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Ideological Foes Assail UN Forest Scheme from Two Sides

Still, REDD maintains broad support from rich and poor nations and could be one of few agreements to emerge from the climate talks

By Stacy Feldman

Dec 7, 2010

CANCUN, MEXICO -- The prospect of a deal on forest protection at the Cancun climate talks has galvanized pressure groups at either end of the ideological axis to take common aim at keeping the UN out of the rainforests.

On the one side are indigenous groups, who say the pact would add up to a privatization of their natural resources.

On the other side is an industry-backed think tank named World Growth International (WGI) that is fighting to protect logging interests, even though WGI likes to frame its arguments inside leftist rhetoric of concern for the poor. Slowing deforestation stifles economic growth in forest-dependent communities, they say, and will increase poverty.

Derailing REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, is a rare issue around which these strange bedfellows are seeing eye-to-eye.

"The ideological spectrum is more of a circle than a line," said Rolf Skar, a campaigner for environmental group Greenpeace.

Forests are responsible for 17 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to UN estimates. Under REDD, which is seen as a critical component of a possible Cancun package, rich nations would dispense billions to poor states to reduce rates of forest loss.

But such promises of aid have failed to dissuade indigenous groups from condemning the plan.

"In whatever is determined on the UN level, there are numerous and consistent human rights violations against indigenous peoples in their own countries," said Jihan Gearon, lead energy and climate organizer, for the Indigenous Environmental Network.

"It would be hard to trust any UN-reprimanded safeguards."

Gearon and her fellow activists want indigenous people put in charge. 

"The forests that have been the most protected in our world are protected because the indigenous peoples have right to protect that forest," she told SolveClimate News.

'No REDD' in Cancun

"REDD is not ready," Gearon continued. "We do not want a REDD agreement to come out of Cancun."

Alan Oxley, the Australian chairman and director of the Washington D.C.-based WGI, reluctantly admits to having parallel talking points to indigenous activists. His organization, which campaigns online aggressively, has alleged ties to logging companies.

"[Indigenous groups] do say similar things," he told SolveClimate News, "but we tend not to work in that space."

In a report released this week in Cancun, WGI attacked REDD as a "road to serfdom" for rainforest nations, such as Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Oxley said that the report dispels a "myth" that razing trees is driven by commercial forestry or palm oil plantations. According to WGI, the need to grow crops for food and fuel is "most often" the cause of forest loss in poor states, and restricting access would choke economic growth.

Skar said the whole concept that "deforestation equals riches for local communities" is "absurd from the start."

It's a model of development that's outdated; it has "been shown not to work" and is "not relevant to the debate," he said.

He points to Indonesia's announcement last May to impose a two-year deforestation moratorium. "The Indonesia president would not be talking this way if it was going to impoverish millions of people."

Scientists Slam WGI

Environmental advocates are not the only ones questioning WGI's claims.

Of course deforestion is NOT driven by logging

There is global agreed common sense on "sources and forces" of deforestation. 3/4 of deforestation is caused by land use change to agriculture. Only one third of deforestation caused by logging. Which in turn is also done by the poor because of getting firewood and charcoal for cooking.

Have a look here: Deforestation sources - have a look behind the scenes

Alan Oxley has no credibility

I can't believe you're giving so much space to Alan Oxley.  He does in fact deny the science--that's why the scientists attacked him (he's on the record denying climate change too).  He's been completely discredited.  He does however get paid well for his services.  According to World Growth's financial documents he was paid nearly $10,000 an hour in 2008 for his duties at World Growth.

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