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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