Category Archives: Forests and Climate Change

Groups globally mobilize to stop commercial release of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees in Brazil and US

Campaign to STOP GE Trees expands to four continents

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New York - Two unprecedented applications are pending that, if approved, would allow the commercial sale of millions of genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus trees for development into vast industrial GE tree plantations in the US and Brazil. The Campaign to STOP GE Trees [1] is expanding and mobilizing to stop these and all large-scale releases of GE trees into the environment.

Banner photo (Plantations Are Not Forests) from last Friday's march:  Petermann/GJEP-GFC

Plantations Are Not Forests banner. Photo: Petermann/GJEP-GFC

In the US, ArborGen has a request pending with the Department of Agriculture to commercially sell freeze-tolerant GE eucalyptus trees; in Brazil, Futuragene has requested permission from CTNBio, the Brazilian biosafety regulatory agency, to release GE eucalyptus trees there. CTNBio is planning a public hearing on the Futuragene GE tree application on 4 September. The USDA could release their draft ruling at any time.

“We have tried to ban GE trees globally through various bodies of the United Nations, and now groups are coordinating internationally to stop any and all applications to legalize GE trees,” stated Winfridus Overbeek, Brazil-based Coordinator of the World Rainforest Movement and Steering Committee member for the Campaign. “It’s crucial that these potentially disastrous trees not be commercially released because the health and viability of entire forest ecosystems and the communities who depend on them will be at risk.”

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Forests, Forests and Climate Change, GE Trees, Genetic Engineering, Greenwashing, Indigenous Peoples, Latin America-Caribbean, The Greed Economy and the Future of Forests, Uncategorized

Extreme weather conditions doubled over last ten years

A Russian man tries to stop fire near vi

In 2010, heatwaves caused hundreds of wildfires across Russia. Above, a man tries to stop a fire near Dolginino village. Photograph: Artyom Korotayev/AFP/Getty Images

Do you find yourself thinking: Another drought? Another flood? If you’ve noticed extreme weather conditions seem more common, you aren’t the only one. According to an article in The Guardian, German climate scientists analyzed weather patterns from the past 35 years and have noticed a significant increase in “blocking patterns,” which have doubled the frequency of extreme weather conditions in the last 10-15 years. Damian Carrington of The Guardian writes:

The work shows so-called “blocking patterns”, where hot or wet weather remains stuck over a region for weeks causing heatwaves or floods, have more than doubled in summers over the last decade. The new study may also demonstrate a link between the UK’s recent flood-drenched winter and climate change.

Fires are more likely to spread and spread fast during a a heatwave. In 2010, 50,000 people in Russia died from fires due to heatwaves. The winter of 2013-2014 was the wettest the UK had seen in more than 250 years. Flooding from these rains destroyed property, businesses, land and lives. Both of these extreme weather conditions are the result of the increase in these “blocking patterns.”

The rise in blocking patterns correlates closely with the extra heating being delivered to the Arctic by climate change, according to the research which is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS). Coumou [Dr Dim Coumou, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research] and his colleagues argue there are good physical reasons to think there is a causal link, because the jet streams are driven by the difference in temperature between the poles and the equator. As the Arctic is warming more quickly than lower latitudes, that temperature difference is declining, providing less energy for the jet stream and its meanders, which are called Rossby waves.

The link between climate change and increasing extreme weather conditions is, arguably, firmly established. The timeframe, however, is a different story. For extreme weather conditions to double in the last 10-15 years shows that climate change is moving faster, resulting in more frequent catastrophic weather patterns that damage both natural and urban environments. The rate will only increase and the disasters along with it. What will “blocking patterns” have to wipe out before governments and corporations will actually start to listen?

Want to learn more? Read the full article.

 

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Obama/Bloomburg Africa Business Summit Promotes False Solutions

Source- Photo by James Oatway/Panos/ActionAid "Julio Ngoene, a farmer in Mozambique

Source- Photo by James Oatway/Panos/ActionAid “Julio Ngoene, a farmer in Mozambique”

U.S. President Barack Obama hosted the US/Africa (Business) Summit earlier this week which included “Signature Events” such as “Civil Society Forum,” and Resilience and Food Security in a Changing Climate.

The Summit was co-hosted by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Touted as the first-ever U.S.-Africa Business Summit, focus areas included Finance and Capital, Infrastructure, Power and Energy, Agriculture, Consumer Goods, and Information Communication Technology.

