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Why REDD/REDD+ Is NOT a Solution

Tom B.K. Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network

Note: This is an excerpt of one section from the NO REDD READER,  A collection of articles written by REDD Monitor, Global Justice Ecology Project, Diego Alejandro Cardona, Tatiana Roa Avendaño, Honduran Garifuna Organization, World Rainforest Movement, Carbon Trade Watch, Brihannala Morgan, ETC Group and Indigenous Environmental Network.

Why REDD/REDD+ is NOT a Solution

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All humans and all life are affected by climate change, however, Indigenous Peoples and local land-based communities worldwide are more vulnerable and therefore are confronting immense challenges. Changes in the climate, environment, the exploitation of economic globalization, free trade agreements and a continuation of western forms of development threaten indigenous and local land-based communities on a local and global level. The survival of indigenous cultures worldwide, including the languages and right to practice their cultural heritage continue to be affected by a modern industrialized world with an economic growth paradigm that lacks awareness and respect for the sacredness of Mother Earth. As “guardians” of Mother Earth, many indigenous tribal traditions believe that it is their historic responsibility to protect the sacredness of Mother Earth and to be defenders of the Circle of Life which includes biodiversity, forests, flora, fauna and all living species.

Indigenous Peoples participating in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) climate negotiations and other the UN Convention on Biological Diversity are in the front lines of a power structure that minimizes the importance of indigenous cosmologies, philosophies and world views. These power structures reside within the UN process and prop up inequalities found in industrialized countries, the more developed of the developing countries, the World Bank and financial institutions. These powerful actors have economic systems that objectify, commodify and put a monetary value on land, water, forests and air that is antithetical to indigenous understanding. Indigenous peoples, North and South, are forced into the world market with nothing to negotiate with except the natural resources relied on for survival.

With many indigenous communities it is difficult and sometimes impossible to reconcile their traditional spiritual beliefs within a climate mitigation regime that commodifies the sacredness of air, trees and life. Climate change mitigation and sustainable forest management must be based on different mindsets which give full respect for nature, the rights of Mother Earth and not on market-based mechanisms.

History has seen attempts to commodify land, food, labor, forests, water, genes and ideas, such as privatization of our traditional knowledge. Carbon trading follows in the footsteps of this history and turns the sacredness of our Mother Earth’s carbon-cycling capacity into property to be bought or sold in a global market. Through this process of creating a new commodity – carbon – Mother Earth’s ability and capacity to support a climate conducive to life and human societies is now passing into the same corporate hands that are destroying the climate. Carbon trading will not contribute to achieving protection of the Earth’s climate.

It is a false solution which entrenches and magnifies social inequalities in many ways. It is a violation of the sacred – plain and simple. We recognize the need for industrialized countries to focus on new economies, governed by the absolute limits and boundaries of ecological sustainability, the carrying capacities of Mother Earth, a more equitable sharing of global and local resources, encouragement and support of self sustaining communities, and respect and support for the rights of Mother Earth. Long term solutions require turning away from prevailing paradigms and ideologies centered on pursuing economic growth, corporate profits and personal wealth accumulation as primary engines of social well-being. The transitions will inevitably be toward societies that can equitably adjust to reduced levels of production and consumption, and increasingly localized systems of economic organization that recognition, honor and are bounded by the limits of nature that recognize the draft Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth.1

“In recognizing the root causes of climate change, participants call upon the industrialized countries and the world to work towards decreasing dependency on fossil fuels. We call for a moratorium on all new exploration for oil, gas, coal and uranium as a first step towards the full phase-out of fossil fuels, without nuclear power, with a just transition to sustainable jobs, energy and environment. We take this position and make this recommendation based on our concern over the disproportionate social, cultural, spiritual, environmental and climate impacts on Indigenous Peoples, who are the first and the worst affected by the disruption of intact habitats, and the least responsible for such impacts.

Dialogue is needed amongst Indigenous and non-Indigenous stakeholders and especially the public/civil society and their governments to re-evaluate a colonial law system that doesn’t work. A body of law needs to be developed that recognizes the inherent rights of the environment, of animals, fish, birds, plants, water, and air outside of their usefulness to humans.

This would address the question as to the law and rights of nature, however with the framework of indigenous natural laws or within the framework of indigenous Original Instructions. Most colonial western law limits nature and what North America Indigenous peoples term as the Circle of Life, as mere property or natural “resources” to be exploited.

