are not important for conservation and transnational exploitation of diversity, as happens in the Municipality of Chicomuselo where the people are resisting.
  1.  We demand agrarian regularization of the communities of Galilea, Benito Juarez Miramar and Chumcerro, located within the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve.

W E   P R O P O S E

To reorganize ourselves and expand at every level our relationships with other peoples and with independent organizations that are not at the service of the powerful in order to build a network of resistance among the peoples.

To develop internal plans in our communities to strengthen the production of our own foods.

To strengthen ourselves in the word of God and the community memory of our grandparents.

Agreement made in Ejido Amador Hernandez, Reserva de Biosfera Montes Azules, Selva Lacandona, Chiapas, Mexico, 21 August 2011

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Comunicado de las comunidades de la región Amador Hernández, Montes Azules, Selva Lacandona

Las Comunidades Indígenas de la región Amador Hernández, Reserva de Biosfera Montes Azules, en la Selva Lacandona, comunican lo siguiente:

Al Pueblo de México, a los Pueblos del Mundo, a las Organizaciones y grupos que no sirven a los intereses del poder sino a los de su propia gente, la gente de abajo.

Los días 20 y 21 de agosto, las comunidades de la región celebramos un Foro en el ejido Amador Hernández, denominado: Foro Regional en Contra de la Brecha Lacandona y el Despojo Capitalista de la Selva Lacandona, y aprobamos la siguiente:

 D  E  C  L  A  R  A  C  I  O  N

1. Rechazamos, y no nos cansaremos de ratificarlo, el paso de la brecha Lacandona al lado de nuestras tierras porque tiene como propósito disponer las tierras medidas del lado Lacandón en servicio de las potencias capitalistas.

2. El proyecto REDD+ en la Reserva de Montes Azules es la nueva máscara, máscara climática, con la que el gobierno Federal de Felipe Calderón y el de Chiapas de Juan Sabines pretenden encubrir el despojo de la biodiversidad de los pueblos.

3. Hablando del cambio del clima, para nosotros está claro que los responsables mayores son las empresas capitalistas y sus gobiernos, como el Federal de Felipe Calderón y el de Chiapas de Juan Sabines, que han pactado con los países ricos que sus emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero se mitiguen en los bosques de nuestros pueblos.

4. Rechazamos todas las formas con las que los gobiernos, federal y de Chiapas, y dirigentes de organizaciones, en servicio de los capitalistas, quieren despojarnos de nuestras tierras y de nuestros recursos. Como los programas: REDD+ (en la Reserva de Montes Azules), Reconversión Productiva, Pago de Servicios Ambientales y FANAR. Llamamos a estar pendientes de la doble intención de esos programas: despojarnos pero también cambiar nuestra cultura para desorganizarnos y neutralizar nuestra resistencia.

5. Denunciamos el control que el gobierno federal ejerce sobre el pueblo que por decreto (1972) llamó Lacandón, que ha venido utilizando para legitimar todos los planes de despojo de tierras y desalojos de nuestros pueblos.

6. Rechazamos los proyectos turísticos de los capitalistas o de los gobiernos federal y de Chiapas, como el que ha dividido al ejido Emiliano Zapata en la Laguna de Miramar.

7. Rechazamos los monocultivos, en especial los de agrocombustibles y el nuevo peonaje al que es sometido el campesino en su propia tierra, como los hacendados hacían en tiempos de la dictadura porfirista.

8. Rechazamos la política de acaparamiento de tierras impulsada por el banco mundial, las organizaciones conservacionistas y sus gobiernos neoliberales como el de Chiapas.

9. Rechazamos igualmente la otra cara del despojo: los proyectos de Minería, aprobados para regiones no importantes para la conservación y explotación trasnacional de la biodiversidad, como sucede en el municipio de Chicomuselo donde resisten los pueblos.

10. Exijimos la regularización agraria de las comunidades Galilea, Benito Juárez Miramar y Chumcerro, ubicadas dentro de la Reserva de Biosfera Montes Azules.

