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Victoria Tauli-Corpuz on Indigenous Peoples and carbon trading

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz on Indigenous Peoples and carbon tradingIndigenous Peoples have not developed a position on emissions trading, either for or against, because it is up to local communities to decide their own position, said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and Executive Director of Tebtebba, at a side event in Bonn last week.

But the sort of “global mechanisms” that have led to the current financial crisis are “not acceptable for many indigenous peoples,” Tauli-Corpuz said.

Tauli-Corpuz made the comments during a side event in Bonn on 3 April 2009, “Indigenous Peoples roadmap to Copenhagen and beyond“, in which she reported on an Asia Summit on Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change that took place in February 2009 in Bali, Indonesia. The Bali meeting was one of three indigenous peoples’ meetings organised in the lead up to a Global Summit that will be taking place in Anchorage, Alaska on 20-24 April 2009. The other two meetings took place in Nairobi, Kenya and Lima, Peru.

Here’s an extract from Tauli-Corpuz’s presentation at the side event, taken from the video available on the UNFCCC website (from 0:21:04 to 0:24:06):

We also discussed our views about some of the issues that are being debated within the climate change discussions and one of these was the view on emissions trading. Because a lot of our indigenous communities, there has been some divisions etcetera, and in the discussions we agreed that we will not come up with one position on whether we are for or against emissions trading because we believe that indigenous peoples have the right to self determination and they are the ones, the ones in the local communities will be the ones who will make the decisions on whether they would like to be engaged with this or not. And we don’t think that an Asia Summit is in the right position to be coming up with such a stand.
Because in Asia we have seen that there are Indigenous Peoples who are engaged and who would like to be engaged with carbon trading. They also would like to be involved in some clean development projects, clean development mechanisms, and also in REDD, in forests, in the REDD processes. So we thought that it’s not possible for us to come up with just a yes or a no, it has to be some thing that will be made by the communities who are directly affected.
We also discussed the whole issue of the market mechanism and we said that of course indigenous peoples are not just against the market per se because we ourselves are also involved in the market, although this is more on the local market, we also get engaged in market mechanisms. Of course we are against a market mechanism which gives, which are the global mechanisms, especially the situation which has led to the collapse or the economic downturn that we are faced with right now. We think that kind of market, the financial market, is not really a sustainable kind of market and we believe that really is not feasible and is not acceptable for many indigenous peoples.
And finally we also agreed that we will enhance our capacities to be able to influence the climate change policies. So we decided that we will be having a series of trainings, develop popular education materials on the climate change issues and also do multi-media materials that will enhance the knowledge of indigenous peoples on this. And we have agreed that we will establish the Asian Indigenous Peoples Network on Climate Change which will be helping coordinate the actions that the indigenous peoples will be taking from the local up to the global level.


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  1. Not all Indigenous groups have strong positions opposing these market-based solutions to mitigate climate change. The debate over these solutions has gotten very complicated with few Indigenous AND non-Indigenous peoples even consulted on what carbon offsets and carbon trading is. However, I must say that many Indigenous peoples worldwide, who have been throughly informed on what these trading-offset regimes are, reject the claim that carbon trading will halt the climate crisis.

    This crisis has been caused more than anything else by the mining of fossil fuels and the release of their carbon to the oceans, air, soil and living things. This excessive burning of fossil fuels is now jeopardizing Earth’s ability to maintain a livable climate. These market-based solutions provide a cover for the emitters to continue to pollute.

    Governments, export credit agencies, corporations and international financial institutions continue to support and finance fossil fuel exploration, extraction and other activities that worsen global warming, such as forest degradation and destruction on a massive scale, while dedicating only token sums to renewable energy. It is particularly disturbing that the World Bank has recently defied the recommendation of its own Extractive Industries Review which calls for the phasing out of World Bank financing for coal, oil and gas extraction. In contradiction, the World Bank facilitates these false, market-based approaches to climate change through its Prototype Carbon Fund, the BioCarbon Fund and the Community Development Carbon Fund at the same time it is promoting, on a far greater scale, the continued exploration for, and extraction and burning of fossil fuels – which will only ensure more of the same failed policies of the North.

    Our Indigenous network in solidarity with other Indigenous peoples and organizations denounce the further delays in ending fossil fuel extraction that are being caused by corporate, government and United Nations’ attempts to construct a “carbon market”, including a market trading in “carbon sinks”.

    History has seen attempts to commodify land, food, labor, forests, water, genes and ideas. Carbon trading follows in the footsteps of this history and turns the 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 – the 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.

  2. Dear Victoria and the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues,

    Tibetan People of Tibet need our international support in determining their own sustainable livelihoods and destiny. They live a marginalized existence at the hands of the majority Han people within their sacred landscape on the Tibetan Plateau. Their waters, forests and medicinal plants that have sustained them for centuries have been spoiled by unsustainable development, logging and over-harvesting. Tibetan nomads are being forced into resettlement areas against their wishes and many are hungry and malnourished because they lost their lands to Chinese interests.

