UNFCCC COP-19 – Side Event on Incentives for Transition: real and false solutions for agriculture, livestock, forests and energy


UNFCCC COP-19 - Side Event on Incentives for Transition: real and false solutions for agriculture, livestock, forests and energy



4 December 2012

For Immediate Release

Doha, Qatar:  Women and Gender NGOs at COP 18 representing hundreds of women’s organizations and women environmental leaders around the world are calling on all NGOs and delegates present in Doha to 1) sign on to a group letter/online petition to governmental representatives and https://www.change.org/petitions/commit-to-fierce-urgency-and-ambition-in-solving-the-climate-crisis

The letter (complete text below) decries the lack of sincere and effective actions on the part of the countries from the Global North and says that the COP has no legitimacy to speak on behalf of the people of the world unless they make real progress.

The letter states:

“So far, your lack of urgency to work towards the common goal of saving people and the planet has left us angered and dismayed….. Countries, when you commit to take actions, you commit to the fierce urgency and ambition needed not only for our lives and well-being but the well-being and livelihoods of all the generations to come. Only then can you truly speak for us.”

Women will be holding signs with the message “NOT IN MY NAME” emphasizing the lack of legitimacy and progress at the Doha UNFCCC talks so far.


4 December 2012

Dear Parties,

We need a signal from you that you care about the women, men and youth of this world. So far, your lack of urgency to work towards the common goal of saving people and the planet has left us angered and dismayed.

When you fail to make concrete commitments to scaled up and continued financing; when you cater to the interests of the fossil fuel industry over the interests of people; when you fail to stand on the side of innovation and progress and share sustainable, safe and equitable technologies; when you fail to ensure countries are enabled to adapt to and pay for the losses and damages resulting from climate change; when you fail to speak up for our rights; you do NOT speak for us.

For too long now you’ve let complacency in saving this process override ambition in saving the planet.  We are talking about 2020 but ignoring what’s happening right now!  Eight years is too long to wait. While you’re crunching numbers communities around the world are already paying.

Now is the time to act to close the finance gap; act to close the gigaton gap; to respect and embrace our shared knowledge not as commodities to own or exploit but as tools to transition to a safe, sustainable, low-carbon world; to support resilience and acknowledge and compensate the cultural and ecosystem losses that our inaction has already failed to save.

Countries, when you commit to take these actions, you commit to the fierce urgency and ambition needed not only for our lives and well-being but the well-being and livelihoods of all the generations to come.

Only then can you truly speak for us.


Sign on to this letter at


Contact:           Bridget Burns              +1.914.310.3270        bridget@wedo.org

                         Ulrike Roehr               +      roehr@life-online.de

###  ENDS  ###

The Luna talks?

About REDD, LULUCF and Luna-talks

By Simone Lovera, Sobrevivencia-Paraguay and Global Forest Coalition
Of course, when we arrived in Cancun and realized that the meeting venues were called Cancun Messe and Moon Palace, we already knew that these talks would be not only be a complete chaos, but that they would also be disconnected from the real world.

The gap between real life and the hot air, massive loopholes, false promises and other fallacies that marks these “luna-talks” was crystal clear last Tuesday. While happy negotiators blurred to the press there was “ progress”  on REDD, thousands of peasants, Indigenous Peoples and social movements marched on the streets in and around Cancun screaming “ No REDD”, “ No false solutions” and “ No carbon markets”.

Needless to say, the UNFCCC secretariat did its best to make sure nobody on the Moon was aware of these protests. There were no television screens covering the events on the streets, and when a group of youth delegates, Indigenous Peoples’ representatives and delegates tried to make the lunatics aware of what was happening through a media conference and a subsequent innocent protest they were charged with engaging in an “illegal action” – Read: “ making the voice of thousands of people heard.”

Mind you, these peasants and other people screaming “ No REDD” are the very women and men that live in and around the forests the REDD negotiators are trying to sell. These are the people who are kindly invited by the latest conference room paper on REDD to fully and effectively participate in actions related to REDD-related activities. These are the women and men pro-REDD NGOs and other carbon traders claim to speak for when they say that REDD will benefit Indigenous Peoples, local communities and women.

