By Chris Lang
In the latest issue of the World Rainforest Movement Bulletin, Jutta Kill writes that the COP 25 UN climate negotiations held in Madrid in December 2019, “will be remembered as the moment where the UN and conservation industry discourse and propaganda over REDD+ were replaced by the new forest conservation fad: Nature-Based-Solutions”.
On 5 December 2019, the International Emissions Trading Association launched its “Markets for Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) Initiative” in a side event at COP 25. Dirk Forrister, IETA’s CEO, announced in a press release about the launch that,
“Markets for Natural Climate Solutions represents the best opportunity (yet) to make NCS an investable asset class. We want to rapidly scale up private sector finance and leverage the potential of nature to help achieve the Paris Agreement goals.”
IETA, of course, exists to promote and create carbon markets. It’s an industry-led organisation whose members include massive polluters such as BP, BHP. Equinor, Koch Supply & Trading, Marubeni, Eni, RWE, Total, and Shell – to name but a few.
IETA is a perfect example of how polluting industry has captured the UN climate negotiations. A 2018 report by the NGO Corporate Accountability notes that, “IETA is one of dozens of Big Polluter trade associations that use their access to the UNFCCC space to weaken and delay meaningful policy.”
Founder members of IETA’s Markets for Natural Climate Solutions Initiative include BHP, BP, Chevron, Shell and Woodside Energy, along with the US-based tree planting organisation the Arbor Day Foundation.
IETA’s Advisory Panel consists of representatives of several of the big US-based NGOs that have a long history of promoting dubious carbon trading alliances with polluting industry: Conservation International, Environment Defense Fund, and The Nature Conservancy.
Also on the Advisory Panel is Dan Nepstad, Executive Director of the Earth Innovation Institute. Nepstad has lobbied long and hard in support of California’s plans to include REDD in its cap-and-trade scheme.
The design of California’s cap-and-trade scheme is heavily influenced by a wish list drawn up by the Western States Petroleum Association.
The oil industry’s interest in carbon trading is clear. The industry is desperate to avoid direct government regulation. In order to address climate change, we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground. That would (obviously) affect the profits that the oil industry can make. Carbon trading allows the oil industry to continue polluting while pretending to be concerned about the climate crisis.
REDD-Monitor wrote about IETA’s Markets for Natural Climate Solutions in December 2019. I noted that,
If there was any doubt that the idea of Natural Climate Solutions was going to be co-opted by the oil industry as a distraction from the urgent need to leave fossil fuels in the ground, that doubt has now vanished without trace.
I tweeted the article with the above quotation. “This is a very misleading statement,” Nepstad replied. “The science is clear: we need both steep reductions in the use of fossil fuel and large-scale programs that slow the loss and speed the recovery of tropical forests and soils.”
Nepstad’s belief that getting into bed with the oil industry can somehow help to address the climate crisis is naive, at best. These are some of the companies most responsible for the climate crisis, and companies that have profited enormously from their contribution to the crisis.
The money raised through the Markets for Natural Climate Solutions may or may not help slow down deforestation. But that’s not the point. For every carbon credit generated, one tonne of CO2 will be emitted elsewhere. That CO2 will remain in the atmosphere for centuries, some of it for thousands of years. And the fires this year in the Amazon, Indonesia, the Arctic, and Australia have shown the dangers that a rapidly heating climate presents for forests.
To address the climate crisis, the single most important thing we must do is to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels. Instead of working towards this goal, Nepstad and IETA are greenwashing the oil industry’s continuing climate pollution.
We must also reduce deforestation. But the remaining carbon budget is so small that we simply cannot afford to trade off reduced emissions from deforestation against continued emissions from burning fossil fuels.
But it gets worse. At the same time as greenwashing the companies behind the climate crisis, Nepstad is setting up a new scheme to sweep threats to rainforests under his neoliberal carpet.
Tropical Forest Champions – or “safe havens” for corruption and destructive land deals?
Nepstad and his organisation Earth Innovation Institute are working at the jurisdictional level, aiming to set up a “Tropical Forest Champions” network. EII has produced a Fact Sheet (with funding from the German and Norwegian governments) that explains that, “A ‘champion’ jurisdiction is one that is committed to forest-, community- and climate- friendly development.”
Under this scheme, EII hopes to help jurisdictions to sell carbon offsets – thus ensuring that any reduction in emissions from reduced deforestation that might take place will be cancelled out by continued emissions elsewhere.
EII hopes to create “safe haven status” for jurisdictions participating in the “Tropical Forest Champions” network. This would allow companies and investors to “engage without fear of being attacked by environmental advocacy groups”.
In order to qualify as “Tropical Forest Champions”, jurisdictions have to do no more than “make a formal commitment to forest, community, and climate friendly development through the website”. (The website is to be launched in early 2020.)
EII’s Fact Sheet notes that all members of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force have already made such a commitment and only need to “formalize their interest in participating in the Champions initiative”.
To illustrate just how dangerous this proposal is, it’s worth looking at West Papua and Papua provinces, both of which are members of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force.
The Indonesian military is building a network of 4,000 kilometres of roads across Papua and West Papua. The roads will cut through densely forested and remote mountainous areas. They will increase access to minerals, fossil fuels, timber and land for industrial plantations, including oil palm plantations. The result will be massive deforestation, as well as land-rights and social conflicts.
On the Yale Environment 360 website, William Laurance, Professor at James Cook University, Australia writes that,
But as bad as Indonesia’s exploitation of Papua’s priceless forests has been to date, the Trans-Papua Highway is bringing a whole new level of destruction, essentially tearing the heart out of a damaged but not yet decimated tropical paradise.
Just over one year ago, Mongabay, The Gecko Project, Tempo and Malaysiakini reported on “the story behind the single biggest threat to the rainforests of Indonesia”.
The story is about a massive oil palm plantation project, covering an area of 2,800 square kilometres of land in the district of Boven Digoel in Papua Province.
If the project were to go ahead as planned it would set off a deforestation carbon bomb.
The rights to the land were bought through a maze of shell companies, hiding who was actually behind the project. The district chief, Yusak Yaluwo issued the permits for the oil palm concession. At the time he issued the permits, Yaluwo was in jail in Jakarta, convicted of siphoning off US$7 million from the district budget.
The research uncovering this is extraordinarily detailed. It is part of an excellent investigative series of articles under the title, “Indonesia for Sale“. The series details the corruption and opaque deals underpinning Indonesia’s land rights and deforestation crisis.
Seven provinces in Indonesia are members of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force: Aceh, Central Kalimantan, West Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, North Kalimantan, West Papua, and Papua.
Is Nepstad seriously suggesting that these provinces should be “safe havens” in which corporations can hope to operate without fear of being exposed by investigative reporting by organisations such as the Gecko Project?
PHOTO Credit: Deforestation in Boven Digoel district, Papua province, 2017, by Nanang Sujana.