Tuesday, November 25, 2008

People at risk in forest protection, greens tell UN

Alok Jha, London 
The Age, November 26, 2008

INTERNATIONAL proposals to protect forests as a way of tackling climate change could displace millions of indigenous people and fail to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, environmentalists have warned.

In a report to be published tomorrow, Friends of the Earth International says current plans to slow the decline of forests by making rich countries pay for the protection of forests in tropical regions are open to abuse by corrupt politicians or illegal logging companies in the parts of the world where the money will end up.

Working out a way to protect forests will be a key issue for next week's United Nations climate change summit in Poznan, Poland, which marks the start of global negotiations to replace the Kyoto Protocol after 2012.

Forests lock up a significant amount of carbon and cutting them down is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, currently accounting for around 20% of the world's total.

Deforestation also threatens biodiversity and the livelihoods of more than 60 million indigenous people who are entirely dependent upon forests.

Government representatives at the meeting will consider adopting the "Redd" mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation in developing countries, which is based on the idea that richer countries could offset their emissions by paying to maintain forests in tropical regions.

The idea has some of its roots in the 2006 review of the economics of climate change by Nicholas Stern, who said $US4 billion a year could be enough to prevent deforestation across the eight most important countries. But Professor Stern argued that for such a scheme to work, institutional and policy reforms would be required in many states with protected forests, such as Indonesia, Cameroon and Papua New Guinea.

In principle, Friends of the Earth agrees that forests could be included in climate change targets, but says that in its current form Redd is fraught with problems. It says the proposals seem to be aimed at setting up a way to profit from forests rather than stop climate change.

"It refocuses us on to the question, who do forests belong to?" said Joseph Zacune, a climate and energy co-ordinator at Friends of the Earth. "In the absence of secure land rights, indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent communities have no guarantees that they'll benefit from Redd. There's increased likelihood of state and corporate control of their land, especially if the value of forests rises."

At the climate talks next week, the organisation plans to lobby for forests to be kept out of carbon markets, and for land rights to be enforced as the basis of any future forest policy.

"We want some kind of mechanism to stop deforestation," Mr Zacune said. "If there was to be agreement, it would have to be developed through a joint process with other forest conventions and human-rights instruments, like the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples."

Another problem is that, under Redd, there is no clear definition of what constitutes a forest: the UN includes single-species plantations such as those for palm oil or other agriculture, which are often grown in areas cleared of virgin rainforests. "Even at their best, they store 20% of the carbon that intact forests do," Mr Zacune said.

Friends of the Earth's conclusions echo those of the Rights and Resources Initiative, an international coalition of global non-government organisations that argued that the rush to protect forests could have unintended consequences.

In two reports published in July, the Rights and Resources Initiative warned that the money aimed at protecting trees might end up in the hands of central government officials in areas of the world where they were closely tied to illegal logging and mining activities.

Mr Zacune also warned that protecting forests should not become a way for rich countries to buy their way out of reducing emissions. "We need to tackle consumption of agrofuels, meat and timber products which drive deforestation."


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