Yet, these women and men themselves think otherwise. They see a profit-oriented carbon trading system that will trample their rights and ignore their basic needs. They see so-called safeguards that will probably end up in the Guiness Book of Records for the “softest, weakest and most non-binding safeguard ever”  reward. They see a ridiculous forest definition and a subsequent massive expansion of monoculture tree plantations on the lands they need to produce food in these times of continuing hunger. They realize REDD will make them fully dependent on consultancy firms, conservation organizations, World Bank staff and other professional carbon counters who will reap at least 50% of all the REDD funding for monitoring, reporting and verification systems that add absolutely nothing to forest conservation itself. They see European foresters dressed up like professional carbon sellers on Forest Day promoting massive financial flows to REDD while at the same time claiming equally massive subsidies for industrial wood-based bio-energy that will dramatically increase the demand for wood and land – two of the main underlying causes of forest loss [1]. They see these same foresters promoting the most ludacrous loopholes in the LULUCF text, which would not only continue to promote a fundamentally flawed forest definition, but also create an accounting abyss that would make any second, third of fourth commitment period totally meaningless.
Of course, we cannot blame the average negotiator for loosing any sense of reality in Cancun . This FCCC process has run totally out of hand: An average delegation has to cover approximately 119 (!) issues today if one adds up all the formal agenda items and parallel negotiations listed in today’s daily program. This is already a challenge for the large, rich delegations that can put themselves to rest in their luxurious Moon Palace after dealing with this forest (or should we say eucalyptus plantation?) of issues, but there are at least 56 developing countries that have no or only 1 representative here in Cancun and most of them have to travel between 3 and 4 hours per day between their hotel and the negotiation venue.

No wonder people have become lunatics. No wonder the interests of smaller countries are being wiped of the table on a daily basis. And no wonder the masses on the street representing peoples living in and around forests would strongly prefer this total Cancun mess not to deal with the forests they have successfully conserved and restored for centuries, without any help of the World Bank, Jens Stoltenberg or other oil interests.
[1] see http://globalforest.dpi.nl/?p=869

The Missing Delegate at Cancún: Indigenous Peoples

cross-posted from: National Geographic blog

Forest set-asides are at the heart of the United Nations’ climate negotiations, but a Native American restoration specialist says it will get the wrong people out of the woods.

As nearly 200 delegates gather at the Conference of the Parties in Cancun, Mexico, writer Dennis Martinez points out that Indigenous peoples and their advocates have no official seat among nations, and yet have experienced the worst impacts of climate change. To solve the problem, delegates of the wealthy nations have a climate-mitigation plan of choice — carbon offsets embodied in a program called Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD). But for healthy and stable ecosystems, Martinez finds that it fails to measure up to an overlooked method: continued indigenous stewardship.

This essay by Dennis Martinez is part of a two-part series on REDD and indigenous communities produced by the media NGO Project Word, and featuring a companion story by Ruxandra Guidi.

By Dennis Martinez

So they are at it again. At last year’s summit in Copenhagen for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the most powerful nations on the planet failed to set binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Meeting in Cancun, Mexico, this week, the industrialized countries are repeating the performance. They are, again, avoiding the drastic cuts recommended by scientists — and, again, diverting attention to the alternative these countries put forward in Copenhagen: a proposal that allows them to continue polluting, and offset the results via forest conservation.

The proposal is a suite of options known as REDD+ or REDD (for “Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation in developing countries”).

Funded by the World Bank, wealthy countries, and three UN agencies, REDD is designed to allow polluters to offset the emissions in industrialized countries by paying for the carbon absorbed in standing trees of developing countries.

Proponents claim that REDD will cut the world’s deforestation-related CO2 emissions by 20 percent and at the same time support local livelihoods. The program has the support of large conservation groups. Industrial countries have pledged U.S.$4.6 billion dollars to it, and REDD pilot projects are under way in more than 20 countries with tropical and subtropical forests.

The UNFCCC imprimatur at Cancun would only add to the momentum.

As a hedge, Norway, France, and other industrialized countries recently organized a partnership to implement REDD without the UNFCCC at all. But they’d prefer to hammer out specific terms for REDD at Cancun, especially if the terms explicitly include REDD in a U.N.-sanctioned carbon market [see sidebar below].

Any agreement at Cancun would give REDD a tremendous boost as industrialized countries would release billions of dollars in pledges; and if the agreement hitches REDD to a carbon market, reassured investors would pump in massive amounts of capital. According to a perhaps-generous estimate by the UN-REDD Programme, the total infusion could reach “up to $30 billion a year,” which proponents say will put saving the planet on a sound financial footing.

But even if everything worked perfectly in such a carbon market, REDD would not actually stop greenhouse gas emissions at the tailpipe or smokestack — it would just generate pollution credits.

To offset their emissions beyond an agreed limit, polluters (or consumers) would buy carbon credits from companies, communities, NGOs, or nation-states that promise not to continue deforestation or forest degradation for a specific period, in an unregulated market.


Even if such promises could be meaningful and enforceable — a highly contentious point — the pollution will continue elsewhere. Critics say REDD merely serves to delay the day of reckoning, a painful weaning off fossil fuels. “Carbon offsetting … is the cheapest and quickest way of achieving an insignificant reduction,” as commentator George Monbiot put it in a recent Guardian column. “Let us not pretend that it lets us off the hook.”

Rights and Wrongs

Perhaps most tellingly, all the talk of silver linings and “win-win” has failed to win over arguably the most vulnerable constituent in the REDD debate: traditional Indigenous peoples.

