REDD Scare Over Tropics

NASA satellites recently between April 1 and June 30 have picked up extensive signals confirming what surfaced since quite a long time ago. The signals specify potential deforestation across large parts of the tropics-encompassing Columbia, Ecuador, and Paraguay in Latin America; Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Gabon in Africa; and India, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia in Asia as well as Russia and northwestern North America.

The alarming tropical deforestation has provided the planners of the planet for Northern security with immense opportunities. In the pretext of saving tropical forests, green credentials are deployed to justify accumulation by dispossession. Dominant Knowledge-power relations have conceived the planet’s carbon-cycling capacity as property and carbon as a commodity vis-à-vis disappearing carbon-sink forests. Thus the production of scarcity, loss, and repair has engendered markets in these discursive commodities. United Nations (UN) organizations have envisaged Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). REDD+ is the market-based incentives for conservation, carbon sequestration, and payment of forest-ecosystem services. The UN-REDD Program was launched in September 2008 to prepare and implement national REDD+ strategies in developing countries and was formed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The program is trying to account for all the negative externalities of deforestation by selling forest carbon credits in the market. Currently, it has partner countries in tropics and sub-tropics covering colossal landmasses across Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

Carbon from Tropical Deforestation,” by Daniel J. Zarin, was published in a June 2012 issue of Science magazine. Based on satellite data it finds that emissions from deforestation account for 10 per cent of global carbon emissions. The relevance of REDD, either as a mechanism to prevent tropical deforestation or to address global warming is weakening. ‘Much ado’ about REDD boils down to be a mere carbon trading mechanism which does not reduce emissions, but just facilitate transfer of emissions from the tropical South to developed countries. Thus the multi-donor trust fund honestly states that “the final phase of REDD+ involves developed countries paying developing countries carbon offsets for their standing forests,” making it clear that they see REDD+ as a carbon trading scheme. Norway is UN-REDD’s first donor, committing US$52 million for 2008-2009, US$31 million for 2010, and at least US$40 million for 2011-2012. Denmark is the second donor country, committing US$2 million in June 2009 and another US$6 million in November 2010. At the end of 2009, Spain announced its pledge of US$20.2 million over a period of three years, and confirmed US$1 million for 2010. In March 2011, Japan made its first funding commitment of US$3million and the European Union pledged approximately US$14 million.

As planting and nurturing trees is a critical to take carbon dioxide out of the air, individuals and companies are offsetting their own emissions all over the world by purchasing optional forest carbon credits. The prime movers of tropical deforestation, carbon-pollution and global warming, manifestations of synchronized annihilation of nature and humans for capitalist accumulation, perceived by Karl Polanyi in 1940s, are not addressed. Thus obviously, UN-REDD Program Asia-Pacific listserv of July 2012 entitled, “Deciphering UNFCCC Decisions on National Forest Monitoring Systems for REDD+,” observes that the strategic imperatives through which REDD+ can effectively provide incentives to conserve forest, arrest global warming, and reduce poverty remain uncertain. The real objective should be to transcend hollow arguments about carbon credits and profits.

It is critically urgent to preserve forests for the sake of breathing fresh air as well as livelihoods of rural poor and other critical minimum necessities. But UN-REDD provide institutional modalities attuned to the requirements of capitalist expansion. Carbon trading is presented as the most efficient device to lower the compliance costs of reducing carbon emissions, and paving the transition towards a green economy. Carbon markets are prone to speculative financialisation such as carbon derivatives developed in secondary markets. According to a World Bank report 2010, carbon trading resulted in 8.7 billion tones of carbon traded in 2009 with an accumulated value of US$ 144 billion. Greenhouse gas emissions during the same period have kept growing at both global and national levels when most countries supposedly committed to an overall emission limit. Institutional innovation that benefits big business and finance, leaves aside the less powerful ‘others’ — like local communities excluded through unjust appropriation, even if not dispossessed from their customary rights. Institutional innovation that facilitates private property interests might engender unprecedented socioecological disasters. Land (including natural forests) is a ‘fictitious’ commodity’ and is the lifeline of poor people of the ‘other’ world.

