UN REDD: Savior of the Rainforest or Stealth Free Market Exploitation?

The ancient forests are the lungs of the earth; without the forests life as we know it cannot exist on this planet. Deforestation and forest degradation, through agricultural expansion, conversion to pastureland, infrastructure development, destructive logging etc are destroying vast areas of forest at an alarming rate.

In Canada, tar sands extraction projects are destroying huge areas of Boreal forest, some of the largest areas of ancient forest left. The trees are clear-cut to allow the oil companies to access the tar sands underneath and are exported to the US to be turned into toilet paper. In Ecuador the Yasuni region has vast reserves of oil which oil companies have been exploiting for years, destroying the local environment and evicting the indigenous people in the process.

In total deforestation and forest degradation accounts for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire global transportation sector and second only to the energy sector. It is now clear that in order to constrain the impacts of climate change within limits that society will reasonably be able to tolerate, the global average temperatures must be stabilized within two degrees Celsius. This will be practically impossible to achieve without reducing emissions from the forest sector, in addition to other mitigation actions.

The United Nations launched the Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation(REDD) as a key means of reducing CO2 emissions suggested during the COP15 in Copenhagen. The aim is to create a financial incentive to protect these areas of forest by attributing a value to the carbon they store.

It is predicted that financial flows for greenhouse gas emission reductions from REDD could reach up to US$30 billion a year. This significant North-South flow of funds could reward a meaningful reduction of carbon emissions and could also support new, pro-poor development, help conserve biodiversity and secure vital ecosystem services.

There are some serious concerns around the REDD initiative however, particularly around the rights of the indiginous people. In a statement in September 2009 the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) said:

“If there is no full recognition and full protection for indigenous peoples’ rights, including the rights to resources, lands and territories, and there is no recognition and respect of our rights of free, prior and informed consent, we will oppose REDD,”

Amazon Watch have published a list of concerns with the treaty, stating that the provisions that protect the indiginous peoples’ rights to the land and recognisiton of rights to free, prior and informed consent are either missing, or worded in such a way that would mean they were likely to be cut from a final draft. They also express significant concern over the economic model underpinning REDD being based on the free-market style carbon market. This would lead to “drastically restricted traditional customs and lifestyles, leading to displacement and impoverishment of indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities” as well as “exacerbating conflict over land rights with local landowners and governments”. A spokesperson from Amazon Watch said:

“By turning forests into a highly-prized commodity, REDD could give way to forced evictions and essentially turn control over a given area of forest to private interests”

The Yasuni Green Gold campaign is an example of how this sort of project could work. Launched to try to protect the Yasuni National Park from destruction, the campaign called on the international community to pay $350m per year for 10 years for the government to keep the area free from development. The Yasuni Green Gold campaign is aimed at ensuring that the rights of the indiginous people in the area are respected and are enshrined in any deal or treaty governing the use of the area.

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Support the Robin Hood Tax

robin_hood_mask-180x127A new campaign has just launched in the UK to build support for a tax on financial transactions called a Tobin tax (named after the American economist who proposed the tax in the 1970s James Tobin). Taking inspiration from the legend of Robin Hood, the medieval bandit who conducted his own brand of wealth redistribution, the campaign calls for a Robin Hood Tax.

The idea behind a Tobin tax is very simple concept that could raise hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars to go to alleviating poverty, mitigating climate change, curing diseases the list goes on. The idea works by charging a 0.05% tax on speculative transactions. As many thousands of these happen every day this would rapidly raise huge amounts of money.

A speculative transaction is one that has a typically very high risk of not returning the original investment. This is the type of financial transaction that was involved in the collapse of many banks recently – the buying and selling of debt is one of the most common forms of speculative transaction.

This latest initiative in the UK has given a huge boost to global Tobin tax campaginers. The Tobin tax was proposed by the UK and France at the UN Climate Change summit in Copenhagen last December as a way to raise the money needed to help developing countries to leap-frog carbon intensive development and go straight to renewables.

There are campaigns all over the world calling for the introduction of a Tobin tax as it needs to be implemented on a global scale. To find out where your nearest campaign is check out the Tobin Tax Campaign website.

Conservatives No-Thank-You

When the Tories make a fraudulent claim, they really make a fraudulent claim. Labour may have more MPs being charged but their crimes pale in insignificance compared to their Tory peer comrade. The Times reported this morning that Labour 3 MPs and one Tory Lord have been charged over the MP’s expenses scandal. The MPs are Elliott Morley, David Chaytor and Jim Devine – no doubt soon to be lifted from the depths of back-bench obscurity to become household names – and the peer is Lord Hanningfield.

Each of the three Labour MPs has committed serious fraud; David Chaytor having “flipped” his second home several times and claimed around £13000, Elliott Morley claimed around £16000 on a so-called “phantom” mortgage and Jim Devine claiming around £2157 and £2326 respectively for electrical and carpentry work that allegedly never happened. Now these are serious cases and should be delt as such but they are nothing when compared to the details of Lord Hanningfield’s claim.

Conservative peer Lord Hanningfield is being charged over claiming £100,000 for staying overnight in Lonodn despite living only 46 miles away. This seems to be a significantly more serious offense than those three Labour MPs are accused of.

This is just another reason that a conservative government is a bad idea. Look at the scale of the mistakes. Labour brought us two wars, both causing monumental loss of life and massive destabilisation in the middle-east. The last Conservative government gave us numerous wars, armed Saddam & the Mujahideen, destroyed British industry and created the laissez-faire economic system that brought us the recession.

Conservatives; no-thank-you-very-much.

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