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From New Voices Speaker Ben Powless: The road from Copenhagen to Cochabamba passes through the Amazon – Part I

Published on rabble.ca (http://rabble.ca)

The road from Copenhagen to Cochabamba passes through the Amazon – Part I
By Ben Powless Created Apr 14 2010 – 1:21pm

Soon thousands will meet in Cochabamba to talk climate justice. It is the voices of the Amazon we should listen to. A report from the Amazon.

The Amazon, it is often said, functions like the lungs of Mother Earth. The dense forest and undergrowth absorb much of the carbon dioxide that we manage to pump into the skies –- an ever more important and taxing effort in light of the threats to our climate.

Rio Wawas, Amazonas, Peru

In December, countries around the world gathered in Copenhagen to reach an agreement to protect the climate, even if purely face-saving, and failed. With that sour taste gone, Bolivia has invited governments, social movements, Indigenous Peoples, politicians, really anyone who cares, to attend the so-called World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth [3]. The conference will be held the 19th-22nd in Cochabamba.

Ahead of that trip, I’ve flown into Lima, Peru to head back into the Amazon. It has been almost a year since the tragic day of June 5th, 2009 left over 30 people dead in the worst violence Peru has seen in modern history. The dispute was over a series of laws the government wanted to push through to open the Amazon to foreign companies, an effort linked to the Free Trade Agreement Peru’s President Alan Garcia signed with Canada and the United States. Amazon Indigenous Peoples resisted the laws with a blockade outside the town of Bagua, on the outskirts of the Amazon, and the government’s decision to send in armed forces still reverberates here. You can see my coverage from Peru last year here [4].

Bagua at Night

Indigenous groups here and elsewhere have maintained that their role in protecting their lands, their resources, their ecologies is paramount, and also serves the rest of humanity. In this case, the Awajun and Wampis peoples were concerned about the entry of oil companies into their lands, ultimately polluting the waters, the flora, the fauna, everything, as has been the case so many times in other parts of the Amazon.

A walk through the jungle outside Wawas, Amazonas, Peru

Bagua today is a much different place than in those tense days after June 5th, when military patrols roamed the streets, and a curfew kept people in hiding. Now, the only sense of tension was between teenage boys and girls in the plaza, whistling and blasting around on motorbikes. As they say, calm waters run deep, and the Amazon has a long memory.

I managed to catch up with Salomon Awananch, who since I ran into him last year, had been elevated to the position of Amazon Leader from his position leading the protests. He understood the protests had forced the government for the first time to seriously consider Indigenous cosmovisions. In order to further make the point, Amazon leaders had recently gathered to pass a resolution rejecting all transnational corporations from their lands, which has yet to be released. They are also heavily investing in an education plan which aims to keep Indigenous knowledge like traditional medicinal plant in use.

Salomon Awananch

At one point, I asked him about the film Avatar. He laughed a bit, admitting he really enjoyed the film, despite having lived a similar experience in the “Baguatar” episode last year. His demeanour hardened. “But if that happened again, it would be a complete war, the end of all dialogue. We have been open to dialogue this whole time, but the government hasn’t had the will (voluntad) to talk. Next time we won’t be protesting on the roads, we would be in the forests and mountains, where we couldn’t be defeated.”

The main threat now? It’s a Canadian mining company, Dorato Resources [5]. Dorato is looking for gold, one of the world’s oldest plunder-able resources, and Peru has much to offer as the 8h largest producer in the world. This mine would be unique, however, situated at the headwaters of the Cenepa River, in the Condor Mountain Range, a very sacred area to the Awajun and Wampis peoples who live downstream. For them, “you can’t touch this hill, you can’t interfere with it,” according to Edwin Montenegro, Secretary of the organization representing Indigenous Peoples of the north Amazon, ORPIAN.

Edwin Montenegro, explaining the Amazon river systems

“This mountain is very important to us. If it is destroyed, if the water is polluted, it is the end of all the Indigenous Peoples along the Cenepa,” continues Montenegro, from his office in Bagua. They also point out that this river flows into the Mariñon River, which flows into the Amazon – and any contaminants, such as mercury, would end up poisoning the Indigenous Peoples of all five water basins that make up the area. They even have a website [6], with a well-produced video overview, all in English.