Many Indigenous Peoples in Copenhagen at the UNFCCC COP 15 were demanding action; not false hopes and empty promises. Developed countries use tactics to continue carbon colonialism. As Indigenous Peoples, many of us are raising the bar. We are mobilizing with social movements, workers, women, youth, small farmers and the business sector with a consciousness for social responsibility and will make demands in Cancun at the COP 16 and beyond Cancun to South Africa in 2011 and the Rio +20 in 2012 the most stringent emission target reductions and real solutions. As Indigenous Peoples, we are the guardians of Mother Earth, and making principled stands for the global well-being of all people and all life.

On my mother’s bloodline, I am On my mother’s bloodline, I am Dine’, an indigenous tribal nation spanning from Alaska, throughout Canada to the southwestern region of the United States. The deep profound spiritual concepts of Mother Earth and Father Sky being part of us as the Dine’ and the Dine’ being part of Mother Earth and Father Sky is woven into our “Way-Of-Being” even before we are born, when we are in the womb of our birth mother. It is our belief the Dine’ must treat this sacred bond with love and respect without exerting dominance for we do not own our mother or father.

The four sacred elements of life: air, fire/light, water and earth in all their forms must be  respected, honored and protected for they sustain life. These sacred elements cannot be owned and traded as property. We, the Dine’, the people of the Great Covenant, are the image of our ancestors and we are created in connection with all Creation. Mother

Earth and our place in the Universe embody deep thinking, what we call “Nahasdzaan doo Yadilhil bitsaadee beehaz’aanii” or in the closest English translation, “Natural Law”.

On the other side of my family, amongst our Dakota Oyate (People), we understand our relationship and responsibilities to the natural world and to all life – animate and inanimate. We have an expression concluding our prayers whereby we say, “Mitakuye Owasin”, in English translation meaning “All My Relations”. This saying defines the relational precepts we have towards recognizing the rights of Mother Earth, and all life, and the responsibilities we have to remember the responsibility of our place in creation.

REDD/REDD+ in the negotiations2

Many Indigenous Peoples are starting to call REDD/REDD+ “CO2lonialism of forests” or capitalism of the trees and air”. The newspaper The Australian calls it a “classic 21st century scam emerging from the global climate change industry.”

This is because in reality, REDD/REDD+ is bad for people, bad for politics and bad for the climate. It will inevitably give more control over Indigenous Peoples’ forests to state forest departments, loggers, miners, plantation companies, traders, lawyers, speculators, brokers, brokers, Washington conservation organizations and Wall Street, resulting in violations of rights, loss of livelihood – and, ultimately, more forest loss.

The reasons are simple. Industrialized-country governments and corporations will pay for the preservation of Indigenous Peoples’ forests only if they get something in return. What they want is rights over the carbon in those forests. They need those rights because they want to use them as licenses to continue burning fossil fuels – and thus to continue mining fossil fuels at locations like the Albertan Tar Sands in Canada, the Ecuadorian Amazon, the Niger Delta and Appalachian mountaintops in the United States. They will get those rights by making deals with – and reinforcing the power of – the people that they regard as having “authority” over the forests, or whoever is willing and able to steal forests or take them over using legal means. These people are the very governments, corporations and gangsters who have time and again proved their contempt for the rights and knowledge of Indigenous Peoples. The result is bound to be new and more extensive forms of elite appropriation of Indigenous and other territories.

REDD/REDD+ can’t be fixed by attempts to detach it from the carbon markets

Existing REDD/REDD+ projects have already set in motion this transfer of power, nor is there any way that REDD/REDD+ can be “fixed” to alter these political realities. It can only reinforce them. For well-meaning environmentalists to deny this is to indulge in a very dangerous naiveté.

First and foremost, REDD/REDD+ is – and is always in danger of being – a component of carbon markets. While many of the details of REDD/REDD+ are being worked out by well intentioned  economists, lawyers, environmental NGOs, and forest conservationists and technicians with no particular commitment to carbon markets, the money behind it was always going to come mainly from industrialized countries and large corporations looking for more pollution licenses to enable them to delay action on climate change. Even among the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, the consensus is already clear: finance for REDD/REDD+ projects will come from carbon markets.

