Convention on Climate Change




T

he
focus of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 2006,
held in Nairobi, Kenya was the CDM—the Kyoto Protocol’s
Clean Development Mechanism. The CDM is designed to enable rich
countries to avoid their own emissions reductions by funding so-called
“clean development,” or emissions reductions, in poor
countries. 


African lobby groups, headed by Climate Africa, condemned the inaction
of industrialized countries stating, “We are concerned that
the developed countries are not keen to take drastic action to reduce
their greenhouse gas emissions…. Instead they are singly and collectively
increasing their greenhouse gas emissions.” 


During a side event on avoiding deforestation hosted by the European
Union, ministers and UN representatives spoke at length about the
importance of ending logging in native forests as a means to limiting
the impacts of global warming. The solution, they concluded, was
to create a huge fund to give developing countries incentives to
protect their forests, which would be facilitated by assigning standing
forests a dollar value for their so-called “ecosystem services.” 


While the information presented on the importance of standing forests
for the climate and biodiversity was extensive, the lack of information
on the forces driving deforestation was glaring. The presenters
ignored the financial pressures forcing countries to log their forests,
leaving the impression that poor countries cut their trees because
they have nothing better to do. 


There was no mention of structural adjustment conditions imposed
by the World Bank and IMF that force poor countries to sell off
their natural resources at rock-bottom prices to repay development
loans. There was likewise nothing said about the continually escalating
demand for wood products from Northern countries, much of which
winds up in landfills as disposable packaging, junk mail, or advertising. 


This side event was emblematic of the overall UNFCCC, which emphasized
problem-solving through capitalism—namely the creation of funds,
and the development of market mechanisms like carbon trading that
promise billions in profits while doing nothing to truly address
the problem of global warming. The concepts of consumption reduction
and lifestyle change were altogether lacking, except when raised
by NGOs or Southern countries. Grace Akumu of Climate Africa likened
the North-centric emphasis of the talks to the widely protested
negotiations of the World Trade Organization (WTO), “Just like
the WTO, rich countries are skewing negotiations in their favor.” 

 



Disaster Capitalism 



I

n
addition to emphasizing the role of the market in climate strategies,
corporate capitalists are seizing on the growing concern about climate
change to sell previously controversial projects as “solutions”
to global warming. In this way, huge monoculture tree plantations,
large-scale production of biofuels, genetically engineered trees
and crops, massive hydroelectric projects, and nuclear power can
be sold to a Northern audience as a means to maintain a grossly
over-consumptive lifestyle while supposedly making a positive contribution
to the fight against global warming. 


The unfortunate truth about these projects, however, is that they
do little to mitigate climate change while causing tremendous environmental
and social impacts. This fact led the Global Forest Coalition to
organize a weekend workshop called Life as Commerce: Indigenous
Peoples Seminar on Carbon Trading, held in Namanga, Kenya on the
Tanzanian border during the weekend lull of UNFCCC. The seminar
included indigenous representatives from around the world. Some
participants gave presentations on the impacts their communities
have experienced due to carbon trading schemes in an effort to alert
other indigenous representatives about the hidden dangers of carbon
offset proposals, many of which are geared toward the lands of indigenous
peoples. 


Following the seminar, a collection of environmental groups held
a press conference in  Nairobi to condemn the promotion of
such false solutions to global warming. World Rainforest Movement,
Global Justice Ecology Project, Gaia Foundation, STOP Genetically
Engineered Trees Campaign, Global Forest Coalition, and Large Scale
Biofuels Action Network came together to demand real action against
climate change and an end to measures that merely relocate the costs
of the unsustainable consumption patterns of the North onto poor
Southern countries where indigenous communities pay a particularly
high price. “Soya plantations in Latin America and palm oil
plantations in Indonesia, being developed for biofuels, are driving
deforestation and pushing hundreds of thousands of farmers and indigenous
peoples off of their lands. Once again the developing countries
of the South are being asked to pay the price for the unsustainable
lifestyle of the North,” stated Miguel Lovera of Global Forest
Coalition. 


Ana Filippini, from the World Rainforest Movement, insisted that
by their very nature, the temporary carbon storage of monoculture
tree plantations cannot be looked at as a permanent solution. They
do, however, cause tremendous impacts, including exhaustion of soils
and ground water and displacement of indigenous and rural communities
who must be evicted from the land to protect the carbon storage
of the trees. “The UNFCCC needs to move away from these complicated
and fraudulent carbon trading schemes. It should begin to address
seriously the issues of how to phase out fossil fuels and how to
stop deforestation,” she stated. 


