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This afternoon Council of Canadians Board member Leticia Adair and I tried to join a protest outside the JW Marriott luxury hotel in Cancun. We thought this would involve holding a ‘No REDD+’ banner near the entrance of the hotel as officials, delegates and motorcades entered the hotel for the event.

Unfortunately no protest emerged because the police were apparently blocking activists from entering the hotel zone. But because we came early not only did we make it to the hotel, we made it – along with a few other activists, including from the World Development Movement – inside the event!

The ‘Advancing REDD+: New Pathways and Partnerships’ forum was said to feature Mexican president Felipe Calderon, US climate negotiator Jonathan Pershing, World Bank president Bob Zoellick, WalMart chairman Bob Walton, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and others.

But apart from Ban Ki-moon, who left about 20 minutes into the program to catch an airplane, an almost completely different panel appeared on stage.

What did they say?
Ki-moon said that we should do all we can to support REDD+, and that more than 70 countries endorse it.

Kenyan Nobel prize winner Wangari Nathai joined through a pre-recorded video to say that REDD is not getting enough attention, should be supported, and needs action.

The Norwegian prime minister stated that national governments must show domestic leadership on REDD.

The president of Guayana said his government has decided to protect their forest lands – the size of England – through the REDD+ scheme, but that international partnerships are needed. He said although Norway has allocated money to his country for this, and that this money has gone to the World Bank, and some of this is now with the International Development Bank, not a single penny has been received yet in his country.

Billionaire George Soros said something needs to be done on the ground and that rainforests and peat lands are an important place to take action. He talked about the deforestation of peat land in Indonesia – because the wood is valuable and there was a plan was to grow rice on it – only served to drain, oxidize and even cause destructive fires in those areas.

A White House official then stated that there is a need to advance economic growth and be innovative in relation to climate change. He said the US has put $250 million plus to REDD+ initiatives. He added that a robust REDD+ is a model that could be replicated across all issues for a balanced, comprehensive climate deal. He was confident that an agreement could be reached here in Cancun.

And the head of the Indonesian president’s REDD+ unit said that the Norway-Indonesia partnership should be seen as a model. Indonesia is the third largest carbon emitter after China and the US in part because of deforestation.

It should also be noted that Canadian media today reported that environment minister John Baird supports REDD+, sees progress on this as possible in Canada, and that it’s a way to stop deforestation.

But is it really that good?
Though often reported as a means to stop deforestation and protect the rights of indigenous peoples, REDD+, as currently being implemented around the world, is failing to live up to this grand promise.

Friends of the Earth International says, “The REDD proposals currently on the table are intended to generate profits for polluters, not to stop climate change. They must be replaced with a commitment to stop deforestation once and for all.”

Deforestation is a major issue because it is responsible for 18 percent of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

The way forests are defined is crucial to whether REDD helps to preserve or destroy forests. The current definition fails to differentiate between forests and industrial tree plantations, creating a perverse incentive to deforest and plant tree plantations.

As such, in current REDD scenarios deforestation could be allowed to continue or even accelerate.

Commodifying forests to generate carbon credits so that developed countries can continue to pollute is a false solution. Carbon markets do not reduce emissions but merely shift the burden of doing so from developed countries to developing countries.

What’s the alternative?
The Cochabamba people’s agreement states that, “The best strategy and action to avoid deforestation and degradation and protect native forests and jungles is to recognize and guarantee collective rights to lands and territories, especially considering most of the forests are located within the territories of indigenous peoples and nations and other traditional communities.”

A fund based mechanism to support actions in developing countries to halt deforestation and forest degradation should be established and funded by developed countries.

For more analysis on REDD, please go to

The UK Guardian reported the event as, “Today’s gathering  (was) designed to demonstrate corporate approval for efforts to prevent deforestation in countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Guyana.”

“Ban Ki-Moon said that conditions were ‘ripe’ for a deal. (Yet) Bolivia has strong objections to creating a market system around forests. (And) the US envoy…has said repeatedly he will not sign on to a deal on deforestation or other issues unless he sees progress on the core US demand of transparency.”

The report adds, “The deal would set up a system under which developed countries could pay developing countries not to cut down their forests, which act as one of the biggest carbon stores on earth.”

“A number of corporations (including WalMart) are interested in forest protection – to gild their image, or in anticipation of using them to offset their own greenhouse gas emissions.”

Lastly, when Leticia and I left the forum, there were five young men in their twenties holding a banner against REDD on the boulevard that goes past the hotel. They told us the police had stopped them riding on a bus to the hotel and that they had walked to get there. Minutes later the ‘tourist police’ came and told them that while they had the right to protest, they couldn’t protest in the hotel zone. The police don’t appear to want to arrest people, likely because the Mexican government wants to put a friendly spin on all this. They were telling the activists to get into the police truck and that they would drive them downtown. Understandably the activists didn’t want to do that. Finally, it was agreed they would get on a city bus. We joined them and in a modest act of solidarity paid their bus fare.