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Global Canopy Programme misled conservation activists before vote on ETS forest credits

Conservation campaigners were misled into believing that the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) supported the inclusion of ‘avoided deforestation’ credits within the the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) ahead of Tuesday’s vote in the influential Environment Committee of the European Parliament.

In a message sent out on a widely used eco-activist mailing list, Andrew Mitchell of the Global Canopy Programme claimed that WWF supported his organisation’s campaign for tradeable forest credits to be included in the ETS, and asked readers to write to Members of the European Parliament urging them to agree to this. In fact, WWF had made it clear that they opposed such credits.

The Global Canopy Progamme, a loose coalition of mostly forestry research organisations, has been one of the loudest voices in favour of forest carbon trading. It has encouraged organisations and individuals to sign up to a ‘Forests Now’ declaration, which calls for forest credits to be eligible for international trading, and for their immediate inclusion in the ETS.

Observers in Brussels say that GCP’s misleading claim to have the support of WWF helped pursuade the Parliament’s Environment Committee to vote on October 7th in favour of allowing up to 5% of the total ETS market to consist of forest-based credits. Environmental organisations such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Global Witness, and the Rainforest Foundation that campaign to protect tropical forests, have strongly opposed the inclusion of forest credits in the ETS, arguing that this would fail to tackle the underlying causes of deforestation, would fuel corruption, and could destablise the ETS by depressing the price of carbon.

Mitchell claimed on behalf of the Global Canopy Programme that,

“A growing body of NGO’s, leading expert scientists and now also MEPs, support the view that the EU ETS should be open to including forests in the market and that methodological barriers and flooding arguments which are used to uphold the current EU ban are likely to be overcome prior to acceptance of REDD under the UN’s Kyoto Mechanism… For your information, I am attaching a new briefing document from WWF which is broadly in support of the measures we have been calling for during the past year and is further evidence of the growing support for including forests within the EU Trading scheme.”

In fact, WWF have specifically stated that they are opposed to the inclusion of forests in the ETS, and immediately demanded that Mitchell issue a retraction. Unfortunately, the damage was already done.

In an open letter to people who may have been misled by Mitchell’s claim, Emily Brickell of WWF-UK said that,

“as some of you may have seen the reference to WWF in the letter from the Global Canopy Programme… WWF is NOT in support of including forests credits within the EU Trading scheme at this time” and was calling for MEPs to vote against the proposal. WWF pointed out that their briefing on forest carbon trading makes it cleat that “An early indication that the EU will under all circumstances include in the EU ETS could reduce the pressure on governments to develop an environmentally sound architecture as part of the post 2012 global climate agreement.”

GCP’s Andrew Mitchell is also one of the founders of ‘Canopy Capital’, a recently formed London-based company that has begun buying up the ‘ecosystem services’ of rainforests, starting with an agreement for the 360,000 hectare Iwokrama area in Guyana. The tradeability of forest carbon in regulated schemes such as the ETS would greatly increase the speculative value of Canopy Capital’s investments. In the run-up to the European Parliament vote, GCP teamed-up with the European Forest Owners Association, whose members potentially also stand to benefit from forest carbon credits, in order to lobby MEPs. Only days before the committee’s vote, GCP arranged a special reception and dinner event for key MEPs. It is not known whether Mitchell and his Canopy Capital colleagues informed MEPs of any personal financial interest in the outcome of the vote.

The proposal to include forest credits in the ETS will now go before the full European Parliament. WWF and other organisations are likely to ensure that, this time, MEPs are very clear that GCP’s proposals are not supported by most major environmental groups.

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