P  R  O  P  O  N  E  M  O  S

Reorganizarnos y ampliar a todos los niveles nuestras relaciones con otros pueblos y con organizaciones independientes que no sirvan al poder, para constituir una red de resistencia de los pueblos.

Elaborar planes internos en nuestras comunidades para fortalecer la producción de nuestros propios alimentos.

Fortalecernos en la palabra de Dios y en la memoria comunitaria de nuestros abuelos.

Acordado en el Ejido Amador Hernández, Reserva de Biosfera Montes Azules, Selva Lacandona, Chiapas, México, a 21 de agosto del 2011

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Filed under Biodiversity, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Chiapas, Climate Change, Climate Justice, False Solutions to Climate Change, Food Sovereignty, Greenwashing, Indigenous Peoples, Land Grabs, Latin America-Caribbean, REDD

Environmental, Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights Groups Reject International Offsets in California’s Global Warming Solutions Act

Oakland, CA – The California Air Resources Board meets tomorrow in Sacramento, CA to announce the findings of its evaluation of alternatives to Cap and Trade in AB32, the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act.  Environmental, indigenous peoples’ and human rights groups warn that outsourcing the state’s emissions reductions through carbon offsets will shift the responsibility for the climate crisis from industry to under-resourced communities, both in California and abroad.

“Any Cap and Trade Provision in AB32 will not only leave California communities continuing to bear the brunt of industrial pollution, they are no solution to climate change,” said Jeff Conant from the Oakland, CA office of Global Justice Ecology Project. “If the offsets are enacted in-state it will undermine forest conservation in California.  If California’s offsets are enacted at the international level, they will exacerbate land and resource conflicts in places like Chiapas, Mexico and Acre, Brazil – especially because these offsets are based on the controversial policy of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD).”

The Cap and Trade provision in AB32 has clear links to REDD-type forest carbon offsets, as demonstrated by the Memoranda of Understanding signed by former Governor Schwarzenegger last year with the state governments of Chiapas and Acre.  While the mechanism for such an offsets program is not expected to be enacted until 2015, the effects of the policy are already showing impacts in these states. Commentators see this MoU as the world’s most advanced sub-national carbon offsets agreement, which could serve as a model for similar agreements worldwide.

Traditional healers prepare medicines in Amador Hernandez after the Mexican government cut off all medical services. The local residents believe this was done in an attempt to force them out of the Lacandon Jungle. Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC

In comments submitted to the California Air Resources Board, Francisco Hernández Maldonado, an indigenous Tzeltal from the village of Amador Hernández in the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas, Mexico wrote: “The promotion of REDD+ in Chiapas, which the government is doing without consulting us, is causing conflict between our peoples, because it benefits some and tries to criminalize those who truly dedicate ourselves to coexist with the earth and are not in favor of REDD + as a solution to climate change. By failing to consult us, our human rights are violated as well as international agreements such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

The Air Resources Board says that REDD as part of a Cap and Trade program will be developed under a separate process with public participation and environmental review. But critics of REDD recognize that the mere suggestion that California will engage in international offsets sends “price signals” to developing world governments – signals that have already led to forced evictions in the name of forest protection.

“These REDD forest offset initiatives in Mexico and the global South have no guarantees for safeguarding against land grabs and violating the rights of indigenous communities,” said Tom Goldtooth, Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network.  “Putting trust in carbon market regimes based upon the privatization and commodification of air, trees and biodiversity could be devastating to indigenous peoples and their cultures. Not only abroad, but right here at home. Many of the dirtiest industries in the U.S. and Canada are located on Indigenous and First Nations lands that would benefit from domestic and international offsets, buying carbon credits to greenwash the pollution and toxic hotspots they create in local communities. Our people lose out on all sides of the border. There is no justice in carbon offsets – only more suffering.”

A coalition of California environmental justice groups is expected to turn out in Sacramento to demand that the Air Resources Board give real attention to concerns of ongoing pollution in the state’s heavily impacted industrial zones.

“Cap and Trade is no solution to climate change,” said Nile Malloy of Communities for a Better Environment in Oakland, CA. “It allows industry to continue polluting our communities, while the emissions continue to worsen climate change. It is a lose-lose scenario, benefiting only corporations like Chevron.”

