People Hugging: UNFCCC Forest Policy Needs A Climate Justice Framework

The importance of the world’s forests and the role that environmental activism surrounding forests have helped to shape a public perception that being an environmentalist means that you’re a “tree hugger.” While my “first word” as a child was in fact “tree,” I organize around climate justice because I hug people – or at least care about them.

Over the last few years it has become commonplace to hear that famous phrase describing anyone’s neighborhood environmentalist. While at school buddies would joke: “Chisholm! So what are you doing huggin’ all those them trees?” I would always swiftly reply, “I don’t hug trees nearly as much as I hug people.” Now before I bore you with more hippie-speak, all this is justified in the context of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change and the recent policy developments surrounding the use of certain forest conservation methods to curb GHG emissions.

While large tropical forests, abundant with enormous trees to hug, are the focal point of policies like Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) or Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forests (LULUCF), it is an imperative that the “people factor” (people hugging) must not be ignored when crafting global climate policy.

 What’s REDD?

 Deforestation and forest degradation, expansion of farmland, conversion to pastureland, infrastructure development, destructive logging, fires etc., account for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire global transportation sector and second only to the energysector.[1] With this information in mind, it is pretty hard to disagree with the reality that combating global climate change must involve a strategy to tackle deforestation as well. However, there are buck loads of details that speak to the “why” there continues to be deforestation. For the sake of your time and energy, I will wait for another post.

According to the United Nations, REDD is “an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development.”

The idea of REDD was first brought to the table during the Kyoto Protocol negotiations in 1997, which first recognized the important role that forests could play in reducing carbon emissions from deforestation. However, formal recognition of REDD was not achieved until 2007 at the UNFCCC 13th Conference of the Parties (COP 13) under the Bali Action Plan.

REDD+” goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

Further, maintaining forest ecosystems can contribute to increased resilience to climate change. To achieve these multiple benefits, REDD+ will require the full engagement and respect for the rights of Indigenous Peoples and other forest-dependent communities. Heading into the UNFCCC 17thConference of the Parties (COP 17) in Durban, there is still a strong showing of opposition to REDD by indigenous organizations like the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN). IEN has released a document satirically condemning the policy as “Reaping Profits from Evictions, Land grabs,Deforestation and Destruction of biodiversity +Plus Industrial Plantations, GMO Trees and Protected Areas.[2]

To “seal the deal” on climate change, REDD+ activities in developing countries must complement, not be a substitute for, deep cuts in developed countries’ emissions. Inclusion of REDD+ in a post-Kyoto regime must not jeopardize the commitment of Annex I countries to reduce their own emissions.

Side note: REDD+ Partnership:

  • Is an interim platform for partner countries (Canada is a member) to scale up actions and finance for initiatives to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) in developing countries.
  • “The Partnership” aims to take immediate action, including improving the effectiveness, efficiency, transparency and coordination of REDD+ initiatives and financial instruments, to facilitate among other things knowledge transfer, capacity enhancement, mitigation actions and technology development and transfer.
  • The first meeting of REDD+ Partnership in 2011 was held in Bangkok, Thailand 10-11 April.

A summary of the meeting,presentationsandbackgroundpaperscanbefoundat

Successive conferences in Copenhagen (COP 15) in 2009 and Cancun (COP 16) in 2010 saw an international agreement on the REDD+ framework as well commitments from several developing countries to reduce overall emissions. However, further progress on the details of REDD+ such as monitoring and enforcement, transparency, financing mechanisms and the inclusion of indigenous people in the REDD+ process, has been slow. Also, with 2011 being the International Year of the Forests, it is hoped that COP 17 in Durban will lead to more concrete agreements on some of the more technical aspects of REDD+.[3]

Canada has been a major contributor to the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) Readiness Fund – $40M, which claims to build national capacity to address deforestation. Canada is now the largest donor to this fund.[4] It is also worth noting that Canada is not listed as a Carbon Fund Participant  and is not listed as one of the “Members and Observers of the Third FCPF Participants Committee (2010-2011).”[5] Assuming that Canadians that who want climate policy action are not willing to dig deep enough into their convoluted policies, the Canadian climate strategy is one of simply throwing money at a project and not participating in the oversight of that process by any means what so ever. While the FCPF and its links to the politics of the World Bank raise questions about the validity of the program to really help developing countries through neo-liberal advances in climate policy, Canada’s commitment to any international forest-based climate policy remains apathetic at best.

