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A less-than-clean development mechanism
Cecilia Remón
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Industrialized countries refuse to stop polluting and put a price on protecting forests.

Industrialized countries and their companies do little to nothing to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, which are in turn triggering climate change.

Instead, they have created a complex mechanism that allows them to pay to preserve forests in other regions; these expenditures, in theory, offset effects the countries and companies are producing by not reducing emissions themselves.
This process is called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD); it is part of the Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM), and its objective is to reduce the production of six greenhouse gases that cause global warming: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride, the latter three being fluorinated industrial gases.

CDMs were included in the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which was adopted in 1997 and entered into force in 2004 following ratification by Russia. They allow developed countries to invest in projects that reduce greenhouse gases, for example by reducing electric power, industries that pollute, private and public transport, and deforestation.

Peruvian economist Hugo Cabieses, an expert in rural sustainable development, explains that “the Kyoto Protocol established CDMs so that industrialized countries and businesses could reduce their greenhouse gases. One of these CDMs has to do with forestry issues, given that the burning or razing of forests generates greenhouse gases.”

One of the Kyoto Protocol´s commitments is that between 2008 and 2012, industrialized countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5%, using their 1990 levels as a baseline. Nevertheless, this has yet to happen.

“Every country that ratified the Kyoto Protocol was assigned greenhouse gas emission level allowances. If a country or a business exceeds that limit and does not comply with its greenhouse gas emissions levels, there is the possibility of buying carbon credits,” elaborates Cabieses.

A carbon credit is the right to release into the atmosphere 1 TM of CO2. For example, if a business has a 100,000 TM annual limit on CO2 emissions, and it not only reaches this but releases 10,000 TM more, it needs to acquire carbon credits equal to the excess amount.

At the same time, projects that stop producing greenhouse gases can obtain Certified Emission Reductions (CER); each CER represents 1 TM that is not released into the atmosphere, and can be sold in the carbon credit market.

The 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference — or Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — took place in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December 2009. It failed to reach a binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gases — that is to say, no goals or timelines were decided on due to the reluctance of industrialized countries, in addition to several developing countries like Brazil. Instead, the agreement that was reached was that the industrialized countries would donate US$30 billion during the 2010-2012 period toward climate aid to the poorest and most vulnerable nations; the accord provides for this figure to reach $100 billion before 2020. Money fixes everything.

Industrialized countries are responsible for more than 60% of worldwide CO2 emissions, while Latin American and the Caribbean are only accountable for 12%, according to the World Bank.

Who does this mechanism benefit?
With REDD´s goal of avoiding deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries, the international community saw the necessity for forest conservation efforts and the enhancement of their carbon stocks. This led to the offspring of the project named REDD+, which promotes reforestation, the sustainable management of forests, and other activities that help maintain healthy forests. REDD+ also takes into consideration indigenous communities and populations that live off of what the forests generate, at the same time as they protect it. Subsequently, REDD+ added in agricultural considerations to better address best practices to avoid deforestation; what that ultimately produced was called REDD++.

“By strengthening the forest to retain, preserve and increase carbon stocks, REDD+ offers cost-effective and immediate reductions in CO2 emissions while generating strong co-benefits for forest-dependent communities and conservation of biodiversity," says the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), based in Gland, Switzerland.

Colombian forestry engineer Patricia Tobón, currently in charge of environmental affairs at the Municipality of Medellin, highlights that “in Latin America, there are several voluntary initiatives working under international standards in Bolivia, Brazil, and Colombia, but the buyer imposes the conditions.”

One example is the 2008 REDD+ pilot project in the Sustainable Development Reserve in Juma, Brazil, in the northwestern state of Amazonas.

According to the World Rainforest Movement (WRM), the reserve “has an area of 589,612 Ha and [the project] will curb degradation of 366,151 Ha of the total area of tropical rainforest, as well as the emission of 210 million TM of CO2 into the atmosphere by 2050.”

The Brazilian nongovernmental organization Amazonas Sustainable Foundation (FAS) administers the project funds, which come from public and private donors. The NGO is confident that by 2016, 7,800 Ha of rainforest will have been saved from deforestation and will have stopped 3.6 million tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.

The 338 families living in 35 communities in the area are receiving the equivalent of $28 monthly through the Bolsa Floresta program to protect the forest. Each family signs a contract that prohibits chopping or burning in the forest, which will be permanently monitored.

But for the supposed beneficiaries, $28 is not enough to survive. Before, the families grew several products, but since they signed the contract they no longer can. This means that local communities that before earned a living off of the forest will lose that resource.

A twisted mechanism?
For some experts, environmentalist groups and indigenous organizations, the REDD mechanism is “perverse” because it allows those that contaminate to pay those who do not, while making no major effort to reduce their own emissions because of their tremendous dependence on fossil fuels like natural gas, oil and coal. Of the total amount of greenhouse gases produced globally, 25% results from deforestation and 75% from burning fossil fuels.

“What worsens the situation is that the preservation of this forest will allow contaminators to keep releasing carbon from fossil fuels,” says the WRM with regards to the Juma Sustainable Development Reserve.

“This means that the inclusion of Juma in the emissions market will in reality contribute to climate change because it will allow companies and rich countries that pollute to promote the idea that there are ‘compensating´ for their carbon emissions by preserving a part of Brazil´s rainforest. If it weren´t for the World Bank´s fervent support of the emissions market, its economists would define the Juma project as a ‘lose-lose situation´, for the climate and for the people. But of course, they won´t.”

Likewise, Germany-based organization Rainforest Rescue (Salva la Selva) maintains that this type of project “is presented as if it was an opportunity for local communities. Nevertheless, the introduction of market mechanisms can easily damage social structures and pre-existing community management, as well as the values that govern the community´s internal functionality.”

The sale of carbon credits is also another financial resource for Juma.

Rainforest Rescue adds that “it is unclear what the procedure would be to deal with these funds and there are doubts about which institutions could manage the resources transparently. Even well-meaning financial support can be socially and morally destructive. Channeling resources through formal institutions may undermine traditional community governance."

Indigenous organizations like AIDESEP, which brings together the majority of Peru´s indigenous Amazon communities, have come out against REDD. In a letter to the World Bank on October 30, they warned that “there would be no viability or sustainability for a REDD investment in Peru without clearing of land titles and a law on the right of prior consultation with the indigenous populations involved.”
—Latinamerica Press.

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