Climate talks, forest agreement in little danger of 'creating a better world for nothing'*
December 16, 2009 - 3:35am ET
Popular This Week
Also Worth Reading
Stall, confusion and indecision reign in the UNFCC COP15 summit in Copenhagen according to negotiators for both developed and developing nations, with the possible exception of the REDD+ agreements, which are intended to reimburse poorer countries for preserving existing forests.
The last publicly available drafts of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) and Long Term Cooperative Action (LCA) agreements were filled in with placeholders like "to be elaborated" at critical points, such as the financing and trade measures. So for any of these major pieces to be nearly complete (how complete is very much in doubt, though,) seems quite astonishing and I think it's worth examining in terms of whose interests are being represented.
So while the REDD deal is being reported in the New York Times as though "all major points of disagreement ... had been resolved through compromise," including concerns about protecting indigenous rights. Yet a look at the UN release on the matter says, "activists complain that [indigenous rights have] been moved out of a legally binding part of the text."
Now, maybe people who are concerned about getting kicked off their land might be inspired to activism, or might have inspired other advocates, but maybe they're just people concerned about getting kicked off their land who are tired of being on the losing end of 'compromise.' Maybe being described as activists misses the point.
Environmental Defense Fund's Fred Krupp, (EDF, btw, being so important that they've got their own office in the trailers where the country delegations are set up) was quoted in the Times article saying that the main benefit of REDD was the way it would let US companies reduce their emissions at "lower cost." By which he almost certainly meant a lower cost than actually reducing emissions, offsetting unhealthy practices through the purchase of land rights to land that other people may already live on and hadn't agreed to sell.
Krupp described this business bonanza as being "very important politically," which I expect will cut little ice with people who stand to be made homeless by it. Without legally protections, indigenous peoples are about as protected by any agreement as the world's children are by UN proclamations on their rights and welfare.
I don't hear anyone describing Krupp as a 'business activist', for example, (indeed I've never heard that term used to describe anyone,) though he's probably better labeled that way than an indigenous person coming to the UN to ask for tenancy rights for their very own ancestral land.
Perhaps the UN press staff should have left it at saying 'some indigenous peoples' were unhappy with the deal, and the Times should have made it more clear who was actually doing the compromising in this case. Because I don't think the Amazon Indians who are counting on REDD to save their home want it to come with an eviction notice.
Moreover, there's concern that the legal definition of "forest" for the agreement purposes might also include tea or biofuel plantations. Such export-oriented agricultural development is often also responsible for the displacement of indigenous peoples, may be initiated by governments who aren't keen on democratic consultation, and are scientifically, emphatically, not the same as established forest cover.
When it does come to negotiating something substantial in terms of technology transfer, financing and trade, are the rest of the compromises going to mean greater exposure for the little guy, as well?
The G77 Speak Out On Inclusion
The G77 negotiators, such as Bernarditas de Castro Muller of the Phillipines, and head of the African Group, Kemel Djemouai of Algeria, and Sri Lankan ambassador Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona, are certainly concerned that with things going as they are, they're going to end up on the menu.
Multiple complaints have been made regarding the process arranged by the meeting's Danish hosts, who are said to be cutting many nations out of secretive side negotiations and refusing to release draft texts to the parties.
At a press conference Monday night, Muller said their bloc had been "shifted aside" from negotiations, and was frustrated that the ministers of 48 nations had met privately over the weekend. She said that no 48 countries should be allowed to decide for everyone "no matter how important they are," and that it was wrong that so much of what was in the agreements appeared to be "self-financed adaptation."
Djemouai agreed that it wasn't fair for wealthy nations to do nothing, while the poor were asked to make commitments. Under Kyoto, developing nations have only voluntary responsibilities, while developed nations have legally binding emission reduction obligations. He said that "maybe in 50 years it will be fair," referring to future projections indicating that the share of developing country emissions will become the largest sources of additional greenhouse gases.
Their concern stemmed largely from the fact that even with a binding treaty, emissions from wealthy nations have continued to rise. At present, the LCA track isn't expected to produce a binding treaty, only a political agreement, along with a great deal more relative pressure on poorer countries to abide by it.
As Bolivia's ambassador, Pablo Solon, said after the US negotiator, Todd Stern, recently rejected the idea that the US had culpability in the climate crisis, "the industrialised countries ... have used up two thirds of the atmospheric space, depriving us of the necessary space for our development and provoking a climate crisis of huge proportions. ... In Bolivia we are facing a crisis we had no role in causing. Our glaciers dwindle, droughts become ever more common, and water supplies are drying up. Who should address this? To us it seems only right that the polluter should pay, and not the poor."
Yet as Meena Raman of the Third World Network explained in a December 14th Copenhagen news update, this question of whether both the KP and LCA discussions will go forward is a key sticking point. The EU and Japan are insisting that they want to be part of an agreement that includes the US, which the KP treaty isn't, and that they want there to be only one treaty. The developing nations prefer Kyoto and want a new commitment period negotiated, and appear to think that too little of either good faith or assistance has been extended for them to make binding commitments.
Where REDD Fits In
If REDD actually worked, it could net developing countries as much as $33 billion per year in carbon credit trades, which is more than three times the best offer of direct assistance suggested by wealthy nations who have so far offered a maximum of $10 billion.
The promise of that much additional money might well overcome objections to a verification mechanism that applied to developing nations. If it were an additional benefit on top of direct aid, REDD might just make things work.
Further, after strident objections by US negotiators to financially supporting initiatives that would benefit China, they appear to have agreed to refuse to take adaptation and mitigation funds. While they're still holding to a developing nation status, which they say is warranted by their per capita GDP, they're also saying that unlike many other countries, they can self-finance much of their development.
It'll be interesting to see how that unfolds after their insistence that wind projects in China should still be eligible for Clean Development Mechanism financing, but who knows. Even the US has shown lately that it can be less belligerent.
Still, there are serious problems with what's known about REDD to date, and it doesn't warrant unlimited exuberance.
Indigenous rights remain in limbo, the definition of a forest is as much in question as it was back in November after the Barcelona REDD talks, there are logging loopholes that allow developed nations to refuse to count logging below a projected baseline of logging activity as emissions, and the NGO observers who would generally remind negotiators of all this are being shut out.
As Brad Johnson said this week, "The UN is doing better on setting a mandatory and declining cap on access to Bella Center than on carbon emissions."
Funny, but true, and no less true of REDD so far than anything else we've seen. This agreement won't actually help if it simply creates "museums for trees", while allowing wealthy nations to go on about their business as usual. If climate change continues killing forests because preventing new emissions is counted as if it were cutting them, this will all have been for nothing.
* Quote in title from this article on the no regrets path to stabilizing the climate.
Help us spread the word about these important stories...
Email to a friend
Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Campaign for America's Future or Institute for America's Future