“We need to do our own Environmental Impact Assessment to study the impacts. There are many understandings of man, territory and the forests. There exist great trees that have energy in them, and that force, that unity is lost when they are cut,” recounted Awananch. Even the mayor of Bagua has taken a stand against the mine. For the Awajun and Wampis, though, the stakes are much higher. “We’re ready to defend the land until the last consequences, and we have an agreement across the five basins of the Amazon to support our demands.”

Violeta, Widow of last year’s violence

I took a side trip to visit the Awajun communities of Wawas and La Curva, hours down the road from Bagua, where the families of victims of the 2009 violence lived. I had gone to drop off some photos to family members and other people in the community, but wasn’t expecting the results. Passing from community to community, by boat and jungle trail, we learned the loss of a community member had divided the community and many families, which was seen as the government’s fault, if not intention. After some unexpected conflict resolution, I was able to share the photos, which brought up many heartbreaking emotions from loved ones, and will hopefully help the children to remember. I also received testimony from Roman Jintach Chu, 45, who was also shot in the violence. In the end, Jintach’s family decided to honour me by naming a newborn baby after one of my family members.

Roman Jintach Chu

As I arrived in Lima on Monday, April 5th, a mining related protest [7] left six civilians dead and dozens wounded. Peru under Alan Garcia in particular has shown itself to be allergic to dialogue, and more than comfortable resolving disputes with a gun. This government is not alone in using force, when needed, to force compliance with corporate and governmental interests.

But it is the community members of places like Wawas and La Curva that must live with the consequences in the long term, and they are on the frontlines of protecting their rights, their environment, and in the end, all of us from the very activities that lead to climate calamities – loss of rainforest, oil refining, water poisoning. It is these very communities whose voices should be elevated and respected when pretending to be able to deal with a problem such as climate change while ignoring its predatory causes.

Community of Jaez

I left Bagua en route to Lamas, San Martin province, where Amazonian Kichwa communities were toiling to be recognized by the government and stop a biofuel company from taking their land. To be continued…

More photos will appear on Flickr [2].

Source URL (retrieved on Apr 16 2010 – 2:59pm): http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/ben-powless/2010/04/road-copenhagen-cochabamba-passes-through-amazon-part-i

[1] http://rabble.ca/taxonomy/term/2686
[2] http://www.flickr.com/photos/powless/sets/72157623729448987/
[3] http://pwccc.wordpress.com/
[4] http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/ben-powless/2009/06/massacre-peru-trip-amazon-brings-answers-and-more-questions
[5] http://www.doratoresources.com/s/Home.asp
[6] http://odecofroc.blogspot.com/
[7] http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=50952
[8] http://rabble.ca/print/blogs/bloggers/ben-powless/2010/04/road-copenhagen-cochabamba-passes-through-amazon-part-i#comment-1133599
[9] http://www.ninosdelaamazonia.org
[10] http://rabble.ca/print/blogs/bloggers/ben-powless/2010/04/road-copenhagen-cochabamba-passes-through-amazon-part-i#comment-1133874
[11] http://rabble.ca/user
[12] http://rabble.ca/user/register

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World Forestry Congress: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Plantations

Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project & North American Focal Point of Global Forest Coalition, posted on this blog everyday last week from the World Forestry Congress.

Buenos Aires, Argentina Oct. 23, 2009- Adjacent to the lounge area at the World Forestry Congress are two shallow pools with sporadically placed globs of water plants growing in them.  Floating in and among these water plants, posing as water lilies, are big pink Gerber Daisies.  Hanging from the ceiling are plastic birds suspended by fishing line.  Over the loudspeaker, very tinny sounding recorded bird songs.  This bizarre setting, I believe, serves as a perfect metaphor for what I have seen at this, my first, World Forestry Congress.

In seminar after seminar I have witnessed plantation-crazed maniacs posing as people deeply concerned with the well-being of our forests.  Even at the Forest Restoration session the topic was not threats to the world’s forests and techniques to restore forests and their biodiversity.  No, the workshop on “restoring forests” was all about growing monoculture tree plantations. (sigh.)

