By Anne Petermann
(The first section is from Tuesday, May 25th, the second section from earlier today)
Ah, the red eye flight on a standing room only plane. There’s nothing like it…
Upon emerging from the jam packed metal tube full of people where the other occupants and I had been collectively attempting (mostly futilely) to catch a few hours of sleep, and trudging through the cold hard terminal, I stepped into the cool sunshine of Amsterdam and breathed a sigh of relief.
Into the taxi and straight to the lunch organized for the participants of the annual Board meeting of the Global Forest Coalition at their International office. Always good to see old friends and colleagues—Camila from Brazil, Fiu from Samoa, Simone from Paraguay, Yolanda from Amsterdam, Estebancio from Panama. While the board meeting was tacked relatively last minute on to take advantage of so many people from GFC being in the same place, the real purpose of the congregation of people was to take part in a tour designed to inform decision-makers and various organizations around the EU about the dangers of genetically engineered trees (also called GM trees or transgenic trees) and wood-based agro-energy.
My job at the GFC board meeting was to represent the decisions of the GFC Coordinating Group, of which Global Justice Ecology Project is a part, that were made at the annual Monitoring, Evaluation and Planning meeting of GFC in Panama in late-January. This was where Orin (co-Director/ Strategist of GJEP) and I had last seen many of these friends—on the island of El Porvenir in Kuna Yala, on the Caribbean coast.
Kuna Yala is the independent territory of the Kuna people, won from Panama in the early 1900s. The ride from the airport in Panama City across Panama and over the mountains that separate Panama from Kuna Yala was simply spectacular. Tropical forest dotted occasionally by small homesteads as far as the eye can see.
One of the major themes of the Kuna Yala meeting was the issue of REDD (the UN and World Bank scheme to supposedly reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation). REDD has, of necessity, been a major focus of forest dependent peoples and their allies since it was announced in Bali at the UN Climate summit in 2007. When the World Bank held their press conference to announce their Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (their precursor to REDD) it was greeted by loud and raucous protest.Panama has already been experiencing the impacts of the implementation of REDD, and Kuna activists such as Marcial Arias, the Spanish Speaking Focal Point for Indigenous Peoples for GFC, have been very eloquent and passionate in exposing the destructive impacts REDD has had on Indigenous communities in Panama and elsewhere.
Land grabbing, “protection” of forests through the exclusion or eviction of forest dependent communities, expansion of monoculture tree plantations and massive new profits for the timber industry are just a few of the lovely side effects of REDD.
Another little known effect is the promotion of genetically engineered trees under the auspices of REDD. In 2003, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change decided that GE trees could be used in forestry projects designed to store carbon. In addition, because the UN definition of forests is incomprehensibly unscientific, REDD projects supposedly designed to protect forests (or at least their carbon) can include transgenic trees. The irony of allowing a forest protection scheme to include trees that will destroy biodiversity and contaminate forests with engineered traits, is yet one more reason why REDD is being rejected by peoples and organizations around the world.
Another nail in the coffin of REDD for me was my experience at the World Forestry Congress in Buenos Aires last October. This conference—which only occurs once every six years—was a revelation. The doublespeak of the forestry companies, World Bank personnel and their co-conspirators at the big Green groups was amazing. Their logic revolved around the best ways to profit from the implementation of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation scheme while simultaneously profiting from increased deforestation for the large-scale use of wood to produce energy (electricity, heat and liquid transport fuels)—and how to sell both as solutions to the climate crisis. It doesn’t get much more opportunistic than that.
It is for this reason that Global Justice Ecology Project joined forces with Global Forest Coalition, BiofuelWatch and Friends of the Earth International for this GE Trees and Agro-energy tour. Europe is galloping ahead with plans to use biomass (woodchip derived electricity) and agrofuels (large-scale unsustainable liquid biofuels) to meet their target of 20% of their energy being “renewable” by 2020. This tour is designed to inform European decision-makers and other NGOs that we cannot look to trees to replace fossil fuels. Projections from industry indicate that use of wood for energy production will double or even triple the demand for wood globally in the coming decades. Being that the demand for wood is already unsustainable, how can anyone possibly suggest that we can use wood for energy production sustainably—or more ridiculously—as part of climate mitigation?
This is one false solution that must be nipped in the bud. And that is exactly what this tour is designed to do.