From the glacier-fed valleys of the Himalayas and Amazonia, to the thawing Arctic, to the islands of Papua New Guinea and savannah of Kenya, indigenous peoples act as stand-ins for all of us. They are experiencing the first, most direct impacts of climate change (while bearing the least responsibility for them).

Because many of these indigenous cultures depend directly on their local environments for sustenance, they are the most vulnerable to climate disruption, and have the most to lose. So their perspective should give us pause.

To be sure, some poor indigenous peoples have looked to REDD for their economic salvation. But in other communities, the more people have learned about the program, the more divided and concerned they have become.

Increasingly vocal opposition, led by NGOs like the Indigenous Environmental Network and Global Forest Coalition, has called the fast track of REDD into question. “Mitigation policies of the developed world will kill us before climate change does!” Ramiro Batzin, a Keqchikel Maya from Guatemala, recently told the World Bank’s Economic and Social Development Policy Section.

Since Indigenous peoples account for only 5 percent of the world’s population, one could reasonably ask why we should care. But consider: according to the UN and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, indigenous peoples occupy 22 percent of the earth’s land surface, including 80 percent of threatened biodiversity hotspots. They are ecologically important far out of proportion to their numbers.

Indigenous communities have, in the main, stewarded their natural resources sustainably for generations, helping to protect a significant part of everyone’s birthright (think of how forests produce clean water, protect wildlife, and give off oxygen while taking in CO2).


Rising seas around Panama’s Caribbean islands have forced the Kuna peoples to consider moving to their mainland territory–but it’s the same land Panamanian authorities want to set aside for “avoided deforestation,” part of the REDD program under debate at Cancún. Read more about the conflict in Kuna Yala.

Photo © Roberto Guerra 2010

REDD’s recent pilot programs, flush with millions of dollars in World Bank start-up funds, have set their sights largely on traditional indigenous territories because that’s where the intact forests are. Although Amazonian Indians comprise only 3 percent of Brazil’s population, they protect one third of the world’s most threatened forests.

Yet UN climate-mitigation negotiations since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol have virtually excluded indigenous populations, relegating them to “observer” status. The REDD plan focuses largely on the programs of NGOs and nation-states, overlooking and in some cases prohibiting indigenous forest stewardship.

And upon closer inspection, it seems that REDD will make it harder for that stewardship to survive. In the end, that would be a loss for everybody.

According to NGO reports, media accounts, anecdotes from REDD pilot projects, and interviews with indigenous leaders, REDD agents in at least nine countries, from Guyana to Papua New Guinea, have attempted to secure access to land without adequately consulting or gaining the permission of traditional authorities.

Even indigenous leaders who favor the potentially lucrative program have complained that REDD plans have targeted their land without their authentic consent.

panama_2010_3778.jpgThe Emberá peoples of Darien, Panama, have seen the most dramatic rates of deforestation in Panama.

Photo © Roberto Guerra 2010

A 2010 document unearthed by Friends of the Earth illustrates the problem. A REDD-related application for the Paraguay Forest Conservation Project on the land of the Mbyá Guarani people, it reads: “The Mbyá seek a full process of consultation and understanding of the concepts involved prior to any engagement, which does not fit the decision-making schedule the project must adhere to.”

There is a good reason why the Mbyá would seek a full process and understanding of the concepts involved. Most indigenous communities lack secure land tenure, and the latest UNFCCC proposal at Cancun does not directly address longstanding indigenous land claims. It’s not clear how it would affect the security or territorial sovereignty of indigenous communities.

The proposal also studiously omits any binding commitment to respect indigenous rights, like those embodied in the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As a result, nothing at Cancun prevents REDD advocates from coercing a community into participating, withholding potential negative consequences, or seeking approval after the fact.

By failing to require their genuine consent (known as “free, prior, and informed” in UN-speak), the Cancun document would invite corruption and abuse of indigenous communities — especially if the plan includes credits in the carbon market, which could drastically increase land values.

“Who decides and owns forest resources is going to be at the heart of any new set of arrangements,” as James Mayers of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) recently put it to the New York Times. “If land tenure has not been formally established, REDD could mean exploitation of local communities … by governments or powerful private-sector stakeholders.”

REDD advocates could use carbon-offsets without abandoning other market and national economic interests that may contradict the program’s aims.

As it is, REDD advocates could use carbon-offsets without abandoning other market and national economic interests that may contradict the program’s aims. REDD does not address wasteful consumption of forest products, nor does it prevent national governments from maintaining tax breaks and other incentives to destroy forests. And in an absurd irony, the more logging a country does before REDD, the more credit it could get for stopping — and the more REDD support it could receive for doing so.

A recent editorial by Guyana’s Kaieteur News made the case explicitly: “We believe that we should proceed full steam ahead with the exploitation of our forestry resources,” the editorial stated. “It will ironically make our arguments for REDD even stronger.”

