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Conference of Polluters (Durban COP-17) links: 30 November 2011

Conference of Polluters (Durban COP-17) links: 30 November 2011

COP-17, the latest round of UN climate meetings started on Monday in Durban. Here’s a round-up of some of what is happening in Durban (with a focus on REDD, but not exclusively). REDD-Monitor is not there, so if you are, and think there’s something missing here, please put the links in the comments.

The deadlines for REDD discussions are tight. The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) has a deadline of 2 December 2011, for agreeing text on the safeguard information system, guidance on reference levels and on measuring, reporting and verifying forest-related emissions. Meanwhile, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (LCA) has a deadline of 3 December 2011, to agree text on finance of REDD.

Antonio La Viña facilitates the REDD negotiations at the UN meetings. In an interview with CIFOR two weeks ago, La Viña described how far the negotiators had got on these three issues since Cancún:

It’s worth listening to the whole interview. In particular, La Viña’s response to this question: With doubts high that we’re going to get an overarching mitigation framework any time soon, what is motivating the private sector to get involved?

“Markets are just one part of the interest of the private sector in the area of REDD-plus. Certainly at some point the carbon market might have, will have a role, but because I see that as a theoretical question, for now, given the lack of a strong mitigation framework, strong targets by countries, you shouldn’t derail an agreement on REDD-plus finance just on a single issue. So I’m more in favour of broadening the discussion around private sector finance in general and what might motivate the private sector to come in. Anywhere from corporate social responsibility, to predictability of products that can come out from forests because of, you know. The problem I think is we’re trying name all private sector as finance institutions and so therefore and that all their interest is about the market. I think it’s a mistake to have the discussion focussed just on that.”

La Viña is floundering here. He has no idea why the private sector should pour their money into REDD, at least in the absence of a global agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

There will not be any agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Durban. Here’s how Reuters journalist Gerard Wynn describes the situation:

The European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland are likely to agree to extend Kyoto beyond 2012 at a two-week conference which opened in Durban on Monday, in lieu of a wider deal involving the world’s two biggest emitters China and the United States.

That’s the best outcome on the table in South Africa.

It represents a gaping political failure: countries agreed in 2007 to sign a broad, global deal in Copenhagen in 2009 to come into force four years later.

Two years on, they are now poised to commit to sign in 2015 an agreement to come into force in 2020, instead.

It counts as a lost decade because the countries likely to agree to new binding curbs in the meantime account for just 14 percent of total carbon emissions today, and are flat or falling anyway.

“Kyoto is not on the table for us,” the US Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern said a week before the Durban meeting started. He said the same thing in December 2009 at the Copenhagen COP-15: “We not going to become part of the Kyoto Protocol, so that’s not on the table.” He also said,

“I actually completely reject the notion of a debt or reparations or anything of the like. I mean let’s just be mindful of the fact that for most of those 200 years since the industrial revolution people were politically ignorant of the fact that emissions caused the greenhouse effect. It’s a relatively recent phenomenon. I think it’s the wrong way to look at this. We absolutely recognise our historic role, in putting emissions in the atmosphere, up there, they are up there now. But the sense of guilt, or culpability, or reparations, I categorically reject that.”

In addition to a staggeringly dull speech by South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, the welcoming ceremony in Durban featured a speech by Idris Déby Itno, the President of Chad, representing the Economic Community of Central African States. Some were surprised that COP-17 would give a platform to the strongman dictator of Chad. Tzeporah Berman, co-director of Greenpeace’s International Global Climate and Energy Program tweeted that he gave a “Powerful speech”, adding that Déby said, “financing is not to develop but simply to survive.” Perhaps Berman has forgotten the US$4.2 billion Chad-Cameroon pipeline. With funding from the World Bank, proceeds from this oil project were supposed to go to reducing poverty. Instead, President Déby diverted US$30 million to buy arms to keep himself in power. In 2006, Forbes magazine commented, “What may turn out to be the single most piggish use of philanthropic funds has placed Chad at the top of the list of the world’s most corrupt nations.”

