In October 2009, Oxford University launched trillionthtonne.org – a website that tracks how fast we are approaching total global emissions of one trillion tonnes of carbon. The website illustrates how global carbon emissions are increasing, not decreasing. When the website was launched it predicted that the trillionth tonne would be emitted in March 2045. That date is now June 2044.
The figure of one trillion tonnes is important because to stand a chance of keeping global warming to about 2°C, we need to keep the total emissions over time below one trillion tonnes of carbon. Myles Allen, head of the Climate Dynamics Group in the Department of Physics, Oxford University, explains it as follows:
The trillionth tonne matters because carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere. Once released, it continues to influence the climate more or less indefinitely unless active measures are taken to scrub it out again, which is not something anyone knows how to do on any scale.
The rate at which we need to reduce emissions in order to avoid emitting the trillionth tonne is currently increasing. It now stands at 2.2966865815% per year (but by the time you click on the website, that figure will have increased).
Whatever else came out of the UN climate change negotiations in Cancun, legally binding agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions did not. Yet Cancun is declared a success in part at least because of the agreement on REDD. As Dennis Martinez, a Native American forest-restoration specialist, points out in an Op-Ed in the Boston Globe yesterday, that is a far from promising position to be in.
Martinez assumes that REDD will be a carbon trading mechanism. In fact, the Cancun agreement on REDD did not decide how REDD should be financed, instead postponing the decision for another year, until COP-17 in Durban, South Africa. But many of the promoters of REDD, including the World Bank are pro-carbon trading and there is likely to be a huge push to include carbon markets as a REDD financing mechanism in Durban. And, of course, a voluntary market in REDD carbon credits already exists.
As the trillionthtonne.org website clearly and unambiguously illustrates, we need to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, not push them around the globe from forests to fossil fuels.
Martinez also raises the issue of “fortress conservation” as a threat to indigenous peoples’ rights. This week, at a conference in New Zealand, a dialogue will take place between indigenous peoples and the IUCN, NGOs and scientists. The conference, titled “Sharing Power” is run by the IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic & Social Policy (CEESP). Yesterday, Forest Peoples Programme put out a press release, “Sharing Power – The end of ‘fortress’ conservation?” including links to a special FPP blog about the conference and a series of media briefings about conservation in Suriname, south west Uganda and Thailand.
Slow death by carbon credits
Indigenous peoples can suffer from pollution compensation plan
By Dennis Martinez, Boston Globe Op-Ed
January 10, 2011
Forget any spin. In the end, the recent UN gathering on climate change in Cancún repeated Copenhagen’s failure in 2009. Again, the world’s industrial economies refused to set new binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, despite dire warnings by scientists. Instead, delegates again vaguely promised money for climate adaptation and mitigation: this time $30 billion to the developing world by 2012, and $100 billion more by 2020.
Once more, the industrialized countries appear to have pledged much of this money in a salvage measure dubbed “REDD” – Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries.
Established by wealthy nations, venture capitalists, the World Bank, and the United Nations, REDD would pay for the carbon absorbed in developing countries, to compensate for pollution caused by industrialized countries.
The initiative would allow polluters to buy carbon credits from companies, communities, non-government organizations, or countries that promise not to destroy forests for a specific period. To polluters, setting aside money for carbon absorption in a REDD forest is far less costly than reducing emissions at tailpipes or smokestacks.
But even if it works – itself a point of contention – this carbon-offsetting simply postpones any weaning off the fossil-fuel economy.
Perhaps the people least impressed by this half-measure are the ones who most urgently need a solution to climate disruption. From the Amazon basin to the African savannahs, traditional indigenous peoples depend directly on their local environment for sustenance, and so they are the most vulnerable to climate change. At Cancún, indigenous leaders again watched as REDD technocrats tried to “save” their territorial forests as global carbon sinks, instead of cutting their own countries’ emissions.
