REDD – Who benefits?
History has seen countless movements to commodify land, food, labour, forests, water, genes and ideas. Carbon trading is yet another way for capitalism to transform our natural environment into a product that can be bought and sold in a global market. The schemes put together under REDD+ do not and will not contribute to the protection and preservation of our planet; they are ill thought out and often amplify social inequalities in the areas where they are implemented.
REDD, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, refers to a policy structure that essentially allows Annex 1 (developed) nations to pay their developing counterparts not to deforest areas, counting this as a carbon credit towards emission reduction targets. However, there are three major loopholes (I’ve touched on them before, but we’ll revisit them briefly):
1. leakage occurs when a project is simply relocated; for example our government may provide funding so that a chunk of rainforest isn’t logged and we would count those carbon credits towards our targets, but this doesn’t necessarily stop the logging company from moving 3 miles south and logging there — so there is no real emission reduction
2. permanence — so, let’s continue with the hypothetical chunk of rainforest — we’ve paid for it, saved it and counted our credits; fifty years down the line, who’s to say it isn’t logged? What if there’s a forest fire? What if the capture storage capacity of the forest is degraded (by age, or by climate change itself)?
3. definitions — What makes a “forest” a forest and a “plantation” a plantation? Where do you draw the line, specifically? Very minor changes to this definition can greatly affect the rate of a country’s “deforestation” or “reforestation.”
By failing to address these concerns, we could find ourselves making huge investments of mitigation funds into a program that doesn’t actually reduce emissions. These projects exemplify the term “false solution.”
Many Indigenous communities are starting to call REDD/REDD+ “CO2lonialism of forests” or “capitalism of the trees and air.” Why? Well, our governments will buy the rights to these forest only as a means to justify the continuation of fossil fuel projects like the Canadian tar sands, which have enormous environmental, health and social consequences. Furthermore, these deals will serve only to reinforce the power of the “authorities” of the regions – that would be the governments and corporations, not the Indigenous communities who live on these lands. In a nutshell, these market based solutions undermine Indigenous communal land rights, benefiting only the polluters who gain official permission to continue with “business as usual.”
For example, current REDD projects in Ecuador include contracts that prohibit hunting, fishing, change of land use (agriculture) or cutting down trees, all of which constitute the traditional way of life and ensure food security to these communities. Despite these stringent requirements for locals, some projects still allow destructive industries like mining and oil extraction. Ultimately if these obligations are upheld, the entire livelihood of the people on this forested land is destroyed; what’s written between the lines of this policy is that small, self sustaining communities will be forced off the land and lifestyle that they know all in the name of emissions reductions that will be counted half a world away. These areas have contributed virtually nothing to climate changing carbon in our atmosphere, yet we feel entitled to offer money so that instead of changing our way of life, they will lose theirs.
Our governments are negotiating much more than carbon trade here; what comes out of Cancun on these policies will have incredible consequences for generations to come.