By Chris Lang
“I have had many dialogues with our relatives within the Amazonian forests that they call, the ‘living forests’. The relationship within those forests is a deep, profound spiritual one with expressions of duty and responsibility to protect the sacredness of the sacred Woman Guardian of the Forest. They tell me they do not need money to manage their forests. All they are requesting is to have their rights recognized, have land title to their lands, and be left alone.
“When I explain what REDD+ is, many have said they do not want groups coming into their forests with offers to buy and trade the carbon-air in their trees. They say the sky and their trees are not for sale. If the global capitalists and extractive industries really wanted to stop climate change, they would focus their efforts on stopping extraction and addressing the large-scale drivers of deforestation.
“This is another colonialist scheme to take control of Indigenous Peoples’ lands and sell credits to extractive industries so they can pollute more, while earning money from financialized markets at the expense of Indigenous Peoples’ survival.”
That’s Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, in a 2020 interview with Tamra L. Gilbertson of the University of Tennessee. It is a view that is diametrically opposed to the neoliberal REDD carbon trading scheme that is greenwashing continued extraction of fossil fuels.
Gilbertson quotes Goldtooth in a recent paper published in Community Development Journal, titled, “Financialization of nature and climate change policy: implications for mining-impacted Afro-Colombian communities”.
In the paper, Gilbertson looks at the financialisation of nature from the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro via the Kyoto Protocol and the Clean Development Mechanism, the introduction of REDD in 2005, the 2015 Paris Agreement and the stalemate over carbon trading in Article 6, bringing us to the postponed COP26 in Glasgow, where Article 6 will once again be up for negotiation.
Gilbertson looks in detail at carbon pricing in Colombia, illustrating her point that, “Financialization requires the state to intervene and set up the legal frameworks, contrary to the free market tropes proponents claim.”
Carbon pricing in Colombia
Gilbertson outlines a series of measures promoting carbon pricing and trading that Colombia has put in place since 2015:
- Law 1753 (2015) creates a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory and includes REDD+ under the regulation of the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development.
- Colombia’s tax reform law (2016) includes a carbon tax on petrol, kerosene, jet fuel, diesel, and fuel oil, but not coal. Industrial users of natural gas are also taxed. The tax was set at US$5.5 per ton of CO2e, and will increase each year until it reaches US$11.
- Columbia’s first voluntary exchange carbon market was launched in 2016, selling carbon credits and payments for environmental services.
- In 2017, Colombia joined the World Bank Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition aimed at linking developed and developing countries in carbon markets.
- Decree 926 (2017) amended the carbon tax law of 2016, and included a provision for carbon offsetting. Carbon offsets have to be generated since 1 January 2010 and be inside Colombia. Companies can receive a tax break if they buy carbon offsets. The Colombian carbon tax programme has encouraged the development of more REDD projects.
- Law 1931 (2018) is Colombia’s Climate Change Law. The law links carbon trading, carbon taxes, and carbon offset systems, by allowing units of one ton CO2e to be paid into the carbon tax offset scheme.
In 2018, the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) and the Climate Markets and Investment Association (CMIA) presented a “Carbon Pricing Champion Award” to the government of Colombia.
But it wasn’t just the government. Colombia’s mining industry was directly involved in the negotiation of Colombia’s carbon tax legislation. A representative of mining company Prodeco, a subsidiary of the Anglo-Swiss mining giant Glencore, told Gilbertson that,
The carbon tax started here in 2016 and began to be implemented in 2017. Really, let us really call it, this opportunity. It arose from us . . . we participated in everything regarding the emergence and discussions of this legislation. We consulted on the birth of all of this legislation. But it really was a theme that for the mining industry in Colombia was relatively new. It took us a while to understand it and finally it was through allies like Conservation International because we already have several projects with them.
Glencore’s coal mining operations in Colombia
Glencore, through its subsidiary Prodeco, runs two massive open cast coal mines in the Department of Cesar. From Cesar, the coal is transported by railway to ports near Santa Marta. About 95% of the coal is exported, about half to Europe.
The impact of the mines is devastating. Gilbertson writes that,
Nearly all of the intact forest has been destroyed in Cesar near the mines, the underground aquifers have been permanently damaged from the deep mining pits, rivers have been diverted away from communities, and there are dangerous levels of air and water pollution, as well as resulting food insecurity.
Afro-Colombian communities live close to the open cast coal mines. One Afro-Colombian woman told Gilbertson,
We consume water from our wells. Look at the state of the Peraluz River. It is a river where we did everything. This is our territory. The environment is everything for us, our home, our political passion, our life, it is everything. Today, we cannot enjoy this because they have damaged all of it.
In August 2020, the London Mining Network reported on an open letter from six communities of the Yukpa Indigenous People to the Colombian Authorities, including the Attorney General. The Yukpa asked the authorities to keep to previously made agreements, for various protective measures, and for the implementation of judgements that have been made in their favour.
In the first year of Iván Duque Márquez’s presidency, 42 Yupka Indigenous children died from malnutrition caused by environmental problems and loss of territory, London Mining Network writes. The Yukpa cannot fish in their rivers, they have lost hunting grounds, and they have lost territory – all because of the coal mining operations in Cesar.
USAID and BioREDD+
The US was heavily involved in the greenwashing of Prodeco’s coal mining operations. When Prodeco wanted to buy carbon credits, Gilbertson writes, Conservation International encouraged the company to get in touch with USAID to buy REDD credits.
From September 2011 to May 2015, USAID ran a US$32 million programme in Colombia called BioREDD+. The programme set up a series of REDD projects, working with a Colombian organisation called Fondo Acción (the Fund for Environmental Action and Childhood). Fondo Acción is no ordinary NGO. It was created in 2000 to act as a trust fund for the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative. US President George H. W. Bush launched the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative in 1990, aimed at creating a free-trade zone stretching from “Anchorage to Tierra del Fuego”. Also part of the Initiative was debt reduction in exchange for nature conservation.
In 2004, the US government signed a debt-for-nature agreement with Colombia. The agreement was also signed by The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, and World Wildlife Fund and it created the Tropical Forest Conservation Act in Colombia (TFCA). Fondo Acción was the administrator of the TFCA.
In April 2018, Prodeco signed a three-year agreement to buy 40,000 carbon credits from Fondo Acción’s REDD+ Pacific projects. The following year, Prodeco bought 1.2 million carbon credits from REDD+ Pacific projects.
Prodeco put out a press release under the headline, “We’ll buy more carbon credits to mitigate climate change”.
Gilbertson writes that the communities were reluctant to sell REDD credits to a multinational coal corporation. Fondo Acción argued on behalf of Prodeco, telling the communities that Prodeco is a “responsible company”.
Prodeco reduced its carbon tax by two-thirds by buying REDD credits, and greenwashed its destructive coal mining operations. “With a boost from REDD+,” Gilbertson writes, “the coal will continue to be mined. The Afro-Colombian communities near the mine sites continue to experience serious health impacts, dispossession, water scarcity and contamination, and loss of their cultural and ethnic rights.”
Gilbertson concludes that,
With carbon pricing systems the crux of the problem still remains — fossil fuels are not being kept in the ground and overall emissions are not being reduced at the rate required to address climate change.
This post is part of a series of posts on REDD-Monitor looking at REDD and environmental injustice in the Andes Amazon.