REDD can target the tropical forests exactly because indigenous communities have carefully preserved them for many thousands of years. But the initiative seems to have little use for the forest inhabitants themselves. The UN climate talks relegate indigenous peoples to “observer” status. At least eight national REDD plans funded by the World Bank would allow bans on the kind of small-scale, biodiverse farming that is practiced by many indigenous peoples and is misnamed “slash and burn.” At the same time, at least 19 of the plans explicitly contain provisions for tree plantations, which displace forest dwellers, degrade biodiversity, and cause high fire risk. Plantations are tolerated under the United Nations’ definition of forests. They satisfy carbon investors who like precise measurement and predictability – not messy, biodiverse forest habitat.
This mentality inspires what critics call “fortress conservation”: non-government organizations and national authorities cordon off land to protect species and institute carbon-offset projects, driving out of their forests the indigenous stewards, who become “conservation refugees.” John Nelson, Africa policy adviser for the Forest Peoples Program, estimates that some 150,000 to 200,000 people in the Congo basin alone have suffered this fate.
“Imagine waking up one day,” he says, “to find a boundary outside your village — with armed paramilitary guards telling you that you cannot enter the forest.” If people cannot go there, they cannot teach their children how to live in the traditional ways, and these ways, with all they might have to teach the larger world about storing carbon and repairing forest ecosystems, will be lost. “Mitigation policies of the developed world,” Ramiro Batzin, a Keqchikel Maya from Guatemala, recently told the World Bank, “will kill us before climate change does!”
Despite their long residence in the forests, many indigenous peoples have fought for decades to establish legal title to the land. But nothing at Cancún required REDD programs to establish or secure those rights, or to obtain genuine consent for projects in indigenous communities.
This neglect, and the fortress conservation it allows, is not only an injustice but also a missed opportunity. Studies have shown that traditional land management, when title is secured, sinks carbon far more effectively and cheaply than conventional efforts favored by REDD.
The Emberá of Panama, like the Ogiek of Kenya, have been the stewards of the land for millennia. But at best REDD would promise them compensation — and a dubious dependence on a cash economy, which tends to erode traditional culture. Especially in an age of climate chaos, the erosion of such stewardship is unacceptable. And in any case, nobody should mistake the initiative for a real solution to a changing climate. That remains what it was in Kyoto, and what it will be later this year in Durban: cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Dennis Martinez, a Native American forest-restoration specialist, is on the steering committee of the Indigenous Peoples’ Biocultural Climate Change Assessment Initiative. Laird Townsend of the non-profit media organization Project Word, a project of the Tides Center, contributed to this article.
Sharing power – the end of ‘fortress’ conservation?
Will conservation organisations finally take practical action to implement agreed commitments that recognise the rights of indigenous peoples in protected areas?
Forest Peoples Programme
January 10th, 2011
Over the last 10 years governments and conservation organisations have made significant commitments to uphold the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities in protected area policies and activities. However, on the ground, the impoverishment of indigenous peoples and the displacement from their ancestral homelands due to protected areas are still the hidden costs of conservation. Despite indigenous peoples gaining increasing recognition as the guardians of forests, wetlands, seas and other ecosystems they depend on, they continue to be left out of many conservation organisations’ discussions and projects concerned with preventing biodiversity loss and saving charismatic species and habitats. With the potential for dramatically increased funding for conservation, stemming from payments to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), and the Convention on Biological Diversity’s targeted expansion of protected area coverage to 17% of the earth’s land surface and 10% of the marine surface by 2020, it is essential that states and conservation organisations immediately implement procedures and actions to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples across the globe.
The spotlight is now on a high-level dialogue between indigenous peoples’ representatives and the IUCN, the world’s oldest and largest international environmental network of governments, NGOs and scientists. This dialogue will take place on January 12th 2011 at the Sharing Power conference in New Zealand and aims to find concrete ways in which IUCN will effectively implement various resolutions and recommendations in favour of indigenous peoples, adopted at the World Parks Congress 2003 and the World Conservation Congresses 2004 and 2008.
