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Protecting carbon to destroy forests: Land enclosures and REDD+

A new report by Carbon Trade Watch takes a detailed and critical look at REDD from the perspective of land enclosures. “REDD+ will not stop deforestation,” the report argues. Rather than addressing the root causes of deforestation, REDD promotes the argument that environmental destruction in one location can be ‘compensated’ in another. As such, REDD reinforces underlying causes of deforestation.

The report, titled “Protecting carbon to destroy forests: Land enclosures and REDD+”, can be downloaded here (pdf file, 1.3 MB). The report is edited by Transnational Institute, FDCL and FIAN.

The report points out that rather than putting pressure on corporations to clean up their acts or support local struggles, REDD,

gives forest destroyers a way to legitimize their actions as environmentally ‘friendly’ or ‘carbon neutral’. Far from positioning itself as an ally to the many local groups that have preserved forested lands most strongly, REDD+ tends to silence debates about the unjust realities surrounding corporate pressures on land tenure regimes.

The report looks into some of the vested interests in REDD: corporations involved in monoculture plantations, large-scale agribusiness, industrial logging, hybrid seeds, extractive industries, and financial investment banks. REDD provides these corporations a “green cloak” to evade their responsibility for forest destruction. “There are in consequence no ‘fixes’ for these structural features,” the report argues, “they are inherent to REDD+”:

Groups trying to influence REDD+ believe that it could be fixed if independent financial mechanisms outside of the carbon markets were used instead, such as taxes or other public funds. This paper aims to provide a historical background and experiences on the ground in order to further the argument that because land and nature enclosures are central to its operation, REDD+ cannot be fixed.

The report quotes Folker Franz, then-senior environmental adviser for BusinessEurope, a European corporate lobby group, speaking to IPS. Franz argues that greater use of forest credits “would be the way to go to save the world. If we see people profit from this, then let them profit, so long as it stops deforestation in Indonesia and Brazil”. Carbon Trade Watch points out that this “apparent apolitical ‘logic’ seeks (intentionally or not) to detach the process of profit accumulation from a system dependent on extraction and dispossession of mainly Indigenous Peoples, small farmers, traditional communities and forest-dependent peoples”.

The reality is that REDD is taking place at the same time as a massive expansion of agribusiness in the global South. In 2012, GRAIN released a data set documenting 416 land grabs by foreign investors, covering a total area of almost 35 million hectares. Agribusiness companies have expanded rapidly since the food and financial crises of 2008. The result is that food production is being taken out of the control of local communities. In the report, GRAIN states that,

While most of the 298 land grabbers documented are from the agribusiness sector, financial companies and sovereign wealth funds are responsible for about a third of the deals. And on many occasions there is overlap. For instance, the data set shows how Cargill, one of the world’s largest agribusiness companies, has been acquiring hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland through its hedge fund Black River Asset Management.

While REDD proponents argue that REDD can help local communities and indigenous peoples to establish land rights, Carbon Trade Watch is concerned that, “The prospect of carbon credits appears as a major incentive for establishing other types of land enclosures.” The danger is that REDD focusses on the carbon stored in forests and separates this from broader rights to forests and lands. Associated with developments in satellite and infrared technology, Carbon Trade Watch argues that REDD carbon measured has a “dark side”:

Technologies capable of detecting changes in forest biomass (trees and vegetation) necessarily lead to increased surveillance not only of the biomass but also of the whole forest, as well as the local populations who live there. With all these new assets on the line, forest enforcement is stepping up to ‘protect’ carbon.

This sort of problem can already be clearly seen in The Nature Conservancy’s Guaraqueçaba REDD project in southeastern Brazil, where local communities’ livelihoods have been severely impacted by the project.

Carbon Trade Watch notes that there are parallels between REDD and the Structural Adjustment Programmes imposed to establish neoliberal economies in Southern countries. The ‘adjustments’ associated with REDD relate to environmental, land and forest laws, with countries urged to advance legislation for assuring the provision of carbon credits:

In this way, REDD+ reinforces historical inequalities based on exclusion and racism along with unjust juridical frameworks to leave pressing deforestation and forest degradation problems to the supply and demand of carbon credits under corporate control.

PHOTO Credit: Indigenous Environmental Network.

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  1. No more destroy forest……we should protect.