Climate change: what is at stake in Cancun

By: Silvia Ribeiro. November 21, 2010
Translated: Erica Lagalisse

The 16th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 16) will be held in Cancun between November 29 and December 10, 2010 – the climate crisis is serious and there is much at stake.

Despite this, the most powerful states – which pollute the most and bear the highest climate debt – decided beforehand with hosts’ collaboration that Cancun will be merely a parade, where there will be no failures because they will not even attempt a new global accord. Such a declaration on the part of these few parties functions as a self-fulfilling prophecy as summit decisions are made by consensus. Once again, as they did in Copenhagen, they propose to hijack the whole United Nations Convention to serve the interests of transnational corporations, while the climate crisis worsens.

That there is no binding global accord regarding emissions reductions – beyond false solutions such as carbon markets or new technological development – allows the spurious “Copenhagen Accord” to ride, an accord that was not endorsed by the UN and whose voluntary commitments will nonetheless bring about an average increase of 3-4 degrees – a foreseeable catastrophic scenario for many Southern countries.

But there are a few issues – of enormous relevance due to their horrific implications – on which the climate mafia does wish to come to accord in Cancun. The main ones are: The privatization of air by way of de facto privatization of forests around the world through REDD+ programs, the creation of financial mechanisms implying the inauguration of a new era of Climate Adjustment Programs (following the Structural Adjustment Programs of the IMF and World Bank); and the creation of a Technologies Committee for climate change – an opaque theme that may serve to veil the promotion of very harmful technologies such as transgenic cultivars, bioengineering and other technological adventures with heavy environmental and social impacts, as well as function as a patent protection agency for transnational corporations.

There are also proposals to include soils and agriculture in carbon markets, a new attack against peasant and subsistence agriculture, which is essential to feed the world and cool the planet.

The most serious threat of COP 16 is the effort to globalize REDD+ (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) programs, which constitutes one of the largest global assaults to the commonwealth of communities, indigenous peoples and subsistence farmers. REDD+, as I explain in previous articles, is a coin that on one side rewards the biggest culprits of deforestation (if they leave standing a ridiculously meager 10 percent of the forests they log), and, with the other side, buys forest communities for their environmental service of absorbing carbon with their forests. Although forest-dwellers may keep their property titles, REDD signifies an expropriation of their land because the communities that live there no longer have decision-making power regarding said land.

Forest Environment Services Programs have already existed in various countries. There is a history of territories being stripped from communities as a consequence. But forests are not yet accepted within the Climate Change Convention as valid for generating carbon reduction certificates or bonds because it is impossible to calculate with certitude precisely how much CO2 they absorb and decrease in the atmosphere.

What COP 16 purports to do on a global scale is precisely to validate forests as generators of carbon bonds by way of the REDD+ programs. If this is approved, it will turn the forests of the world into hunting grounds for speculators.

It would be a banquet for a market depressed by the financial crisis: What would be paid to communities would be a minimal fraction of the re-sale value of these carbon absorption rights to other companies and speculators. The dirtiest corporations, those that generate the most greenhouse gases, would be able due to REDD+ to continue polluting with the justification that there are forests which are absorbing their emissions, alongside increasing their profits with the resale of bonds.

The problem with this business is that these forests are inhabited, throughout the world, by indigenous communities. For this reason, the corporations, alongside conservationist NGOs and governments, have raged to sell REDD+ as recognition of and benefit to these communities, when in reality it will constitute a massive plundering.

Without a doubt, indigenous communities and subsistence farmers have a fundamental role to play in stabilizing the climate. Precisely for this reason they cannot be left to the mercy of the speculative market of transnational corporations or to the beneficence of NGOs. They and their rights must be wholly supported and recognized, not considered part of a commercial transaction nor treated as cards in the games of politicians and NGOs. To speak of REDD+ without the intervention of the market or alongside indigenous rights, a maneuver some have tried to justify their involvement, is a trick. If rights are the issue, then the program should not be conditional on external certification or a mechanism designed for the market, as is REDD+.

Finally, the poisoned cherry on top: Within REDD+ the measuring of carbon would be done with a combination of satellite and infrared technology as well as meticulous on-site sampling (advanced geopiracy). Beyond alienating them from their land, this would permit unprecedented surveillance of indigenous communities. It is not surprising that the government of Chiapas plans to sign alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California, to advance REDD+ in the Lacondon Jungle, where Zapatista communities continue to struggle.