    We really need the help of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the UNOHCHR to assist in righting the wrongs that are being committed freely by Chinese authorities in Tibet. Panchen Lama should have the blessing to live a free, spiritual and sovereign life as every human being in our world. Please direct your attention to the Tibetan cause for justice, freedom and environmental sustainability in the holy land of Tibet. The international Tibetan Exile Community is deeply committed to preserving Tibetan culture and assisting their people within the borders of Tibet. It is a great challenge to do this because of China’s restrictions against international aid and partnerships. World Care was conducting needs assessment for Tibetan earthquake victims in 2008 but was turned away by Chinese authorities who stated that they did not need help when there was an overwhelming need (

    I call on the UN to please focus attention on freeing innocent Tibetan prisoners who have been brutally tortured and to turn human wrongs into human rights in Tibet.


    Dr. Amy Eisenberg
    Sonoma County Indian Health Project
    Center for World Indigenous Studies

  3. Vicky says that “we think that kind of market, the financial market, is not really a sustainable kind of market and we believe that really is not feasible and is not acceptable for many indigenous peoples.”

    In that case, there might be good reason for asking some more searching questions about the carbon market. The financial markets and the carbon markets are intertwined and there are many parallels between trading in financial derivatives (which brought us the credit crisis) and trading in carbon.

    Some of the same people were instrumental in thinking up both the financial derivatives markets and the carbon markets. Richard Sandor, a commodities trader and economics professor, is famous both for helping to develop interest rate derivatives and pollution markets. Sandor later made a fortune during the boom years of the 1980s at Drexel Burnham Lambert, the firm of the junk-bond innovator Michael Milken. Sandor has also collaborated with Howard Sosin, who subsequently helped set up and head the financial products division that ultimately laid the American International Group (AIG) low to the point of having to be bailed out by US taxpayers to the tune of $152 billion. (AIG has used some of the payouts to lobby for a US carbon trading system, hoping to gain from new insurance opportunities thrown up by the market.) Sandor has been named as an ‘environmental hero’ by Time magazine for helping to develop the idea of pollution trading in the 1980s and 1990s. In the 2000s, with philanthropic support, Sandor set up the Chicago Climate Exchange, which today commands a small but growing segment of the carbon markets. Other derivatives traders, including from ENRON, have also migrated to the ‘ecosystems services’ financial sector to manage funds and advise on the ‘measurement and monetization of land use carbon credits’ and so forth.

    Incidentally, Sandor recently spoke strongly in favor of markets in forest carbon credits. Here is what he said: “Frankly, the debate [over offsets] just makes me want to scream. The clock is moving. THEY are slashing and burning and cutting the forests of the world. It may be a quarter of global warming and WE can get the rate to two per cent simply by inventing a preservation credit and making that forest have value in other ways. Who loses when we do that?” [capitalization added].

    You don’t need three guesses as to who Sandor means by “they”.

    This is the sort of conceptual understanding of forests and forest peoples that indigenous peoples can expect from the big players in the carbon markets.

    The hard fact is that most carbon credits from CDM or offset projects of the kind that indigenous peoples might participate in are now being traded by speculators in the financial markets. Some of the biggest buyers of such credits are Wall Street and other financial firms such as Morgan Stanley, Barclays Capital, Fortis, Deutsche Bank, Rabobank, BNP Paribas, Sumitomo, Kommunalkredit, Cantor Fitzgerald, Credit Suisse and Merrill Lynch.

    The carbon credits from projects that indigenous peoples might get involved in are also now a magnet for hedge funds and other financial gamblers. These funds, banks and other actors are not interested in climate change, but they do see carbon credits as an interesting new “asset class” that could be very profitable.

    Securitization of the type made famous by the financial crisis is also starting up in the carbon markets.

    Let me quote from a brochure for a conference on carbon trading held in London last October. The conference was called “Cashing in on Carbon”, and the organizers said that the conference “does not really concern itself with broader climate change issues … It is aimed squarely at investment banks, investors and major compliance buyers and is focused on how they can profit today from an increasingly diverse range of carbon-related investment opportunities. … Hybrid and complex carbon credit structured products … how to identify investor demand for them in the US … derivative/synthetic carbon products … carbon linked notes … for Japanese retail investors … sub-index arbitrage strategies … productising carbon … access channels for producers, … speculators, proprietary traders and investors. … The programme features Sindicatum Carbon Capital, NatSource Asset Management, Natixis Environnement & Infrastructures (European Carbon Fund / European Kyoto Fund), Credit Suisse, Barclays Capital, IDEACarbon, New Carbon Finance, ICF International …”

    Ken Newcombe is a former executive at the World Bank, which is now introducing weather derivatives to countries such as Malawi. Newcombe helped set up the global carbon offset market at the Bank’s Prototype Carbon Fund beginning in the late 1990s, influencing UN regulatory decisions and helping put the Bank into a position to make money from attempts to compensate for the climatic damage caused by, among other things, fossil fuel-intensive developments it itself was underwriting in the global South. As the market began to take off, Newcombe moved on to Climate Change Capital, a City of London boutique merchant bank, then headed up the North American carbon trading desk of Goldman Sachs before becoming CEO at the new carbon trading firm C-Quest Capital.

    I think this gives a good idea of where the carbon markets that Vicky is talking about came from and where they are headed.

  4. To who may be of help,

    We are trying to do our little way of helping indigenous tribal people replant their denuded lands in the Philippines. Is there anyone who can lead us on how we may be able to accelerate our tree planting projects. Though we may have the will to help, funds are hard to acquire. how can carbon credit help us.Need all the help and advice
    Edgardo Lua