For more information, contact:

Jeff Conant, Global Justice Ecology Project, Oakland, CA, +1.575.770.2829

Orin Langelle, Global Justice Ecology Project, Hinesburg, VT, +1.802.578.6980

Diana Pei Wu, Professor, Antioch University, Los Angeles, CA, +1.323.448.0566

Tom Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network Bemidji, MN, +1.218.760.0442

 Low resolution photographs from the Chiapas jungle: http://www.flickr.com/photos/langelle/sets/72157627501175098/

Higher resolutions of those photographs from the Chiapas jungle are available to media by contacting Orin Langelle +1.802.578.6980 mobile or by email <orinl@globaljusticeecology.org>.

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Background Information:

Key Arguments Against REDD fact sheet

 Why REDD is Wrong

 Turning the Lacandon Jungle Over to the Carbon Market

 Interview with Santiago Martinez of Amador Hernandez, Chiapas

Photo Essay from Amador Hernandez, Chiapas, Mexico: Chiapas, Mexico: From Living in the jungle to ‘existing’ in “little houses made of ticky-tacky…”

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Filed under Carbon Trading, Chiapas, Climate Change, Corporate Globalization, Energy, False Solutions to Climate Change, Greenwashing, Indigenous Peoples, Land Grabs, Latin America-Caribbean, Pollution, REDD

Turning the Lacandon Jungle Over to the Carbon Market

Cross-Posted from Z Magazine

By Jeff Conant

All Photos by Orin Langelle/ GJEP-GFC

In A Land to Plant Dreams, historian Yan de Vos describes the history of the Lacandon jungle of Chiapasas a series of dreams that have obsessed and overtaken those who come upon this remote mountain rainforest in the southeastern corner of Mexico. A jungle so dense and mysterious only a century ago that it was named “the Desert of Solitude,” de Vos declares that “the Lacandon is not a single reality, but a mosaic of multiple Lacandonas conceived and made concrete by many and varied interests.”

The Lacandon’s dreamers include the commercial interests that, for centuries, have extracted mahogany, rubber, minerals, petroleum, and genetic material, leaving about 30 percent of the original forest, of which only 12 percent is said to retain its ecological integrity. Then there are the diverse communities who live there—Mestizo settlers along with Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Tojolabal, Ch’ol, and Mam indigenous farmers, some who originated there and many others who arrived over the course of centuries, escaping forced labor on the fincas or war in neighboring Guatemala, seeking a plot of land to cultivate.

Then there is the group that has been given title to the largest swath of jungle—a small tribe called the Caribes whose ancestors migrated from nearby Campeche two centuries ago and who, through a complex history involving European anthropologists, American missionaries, and Mexican government officials, became known as the Lacandones. In direct conflict with the Lacandones, and with transnational capital, are the jungle’s best-known dreamers, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, who, beginning in the 1990s, occupied vast portions of the jungle and declared it autonomous territory.

Now, after centuries defined by its potential for producing goods, the Lacandon has entered the 21st century where it is being dreamed anew as “the lungs of the earth.” This jungle’s new dreamers include the state of California, market-oriented “environmental” groups like Conservation International, and the United Nations. Their dream is to harness the power of the burgeoning carbon market to preserve the Lacandon—the container for one-fifth of the biodiversity of all of Mexico—by turning it into a virtual carbon sink.

Enter the Governor of California

In 2006, the state of California passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32), which mandates that the state reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. The law was hailed as landmark environmental legislation for its aggressive action to reduce global warming emissions while “generating jobs, and promoting a growing, clean-energy economy and a healthy environment for California at the same time.”

Under the implementation plan for AB32, which was approved by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in December 2010, but held up in court three months later, up to 20 percent of the state’s total mandated emissions reductions would be achieved through carbon trading, rather than through actual cuts in industrial pollution at the source. This means that industries would be permitted to delay efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions—along with the associated toxic co-pollutants—by purchasing carbon allowances from outside California. As one of his last acts in office, just a week before the UN Framework Convention on Climate in Cancún, Mexico last November, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a carbon-trading agreement with the state of Chiapas as part of AB32. The agreement is predicated on an emerging global policy mechanism known as “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation” or REDD.