Visit the Bloomberg webpage on the event here.

In an op-ed in Forbes Magazine on August 5 by Michael Bloomberg and Penny Pritzker, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, two of the keynote speakers at the Forum declared that “Africa is open for business.” The article said that the forum will catalyze $14 billion in business deals.

According to the article:

For decades, the U.S.-Africa economic relationship has too often taken a back seat to other pressing issues and priorities. Yet right now, our commercial partnership—between governments, among businesses, in markets on both sides of the Atlantic—is as important as ever. Strengthening and deepening that pillar of our alliance will prove a net gain for workers, entrepreneurs, and communities in the United States and across Africa. The continent’s economic potential is enormous. Africa is home to six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies. Its GDP is expected to rise six percent annually over the next decade. Real income has increased more than 30% over the last 10 years, and many African governments are making investments in infrastructure, education, and health care that are improving millions of lives. Yet investment by U.S. companies in Africa remains too low.

In a Bloomberg News article with the headline “GE Doubling Jobs in Africa as Ford Plans Eventual Surge,”  Jim Benintende, Ford’s head of operations in the Middle East and Africa who was interviewed during the forum, said:

Everything is pointing toward a surge in the African economy. We’re really focused on this region like never before.

It was also announced at the forum that there will be a doubling of private investment for the New Alliance for Good Security and Nutrition.

Responding to the forum’s announcement to double private sector funding for food security, ActionAid International Africa issued the following comments:

Response to Private-Sector Funding Announcement for African Agriculture

President Obama has missed the mark when it comes to agriculture in Africa. The ‘New Alliance’ is fundamentally flawed. Handing over the future of farming in Africa to big agribusinesses will only hurt people living with poverty and hunger. Poor farmers need investment from US and African governments to help their farms flourish. Companies should be part of Africa’s agricultural future but profit must not be prioritised over people’s rights.”

Western companies are already taking land that’s being used to produce food from African farmers, pushing them further into poverty. Under the New Alliance, this will only get worse. The US and African governments must invest in the farmers producing food for the continent, not big businesses growing crops for export. The New Alliance will put more money into the pockets of a few wealthy businessmen who are clearly not concerned with the food security of Africa’s most vulnerable people.

 

Obama’s Agricultural Vision for Africa Will Push Poor Farmers off Their Land and Further into Poverty

The administration’s current agricultural vision for Africa is misguided. It will only benefit the American agricultural industry with no real benefit to the poorest in Africa, who will be left without land to grow food.

Land is already being grabbed at an alarming rate in many African countries to meet the world’s demand for food and biofuels. Policies like the US biofuels targets are already increasing demand for land. Obama’s vision for Africa will only put more money into the pockets of a few wealthy businessmen. Programs like the ‘New Alliance’ are driving a system that robs the poor to pay the rich and will only result in more land being grabbed.

List of US Companies attending Summit

List of African Companies attending Summit

Climate Connections thinks that the commodification of African markets, land, and people is a false solution for climate change and human rights. We want to know what you think. Please comment!

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Filed under Africa, Biodiversity, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Justice, Commodification of Life, Corporate Globalization, Energy, False Solutions to Climate Change, Food Sovereignty, Forests and Climate Change, Land Grabs, Pollution

Orin Langelle responds to Rolling Stone article, “Green Going Gone: The Tragic Deforestation of the Chaco”

Orin Langelle, Board Chair, Global Justice Ecology Project

I am impressed to see attention being given to the Chaco region by Christine MacDonald’s Rolling Stone article.  I also witnessed some of the tragedy of the Chaco and Paraguay itself.

In 2009 I traveled to the Chaco with Dr. Miguel Lovera, my friend and the chairperson of Global Forest Coalition and part of the Ayoreo support group, Iniciativa Amotocodie.

Dr. Lovera became National Secretary for Plant Safety for Paraguay during Fernado Lugo’s presidency. In her article, MacDonald writes that “Lugo was swept from office in 2012 [by] an impeachment carried out by the Paraguayan Congress.” My colleagues in Paraguay would disagree with the term “impeachment.” To them it was a coup that forced Lugo out of office in 2012.

Because of the coup, Dr. Lovera lost his job as National Secretary for Plant Safety for Paraguay.  While National Secretary, Lovera was in constant battle with the soy mafia and tried to stop the introduction of GMO cotton. Lovera had armed guards in his home due to his ongoing campaign to stop GMOs. No doubt Paraguay’s agribusiness leaders and their friends at Monsanto celebrated the fact that Lovera was removed from office.