According to Simone Lovera, the director of the Global Forest Coalition and a longtime participant in UNFCCC, REDD sends all the wrong signals: “Removing perverse subsidies that promote deforestation,” she says, “is far more effective than throwing $30 billion at forests.”

The predictable consequences of REDD are already evident. Indonesia has announced that it would include its lucrative, destructive palm-oil plantations in its REDD plans. In Guyana, the first REDD-related project would fulfill a decades-old national economic priority: the construction of the Amalia Falls dam, which would flood nearly 20,000 hectares of land inhabited by the indigenous Akawaio.

And the REDD proposal for Panama ultimately could allow developers to fulfill a ten-year-old master plan, conceived before REDD: log secondary or primary forests in order to build dams, roads, and biofuel plantations — the nation’s economic agenda in a nutshell, with carbon credits thrown in. Not surprisingly, Panama’s forestry companies are positioning themselves for potential cash windfalls.

How to See a Tree

Of the many loopholes in REDD plans, one of the more troubling involves plantations.

In the draft language for Cancun, REDD would make no distinction between plantations and primary forests–both sink carbon. Ignoring significant ecological differences, the REDD program would allow monoculture tree farms to uproot primary forest, or to prevent the restoration of degraded forest.

While it is difficult or impossible to quantify the hectares at stake, World Bank-funded REDD plans contain evidence of plans for plantations in at least 19 countries, from Colombia to Vietnam.

These plans are music to the ears of the World Forestry Congress, an industry association, which has averred that “the best way to protect forests” and to sink carbon is “expanding monoculture timber plantations.” The Congress was less clear about the ecological effects of plantations, and says little about protecting primary forests.

If it seems strange that REDD should allow plantations to redress deforestation, perhaps it should. Plantations do help ensure reliable short-term return on investment for carbon credits: trees grow uniformly, making it easier to measure their carbon storage. And younger trees grow more quickly than older ones. Proponents of plantations also claim that their products relieve pressure on primary forests.


Proponents of REDD, a program under debate at Cancún, say it will achieve a 20 percent percent reduction in carbon emissions from deforestation, like that caused by this logging operation near Ipetí, Darien, whose lumber is exported to overseas markets.

Photo © Roberto Guerra 2010

But according to a wealth of research, monoculture plantations store less carbon and provide less long-term stability than mixed-species forests. In addition, clearing a forest for a plantation can release carbon from exposed soil and decaying or burned-off vegetation. The plantations themselves can pollute waterways with pesticides and fertilizer runoff, deplete groundwater with non-native species like eucalyptus, and pose a high-risk fire hazard.

But a far bigger problem with plantations lies in the sacrifice of biodiversity. Each year on average more than 12 million acres of forests are being cut for plantations, according to the World Resources Institute. This represents a staggering loss of habitat for plants and animals, as well as a loss of cultural resources for Indigenous communities.

In my 40 years as a Native American restoration specialist working with indigenous peoples around the world, I have visited many communities that no longer can find culturally important plants and animals at all, or find them only in degraded form. Drought, for example, reduces the size, abundance and nutrition of seeds, nuts, and berries, frustrating wildlife and humans alike. Indigenous peoples dependent on wild foods represent the ultimate human vulnerability: we all ultimately depend on natural ecosystems, which are perilously degrading worldwide. Plantations only hasten their decline and further reduce biodiversity.

“REDD would also accelerate the erosion of traditional knowledge — perhaps the most important form of biodiversity protection on the planet.”

REDD would also accelerate the erosion of traditional knowledge — perhaps the most important form of biodiversity protection on the planet. The plan would largely ignore indigenous landcare practices that have preserved the bulk of the planet’s biodiversity for millennia, in some cases demonizing them or even preparing to ban them outright.

Native fishing, hunting, pastoralist, and subsistence farming communities have long worked with a vast store of traditional knowledge and tools that help maintain healthy and diverse gene pools: harvesting selectively, saving and sowing well-adapted heirloom crop and landrace seeds, establishing reserves where it’s taboo to harvest scarce game or plants, creating community authority to monitor and guide resource use, periodically rotating land or livestock to fallow resources.

Communities also carefully managed fire-adapted ecosystems with frequent low-intensity burns, which, supplemented by lightning, reduced fuels and thus risk of catastrophic fire. But over a century of fire suppression efforts have tragically burdened those ecosystems with extra fuel. In Arnhem Land, Australia, Western fire ecologists who recently quantified traditional Aboriginal fire practices found them superior to other fire regimes in five measurements of biodiversity.

Indigenous peoples have also long cared for and defended sacred sites, which have proven to be exceptionally healthy, species-rich ecosystems.