Nearly every session here has been first and foremost a public relations campaign aimed at drilling into the heads of all, but especially the young impressionable forestry students, that the industrial plantation forestry is our best bet for saving the forests.  These forestry hucksters congratulate themselves and each other for being such good con artists.  And their jargon is flawless.  They have coopted the terminology developed by social movements and environmental organizations brilliantly.  Capacity building and Consultations with Indigenous Peoples, Sustainable Forestry Management, Net Zero Deforestation, Forest Restoration, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation, Ending Illegal Logging, Certification, Advancing Social and Ecological Values, Environmental Stewardship, Sustainability Criteria… and on and on…  So beautiful, so moving. (Pay NO attention to the man behind the curtain!)

But if you actually listen to the presentations you can find the subtext and hear what they are actually saying.  It is like something from George Orwell’s 1984.  For example, yesterday at a session on REDD, a woman overseeing a REDD project in Brazil pointed out that her project in the Juma forest is raising money by partnering with corporations including Marriott and Coke.  For every night someone stays in a Marriott hotel, they donate $1 to the REDD project in order to offset the emissions of their guests (no, not the emissions released BY their guests).  The lesson: the more we consume, the more we conserve.  Brilliant!

This logic then also spills over into the effort to promote trees for bioenergy as a means to fight climate change.  We can reduce emissions from deforestation while we reduce more emissions by logging more trees!  2+2=5!  War is Peace! (Hmmm, the guy sending more troops to kill people in Afghanistan DID just got the Nobel Peace Prize…)

Then there was the World Wildlife Fund session on Thursday night on “Stimulating  Forest Investments—how to finance forest destruction, oops, I mean, conservation.  (Funded, you might like to know, by CitiBank and USAID, among others.)

Mark Constantine, of the International Finance Corporation talked about their work in Indonesia.  He had a very neat and tidy little chart that talked about “Challenges” (there’s that word again!) in one column and “Opportunities” in another.

Challenge: Peat Swamp Forest Conversion.  Opportunity: Reforestation of Degraded Lands.  Now, remember boys and girls what we just learned about “forest restoration.”  That’s right, the “challenge” of peat swamp forest destruction in Indonesia provides us with the “opportunity” to plant tree monocultures!

In another chart, he listed the “Risks” of certain activities, next to a column called “mitigation.”  The first item under “risks” was “unsustainable logging & biodiversity loss”  The mitigation: certification and NGO partnerships.  In other words, when you do unsustainable logging and destroy biodiversity, you will need to mitigate your image by getting sustainable forestry certification and partnering with an NGO like WWF.

Another presenter was Roberto Waack, from the Forest Stewardship Council, your friendly neighborhood forest certifiers.  (Didn’t realize forests needed to be certified, did you? You thought they just grew.)  His presentation was quite illuminating.  First he pointed out what FSC does: “Advancing Sustainable Forest Management [you will remember from our lesson yesterday that SFM includes conversion of forests to monoculture timber plantations] through Standards, Certification and Labeling.”

They now have 115 million hectares of certified forests (both “natural” and “planted”) in 82 countries, with over 15,000 FSC certificate holders in 99 countries.  They have certified productive forests worth over $20 billion. In 2007, they experienced 40% growth in their FSC “supply chain.”  You should have seen their graph!  Nothing but up, up, up! FSC, he explained, is a “multi-billion dollar brand.”

They are also working with operators to help them transition to “clean energy” from biomass, and are supporting new markets and multiple use of forests—including bioenergy.

This is all well and good, you say, but what has it got to do with protecting forests?  Honestly, I have no idea…

The final session of the day is going on as I write this.  It is the session on “recommendations” for the congress.  As my recommendations would be in the realm of removing themselves from the planet, I thought it best to abstain from attending.  If I had to hear one more talking head blather about sustainably destroying the planet, I would have lost my mind completely.

So there you have it.  The World Forestry Congress in a nutshell.  6,000 participants (including approximately 6 Indigenous People) and millions of tons of emissions devoted to exactly what purpose?  Toward the noble goal of building the capacity to manage forests sustainably toward zero net deforestation in order to restore the forest, thereby reducing emissions from deforestation and ending illegal logging through certified sustainability criteria and environmental stewardship that advances social and ecological values.