From Wednesday, May 26th
The tour today stopped at The Hague in the Netherlands to speak to a room packed with Dutch Parliamentarians, other environmental and social justice organizations and even a few industry representatives.
Fiu Mataese Elisara from Samoa chaired the meeting and emphasized the importance of getting to the bottom of the concerns about wood-based agro-energy because of the critical need to find real solutions to the climate crisis and to not get bogged down in the false solutions. Being from Samoa, he knows what he is talking about. His is from one of the small island nations threatened with total oblivion from rising sea levels due to climate change. Fiu is a very articulate and passionate representative of the Indigenous Peoples of the Pacific. He is also one of our New Voices on Climate Change speakers. You can learn more about Fiu by going to his bio on our website.
Camila Moreno did the first presentation of the day, that set the tone for the event. Camila is Global Justice Ecology Project’s representative in Brazil and also one of our New Voices On Climate Change speakers. Her presentation on the impacts of wood-based agro-energy on Brazil was extremely powerful. She spoke not only about the impacts of monocultures in Brazil (sugarcane, soy, eucalyptus) for energy and paper, but also about the intense resistance going on in Brazil against the eucalyptus plantations, which they call Green Deserts. She got a lot of questions from the participants about the outright rejection of certification schemes by Brazilian movements. But as Camila, and later Deepak Rughani from BiofuelWatch, pointed out, certification legitimizes whatever is being certified. And for the movements in Brazil, the monocultures cannot be legitimate.
Next came Dorette Corbey, of the Biomass Commission of the Dutch Parliament. She spoke about the need for sustainability criteria, not only for so-called “renewable” energies like biomass and agrofuels, but also for all energies—including oil, natural gas and coal. Her presentation following Camila’s set off a strong debate about sustainability criteria and certification schemes and whether or not they can be helpful or are innately harmful.
Unfortunately, following this presentation and debate Camila had to leave to catch a plane to a conference on REDD being put on by the Norwegian government in Oslo. She and Estebancio Castro, of the Kuna Nation in Kuna Yala are both participating in this event to try to highlight the social and ecological costs of REDD and to encourage the Norwegian government to stop promoting it. In 2007 the Norwegian government pledged $5 million to the World Bank for their Forest Carbon Partnership Facility during the World Bank’s press conference in Bali—ignoring the passionate cries of the protesters outside that this scheme was going to cause irreparable harm to peoples and ecosystems.
Deepak went next and provided a very detailed and statistics-rich presentation about the future forecasts of the amount of wood that will be needed to meet the projected growing demand for wood-based agro-energy. It was a frightening presentation. Think about the demand for wood doubling or tripling from its current level. We are already losing the last of the primeval biodiversity-rich forests because current demand can’t be sustainably met. The wood-based bioenergy path is one to certain planetary suicide.
My presentation came next and I focused on the implications of the commercialization of genetically engineered trees specifically designed to provide the products that fossil fuels do today—such as liquid fuels, jet fuel, chemicals, plastics, electricity and heat. As fossil fuels become scarcer and harder to access—and with backlash from catastrophes like the BP-Haliburton disaster in the Gulf—fuels derived from plants are rising in importance. But there is no way to engineer trees or anything else to take the place of fossil fuels. There is simply not enough land to do it. Craig Venter—the mad scientist who seeks to create new life forms—recently announced that he had succeeded in his mad objective. He had successfully created the first fully synthetic living organism. The purpose for these organisms? To manufacture life forms that create “designer” enzymes that can be used to transform cellulose (from trees or other plants) into plastics, chemicals or fuel.
Of course there have been no risk assessments and this mad science is so new it is basically unregulated. Once again humans are barreling ahead without pausing to consider the possible consequences. It is the same for GE trees. Risk assessments have not been done. What will be the long-term impact of ArborGen’s cold-tolerant eucalyptus trees escaping into native forest ecosystems in the U.S. South? We do not know. Decision-makers are not asking that question and scientists are forbidden from seeking the answer—unless they get prior permission from ArborGen.
Which brings me to the day’s last presentation, which was by Mary Lou Malig, the Trade Campaigner for Focus on the Global South who brought the whole wood-based agro-energy question back to the global trade in forest products and who is going to profit from this nightmare.
And at the end of the day, that is what it ultimately comes down to. Who is going to profit from these potentially disastrous schemes—and who is going to stop them…