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World Forestry Congress: Forum on Forests and Climate Change (or why REDD is the greatest thing since sliced bread…)

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.

MST signs 1The 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.

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Missive From Nutlandia

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.

Buenos Aires, Argentina-I knew, before I came to the World Forestry Congress, that it was largely going to be a trade show for the timber industry and its allies, but knowing that and being in the midst of it have proven to be quite different things.

Tuesday’s exercise in absurdity was a symposium organized by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO-acronym pronounced You-Frew), focused on Emerging Issues in Forest Science.  Unfortunately, the speaker who was to address emerging genetic engineering technologies cancelled at the last minute.  I was very much hoping to hear the future direction of transgenic tree technology from the perspective of You-Frew.

Never-the-less, the other speakers did not disappoint.  The over-arching theme was the conflation of forests and plantations.   Each started his/her presentation (there were six white men and one white woman) by talking about the need to protect forests and the services they provide: clean water, food, energy, shelter, fodder, biodiversity and livelihoods.  They would then shift gears to discuss tree plantations and the emerging challenges they are confronting with regard to various aspects of plantation forestry. What they neglected to mentioned was that tree plantations and forests are, in fact, completely and totally different.  Not only do tree plantations NOT provide clean water, food, shelter or biodiversity, tree plantations actually destroy biodiversity, deplete water and displace communities because the once diverse forest was eliminated to make room for the plantation.

The most schizophrenic presentation, however, was by David Crown, head of IUFRO’s Division 5, which specializes in Forest Products.

He launched into his presentation by pointing out that the IUFRO estimates that the world is losing forests at the rate of 13 million hectares per year, and that population increase and climate change are further increasing pressures on the world’s forests and providing a huge challenge. (They LOVED to talk about challenges!)  He pointed out that soil, water and carbon need to be protected through conservation measures while maintaining traditional uses of the forests and new uses such as bio-energy.

He then moved on to assert that a major goal for the forest products industry is insuring that wood is THE preferred material for construction and manufacture.

So, in other words, we need to conserve forests while simultaneously increasing the demand for wood…

Of course, this is indicative of the fundamental psychosis of industrial forestry proponents: that we must continually expand fast growing timber plantations in order to get more wood from less land and thereby protect native forests. On its surface, there may appear to be a logic behind the notion that we can protect forests by concentrating the harvesting of wood products on high-productivity plantations. However, the reality does not match the rhetoric.  The massively growing demand for wood–predicted by the IUFRO to be an increase of 50% within the century–cannot be met sustainably.  The rising rate of illegal and legal logging in forests, the loss of agricultural lands to expanding tree plantations, and the conversion of biodiverse native grasslands and forests to timber plantations, are just a few of the impacts in which this rising demand for wood will result.

There was not one–Not ONE–mention in any of the presentations about demand reduction for forest protection.

Michael Wingfield, who Coordinates the Forest Health Division at IUFRO (Division 7) was the only one of the IUFRO speakers who made any distinction between tree plantations and forests. He pointed out that plantations were having a negative impact on forests due to the fact that plantations were highly susceptible to disease and insect infestations, though this seemed to mystify him when he stated, “we don’t really know what’s going on.”  It was this tendency of plantations to succumb to ever worsening disease and insect infestations that led him to conclude that all plantations in the future would be comprised of GM trees.

Of course, first year ecology students know that monocultures–that is, large expanses of a single species of plant–are, by their very nature, ideal targets for insects, disease, fungal infestations, etc.  Ironically, the industrial forestry response to this reality, and the spreading epidemics in monoculture timber plantations, is not to restore biodiverse native forests that are naturally resilient, nor to suggest that maybe shipping forest products and their exotic pests around the planet should be discouraged, but rather to further the reductionist approach and create vast monocultures of many thousands of clones derived from a single individual tree that has been engineered for a particular profitable trait.

Toward the end of the session, I was called on to ask a question.   I asked Mr. Wingfield what he was doing to respond to the threats that GE tree plantations pose to native forests.  I gave the example of the Bt insect resistant poplar plantations in China that have been documented as contaminating native poplars with the Bt trait. I further suggested this would have a very negative impact on the forest ecosystem, especially species of songbirds that depend on the insect targeted by the Bt as a critical source of food.

Unfortunately, the moderator intervened saying the session had run out of time and it suddenly ended before my question was answered.

Undeterred, I approached Mr. Wingfield following the end of the session.  He answered me by saying, “well.  I’m pro-GMO.”  He made some vague reference to the “successes” of GMO food as the reason for his Franken-tree ferver. (He apparently missed the studies that have come out recently debunking the industry hype about the increased yield of GE crops.)  He did agree, however, that native species of GE trees that could pollinate should not be used.  His opinion was that only non-native GE trees should be used or trees that could not pollinate.  I chose not to argue ecology with him, or to point out that even tree engineers overwhelmingly have concerns about “contamination of non-target organisms” by GE trees, and will not give 100% guarantees that their trees will maintain their sterility permanently.  Or to point out that non-native plantations of eucalyptus, for example, have been a total ecological disaster because they cannot support biodiversity or social needs.

No, I could not bring myself to argue with someone so entrenched in his delusion that GMO tree plantations were the way of the future in the face of all evidence to the contrary.  And that has been the take-away lesson of the World Forestry Congress so far: that timber industry proponents have an amazing ability to rationalize and justify their socially and ecologically destructive paradigm that promotes incessantly growing demand for wood products met through the industrialization of trees–and all under the auspices of protecting forests.

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Reports from World Forestry Congress in Buenos Aires

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

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

This was written on Friday by Global Justice Ecology Project’s Anne Petermann in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Everyday this week she will be posting an update from the World Forestry Congress on this blog.

16 October

March, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Movements converged today in the heart of Buenos Aires demanding “¡soberanía alimentaria!” (food sovereignty) and also sending a message to the forthcoming World Forestry Congress that “Las Plantaciones no son Bosques” (plantations are not forests).

The World Forestry Congress, being convened by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, is slated to begin here in Buenos Aires on Monday, October 19.  This congress occurs only once every five years and is being widely denounced by forest protection organizations for its domination by the timber industry.  The World Rainforest Movement has set up a page on its website devoted to arguments why the congress is a sham, and Global Forest Coalition, which has been on the Advisory Board of the Congress, is submitting its formal resignation.  Global Forest Coalition decided to take this step after its recommendations to increase participation of indigenous peoples and women in the congress, and to increase the focus of the congress on forest restoration rather than forest conversion to plantations, were ignored.

In a sharp critique, Ricardo Carrere, of the World Rainforest Movement writes of the congress, “the WFC will help to strengthen plantation companies by continuing to provide their tree plantations with ‘scientific’ credibility and that the ‘forest terminology’ will serve to maintain the current corporate-friendly definition that classifies them as ‘planted forests’.”

Global Justice Ecology Project will be attending the World Forestry Congress to monitor the plans of the timber industry globally with regard to both the use of forests in the carbon market (one of the main false solutions to climate change being negotiated in the upcoming Copenhagen climate talks), and the plans to commercially release genetically engineered trees.

Prior to the congress, over the next two days, I will be meeting with our allies from all over Latin America to plan strategies to oppose the commercial release of genetically engineered trees, and to counter the misinformation and propaganda around the use of forests as carbon offsets.

Stay tuned for more blog posts over the next week.

Anne Petermann
Executive Director
Global Justice Ecology Project
from Buenos Aires

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