Blog post by Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project & North American Focal Point of Global Forest Coalition. Everyday this week she will be posting an update from the World Forestry Congress on this blog
REDD—Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries—is the timber industry’s wet dream.
The MST and Via Campesina rally outside of the World Forestry Congress on Wednesday October 21, to protest against monoculture timber plantations and the destructive impacts they have on communities and forests in Latin America. They demanded an end to monoculture timber plantations in the region and decried future plans for GE tree plantations. Photo: Petermann/ GJEP-GFC
Buenos Aires, Argentina- What? How could something designed ostensibly to reduce emissions from deforestation benefit the timber industry?
The answers to these and other questions were made clear during the 5 hour forum devoted to discussing the role of forests in climate change mitigation on Wednesday, October 21st during the 13th World Forestry Congress in Buenos Aires.
It all started at the Rio Earth Summit—those of you out there who are old enough to remember something that occurred in 1992— where the kernels of what was to become REDD first gained traction. Governments at the Rio Earth Summit agreed that reducing emissions from deforestation would be a very good idea. Well, heck, who could argue with that?
It wasn’t until the Bali UN Climate Convention in 2007, however, where the concept of reducing emissions from deforestation actually took shape in the form of REDD.
Thanks largely to Al Gore, the instrument for funding REDD is the carbon market. Back when the Kyoto Protocol climate agreement was being negotiated, Al Gore was the person who was singularly responsible for inserting the concept of marketing carbon (i.e. privatizing the atmosphere) into the Kyoto Protocol climate agreement way back in 1997 (which he did by insisting that the U.S. would never sign on without it—so it was added but the U.S. didn’t sign on anyway…) This money-maker has really taken off and in 2005 the carbon market was worth $11 billion. Oh, but that’s peanuts. By 2008 the carbon market was worth $125 billion. Yes, 125 BILLION dollars. That’s one hell of a bubble! Of that, just the portion devoted to REDD is projected to be worth some $45 billion in the next few years (according to Tiina Vahenen, of the UN REDD Secretariat). Though, god bless her, she did worry about whether or not these profits would “trickle down” (yes, she used those words) to the people in the forests. Hmmm, How did it work with Reaganomics again…
Ms Vahenen perhaps let down her guard a little at the end when she said REDD would be “beneficial for forestry.” Not beneficial for forests, no. Beneficial for forestry—i.e. the companies that like to cut down forests to make money. She concluded by stating unequivocally, “the forestry sector cannot afford to lose this opportunity.” I guess not! $45 billion in REDD funds to advance the goals of the forest industry is not something to sneeze at. Most of these funds will come from Northern country governments–in other words, another publicly funded subsidy for the timber industry.
As with the IUFRO seminar yesterday, the takeaway message from this 5 hour excercize in self-flagellation (for those of in attendance who think that forests are more than just wood) was that the best way to protect forests and stop climate change is to increase the demand for wood. Naturally. The way this happens is through a magical little term called “sustainable forest management.” The wonderful thing about “sustainable forest management” is that you get to count plantations as “forests.” That means under REDD you can cut down all of the native forest that you want to—as long as you plant a monoculture timber plantation after you’re done. Then it will not count as “deforestation.” Like I said, magic!
Because as Gerhard Dieterle, a Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development Expert for the World Bank [I know, I know, stop laughing…] explained, it is not the timber industry that is driving deforestation, it is local communities.
Now you’re probably saying to yourself, wait, isn’t deforestation caused by industrial-scale logging, or the expansion of agrofuel crops, or the excessive consumption of paper and wood products in the North? Nope. Because of that magical little 3 word term, “sustainable forest management,” the timber industry can deforest all day long and still be only officially responsible for 14% of annual deforestation. And expansion of soy monocultures and other commercial-scale agriculture is only responsible for 20%. No, it is actually those nefarious local communities and the poor who are causing deforestation. According to Gerhard, local communities and the poor are responsible for a whopping 48% of annual deforestation. “Poverty,” he insisted, “is a main global driver of deforestation.” Wow.
So, how, then does the World Bank propose to address deforestation? On this point, his answers became rather vague. Something about using the World Bank’s Forest Investment Program to get Northern governments to invest in the carbon market (which the World Bank manages) so they can throw a lot of money at the problem.
But if we accept the World Bank’s conclusions on the drivers of deforestation, then we would have to also accept that addressing the underlying causes of poverty is the number one way to reduce emissions from deforestation. But Gerhard didn’t talk much about that.
Perhaps that is because it is the World Bank’s own programs that have driven millions, if not billions, of people into poverty worldwide. To really address poverty-driven deforestation we would have to eliminate the World Bank and their loan shark programs. We would also have to abolish unjust free trade agreements that further exploit countries in the South, and we would have to stop the massive land grab that is occurring. Local peasant and indigenous communities are being violently evicted from their lands for expanding agrofuel plantations (like soy and oil palm) and monoculture timber plantations. And under REDD, people are even being evicted for “conservation” of forests. The imperialist model of “conservation” practiced by the likes of Conservation International involves drawing imaginary lines around forests to be “protected,” and then expelling all human inhabitants within those boundaries.
But Gerhard didn’t talk about any of that. He also didn’t talk about the problem of so-called “indirect impacts,” or what the UN Climate Secretariat calls “leakage,” with regard to saving forest carbon. When the protection of one area (to store its carbon) merely pushes the destructive practices into another area, there is not net conservation or saving of carbon. This is called leakage. And obviously, the refusal to address the underlying causes of deforestation means that the demand for the wood products is not decreasing, which means that “leakage” is inevitable.
But not if you listen to the “experts” at the World Forestry Congress! They really do have it figured out. For them the way to address deforestation (by those problematic impoverished people) is to increase the demand for wood while providing support to the timber industry, so that it can employ poor people to work on “sustainable forestry management.” So simple! Give the timber industry and land investors lots and lots of money so that some will trickle down to the local communities and get them to stop destroying the forests! Why didn’t we think of that!
In the “Message From the XIII World Forestry Congress to the COP 15 of the UNFCCC” they lay this out quite clearly in the following points:
• Sustainable management of forests provides an effective framework for forest-based climate change mitigation and adaptation;
• Sustainably harvested forest products and wood fuels can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by substituting high emission materials for neutral or low emissions, renewable ones.
Yes, Dorothy its true: increasing the demand for wood products by 50% or more is a win-win-win. The timber industry wins because they get lots more money and access to land; local and indigenous communities win because they get to have jobs working for the timber industry; and the climate wins because cutting down trees and converting forests to plantations helps stop climate change.
Whew! I guess we can all go home now and relax. The experts have it all figured out.