Fortress Conservation

But this wealth of knowledge, accumulated over millennia, is being cast aside. Judging from the track record of a few REDD pilot projects and many carbon-offset programs operating under Kyoto, indigenous participants in REDD projects would have to give up governance of their territory and cede control to outside parties. Those parties would possibly include aid or relief groups, but would more likely be partnerships of conservation NGOs, carbon entrepreneurs, government agencies, and security personnel.

In a well-documented trend that critics call “fortress conservation,” these kinds of partnerships have cordoned off land, and banned ancestral hunting, fishing, gathering, and subsistence agriculture by local people, as well as restoration practices like thinning and burning–allegedly to protect species, and institute carbon-offset programs.

John Nelson, Africa policy advisor for the Forest Peoples Programme, estimates that such conservation projects have displaced 150,000 to 200,000 indigenous inhabitants in the Congo Basin alone–and not peacefully. “Imagine as an indigenous person from a biodiverse area you have husbanded for a millennium, waking up one day,” he says “to find a boundary outside your village–with armed paramilitary guards telling you that you cannot enter the forest. When you put in armed paramilitary forces to protect forests from indigenous hunter-gatherers, inevitably there are human rights violations,” he says. “Guards have license to do whatever they want. They steal, slap people, beat the bottoms of feet and worse,” he says. “People are scared. It’s difficult to gather testimony. You hear –‘ we can’t go there anymore.'”

Nelson says that some of the cordoned-off areas in Africa — including Boumba Bek, Nki National Parks in Cameroon — “are cultural cores of [local indigenous] society. People need to move around the forest, share traditional knowledge, and pass it on to children, saying ‘this is how we fish in this place, these swamp are good for this.’ That’s getting lost,” he says. “If people are disenfranchised, two or three generations down it will be pretty hard to find an old person saying, ‘This is where we went.'”

In as little as one generation, forest dwellers can lose so much subsistence knowledge that they must depend on cash to buy food — leading to the irreversible poverty we see on the outskirts of large cities in developing countries.

In as little as one generation, forest dwellers can lose so much subsistence knowledge that they must depend on cash to buy food — leading to the irreversible poverty we see on the outskirts of large cities in developing countries.

These results are largely unintended. “Researchers admire traditional knowledge and its conservation capacity,” Nelson says. “They think those people are amazing. And they don’t want them to lose their knowledge. They are trying to do the right thing. But their work is eroding traditional practices. The irony is it’s middle class Americans with pandas on the fridge trying to do the right thing.”

Stakeholders counter that REDD is being fluidly co-created by national governments, NGOs, and local communities, generating blueprints for local-friendly results. The 750,000-hectare Ulu Maasen project in Aceh province, for example, “is in the process of formally recognizing Mukim (a traditional management institution unique to Aceh), customary forest boundaries, and management rights,” says Jane Dunlop of Fauna & Flora International, an NGO actively engaged in Ulu Maasen. “An explicit aim of this project is to enhance the rights and livelihoods of local communities.”

However, the project is asking participating communities to abide by an Aceh-government logging moratorium on all 5.7 million hectares of the province. The ban covers all inhabitants, regardless of their engagement with REDD, and would include tree felling for swidden, the traditional fire-based agriculture.

Another official REDD pilot project touted as a model, the Noel Kempff Climate Action Project in Bolivia, also cordons off its area from the locals. “The local communities can’t access the grounds that they previously used for hunting and for small-scale agriculture, large swaths,” says Erika Bjureby of Rainforest UK, who researched the Kempff project for Greenpeace in 2009.

REDD critics point to the basic logistical problem: buyers want carbon, and a project can’t easily deliver it without fencing out people. “You have to get people away from the forest, keep them away, because the carbon cannot be disturbed,” says Timothy Byakola, of the Ugandan NGO Climate and Development Initiatives, an advocate for local communities. “The measurements assume that nobody cuts trees.”

“Evictees are living in refugee villages. And this is a peek into the future of REDD.”

Since 2005, Byakola has monitored scores of forcible arrests, violent harassments, evictions, and displacements of forest-dwellers at a carbon-offset plantation on Uganda’s Mt. Elgon. “The restrictions don’t realize the forest exists as symbiotic relationship with the community,” he says. “The evictees are living in refugee villages. And this is a peek into the future of REDD.”

Nelson echoes these misgivings: “Guns and guards is the old model, and it doesn’t work,” he says, “I am concerned that REDD is using the old model, and expanding it. It will ramp up the number of people affected.”

Of all the ways REDD could crack down on forest-dwellers, the most immediate would ban cultivation. In REDD plans submitted to the Word Bank, at least eight countries, from Ghana to Panama, have singled out traditional subsistence farming as a cause of deforestation, effectively declaring a ban on the practice.

“The emerging policy documents want to stamp out swidden,” says Simon Counsell, executive director of the UK-based Rainforest Foundation. “They have been trying to stop slash and burn.”


Onel Masardule, center, a Kuna leader and environmentalist, has led workshops to educate the Kuna Yala community on whether to participate in REDD, particularly in a project that Panama and the World Bank propose for Kuna territory. Read more on the Kuna’s decision.