Another forest policy issue that is going to be a “headliner” at the 2011 international climate policy “rock concert” will be closing the accounting loopholes around something called Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF). The “swiss-cheese” of forest climate policy to date, LULUCF is the victim of a weak framework that has been exploited by countries recognizing its lax accounting – and subsequently “cooking” (so much room for a climate change joke here) the books.

Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF)[6]

 LULUCF is a set of rules determining how Annex I Parties account for emissions from their land and forests. Currently it is mandatory to account for afforestation, reforestation, and deforestation, while it is voluntary to account for forest management, grazing land management, cropland management, and re-vegetation.

In the first commitment period (Kyoto Protocol), the voluntary nature of accounting is being exploited by Annex I Parties to obtain credits without accounting for debits. In the second commitment period, Annex I Parties are trying to change the rules to avoid accounting for increased emissions. Either way, LULUCF is being used to falsely exaggerate emission reductions.

Reports and analysis by the European Commission, the Stockholm Institute, the Postdam Institute, UNEP and a Climate Action Network analysis have all highlighted that LULUCF rules are playing a significant role in undermining Annex 1 mitigation efforts and contributing to the Gigatonne Gap between ambition in this process and what the science requires for addressing climate change. LULUCF could, however, be a source of real mitigation action.

Presently, Canada’s most notable contribution to the LULUCF process are its commitment to $4.5 million in “Fast-Start Financing”[7] through the World Bank’s BioCarbon + Fund.[8] The commitment claims to specifically promote poverty reduction through sustainable agriculture.

According to Canada’s climate strategy’

“The BioCF can consider purchasing carbon from a variety of land use and forestry projects; the portfolio includes Afforestation and Reforestation, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation and is exploring innovative approaches to agricultural carbon.[9] The BioCF tests and demonstrates how land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) activities can generate high-quality Emissions Reductions with environmental and livelihood benefits that can be measured, monitored and certified, and stand the test of time.[10]

The major issues with the BioCF program are the clear opposition to the forest policies supported by the World Bank and the very nature of International climate finance.[11] In cooperation with other Parties at COP17 Canada must reject the World Bank’s involvement with the Green Climate Fund because the World Bank is lending institution whose structures, track record and policies are in contradiction to the principles of just, fair and effective climate finance.[12]

Currently, LULUCF allows countries to report activities that remove carbon and not count activities that release carbon, so actual emissions are higher than reported. We must tell the Canadian government to adopt a position on LULUCF that calls for an improved accounting system with mandatory reporting to fill in loopholes and ensure that Canada accounts for all emissions from forests including pest outbreaks and forest fires so that emissions are actually reduced to fair and safe levels.

At first glance, these innovative approaches to international climate policy might seem to really bring the change we need in order to disarm our “carbon time-bomb,” but a closer look illustrates the truth behind these false solutions to global climate change that are still deeply wedded to the injustices that have allowed the issue to arise in the first place.

The true face of our struggle for climate justice are the people on the frontlines of climate change, already facing the devastating consequences of rising sea-levels, melting arctic ice, and the continued exploitation of fossil fuels that is pushing us further and further into the carbon dark ages.

[9] ibid., website.
[10] ibid., website.
[12] For more information check out “The Unholy Trinity: The IMF, World Bank and WTO” by Richard Peet
2 Responses to “People Hugging: UNFCCC Forest Policy Needs A Climate Justice Framework”
  1. Lili Molina says:

    Peace Mathew,
    I appreciate this post. I would love to talk to you about Durban. My email is I believe you CYCC is a coalition partner. Look forward to hearing from you!

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