Activists have renamed COP-17 “The conference of polluters”, which is particularly apt, given Déby’s history. Here’s Bobby Peek of groundWork (Friends of the Earth South Africa) explaining why:

“It’s the truth, it’s not just a joke. In the Conference of the Parties we have corporate capture, we have big companies like Sasol and Eskom (South African state-owned oil and energy corporations respectively) on the South African government delegation and they have a very influential role. And these are the same companies that in South Africa do not want emissions targets, so they go to the Parliament and say NO.”

This presentation by Ashwin Desai, Patrick Bond and Thando Manzi from the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal continues the theme. The presentation is about a new book edited by Patrick Bond, titled, “Durban’s Climate Gamble: Trading Carbon, Betting the Earth”.

“Occupy Durban” Looms Over Climate Change Talks is the headline from the Huffington Post, reporting on protests in Durban. There is an Occupy COP-17 website and you can follow the latest developments on twitter. In addition, there is an Occupy Durban movement, protesting about housing in Durban – the theme of Ashwin Desai’s superb 2002 book “We are the Poors“.

Just before the Durban meeting started, Brazilian organisations put out a statement opposing REDD and market mechanisms:

Facing the COP17-Durban and Rio+20:
NO to the market mechanisms as solutions to climate and environmental crisis

Declaration of Brazilian movements and civil society organizations,
Brasília, 22 November 2011

Despite successive failures related to market based solutions proposed in the last almost 20 years of UNFCCC negotiations, some governments, and Brazil among them, keep insisting on the promotion of market mechanism in the legal framework as a solution to climate crisis, as well as on the road to green economy frame proposed to be discussed at Rio+20 in June next year.

Since its creation in 1992, the objective of the Climate Convention is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a way that it will not impose any risks on the natural systems of the planet in accordance to UNFCCC text “to achieve a stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. This objective has not been achieved so far. On the contrary, the only legally binding instrument, the Kyoto Protocol, defines that a lowest cut of only 5.2% (related to the year 1990) of emissions from Northern countries, for a period that ends in 2012, is at the risk of not having its second commitment approved.

It was shown, since the creation of Kyoto, that its focus, instead of attending the objective of the Convention, was to institutionalize the carbon markets in the context of United Nations and of the domestic policies in the signatory countries. It is more and more evident that the creation of the Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) – as part of the flexibility mechanisms of Kyoto – and its implementation in developing countries has been increasing the local negative impacts where the projects are placed, widening situations of environmental injustice and human rights violations while not contributing effectively to reduce emissions.

The big beneficiaries of the climate crisis and of the policies approved in the multilateral context are then the big corporations and the international financial system, which has been renewed through instruments created by the Convention. This is the case of the World Bank, that gained new breath in the last years from the climate issue and, more recently, from being chosen as the trustee of the Green Fund for the climate of the UNFCCC, even with the opposition presented by some countries and the international civil society. Currently, after the creation of REDD+ mechanism under the COP16 agreement of Cancun, the carbon markets were consolidated as the main bet for financing proposals for REDD+.

Organizations and social movements who are members of the Belem Letter Group are fighting for environmental and climate justice, rejection of REDD+ as a market mechanism and its use to offset emissions from developed countries. Carbon markets and REDD+ are false solutions to the climate crisis. They go in the opposite direction needed of Northen countries to commit to their historical debts and responsibilities towards Southern countries and peoples, and to reduce their emissions. They also transfer the focus of discussion to the forests instead of fossil fuel burning which is the real cause for current climate changes.

While Brazil intends to present to the world an example of transition towards the so called green economy, in the domestic context, we have seen processes that demonstrate exactly the opposite to the presented discourse.

On one hand, we see the dismantlement of the national environmental legislation caused by the flexibility of the Forest Code, the Project Law 195/2011 about REDD+ and the Project Law 792/2007 about contracts of payments for environmental services. These are proposals that go beyond the model of incentives promoted by public policies and go towards the commercialization of biodiversity and of common goods. They strengthen the carbon markets on the national level through the creation of titles that are representative of carbon stocks (Certificate of Emission Reductions by Deforestation and Forest Degradation, CREDD, name in Portuguese) or of forest and biodiversity (Quotes of Environmental Reserve, as from the current proposal for the new Forest Code).