Photo © Roberto Guerra 2010

Panama’s REDD plan, which partly blames deforestation on “slashing, burning,” could allow REDD projects to wipe out a key means of traditional sustenance for groups like the Emberá or the Kuna. The Guyanan government, while less explicit about swidden, has said that REDD activity to control deforestation will not affect the logging and mining industries. But logging and mining are “70 percent of the deforestation problem,” says Counsell of the Rainforest Foundation UK. “If the government doesn’t tackle those, it’s hard to see what else they could be proposing to do to preserve trees, if it’s not stopping Amerindians from traditional farming.”

To be sure, REDD projects would allow for compensation of communities, essentially in exchange for any use of land and restrictions. But if the carbon-offset plantations and forest set-asides in countries like Uganda, Brazil, and Costa Rica are any indication, REDD would create more of the “conservation refugees” documented by investigative journalist Mark Dowie. By forcing more people into the vagaries of the cash economy, by downplaying or even criminalizing traditional culture, REDD would deprive the planet of its most valuable forest managers, exactly when they’re needed most.

 Disturbing Biodiversity

In an age of climate disruption, biodiversity is increasingly important. Where gene pools of plants and animals are impoverished, ecosystems and species won’t be able to adapt fast enough to climate change without massive intervention — costly attempts to propagate and move species. The more limited the gene pool, the less chance an ecosystem can adapt, and the greater the likelihood of ecosystem collapse and human suffering.

In times of ecological crisis, certain habitats are needed as all-important “refugia,” or ecological safe havens, for plants and animals. These areas buffer the inevitable loss of some species by giving others a chance to repopulate, thus conserving overall ecosystem resilience.

In the tropical and subtropical forests targeted by REDD, Indigenous peoples still protect much of the remaining refugia. But those areas, too, are disappearing — and already-degraded forests, which could be restored as refugia, would be converted to plantations under REDD.

Species may indeed disappear. The latest science indicates that their ranges are shifting ten times faster than they did in the last ice age, overwhelming the ability of some to adapt.

But sophisticated restoration efforts can help us buy time, and it’s far from hopeless. Instead of doing expensive “assisted-species migration” — propagating species and moving them across long distances — people can stay on-site to select species that resist harsh conditions, extreme temperature, abrupt chaotic weather changes, invasive insects, and blight. This can work especially well in terrains like mountains, where varied topography provides lots of niches for propagation. Species adapted to these niches would increase as climate change intensifies.

“Traditional Indigenous peoples worldwide, with their varied cultural practices, are ideally suited to manage … helping species adapt to changing conditions.”

Traditional Indigenous peoples worldwide, with their varied cultural practices, are ideally suited to manage such efforts, helping species adapt to changing conditions. In case after case where scientists have compared the outcomes, traditional Indigenous management regimes protect biodiversity better than conventional efforts.

Even the much-demonized swidden — traditionally, crops are planted briefly, and land fallowed for a long period — can introduce successions of new growth, bursting with new species and enriching biodiversity. In a groundbreaking 2008 University of Michigan study of 325 sites in 12 countries, researchers found that local- and indigenous-managed areas consistently outperformed government-managed areas in other regions. In particular, the study found that Indigenous peoples with secure land tenure in Brazil (called terras Indigenas) “are very effective at reducing carbon emissions from forest fires,” and that “the larger the forest area under community ownership, the higher the probability for better biodiversity maintenance  … and carbon sequestration.”

 Emberá youth Anel Mezúa bears a message.

Photo © Roberto Guerra 2010


A Matter of Time

The “biocultural” approach to conservation, as coined by linguist and anthropologist Luisa Maffi, is not a romantic notion of a mythical noble savage. It is based on a reality that ethnographers, ethnohistorians, political ecologists have long documented: The peoples who depend on biodiversity most immediately preserve it most effectively.

The Kichwa of the Andes say: “Without the forest, we have no culture; without our culture, there will be no forest.” And because they possess a strong cultural memory of past environmental changes, indigenous people are particularly sensitive to the impacts of climate disruption.

Inuit and Inupiat people detected the thinning and loss of extent of Arctic ice in the 1960s, at least a decade before climate scientists confirmed the disappearance of sea ice in 1979, through passive microwave technology.

But now we no longer have the time that climate scientists had in the 1970s.

Nor do we have unlimited funds to mitigate climate change. Research shows that traditional land-management practices can be performed far more cost-effectively than those proposed by big environmental NGOs, which appear set to manage REDD.


The primary cost is in securing land title. Despite their long tenure there, most indigenous forest inhabitants have no secure claim to their land. According to one recent study comparing the cost of securing title for indigenous communities with the costs of REDD projects, the biocultural approach was 800 to 2,500 times cheaper. Of course, this also says something about how expensive conventional conservation can be. One researcher who helped negotiate Panama’s REDD plans has estimated that it would take “$16,383,824 annually in order to reduce Panama’s deforestation by 50 percent.”