The REDD+ framework views forests as stores of carbon rather than as complex eco-systems that support the lives, biological processes, and people. Colonial and post-colonial conservation programs have tragic histories of evicting local communities from their fostering forests when national parks and protected areas are enclosed. The UN definition of forests does not distinguish between natural forests and plantations, leaving the door open for investors and governments to convert natural forests, even if sparse, to commercial plantations of GM crops and biofuels, damaging natural forests and still getting money under REDD+. But “degraded” forests are often woodlots and fallows that are critically needed by local indigenous communities as sources of food, fibre, fodder, fuel, medicinal plants and non-timber forest-products important for subsistence and exchange. It is noteworthy in this context that the year 2011 was declared the International Year of Forests by the United Nations!

Indigenous Peoples and local land-based communities worldwide are more vulnerable to ecological crises like climate change and exploitative capitalist globalization. Contrary to socio-cultural traditions of threatened indigenous and local land-based communities, western ‘developmentality’ promoting growth fetishism lacks awareness and respect for Mother Earth. Many indigenous peoples are convinced that as the trustee of Mother Earth it is their historic responsibility to protect the sacredness of Mother Earth. The Cochabamba People’s Agreement, April 2010, declared: “Under capitalism, Mother Earth is converted into a source of raw materials, and human beings into consumers and a means of production, into people that are seen as valuable only for what they own, and not for what they are.”

REDD+ ensures ‘development of maldevelopment’ by following the logic of capital accumulation to transform land use and property relations; thus it can jeopardize tropical socio-ecology along divisions of class and ethnicity, between rural and urban, between generation’s etc. This involves eviction, human rights violations, fraud and even militarisation. The goal of carbon sequestration is already conflicting with the rights of local people to use forests in Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand.

The forest-based communities are frequently portrayed as the primary threats to forests and rarely awarded fair compensation for lost lands and livelihoods. They naturally fear that REDD will further advance land grabbing and the destruction of local eco-systems. The governments and large landholders might be provided with fabulous incentives to coercively take over vast forest land mass on their behalf from local farmers and communities. The biggest investors in carbon credits are not companies that need them in order to meet their government-regulated pollution targets. Polluting manufacturers may be making more money buying their credits than they can by selling them. ThyssenKrupp, Germany’s biggest steelmaker, and Tata Steel Ltd. Of India can profit from emissions trading at a time when share prices for two publicly listed project developers, Camco International Ltd. (CAO) and Trading Emissions (TRE) Plc, are slumping amid last year’s record oversupply in the European Union market. U.N-backed certified emissions reductions (CERs), have plunged around 70 percent over the past 12 months, and on July 19 last the benchmark CER contract hit record lows below 3 euros.

The declaration of the Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities on Climate Change against REDD+ in Rio de Janeiro, June 16, 2012, bears the foreword: “After more than 500 years of resistance, we, Indigenous Peoples, local communities, peasant farmers, fisherfolk and civil society are not fooled by the so-called Green Economy and REDD+ because we know colonialism when we see it. Regardless of its cynical disguises and shameful lies, colonialism always results in the rape and pillaging of Mother Earth, and the slavery, death, destruction and genocide of her peoples. Rio+20’s Green Economy and REDD+ constitute a thinly-veiled, wicked, colonialist planet grab that we oppose, denounce and resist.”

The quest for sustainable alternatives requires critical understanding of society embedded in ecology and social metabolism of the capitalist mode of production. Reflexing non-equilibrium dynamics of unruly ecologies pre-requires discarding the comprador orthodoxy of neoclassical economics, “Pseudoeconomics catalyzes Catastrophe.” To envisage sustainable alternative from heterodox perspectives, “Ecosocialist Worldview” preaches that western ecosocialism discourse, strengthened with the emergence of the Ecosocialist Manifesto 2001, is to be wisely synthesized with down-to-earth indigenous wisdom, phrased as ‘indigenous socialism’, for Mother Earth’s rights.

Arun G. Mukhopadhyay is formerly of Indian Institute of Management Calcutta. His current research interests are in Ecosocialist Worldview, Political Economy of India, etc. Apart from numerous publications in journals, etc., many of his papers have been accepted by international conferences held in Europe, North America, and Asia. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Arun.