On the other hand it is a streamlined process of the carbonization of economy. It is provoked by the increasing emissions from the energy sector due to the growing participation of thermoelectric power plants in national energy and due to the exploration of pre-salt oil reserves, which will produce a threefold increase of the oil and gas production within the next ten years.

The Group questions how Brazil will meet its own voluntary targets presented in Copenhagen during the COP15 and approved in the National Policy of Climate Change Law, with the considerable increase of deforestation in Amazonia and in the Cerrado biome as a result of the pre approved measures of the new Forest Code.

Finally, for these reasons, the Belem Letter Group denounces several of the policies and laws being constructed and awaiting to be finalized by Rio+20, in June next year, without debate within Brazilian society and especially without the participation of grassroots organization and social movements. The construction of a legal/institutional framework in this sense can generate a fait accompli and to make any bargain in the international climate negotiations impossible. It can also undermine any future initiatives of protection of national and peoples sovereignty over the territories, as well as of policies that in fact face the climate change out of the market.

We reject a forest-centric climate regime!

We want environmental and climate justice!

We defend the protection of the rights of the forests and of the forest peoples!

No to REDD+!

Sign: ABA – Associação Brasileira de Agroecologia; Amigos da Terra Brasil; ANA Amazônia; AS-PTA; Articulação Pacari; CEAPAC – Centro de Apoio a Projetos de Ação Comunitária – PA; CEPEDES – Centro de Estudos e Pesquisas para o Desenvolvimento do Extremo Sul/BA; CIMI – Conselho Indigenista Missionário; FAOR – Fórum da Amazônia Oriental; FAMCOS – Federação das Associações de Moradores e Organizações Comunitárias de Santarém – PA; FASE;FECAP – Federação das Entidades comunitárias do Estado do Amapá – AM; Fetraf Brasil – Federação dos Trabalhadores/as da Agricultura Familiar; Fetraf Sul ; Fórum Carajás; Fórum Mudanças Climáticas e Justiça Social; Instituto Terramar; INESC – Instituto de Estudos Socioeconômicos; Instituto Mais Democracia; Jubileu Sul Brasil; Justiça nos Trilhos – MA; MACA – Movimento Anti-capitalista Amazônico ; MMC – Movimento de Mulheres Camponesas; MMM- Marcha Mundial das Mulheres; MPA – Movimento dos Pequenos Agricultores; MST – Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra; Organização das Associações Comunitárias da Reserva Extrativista Tapajós-Arapiuns/ Tapajoara – PA; Rede Brasil sobre Instituições Financeiras Multilaterais; RBJA – Rede Brasileira de Justiça Ambiental; STTR Xapuri – AC; Terra de Direitos; Via Campesina Brasil

PHOTO Credit: Oilwatch.

Leave a Reply

  1. Dear Chris,

    I am a PhD student and my research is on REDD in Mexico. Just wanted to thank you for your posts and insights, they really help me to stay on track!!


  2. @Sandra (#1) – Thanks! Nice to hear it’s useful.

    I just came across another useful source of information on the talks in Durban – oneclimate has a great live blog of what’s happening in Durban.

  3. Thank you, Chris. And well identified – you pick out a critical moment in this interview. We’ve been previously told that private sector engagement is the only real way to generate adequate, long-term funding for REDD+ on a significant scale, and now find that there is limited motivation for them to participate, and that we need to also consider other funding mechanisms. While its true that we need to look at the full diversity of funding strategies, I find this overall shift unsettling and an indication that we’ll see REDD+ as a very piecemeal intervention.

    Please see our recent article on this: “Risky business: An uncertain future for biodiversity conservation through REDD+”
    Please contact me if you would like a reprint.
    Saludos, Jacob Phelps

  4. Brazil enters final stretch for approval of the new Forest Code that will allow more food production whilst preserving the environment.