Ironically, as long as polluters are willing to pay, REDD is bound to be attractive to the UN, NGOs, and any entity that would hold the purse strings [see sidebar].

“REDD is another funding stream,” says Nelson, the Forest Peoples Programme advisor in Africa. “Guns and guards is expensive. Keeping it funded is a struggle. Conservation funding is not rising. So conservation NGOs are replacing biodiversity with REDD.”

The cost comparisons, along with praise of traditional practices from researchers, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the World Bank, ought to reinforce what should be common sense: solving a human rights problem can save the planet — indeed, it’s the best way to do so.

Enforcing indigenous land-rights, and thus preserving traditional indigenous cultures and their management strategies (while instituting a carbon tax to stop emissions at the source), would be a far most effective solution to climate change than REDD.

REDD pays lip service to indigenous land tenure and practices, while often undermining and even prohibiting them. If the participants at Cancún allow or reinforce the separation of indigenous communities from their ancestral forests, and disregard the biodiversity crisis while evading necessary emission cuts, it would be worse than the usual injustice to marginalized traditional cultures. It would be a betrayal of future generations of all humanity.

Dennis Martinez, an ecological and biocultural restoration ecologist, ethnoecologist, ethnobotanist, and traditional knowledge practitioner of O’odham-Chicano-Swedish heritage, is Chair of the Indigenous Peoples’ Restoration Network (IPRN) of the Society for Ecological Restoration International (SERI) and Steering Committee member of the Indigenous Peoples’ Biocultural Climate Change Assessment Initiative (IPCCA). His work has appeared in a range of popular and academic publications, from Sierra to Ecological Restoration to Ecological Applications (of the Ecological Society of America.)

This article was produced in association with the media NGO Project Word, a project of the Tides Center. Additional reporting by Laird Townsend.

Production of this article was made possible by a grant from The Christensen Fund.

The views expressed in this article are those of Dennis Martinez and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. 

La Vía Campesina demands environmental and social justice, and respect for Mother Earth at the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP 16)

photo: viacampesina.org

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Via Campesina Declaration in Cancún

No agreement is better than a bad agreement:
The people hold thousands of solutions in their hands

Global Forum for Life, Environmental and Social Justice (December 4-10, 2010)

(Photos, videos, news at http://www.viacampesina.org)

Members of La Vía Campesina from more than thirty countries from all over the world united our thousands of struggles in Cancun to demand environmental and social justice, and respect for Mother Earth at the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP 16). We joined together to denounce the attempts of governments, mainly from the North, to commercialize the essential elements of life in benefit of transnational corporations and to publicize the thousands of grassroots solutions to cool the planet and stop the environmental devastation that seriously threatens humanity today.

Working mostly out of our base at the Alternative Global Forum for Life, Environmental and Social Justice, we held workshops, assemblies, and meetings with allies. On December 7 we staged a global action that we called “Thousands of Cancuns”. The events this day had an impact across the planet and even into the halls of the Moon Palace where delegates to the COP 16 meet. Actions included a march of thousands of members of La Via Campesina accompanied by indigenous Mayans from the Mexican peninsula of Yucatan and our allies from national and international organizations.

Mobilization to Cancun began November 28 with three caravans that left from San Luis Potosi, Guadalajara and Acapulco and traveled through places that exemplify environmental destruction, as well as local resistance of affected communities. The organization of the caravans was carried out along with the National Assembly of Environmentally Affected Peoples, the Movement for National Liberation, the Mexican Electricians Union (SME) and the hundreds of villages and people who opened their doors with generosity and solidarity. On November 30 the caravans arrived in Mexico City, where we held an International Forum and march accompanied by thousands of people and hundreds of organizations that also struggle for environmental and social justice.

On our journey to Cancun, other caravans—one from Chiapas, one from Oaxaca and one from Guatemala—joined us after many hours of traveling. We met up in Merida to hold a ceremony at Chichen Itza and finally arrived in Cancun on December 3 to set up our camp for Life and Environmental and Social Justice. The next day, Dec. 4, we inaugurated our Forum and began activities in Cancun.

Why did we go to Cancun?

Current models of consumption, production and trade have caused massive environmental destruction. Indigenous peoples and peasant farmers, men and women, are the main victims. So our mobilization to Cancun, and in Cancun, sought to tell the world that we need a change in economic and development paradigms.

We must go beyond the anthropocentric model. We must rebuild the cosmovision of our peoples, based on a holistic view of the relationship between the cosmos, Mother Earth, the air, the water and all living beings. Human beings do not own nature, but rather form part of all that lives.

