Lead article photo
Denuded rainforest in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Photograph: Bruno
Historically, when you have governments that say they are going to
protect forest areas, what they usually do is to go into forest areas
that are still intact. Those areas are intact precisely because forest
people are living there and have been protecting their natural habitat.
Yet when governments set up a protected area or a natural reserve, they
often evict the local people. Alternatively, they establish conditions
on what forest peoples can and cannot do. This is well documented around
the world – in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
At the climate change conference, we saw exactly this process
continuing. In last week’s current climate change talks, policy makers
were looking at how to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation. These
account for about 20% of the total emissions they hope to eliminate.
There are two angles that governments are considering: the grant angle
and the carbon market angle. In Brazil, for example, they are pushing
for the grant model. Brazilians say that they want to protect the
forest, but that means losing money from forest-dependent commercial
initiatives such as logging and soya. So they suggested that if foreign
countries paid them, they could use the money to protect the forest.
However, most policy makers appear to favour the carbon market model.
Under discussion is a scheme called Redd, or Reducing Emissions from
Deforestation and Degradation of forests. Through this approach,
companies can emit say, 1,000 tonnes of carbon into the air. They can
then offset this by paying for a halt to deforestation that would have
created 1000 tonnes of carbon.
Redd is essentially about giving money to an area where, unless
compensatory funds are made available, the rainforest is going to
disappear. Take the example of a logging company. If that company
receives enough money to make it worthwhile not to log, then it won’t log.
Yet in a case where local people are already looking after the forest,
there’s no risk of deforestation. Still, they wouldn’t receive money
from Redd, because Redd is focused only on reducing emissions from areas
threatened by deforestation. It’s a perverse logic. The money goes to
the bad guys, not the good guys; it goes to those who are deforesting,
rather than those who are not. Money should be given to those who
protect the forest, not to bribe those who would otherwise destroy it.
It’s all about money, not about people’s rights or necessities. They are
turning forest conservation into a market mechanism. And absurdly, it’s
the same market that destroyed the Amazon through the export of soya and
Indigenous people are set to lose their right of ownership over their
forests at an even faster rate than at present. They don’t have land
rights and they are vulnerable. National governments do not recognise
ancestral lands, preferring to claim that forests belong to the state.
The governments then assume the legal right to give concessions for
logging and mining and the like.
Obviously, there’s a lot of money involved. If a government acknowledged
the rights of the forest people it couldn’t issue a logging concession.
It would have to negotiate an individual agreement with the indigenous
This has to be seen as a human rights issue. These forest communities
need their land in order to survive; they need their ecosystem. To
destroy the land is to destroy the people.
At the climate talks, the sole indigenous presence was a handful of
representatives. In individual countries, there have been no workshops
or seminars to inform people about the current proposals and explain
what they may lose or gain from them. Indigenous people are treated like
the animals of the forest; they are subject to the decisions of local
and national governments.
If forest people are left to their own devices they will protect their
habitat; they pose no threat to the rainforests. Deforestation occurs
because of government policy and investment; trees are felled to make
way for dams, roads, industrial logging, shrimp farming, etc. It is the
world’s governments that are responsible for destroying the forests.
If the proposed market mechanism goes ahead, indigenous people will
almost certainly see their rights diminish and control over their lands
disappear. In most cases they will be evicted to make way for companies
and large conservation organisations.
Local people are being evicted already. As with anything, where there
are billions of dollars at stake, there is going to be interest. One
thing is for sure: whatever governments say, the money from market-based
conservation will not go into local peoples’ hands.
• Click here
more on the climate change talks in Poznan. For further information on
the World Rainforest Movement visit its website at wrm.org.uy