Who could argue with that?

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Filed under Climate Justice, Indigenous Peoples, Posts from Anne Petermann, REDD

Forest Protection and Indigenous Rights Organizations Globally Denounce the World Forestry Congress

Blog post by Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project & North American Focal Point of Global Forest Coalition. Every day this week she will be posting an update from the World Forestry Congress on this blog

Buenos Aires, Argentina – Rather than writing another lengthy blog post on the absurdities witnessed at the XIII World Forestry Congress in Buenos Aires, today I offer you some of the views of our allies regarding the Congress.

First you will find comments on REDD made by Camila Moreno, who is Global Justice Ecology Project’s Brazilian representative and a New Voices on Climate Change participant. She made the comments during a panel presentation on REDD organized by the Climate Media Partnership at the congress on Thursday, October 22.

My second post is the presentation by Marcial Arias, who is a Kuna from Panama, on the impacts of REDD on Indigenous Peoples. Marcial gave this presentation during the same panel presentation as Camila for the Climate Media Partnership.

Next I have posted an excerpt from a statement by World Rainforest Movement criticizing the claim of the congress to be “carbon neutral.”  WRM boycotted the congress, instead writing a detailed and sharp critique of it.

Finally, you will find Global Forest Coalition’s formal letter of resignation to the World Forestry Congress Advisory Board. GFC resigned from the WFC Advisory Board after every recommendation they made was ignored.

Camila Moreno on Brazilian Social Movements Denouncing REDD

Camila Moreno, speaking on behalf of New Voices on Climate Change for the panel organized by the Climate Media Partnership, pointed out the widespread opposition to UN’s REDD scheme by communities, Indigenous Peoples, social movements and organizations in Brazil and throughout Latin America.  She began her presentation by reading the Belém Letter: the statement denouncing REDD adopted by Brazilian NGOs and social movements.

You can read the letter at http://www.globaljusticeecology.org/connections.php?ID=323.

She went on to further elaborate the criticism by Latin American groups to including forests in the carbon market, and called for an opening of space for discussion on the true causes of climate change including its underlying drivers, in contrast to the lack of space for any dissent or in-depth conversations found at the World Forestry Congress.

Marcial Arias (of the International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forest, and Global Forest Coalition) on the Views of Indigenous Peoples on REDD

I have some serious concerns about REDD, which I will explain.

For Indigenous Peoples the trees are more than wood.  The trees mean food, medicine, shelter, and that is not being recognized by REDD.

Next, REDD is being promoted for poverty alleviation.  I will explore if this is true.  First, these types of market mechanisms are not new, we saw something similar through the CDM (Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol) which has had great impacts on Indigenous communities.  For example, the CDM has led to the development of monoculture timber plantations and also large dams on Indigenous lands, and these have had very grave impacts on Indigenous peoples.  Examples of this exist throughout Latin America and Africa.

The mechanisms of REDD+ include developing monoculture timber plantations.  With these plantations comes the use of agro-toxics and herbicides.  This is reducing the life expectancy in Indigenous communities, and you can already see the damage to peoples’ health due to tree plantations and associated agro-toxins.

Another important issue is the question of benefits for avoided deforestation.  The tradition of the Kuna People is to do small-scale sustainable logging in the summer. It is part of the culture.  How much will we be paid to change our culture?

Then there is the problem of informing communities about the problems of REDD.   I am reasonably informed, but it is very difficult to explain to the people in indigenous communities just what REDD will mean to them.

Finally, the governments must to take into account the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with REDD.  It is essential that this UN declaration is taken into account, and it is critical that the people have the ability to say no to these projects.  And finally, the traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples must be taken into account in the development of REDD.

 Excerpt from World Rainforest Movement on the carbon neutral fraud at the World Forestry Congress

For the entire critique, please visit WRM’s website at http://www.wrm.org.uy/

According to its organizers, the XIII World Forestry Congress (WFC), to be held from 18 – 23 October, in Argentina, “will be the first World Forestry Congress which shall achieve ‘Carbon Neutral’ ranking”. The organizers plan to reach such status through the purchase of “carbon credits” from Nobrecel’s “Forestry-industrial Sector Biomass Energy Project” in Brazil.

