in Norway

Norway’s support for REDD: The new colonialism and the failure of democracy

Norway is the world’s fifth largest oil exporter. As a result, Norway is a very rich country. At the same time, Norway cares about addressing climate change. Or, to be more honest, it wants to appear on the world stage as caring about climate change.

REDD is the get-out-of-jail-free card that Norway uses to extract itself from this contradiction. Norway is the world’s biggest backer of REDD, because it allows Norway to continue to drill for oil, while claiming to be addressing climate change by saving the rainforests.

Instead of Norway’s oil industry having to leave the oil underground, or rich Norwegian’s having to stop flying, REDD allows all this to continue. Meanwhile, REDD imposes serious limits on the livelihoods of some of the poorest people in the world who live in and near forests far away from Norway.

Equinor’s climate masquerade

An article in the Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen at the end of last year looks at how oil company Equinor plans to continue its fossil fuel operations, while investing in rainforest protection.

The authors of the Dagsavisen article, Hanne Svarstad and Tor A. Benjaminsen, are Norwegian academics who have been carrying out research into REDD in Tanzania for several years.

Equinor’s press release announcing that the company is “ready to invest” in saving rainforests, makes no mention of the need to leave fossil fuels in the ground in order to address climate change. Instead, the company’s CEO, Eldar Sætre, describes rainforest protection as “one of the most important and effective climate actions”.

In May 2018, Statoil, which is 67% owned by the Norwegian government, changed its name to Equinor. The new name, with its associations of equality and equilibrium, is greenwash. It involves no changes to the company’s ethics.

Svarstad and Benjaminsen write that,

Equinor is now choosing the same climate strategy that Norwegian governments have followed for almost 30 years. It is about protecting the oil business while trying to push greenhouse gas emission reductions over to others. For the past 10 years, Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative in tropical countries has played a prominent role in this strategy and constitutes Norway’s largest climate initiative.

The Norwegian government has contributed about US$2.68 billion to REDD – far more than any other country.

REDD – the new colonialism

Svarstad and Benjaminsen describe Norway’s climate policies as “new colonialism” in which “Norwegian interests effectively take over control of areas in countries far away to offset Norwegian climate emissions.” The costs of this new colonialism are borne by the poor, who are “prevented from modest use of forest resources such as gathering wood as fuel for cooking”.

Svarstad and Benjaminsen refer to their research on the Kondoa Irangi REDD+ Project in Tanzania. While the Norwegian authorities describe the project as a success, Svarstad and Benjaminsen found that,

[T]he project failed completely and did not meet the objectives of justice and poverty reduction. Instead, the project posed major challenges for poor people and especially for women.

A heated REDD debate in California

The failure of this REDD project in Tanzania is not an isolated example. Svarstad and Benjaminsen were among 110 researchers who recently signed on to an open letter to the California Air Resources Board warning about what including REDD carbon credits in California’s cap and trade scheme would mean in practice.

Protests in California also came from organisations working on the environment, solidarity, and indigenous rights. A group of people from Brazil, Nigeria, Ecuador, and Mexico travelled to California in November 2018 to take part in a public meeting.

The meeting was organised by the California Air Resources Board to consider the endorsement of the California Tropical Forest Standard – part of the process of including REDD credits in California’s cap and trade scheme.

Ninawa Huni Kui, chief of the Huni Kui Tribal Federation of Acre, Brazil; Isaac Asume Osuoka of Cross River State, Nigeria; Marlon Santi, Kichwa People of Sarayaku and national coordinator of Pachacutik Indigenous Party, Ecuador; and Ana Valadez Ortega of the Center for the Study of Change in Rural Mexico issued a joint statement from the four tropical regions:

“We are forest people, scholars and community leaders, and we are united in urging California to reject any consideration of the Tropical Forest Standard. Our state governments, which would be responsible for implementing this standard, do not represent our interests; worse, they are capable of abuse, corruption, and systemic violence. We view any forest carbon plan, by the name REDD+ or any other name, as a continuation of the extractive, colonialist model of development that has devastated our lands, and as a profound threat to our ancestral knowledge and our rights to self-determination. Nature is not for sale.”

At least partly as a result of the protests and statements opposing REDD, the California Air Resources Board postponed its decision on whether to include REDD credits until April 2019.

Little or no REDD debate in Norway

Svarstad and Benjaminsen are critical of the fact that in Norway there is no such public debate and protest about REDD. They write that,

In Norway, REDD and climate policy are a field where democracy has failed. The impact of the large-scale investment on those who are affected has so far been little discussed. Few journalists, politicians or scientists have tried to penetrate REDD’s technocratic obscuration and fogging rhetoric. There is extensive protest against this form of climate policy from environmental and solidarity organisations in other countries, while their Norwegian partners have chosen silence, coupled with their own participation in the billion dollar REDD party.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised about the lack of debate in Norway. After all, Norway’s interest in rainforests started from a September 2007 letter with the headline “Not too late: Save the rainforest – save the climate!”.

The letter came from two men called Lars: Lars Løvold, then-director of Rainforest Foundation Norway; and Lars Haltbrekken, then-chairman of the Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature (Friends of the Earth Norway).

PHOTO Credit: Greenpeace protest against Arctic oil at Statoil commissioned rig in Norway.

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