Mary Nichols, the chairperson of CARB, announced California’s initiative at a high-level event in Cancún where pilot REDD projects were hailed by a gamut of global figures, including primatologist Jane Goodall, World Bank President Robert Zoellick, and Sam Walton, the CEO of Walmart. Nichols called the plan “a way for California to help the developing world by investing in forests. Saving our forests is good not only for the atmosphere,” she said, “It’s also good for indigenous peoples.” But many in Chiapas disagree. Gustavo Castro, Coordinator of Otros Mundos, a small NGO based in Chiapas, sees this as the leading edge of a new onslaught of forest carbon offsets and part of a broader trend of privatization of territories and natural resources. “Enter the governor of California, saying, ‘We’re going to approve a law in which California, the fifth largest economy in the world, is obliged to reduce its CO2, so we need to buy the fresh air from the forests of the South.’ When a natural function like forest respiration becomes a product with a price, it’s easy to see who’s going to end up with control of the forests.”

The law has also stirred up controversy in California where environmental justice advocates charge that such carbon trading schemes—reducing emissions on paper only—leaves lower-income communities of color to continue bearing the brunt of industrial pollution. Alegria de la Cruz, one of the lead attorneys for San Francisco’s Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment (CRPE), whose lawsuit has successfully challenged the cap and trade component of the bill, says that, “The overarching goal of a pollution trading system has serious implications for fence-line communities.” Her co-counsel, Brent Newell, is more explicit: “Poor people are getting screwed on both sides of the transaction,” he said. “Only the polluters are benefiting.”

In late May, a ruling by the San Francisco superior court forced the California Air Resources Board to bring its cap and trade plan back to the drawing board in order to review alternatives. But as the spearhead of efforts to forge a pathway for carbon markets, the dream of converting the Lacandon into international carbon currency will not be disrupted so easily. “Our goal,” says Chiapas Governor Juan Sabines “is that the entirety of the surface of Chiapas will enter into the market for carbon credits and methane credits, beginning through agreements with polluting sub-national states, like California.”

 Selling the Forest for the Trees

REDD projects are being piloted in many countries under the auspices of the United Nations REDD Program, the World Bank Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other global bodies. The California project is one of a small handful of REDD agreements between sub-national entities. The armature of REDD is still very much in development, but in broad strokes it works like this: because trees capture and store CO2, maintaining intact forests is essential to mitigating the impacts of climate change. Under REDD, those who protect forests can earn carbon credits—financial rewards based on an assessment of the amount of CO2 a forest can store and a market-derived price per ton of carbon. They can then trade these credits to industrial polluters in order to generate revenue that, in theory, gives developing world countries and the forest-dwelling communities in those countries an incentive not to cut down trees.

Policymakers at the global level see REDD as offering a viable chance—“perhaps the last chance,” says World Bank President Robert Zoellick—to save the world’s forests, while simultaneously addressing the climate crisis, without jeopardizing economic growth. The major multilateral institutions support REDD and its growing list of spin-offs with dizzying acronyms, such as REDD+ and REDD++, which allow the policy to include aspects such as reforestation with exotic species, and offset credits for biodiversity. But many forest-dependent communities, environmental justice advocates, indigenous peoples’ organizations, and global South social movements oppose it. “It comes to seem very amiable for the governments and corporations of the North to say, ‘We’re going to pay you not to deforest,’ Gustavo Castro argues. “But in reality they’re saying. ‘We’re going to pay you so we can continue polluting’.” Tom Goldtooth, director of the Indigenous Environmental Network has called REDD “a violation of the sacred, and potentially the biggest landgrab of all time.”

 To read the rest of the article, please go to Z Magazine

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Filed under Biodiversity, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Carbon Trading, Chiapas, Climate Justice, False Solutions to Climate Change, Greenwashing, Indigenous Peoples, Latin America-Caribbean, Photo Essays by Orin Langelle, Pollution, REDD