 When I was in the Chaco in 2009 it was evident that things were bad and were going to get worse.  One of the tragic realities is the ongoing hostilities against the indigenous Ayoreo People of the Chaco. I was invited by the Ayoreo community to photograph Campo Lorro, where some of the first Ayoreo People captured were sent when Mennonite farmers established settlements on their land.

Below is one of photos I shot in Campo Lorro for the photo essay “Sharing the Eye.”

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There are still uncontacted Ayoreo living in the Gran Chaco. They do not want contact with “civilization” and wish to remain in their forest home. Today, however, cattle ranches, expansion of genetically modified soybean plantations for biofuels, hydroelectric dams and mineral exploitation threaten the forests of the Chaco.

The Rolling Stone article by Christine MacDonald definitely documents the ongoing tragedy of the Chaco. A subtitle in her article, “Animal Cruelty is the Price We Pay for Cheap Meat,” highlights the policies of US-based agribusiness giants Cargill Inc., Bunge Ltd., and Archer Daniels Midland Co.

Besides reading the Rolling Stone article, you can also see more from Global Forest Coalition on the negative impact of unsustainable livestock production in South America, the continent with the highest deforestation rates on earth: Redirecting Government Support for Unsustainable Livestock Production key to Biodiversity Conservation, Claim New Report and Briefing Paper.

Read the Rolling Stone Article:  Green Going Gone: the Tragic Deforestation of the Chaco, by Christine MacDonald

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Filed under Biodiversity, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Commodification of Life, Corporate Globalization, Forests, Forests and Climate Change, Land Grabs, Photo Essays by Orin Langelle, South America, Uncategorized

Biomass unspoken driver of Oregon logging spike

 

 

The first Elliott blockade in 2009. Photo: Earth First! Newswire

The first Elliott blockade in 2009. Photo: Earth First! Newswire

The AP recently reported that timber ‘harvest’ last year was at its highest since 2006; 4 Billion board feet. This marks a steady increase over the past 4 years. The state Department of Forestry identifies two causes for the increase: increased house construction and “the export market.”

“This [the spike] is most likely due to small forestland owners taking advantage of higher prices as a result of a still strong export market in 2013,” Kaetzel [economist in the Department] said in a statement.

The AP does not discuss biomass, which is most certainly another driver of the increased felling.

Photo Credit: Marcus Kaufmann, via Northwest Public Radio

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Indian forest villagers rise up to halt UK firm’s bid to clear land for mining

By Gethin Chamberlain, June 28, 2014. Source: The Observer

Children collect flowers in the Mahan forest, which is threatened by a coalmining project run by the British-registered company Essar. Photograph by Greenpeace

Children collect flowers in the Mahan forest, which is threatened by a coalmining project run by the British-registered company Essar. Photograph by Greenpeace

India‘s new government faces a crucial test of its support for big business over plans to let a British-registered energy company cut down a tract of forest to make way for an open cast coalmine.

Essar Energy – owner of the UK’s Stanlow oil refinery – and its partner, the Hindalco company, were granted permission to mine in the Mahan forest of Madhya Pradesh after a lobbying campaign which reached right to the top of the previous government.

In letters to senior figures, including the prime minister and finance minister, they argued that the coal was needed to fuel a power station and aluminium smelting unit that were crucial for the country’s economic development.

But the plans have placed them on a collision course with the thousands of people who rely on the forest for their livelihoods and with environmental campaigners, including Greenpeace, who are determined to stop the mine.

Among those directly affected are more than 5,000 members of tribal communities with legal rights to use the forest. Greenpeace claims that the mine would mean the felling of more than five million trees, affecting the livelihoods of as many as 50,000 people, with at least two villages being razed. It has also raised concerns about the effect on wildlife, which includes leopards and sloth bears. Tigers and elephants are reported to be occasional visitors.

The deal is also one of several allocations of mining rights which are the subject of a criminal investigation into corruption. An official audit found many had been significantly undervalued and the political row over what became known in India as the “coal scam” further dented trust in the Congress-led government and helped consign it to defeat in this year’s general election.

A similar standoff between the UK’s Vedanta and villagers in Orissa over plans to mine bauxite in the Niyamgiri Hills ended in defeat for the company.