    The process of reforming the Brazilian Forest Code is coming to its final stretch as the Environmental Commission of the Brazilian Senate approved proposed changes in the current legislation. Over the coming days, the project will be submitted to the Senate’s plenary session to be voted on by all senators.

    The change in legislation governing the use of land in the country is seen as essential if Brazil wants to preserve its position as one of the largest food exporters in the world and at the same time conserve 61% of its original forestland – 18% of which is in rural landholdings.

    The Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA), which represents Brazilian farmers, has estimated that if the laws are not altered then Brazil could lose one fifth of all the land it currently uses for agriculture and livestock.

    Senator Kátia Abreu, president of the CNA, said that “This would result in more expensive food and higher inflation as well as a decrease in jobs, in exports and in Brazil’s GDP. These are dramatic consequences in a world of 7 billion people which is suffering from an economic crisis and high food prices – a world that needs the good and cheap food produced in Brazil.”

    On Wednesday, the Environmental Commission of the Brazilian Senate approved the new text for the Forest Code – the last step before it is submitted to the vote in the Senate’s plenary session. The CNA believes that the final text is not ideal but it was the best possible compromise after much debate within a democratic process. It is nevertheless a step forward, as it takes into account the need to regularize food production without giving way to more deforestation.

    The new proposal aims to substitute legislation dating from 1965, which has been amended numerous times by successive governments and which has become very difficult to interpret and apply. According to the CNA, because of these amendments nearly 90% of Brazilian farmers find themselves in an illegal situation, as they have been penalized for acts carried out before any changes in the law. Today, these farmers are unable to get financing to initiate, maintain or increase food production.

    The new Forest Code aims to legalize the situation of rural farmers, but do so without issuing amnesty to farmers who deforested illegally before July 2008. The new law will commit landowners to bringing their farms in line with environmental legislation. Once they have done this, their penalties will be annulled and instead they will have to carry out services for the protection of the environment.

    The proposed bill also aims to consolidate the land used for agriculture and livestock, without increasing deforestation. The decree for a Legal Reserve remains unchanged. This decree states that a farmer must preserve the native forests in 80% of their land, if the land falls within the Amazon biome, or from 20% to 35% if the land is in other regions of Brazil.
    The text, which was approved by the House of Representatives last May, also envisages the preservation of vegetation that grows on slopes, hills and riverbanks, known as Areas of Permanent Preservation (APPs).
    Today only 27.7% of Brazilian land is used for agriculture and livestock, while 11% of the national territory is native vegetation preserved by farmers inside their own landholdings. Brazil has and will continue to have of the strictest forestry laws in the world.

    “The environment is essential for agriculture. We are more dependent on nature than any other economic activity and we want our forests to be left standing”, says Senator Kátia Abreu.

    For more information on the new Brazilian Forestry Code, please follow the link below.

  5. @Pedro Al Costa,
    Concerning the quotes from Senator Kátia Abreu:

    Destroying forest so that people can eat more meat is grotesque – cattle ranching and soy for animal feed (ultimately for export) drive most of that destruction. Social inequity (often with fatal consequences for indigenous Brazilians, most recently the Guarani) also contributes.

    The price of those exports does not reflect the social and environmental costs of production – in effect Brazil is subsidising gratuitous consumption, damaging the health of the poor abroad (meat = obesity etcetera), inflating the market and provoking its competitors to match it in a “decent to the bottom” concerning sustainability.

  6. @Pedro Al Costa

    James is right – this is not only grotesque, but disgusting, and I hope that the demands of the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock will be treated with the international contempt that they deserve.

    I recall not so many years ago that the claim used to be that Brazil could produce many times what it was producing from the agriculture sector without touching a single hectare of forest. But as we all know, much agriculture in the Amazon region had very little to do with rational land-use, and much more to do with tax breaks, financial subsidies, hand-outs to business cronies and land speculation. Much of it is still massively inefficient, including cattle pastures that are amongst the least productive in the world.

    If the Brazilian agriculture lobby wants to gain international sympathy, it should be making firm commitments not to cut further forest and to improve inefficient farms and already degraded land.