Genetically engineered trees and crops promoted as a source for
biofuels or a component of carbon sink plantations were also opposed.
Arguments against genetically engineered plants and trees are many,
and include contamination of native forests and conventional agricultural
crops with potentially destructive engineered traits. GE trees have
the potential to devastate forest ecosystems by contaminating native
trees with pollen or seeds engineered to kill insects, resist toxic
herbicides, or grow faster. “The escape of pollen or seeds
from GE trees into native forests would cause severe and totally
unpredictable ecological impacts that could impact the ability of
forests to store carbon, worsening global warming. They must be
banned,” insisted Orin Langelle of the STOP GE Trees Campaign. 




The
fact that genetically engineered trees puts the world’s forests
at risk was highlighted in a sign-on letter written by the Global
Justice Ecology Project and the World Rainforest Movement. The letter
was distributed to delegates and media and demands a reversal of
the 2003 UNFCCC decision that legalized the use of GE trees in carbon
sinks under the Kyoto Protocol. The letter demanded that the UNFCCC
rescind its decision legalizing use of GE trees in order to put
its policies in line with the March 2006 decision of the UN Convention
on Biological Diversity, which warned of the dangers of genetically
engineered trees and urged countries to use a precautionary approach
with regard to the technology. 


Regarding the biofuel issue, Dr. Andrew Boswell of the UK-based
Large Scale Biofuels Action Network, pointed out that even if biofuels
are produced only with conventional non-genetically engineered components,
if produced on a large-scale, they will still not be a helpful alternative
to fossil fuels. In 2005 competition for grain led to a 60 percent
increase in grain prices, favoring the use of grain for biofuels
and escalating the numbers of people who cannot access enough food.
“The amount of grain needed to produce enough biofuel to fill
a single SUV tank could feed a person for a year,” he stated. 


The growing demand for biofuels is also driving the logging and
burning of native forests in places like Indonesia where land is
being cleared to make room for plantations of oil-rich palm trees.
In addition to displacing communities and driving species to extinction,
this deforestation is accelerating climate change. “Fires in
Indonesian forests in 1995 released more carbon emissions than the
entire European Union that year. Large-scale production of biofuels
is clearly not a strategy that is going to benefit the fight against
global warming,” stated Teresa Anderson of the Gaia Foundation. 


But perhaps the most contentious climate change abatement strategy
is carbon trading. Modeled after the pollution-trading allowed by
the U.S. Clean Air Act and championed by Al Gore during his vice
presidency, carbon trading enables corporations and governments
to avoid reducing greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing carbon
credits. These carbon credits can come either from carbon offsetting
projects like tree plantations, which are established under the
guise of “development” in poor countries, or from countries
like Russia that have an excess of carbon credits. Because the carbon
emission allowances are based on 1990 emission levels, countries
like Russia—which saw many of its industries shut down after
1990—have an abundance of excess carbon emission credits, which
they can sell off to the highest bidder. The theory is that the
limited supply of carbon credits being traded will kick in the laws
of supply and demand and the market will take over and solve the
problem. (For an excellent critique, read

Carbon Trading: A Critical
Conversation on Climate Change, Privatisation and Power

, by
Larry Lohmann of The Corner House.) 


Ignoring for a moment the insufficient emission reduction targets
of the Kyoto Protocol—which call only for reductions of 5.2
percent below 1990 levels when climate scientists agree that immediate
reductions of at least 60 percent are needed to avoid climate catastrophe;
and ignoring the numerous and substantial carbon reduction verification
problems with this market-based strategy—there is the inescapable
dilemma that the United States, which is the largest emitter of
greenhouse gases (with 6 percent of the world’s populace producing
25 percent of the global emissions) will not endorse any global
warming strategy. 


We cannot continue to put our faith in bodies such as the UN to
solve this problem for us. Just as people around the world have
risen up against the WTO, massive protests must be organized against
leaders that refuse to take real, meaningful action to stave off
climate catastrophe. Otherwise we face a very uncertain future.



 





Anne
Petermann is co-director of the U.S.-based Global Justice Ecology
Project, which is a founding member of the Durban Group for Climate
Justice.