But the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) came to power promising to make it easier to do business in India and the billionaire owners of the two firms will expect it to make good on that pledge.

The decision to allow mining to go ahead in Mahan was granted despite staunch opposition from former environment minister Jairam Ramesh.

A final decision is expected shortly but a report to new prime minister Narendra Modi this month from India’s powerful Intelligence Bureau, labelling Greenpeace as “a threat to national economic security”, suggests the environmentalists face a struggle.

The coal block was allocated by a Congress-led government in 2006 to provide coal for Essar’s planned power station and to fuel an aluminium smelter owned by Hindalco. But environmental clearances proved hard to secure and by 2010 the companies were frustrated.

Essar chairman Shashi Ruia decided to lobby prime minister Manmohan Singh personally. On 5 March 2010 he wrote to Singh to “earnestly request” clearance, pointing out that 65% of the work on the power station had been completed and complaining that three years after being allotted the coal block, the company was still waiting on permission from the environment ministry.

The delay, Ruia argued, would result in “avoidable huge loss to us as well as the country”. Singh copied the letter to the environment and forest minister, Ramesh, with a note asking him to deal with it “expeditiously”.

Six days later, Ramesh met Ruia. In a note of the meeting sent to the prime minister’s permanent secretary, he pointed out that “the Mahan coal block should never have been allowed in the first place” and that giving permission for mining would “open up a Pandora’s box which we should avoid at all costs”.

Undeterred, Ruia tried again. On 16 August 2010 he wrote to Singh to update him on progress with construction of the power station and to ask again for clearance. “I would be very much grateful if necessary instructions are given to the Hon Minister of Environment and Forests to expedite necessary forest clearances at the earliest.”

Ramesh refused to bend. In a letter dated 8 July 2011, he wrote that he was unable to agree to clearance for the project and was particularly concerned that the coal block lay in the catchment area of the Rihand reservoir. Instead, he suggested that the power plants be supplied by the Sohagpur coalfield.

In the letter, Ramesh said that he had taken into consideration that the companies had already invested about £360m in the power plants and that the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh had appealed to him twice to permit it on the grounds that it would boost economic activity in the state. But he complained that the investment had taken place without clearance and that “fait accompli has become far too common in forest and environmental clearances”.

Shortly afterwards, he was switched to the ministry of rural development. A year later, his decision was reversed and in-principle approval was granted. In February this year, the project was given the green light. Even then, the decision came with conditions, among them the need for a resolution from the representatives of those living in the area – the gram sabha – supporting the project.

But the resolution, passed on 6 March 2013, is hotly contested. It contains the signatures of 1,125 people, although local campaigners say there were only 184 people present at the meeting. Greenpeace claims nine of the “signatories” are dead and has produced death certificates for two of those named. Several people have come forward to insist their signatures were forged. Among them is Kripanath Yadav, 36, of Amelia village. .

“Mahan forest is my provider, protector and God,” he said. “I was born in the forest and I am aware that our constitution bestows on us rights on our forest.

“My signature along with several others including some people who are dead were forged during a gram sabha which was held to take people’s consent on Essar’s coalmine. “We don’t want the mine, the jobs or the compensation that Essar tries to lure us with.” Officials have promised a fresh vote in the next month.

Last month the former coal secretary PC Parakh was questioned for two days by detectives about a number of allocations, including the Mahan block, but no charges have yet been filed.

Priya Pillai, senior campaigner with Greenpeace India, accused the company of wanting to press ahead at any cost. “There’s a lot at stake for the company, therefore it seems they want to build their mine even if it means the law of the land is bypassed,” said Pillai.

It is not just environmental issues that have dogged Essar of late. The company’s decision to delist from the London Stock Exchange and take itself private upset institutional shareholders, which included Standard Life, Scottish Widows and at least two UK local authorities. Many investors were angered by a deal that they argued undervalued the company and left them millions of pounds out of pocket. The company share price stood at 420p when it initially floated in 2010 but the minority shareholders were offered just 70p when it delisted in May.

But Ramakant Tiwari, CEO of Mahan Coal, said the companies had been waiting since 2006 for permission, had invested heavily in the project and had stuck to the letter of the law.

“In such a scenario, it was but natural for both companies to represent their case before the government.”