If REDD/REDD+ plans go forward, billions of tonnes of demand for trade-able REDD/REDD+ pollution licenses will be generated by UN-backed carbon markets including the European Union (EU) Emissions Trading Scheme, bilateral agreements and the voluntary market. Even the technical structure of REDD/REDD+ reflects its market orientation: REDD/REDD+ posits a numerical climatic equivalence between saving forests and reducing the burning of fossil fuels.

This equation is indefensible scientifically; its only function is to make different things trade-able in order to generate fossil fuel pollution licenses.3 A non-market REDD/REDD+ would not need to claim this false equivalence between biotic and fossil carbon.

As an alternative to the carbon market mechanisms of REDD/REDD+, there is an emerging movement of friendly countries, NGOs and Indigenous Peoples organizations (IPOs) proposing a hypothetical REDD/REDD+ that is not connected with the carbon markets. However, these strategic and tactical solutions are risky with no guarantees that these proposals will end up being pushed aside by the more powerful actors with a stake in developing this prospective trillion-dollar market.4 To act as if REDD/REDD+ might someday be financed by a repayment of the ecological debt the North owes the South, or by a benevolent fund using public or non-market donations, could be naive. Red flags go up expressing the danger zones of blindly supporting REDD/REDD+, of any kind, as well as any attempt to “fix” REDD/REDD+, that would inevitably mean support for the carbon markets.

Assuming REDD/REDD+ is irretrievably linked with carbon markets, then at least three important conclusions follow:

(1) There is no way to stop REDD/REDD+ from dividing Indigenous and forest dependent communities from each other. Every time a forest dependent community signs a contract to provide pollution licenses for fossil fuel-dependent corporations, it will be potentially harming communities elsewhere who are suffering from the fossil fuel extraction or pollution for which those corporations are responsible. No possible reform or regulation of REDD/REDD+ could prevent this; it is built into its structure as a carbon market instrument.

Of course, it would be theoretically possible, with great effort, for Indigenous and forest dependent communities who wish to sign REDD/REDD+ contracts to secure the free, prior and informed consent of all the other communities elsewhere who would be harmed.

Many local communities of these forested areas have values respecting humanity and the concepts of the well-being of community, however, most members of these REDD/REDD+ projects have not been thoroughly informed of the offset reality on how these projects create toxic hotspots violating the indigenous and human rights of communities far away. But unless this consent is obtained in every case – and the list of communities across the globe who would need to be consulted would be huge with many REDD/REDD+ projects – REDD/ REDD+ is bound to pit community against community.

Already, a project using aboriginal North Australian Indigenous knowledge of fire management practices to generate pollution licenses for ConocoPhillips has provoked the following reaction from Casey Camp-Horinek, a tribal member of the Ponca indigenous nation in the US, which suffers from the actions of the company in North America: “Indigenous Peoples who participate in carbon trading are giving ConocoPhillips a bullet to kill my people.”5

(2) There is no way to stop REDD/REDD+ from dividing Indigenous and forest dependent communities who sign REDD/REDD+ contracts from other communities for whom climate change is a concern. As part of carbon markets, REDD/REDD+ will inevitably slow action on global warming; that is what carbon markets are structured to do.6 REDD/REDD+ will thus heighten climate dangers for Arctic, indigenous lands, small-island states and low-lying and coastal communities, as well as, eventually, everyone else. Again, no possible reform of REDD/ REDD+ could prevent the damage it would do to the climate cause, as long as it is linked to carbon trading. Pretending that such reforms are possible only perpetuates the damage. The very structure of REDD/REDD+ makes it impossible that it could ever be made “Indigenous-friendly”.

(3) There is no way to stop REDD/REDD+ from being a speculative plaything of the financial markets – to the detriment of the climate and human rights alike. Already, the biggest investors in carbon credits are not companies that need them in order to meet their government-regulated pollution targets.7

REDD/REDD+ can’t be fixed by trying to ensure that the money “goes to the right place”  REDD/REDD+ proponents often assert that, even though REDD/REDD+ may be bad for the climate, at least it will be good for forests because it will channel large sums of money to nature conservation and biodiversity protection. Leaving aside, for the moment, the difficulty that any program that accelerates global warming will also accelerate forest destruction, this is to overlook the historical lesson that every proposal to solve the problem of deforestation and forest degradation through large sums of money has failed.8

Click to read the complete Why REDD/REDD+ Is NOT a Solution section from REDD Reader