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Seeing REDD: How Mother Earth is Being Impacted by Bad Policies

I spent the day at Foro International de la Justicia Climatico de los Pueblos (the International Forum of Climate Justice – Dialogue of the Communities) and heard many interesting presentations. After speaking on the panel The Rights of Mother Earth: The Time Has Come for a New Paradigm, I attended another panel on the rights of Mother Earth called Los Pueblos Indigenas, los Derechos de la Madre Tierra y la Justicia Climatic (Indigenous Peoples, the Rights of Mother Earth and Climate Justice). The gymnasium was packed with approximately 400 people. There were three panels on the Rights of Mother Earth today.

Roly Escobar Ochoa from CONAPAMG (Guatemala) spoke first about the negative impacts that a miming company had on a local community. Sandy Gauntlett from New Zealand started off with a Maori song to thank the people of Mexico for having him here. He asked for support and solidarity for the Maori people.

Ben Powless from the Indigenous Environment Network (IEN) spoke about the need for free, prior and informed consent of First Nations in Canada. He highlighted the similar challenges that the indigenous peoples of Mexico faced in mining and other development projects. He highlighted IEN’s main messages of ‘Leave it in the ground,’ reducing emissions by 95%, the need for industrialized countries to pay for their ecological debt and the need for real solutions that will benefit communities and not simply corporations and government. He stressed the importance of striving to live well (not just better) and to live on harmony with nature.

In the afternoon, I attended a panel on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). There was a much smaller crowd for this panel – about 60 people – so we all formed a semi-circle around the panelists which created a more intimate atmosphere. Tom Goldtooth was the moderator and began the panel with an introduction on IEN and talked about the need to address environmental racism. The panel consisted of speakers from Carbon Trade Watch, Global Forest Coalition, Global Justice Ecology Project and Society for Threatened Peoples International. The panel of experts attempted to demystify the complexity of REDD, REDD+ and REDD++.

Wealthy nations have pledged millions of dollars into the REDD program to encourage countries of the South to slow down the rate of deforestation and to offset greenhouse gases produced in industrialized nations.

The first speaker was Simone Lovera from the World Forest Coalition (Paraguay). She spoke passionately about the myths and flaws of REDD. She said that proponents of REDD argue that there is no way of preserving forests without REDD. She said this was insulting and offensive to indigenous people because indigenous peoples had been preserving forests for thousands of years. She said the second lie about REDD was that it promised to preserved forests. However, the definition of a ‘forest’ was flawed because it included any piece of land where trees could be planted in the future. So under REDD+, this definition applies to plantations. Since plantations grow faster and are more lucrative, investments made under REDD will be used to fund plantations. This is clearly not forest conservation. She discussed how REDD++ went on to include agriculture, particularly monoculture crops. Investments in monoculture crops would not benefit small producers and are harmful to the land.

She said a third misconception under REDD was that in order to preserve forests, a lot of money was needed. However, past experience has shown that large investments into land and forests have resulted in degradation of land and forests.

REDD pays people who own land for the preservation of forests, plantation development or agriculture. However, the people that benefit from REDD are wealthier people who already own land. Only 11% of land is owned by women. Indigenous peoples rarely own land.

Rather than simply injecting money into developing countries, Simone Lovera stressed that what was needed was policies that reduce poverty, education, nutrition and wood and food security.

Larry Lohmann, author of Carbon Trading, began his presentation with the history of carbon markets. In the 1960s, economists from the University of Chicago had the idea of a new kind of markets: trading pollution and air. In the 1970s and 1980s, people on Wall Street had money and were looking for new areas to invest their money which they invested in carbon markets.

Bankers, speculators, traders on Wall Street, the London Financial District and the University of Chicago dominate the carbon markets and REDD. He also noted that Merrell Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Mexico’s HFC 23 Factory and Morgan Stanley are the biggest pushers of REDD.

Larry Lohmann explained that carbon trading was a new kind of commodification. It commodifed the ability of the air, oceans and trees to absorb carbon dioxide. The logic behind carbon trading is that all the carbon dioxide in the ground will be absorbed by the trees. However, he argued that we would need two or three extra planets to absorb the carbon dioxide released from the ground. He highlighted that the belief that fossil carbon dioxide is the same as tree carbon dioxide is not only false but racist. He said that what ends up happening is that since Western governments and corporations feel it is too expensive to stop their fossil fuel factories, they will buy or take land from countries in the South instead.

He ended his talk by insightfully stating that, “The real climate problem is about the politics of stopping fossil fuels coming out of the ground and not about the climate problem of carbon dioxide.”

Estebancio Castro Diaz spoke about the Kuna Yala people of Panama. He spoke of his personal experience with REDD. He highlight how proponents of REDD only focus on one aspect of trees (the ability to convert carbon dioxide). Proponents fail to recognize trees for their ability to provide food, medicine and knowledge. He said REDD projects on the Kuna Yala territory are affecting their culture and changing their traditional lifestyle. Every spring, they go into the forest to cut trees and burn the land to plant food. However, they are now told they cannot do that anymore but are not told how much money they will be given in compensation. He ended his presentation by saying “No rights; No REDD.” If the rights of the Kuna Yala people are not recognized under REDD, governments should not implement this programme.

The panel was extremely informative with speakers from all over the world.

Tomorrow is the big march. Stay tuned!