The monoculture tree plantation “forests”

Before analysing the validity of the “carbon neutrality” claim, it is important to understand where the “carbon credits” are coming from, because this relates directly to the misleading slogan of the WFC: “Forests in Development: a vital balance”.

In line with a definition that equates plantations with forests, the WFC organizers did not find any problem in making a deal with Nobrecel, a company holding an extensive area of eucalyptus “forest” in Brazil, which feeds its pulp mill in the State of São Paulo.

The “carbon neutral” myth

The idea of “neutralising” fossil fuel emissions is based on the premise that the carbon released from burning fossil fuels can in some way be “neutralised” by other activities such as the Nobrecel project. This is simply not possible.

What needs to be understood is that the carbon released through the use of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) has not been part of the functioning of the biosphere for millions of years. Once fossil fuels are extracted and burnt, that carbon –which until then had been safely stored underground- is released, thereby increasing the above ground carbon stock. Once released, that carbon cannot be returned to its original storage place and the more it is extracted, the more the total amount of carbon in the biosphere is increased, thus further enhancing the greenhouse effect.

In the case of the WFC, the organizers themselves explain that most of the emissions related to its meeting will come from overseas flights. Carbon neutral flights are perhaps the best way to show that this is a cheating game. Planes do not fly on renewables; they run on oil. Once burnt to enable the planes to fly, the carbon contained in the fuel is released. Nothing can make that carbon return back underground.

Instead of channeling money to a company such as Nobrecel –thus subsidizing its destructive activities- the international forestry sector could show its commitment with our Planet by ceasing to promote monoculture tree plantations. Instead of trying to achieve an impossible “carbon neutrality” it could tackle the much more achievable objective of excluding tree monocrops from the definition of forests.

Global Forest Coalition Letter of Resignation to the World Forestry Congress

Dear Mr. Heino,

When Dr. Miguel Lovera as Chairman of the Global Forest Coalition agreed to join the Advisory Committee of the XIII World Forestry Congress, he did so because he hoped he would have been able, as the only representative of Southern NGOs and Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations on this committee, to contribute some of the views of our IPO and NGO members to the preparatory process of the Congress. He and his colleague Simone Lovera, who participated on his behalf in the Advisory Committee meeting in March 2009, submitted various proposals to enhance the participation of Indigenous Peoples’ representatives, Southern NGOs and women in the congress. He also proposed to have a greater emphasis on forest restoration in the congress and to ensure the program of the congress reflected a clear distinction between forest restoration and the expansion of monoculture tree plantations, considering the massive opposition of social movements against the latter.

Regretfully, he did not get any response on these suggestions.

As Miguel Lovera started working as advisor to the Paraguayan Minister of the Environment in June 2009 he asked me to substitute him in the Advisory Committee. When I was accepted as his substitute, I asked you and other members of the Advisory Committee about your response to the proposals GFC had submitted, and about ways I could participate effectively in the work of the Advisory Committee in general. On August 12 I received a response from Ines Matyszczyk that my “message of 9 August has been referred to Mr Olman Serrano, Associate Secretary-General of the XIII WFC, who will get in touch with you directly to follow-up on GFC’s proposal”. But we did not get any response from him or anybody else so far.

We have not been consulted at all about speakers, or other elements of the Congress’ programme. Having now reviewed the final program as it is posted on the WFC website, we feel there is a severe lack of participation of Indigenous Peoples and Southern NGOs amongst the main speakers. Except for two keynote speakers from COICA, the coordinating body of Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon, we recognize hardly any Indigenous peoples’ representatives amongst the speakers.

We feel the program of the congress is very much biased towards industry and government representation and that it lacks representation of Indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities. We also feel there is a lack of balance between proponents of carbon offsets and wood-based bioenergy and more critical voices amongst the WFC speakers.

Meanwhile, we have understood that specific requests by our Argentine NGO colleagues to allow more local NGOs and social movements to participate in the congress have been denied as well.

In summary, we feel the WFC Organizers have not taken us seriously as part of the advisory committee. Based on our concerns, I regret to inform you that I decided to resign as a member of the Advisory Committee of this congress.


Signed, Andrei Laletin, Global Forest Coalition

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