“Many resolutions and recommendations on indigenous peoples’ rights have been adopted by IUCN since 1975, but very little of their content has been implemented on the ground. We hope that this meeting will pave the way for the establishment of a practical, action-oriented mechanism that will ensure that past commitments are finally implemented at the local and national level. Setting up such a mechanism would also be a positive contribution to the 2011 United Nations’ International Year of Forests and Decade of Biodiversity 2011-2020.” said Dr. Maurizio Farhan Ferrari, Forest Peoples Programme’s Environmental Governance Coordinator.
In 2003, conservation NGOs at the Worlds Parks Congress consolidated and built on previous resolutions to protect indigenous peoples’ rights and ways of life, culminating in the Durban Accord and Action Plan, which established a ‘new paradigm’ in conservation. Key principles were agreed including that:
- No new parks should be established without the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples;
- Forced resettlement should be strictly eliminated;
- Lands taken without consent should be returned to their traditional owners;
- Indigenous peoples should be involved in the management of protected areas and share in the benefits; and
- Community-based initiatives and processes, such as Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas, should be recognised and supported.
Also, in 2004, at the 7th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, states committed themselves to respect indigenous peoples’ rights and to share power in conservation. However, despite these significant commitments, limited progress has been made in implementing these principles in practice, and much more remains to be done. In many cases, protected areas are still imposed in a top-down fashion in territories, lands and waters traditionally occupied or used by indigenous peoples.
The crucial link between the continued existence of a people, its culture and the ecosystem it is part of constitutes a great opportunity for conservation to achieve objectives of safeguarding biodiversity by enabling indigenous peoples to continue to manage their territories in a sustainable way. This realization is the basis for the ‘new paradigm’. Some positive cases of its implementation are emerging, such as in Campo Ma’an, Cameroon, where Bagyeli indigenous people have regained the respect of their right to gather resources from the national park. Although this is not sufficient to fully redress past wrongs and the Bagyeli are demanding to be allowed to return to live where their houses were before the creation of the park, it is a step in the right direction. Another positive development has been taking place at the local level in Thailand. A pilot project in the Ob Luang National Park, organised by the Thai and Danish governments under the Joint Management of Protected Areas project (JoMPA), involving Karen and Hmong communities, resulted in participatory management of the park. Udom Charoenniyomphrai, a Karen representative, recalls:
“Results of the project include the mapping of the area, with the final maps being accepted both by the communities and by the park’s authorities, and the demarcation of community farmland. Although the JoMPA project has expired, the communities and the park continue a successful collaborative management approach. However, collaborative projects like JoMPA are still singular experiences and unfortunately this has not been adopted as a national policy.”
The ‘new paradigm’ also implies the recognition of, and support for, Indigenous Conservation Territories and Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas. Some isolated positive cases have started to emerge, but these are generally scattered experiences and a much better coordinated approach is needed to ensure the implementation of the new paradigm.
The high-level dialogue between indigenous representatives and IUCN leaders at the Sharing Power conference is an opportunity to make a great advancement in respecting the rights of indigenous people in conservation policy and practice. A summary of the dialogue and details of the commitments of IUCN executives will be available shortly after the meeting.
- Forest Peoples Programme and indigenous partners’ updates from IUCN CEESP Sharing Power
- Briefing for Media – Securing indigenous peoples’ rights in conservation in Suriname, January 10th, 2011
- Briefing for Media – Securing indigenous peoples’ rights in conservation: A Review of South West Uganda
- Briefing for Media – Indigenous peoples and protected areas in Thailand: A Review
- Other documents on this topic
Contacts for interviews:
Mr. Udom Charoenniyomphrai, Inter Mountain Peoples Education and Culture in Thailand Association (IMPECT), E-mail:
Dr. Prasert Trakansuphakon, Indigenous Knowledge and Peoples Network (IKAP), Thailand, E-mail:
Ms. Penninah Zaninka, United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU), E-mail:
Dr. Maurizio Farhan Ferrari, Forest Peoples Programme, E-mail:
Vereniging van Inheemse Dorpshoofden in Suriname (VIDS), E-mail: