Friday, December 18, 2009

REDD in the Copenhagen agreement (equates monoculture plantations with "forests")--threatens indigenous peoples and biodiversity--especially in Asia

REDD--as framed in this week's U.N. climate agreement --threatens indigenous peoples, rainforests, and biodiversity, according to environmentalists and indigenous leaders.

Indigenous representatives went to Copenhagen to voice concerns about REDD ("Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation")--stating that without proper legal protections, REDD programs would displace indigenous communities, the natural keepers of forested lands, and replace old-growth rainforests and their natural habitats with monoculture plantations devoid of endangered plant and animal species.

One reason for their concern is that four powerful countries with records of insensitivity towards indigenous rights -- the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealands -- voted against the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Copenhagen outline includes language referencing the 2007 declaration and recommends that indigenous knowledge and rights "should" be respected. However advocates for indigenous peoples hoped the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the new international climate agreement treaty, would contain stronger language that indigenous peoples could cite in the event of rights violations:
"'Should' is much, much weaker than ‘parties shall,'" said Nathaniel Dyer, a policy advisor for Rainforest Foundation UK. "It's important because this is what lawyers will pore over when the violations occur..."

Nations that advocated for the U.N. declaration language included Bolivia, Columbia, Paraguay, the Philippines, and Venezuela, Tauli-Corpuz said.

The chair of REDD negotiations, Dean Tony La Vina of the Manila-based Ateneo School of Government, said on Sunday that legal "safeguards" - protections for biodiversity and transparency, as well as indigenous peoples' rights - would be addressed when ministers and heads of state work through the negotiation text during the rest of this week.

"I'm pretty confident we can work on those safeguards. REDD will not succeed if you don't respect the rights of indigenous peoples, if you don't maintain biodiversity, and if you don't ensure proper governance," La Vina said.

He added, however, that indigenous peoples' rights have largely been removed from the negotiation agenda in Copenhagen and were instead addressed in previous sessions. "We haven't had a debate on indigenous peoples in this session," he said.
However those safeguards ensuring protection of indigenous rights, rainforests, and biodiversity were not addressed. Instead, the agreement greenwashes the conversion of actual forests into monocultural plantations where indigenous peoples, forced off their lands, are forced to work as exploited laborers. This is a 21st-century incarnation of what European conquistadors did to native peoples during the first age of global imperialism.

Margaret Swink of Rainforest Action Network said in an email interview, that while RAN is neither for nor against REDD, "If there is going to be a REDD, it must be part of a wider deal that contains deep fossil reductions. We also believe that any REDD deal needs to include strong provisions to protect indigenous rights. We believe that indigenous people are the best custodians of the world's forests and that all of their rights should be respected in any forest agreement that the UN considers.

Environmentalists and indigenous leaders underscore related problems with REDD, according to Jeremy Hance at Mongabay:
The political definition of forest under REDD will allow rainforests to be converted to monoculture plantations, if the plantation falls under the REDD definition of "forest."

Southeast Asia oil palm plantations would be considered forests under REDD's current definition--even though the conversion of rainforest into oil palm plantations releases significant amounts of carbon (oil palm plantation store 50-90 percent less carbon than forests). In addition, conversion from rainforest to oil palm plantations causes other impacts, such as drastic biodiversity loss. "Countries can clear massive amounts of forest and still claim that deforestation had not occurred," said Peter A Minang, ASB Global Coordinator, who has extensive experience working with the REDD initiative.

Conservationists also fear that protecting REDD's definition of forests could push conversion into carbon-important ecosystems that don't fall under the REDD definition, such as peatlands and sparsely-forested grasslands like Brazil's vast Cerrado. Peatlands are especially important as they contain more carbon than even an untouched tropical forest.

"On the other hand, large wooded areas that are not part of officially designated 'forests' as well as huge tracts of peatlands (which account for 3 to 5 percent of global carbon emissions) would fall outside the definition," explains Meine van Noordwijk, Chief Science Advisor for the World Agroforestry Centre and a co-author of the ASB analysis.
The lowest-cost REDD projects are also problematic for biodiversity concerns, especially in Asia, according to researchers writing in Science:
Oscar Venter, a doctoral candidate at the University of Queensland, and colleagues, evaluated the prospects for REDD on a global scale and found the cheapest way to reduce deforestation by 20 percent would exclude critical biodiversity hotspots that support a large proportion of the world's endangered species. Looking strictly at the cost-effectiveness of forest conservation, the researchers conclude that most conservation funding would go to the Amazon, where large tracts of unprotected forest can be conserved relatively inexpensively.

By comparison, Asia, which houses the bulk of the planet's threatened species and is experiencing large-scale forest destruction by loggers and palm oil producers, would miss out due to its high opportunity cost for conservation. In other words, in Asia the very practices that are driving deforestation increase the cost of REDD implementation. The region's biodiversity could lose out.

To avoid this scenario, the authors argue that REDD should include a biodiversity component to allocate more money to species-rich countries. Minor adjustments to the scheme could double the number of species protected under REDD while reducing the carbon benefits by only four to eight percent. The authors suggest that the amended program could by funded by groups interested in preserving biodiversity. For example companies might be willing to pay a premium for carbon credits generated by conserving habitat of particularly endangered species like certain lemurs in Madagascar and the Sumatran rhino and orangutan in Indonesia.

"Dollar for dollar, a carbon-focused approach contributes little to slowing biodiversity loss and will save far fewer species than a biodiversity-focused strategy that targets the most imperiled forests," said Venter.
By equating monoculture tree plantations with "forests," REDD serves as a cover for appropriating territory from indigenous communities and destroying rainforests and biodiversity. In a September 19, 2008 article at Mongabay, Jeremy Hance writes:
"Tree plantations are not forests. A plantation is a highly uniform agricultural system that replaces natural ecosystems and their rich biodiversity,” Sandy Gauntlett of the Pacific Indigenous Peoples Environment Coalition said. “The trees planted are geared to the production of a single raw material, whether it is timber, pulp, rubber, palm oil or others.”

The products grown on industrial tree plantations depend on the region. In Southeast Asia and the Pacific, palm oil has resulted in large-scale conversion of tropical forests, especially in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. In Africa, plantations produce rubber, wood pulp, and cacao, in addition to palm oil. Nigeria, Cameroon, Liberia, Swaziland, and South Africa are particularly affected by monoculture tree plantations. Pine and eucalyptus are grown in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, and Uruguay. Palm oil for biofuels is also grown in Colombia and Venezuela. Malaysia has recently stated that it intends to expand palm oil into the Amazon...

Many of the affected communities lived traditional and sustainable lifestyles for centuries before industrial plantations upset their way of life. All of them depended on the land for their livelihood. Isaac Rojas of Friends of the Earth International adds that “on the lands currently occupied by plantations, there used to be or could be agricultural crops that would help ensure the people’s food sovereignty, managed by peasant communities. Or these communities and indigenous peoples could use the land for sustainable activities that would improve their quality of life, such as community forest management.”
-- Jean Downey

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