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Filed under Commodification of Life, Forests and Climate Change, Mining

A glimpse inside the Rimba Raya REDD project in Indonesia

June 12, 2014. Source: Redd-Monitor

Photo from the Redd-Monitor

Photo from the Redd-Monitor

The Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve is the only REDD project in Indonesia that has managed to sell any carbon credits. The project is dependent on continued sales of carbon credits, and on the price of carbon. Neither is certain.

Last week, Indonesian journalist Fidelis E. Satriastanti, wrote about the Rimba Raya REDD project for the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The people living in the village of Ulak Batu in Seruyan district told Satriastanti that they used to be fisherfolk. But when palm oil companies established plantations in the area, the Seruyan river was polluted, fish populations declined and many villagers looked for jobs as plantation workers. Catching fish they could earn about US$8 per day, but only US$5 per day working for palm oil companies.

No one asked the villagers whether they wanted the forests around their village converted to oil palm plantations. Neither, it seems, was there a process of free, prior and informed consent when a company called InfiniteEARTH arrived in 2009 to develop its REDD project in the Seruyan watershed. Continue reading

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Filed under False Solutions to Climate Change, Forests, Forests and Climate Change, REDD

Will Brazil turn the Amazon into a factory of genetically modified trees?

Source: ejolt (Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade)

By the World Rainforest Movement.

Will the Brazilian government give a permit to plant genetically modified eucalyptus trees on a commercial scale? That’s the breakthrough expected by Suzano, one of the biggest Brazilian pulp and paper companies, and its fully owned biotechnology firm Futuragene. To export pulp and to feed its paper mills in Brazil, the company has planted almost 400 thousand hectares of large-scale monoculture fast-growing eucalyptus plantations in seven Brazilian states.

Suzano´s argument that this is a safe enough technology can be countered by the risks and especially the huge uncertainties that exist around this new technology which should at least postpone any introduction at commercial scale for now. Even the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) that has seriously failed by allowing certification of millions of hectares of large-scale monoculture plantations in spite of the many negative social and environmental impacts, at least applies the rule that GE technology should not be used in certified plantations. At least for this reason then, FSC should decertify Suzano, an FSC-certified company.

But another argument deserves a strong and immediate reply: Suzano argues that their new genetically engineered eucalyptus tree will result in a 20% increase in productivity and by introducing such trees, Suzano affirms it will need less land and could therefore reduce the use of chemical inputs and make more land available for food production.

That looks convincing. However, the experience in Brazil itself shows a quite different story. According to EJOLT´s report “A Global Overview of Industrial Tree Plantations”, in the past decades the Brazilian eucalyptus trees that are used in industrial plantations succeeded to achieve a 60% increase in productivity per hectare (not using genetically engineered trees), increasing from 27 m3/ha/year in the 1980s to 44 m3/ha/year currently. More important however is that the area covered by these plantations in the country never decreased for that particular reason. They actually increased from about 4 million hectares at the end of the 1980s to more than 7.2 million hectares today, and the Brazilian plantation industry plans to duplicate this area by 2020. The Brazilian “success story” of being the country with the highest wood productivity per hectare worldwide has never been a reason to use less land, on the contrary. Higher productivity gave these companies such an advantage that they expanded their plantations and pulp mills more and more, increasing their profits.

Suzano´s move to GE eucalyptus trees to increase productivity even more also attends its aim to explore a new use of its wood: producing pellets to be exported for energy production, to co-fire with coal in the UK. For this reason, Suzano has expanded its plantation in the Northeastern state of Maranhão over the past years, causing new conflicts with traditional communities that have been experiencing that their communal territories used for cattle grazing, fruit collection and other activities, get invaded by eucalyptus plantations. This has led to several conflicts, which gave reason to include Suzano in the recently launched EJOLT´s Atlas on Environmental Conflicts.

To summarize, Brazilian experience has learned that rather more than less lands will be occupied when productivity increases, and rather more than less conflicts will arise. Suzano´s demand for commercial planting of genetically modified eucalyptus trees led WRM, together with groups in Brazil and Latin America, to launch a letter to the Brazilian authorities to express their deep concern and urge the Brazilian government not to authorize the commercial release of yield enhanced genetically modified eucalyptus by Suzano/FuturaGene or by any other company that also has, or will present in future, a request for such a release.

A statement from the international Stop GE Trees Campaign in support to this letter is available for sign-ons.

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Filed under Biodiversity, Climate Justice, Commodification of Life, Corporate Globalization, Forests, Forests and Climate Change, GE Trees, Genetic Engineering, Greenwashing, Industrial agriculture