Given the urgency to reconceive the system, the climate and the earth, we denounce:

That governments remain indifferent to global warming and instead of debating the policy changes necessary for cooling the planet, they are debating speculative financial schemes, new “green” economies and the privatization of the commons.

False and dangerous solutions that the neoliberal system implements like the REDD+ initiative (Reduction of Emissions for Deforestation and Forest Degradation), the CDM (Clean Development Mechanisms), and geoengineering. These promote the commercialization of natural resources, and the purchase of permits to pollute, or “carbon credits”, with the promise of not cutting down forests and plantations of the South.

The imposition of industrial agriculture through the implementation of genetically modified products and landgrabs that go against food sovereignty.

Nuclear energy, which is very dangerous and in no way a real solution.

The efforts of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization to facilitate the entry of huge transnational corporations in our countries.

The impacts of Free Trade Agreements with the United States and the European Union– trade and investment treaties that open the doors of our countries to transnational companies to take control of our natural resources.

The exclusion of peasant and indigenous peoples in discussions on key issues that affect human life and the Mother Earth.

The expulsion of members of our organizations from the official talks of the COP 16 due to their opposition to government proposals that promote a system of depredation that threatens to exterminate the Mother Earth and humanity.

We do not agree with the simple idea of “mitigating” or “adapting” to climate change. We need social, ecological and climate justice, so we demand:

Incorporation of the principles of the Cochabamba Accords of April 22, 2010 as a process that leads to real reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases and achieves social and environmental justice.

Food sovereignty based on sustainable and agroecological peasant agriculture, given that the food crisis and the climate crisis are the same and both are consequences of the capitalist system.

Changes in life-styles and destructive relations with the environment.

La Vía Campesina, as an organization that represents millions and millions of small farmer families in the world, is concerned about the need to recover climatic equilibrium. Therefore we call for:

Assuming collective responsibility for Mother Earth, changing patterns of development and economic structures, and breaking down the power of transnational companies

Recognizing governments like Bolivia, Tuvalu and others that have had the courage to resist the imposition of governments of the North and transnational corporations. We call on other governments to join the people’s resistance against climate crisis.

Reaching binding agreements that force all those who pollute the environment to be accountable for the disasters they cause and the crimes they have committed against mother nature. Likewise, require a reduction of carbon gases at the source–polluters should stop polluting.

Alert the social movements of the world about what is happening on the planet to defend life and Mother Earth, because we are defining the model for future generations.

Grassroots action and mobilization of urban and peasant farm organizations, innovation and the recuperation of ancestral ways of life to save our Mother Earth from attacks by big capital and bad governments. This is our historic responsibility.

Policies to protect biodiversity, food sovereignty, water management and administration based on experience and the full participation of the communities themselves.

A worldwide consultation with people to decide the policies and global actions needed to defend against climate crisis.

Today, right now, we call on humanity to act immediately to rebuild the life of all of nature, applying the concept of “life in balance.”

This is why, from the four corners of the planet, we stand up to say:

No more harm to our Mother Earth! No more destruction of the planet! No more evictions from our territories! No more murder of the sons and daughters of the Mother Earth! No more criminalization of our struggles!

No to the Copenhagen agreement. Yes to the principles of Cochabamba.

¡REDD NO! ¡Cochabamba SI!

The earth is not for sale, it must be recovered and defended!


Delegation of Vía Campesina a Cancún, Dec. 9, 2010

(English version coming soon)
La Vía Campesina — Declaración de Cancún

Más vale un no acuerdo que un mal acuerdo:
Las miles de soluciones están en manos de los pueblos

Foro Global por la Vida, y la Justicia Social y Ambiental (4 al 10 de diciembre de 2010)

(Photos, videos, noticias en www.viacampesina.org
Los miembros de La Vía Campesina de más de 30 países de todo el mundo juntamos nuestras miles de luchas en Cancún para exigir a la Cumbre sobre Cambio Climático (COP 16), justicia ambiental y respeto a la Madre Tierra, para denunciar los ambiciosos intentos de los gobiernos, principalmente del Norte, de comercializar todos los elementos esenciales de la vida en beneficio de las corporaciones trasnacionales y para dar a conocer las miles de soluciones para enfriar el planeta y para frenar la devastación ambiental que hoy amenaza muy seriamente a la humanidad.

 Tomando como principal espacio de mobilización el Foro Alternativo Global por la Vida, la Justicia Social y Ambiental, nosotras y nosotros celebramos talleres, asambleas, reuniones con nuestros aliados y una acción global que llamamos los miles de Cancún y que repercutió por todo el planeta y hasta en las mismas salas del Moon Palace de la COP 16. Esta acción del 7 de diciembre, tuvo como expresión de nuestra lucha una marcha de miles de miembros de La Vía Campesina acompañados por los indígenas Mayas de la península mexicana y nuestros miles de aliados de organizaciones nacionales e internacionales.

 La mobilización hacia Cancún inició desde el 28 de noviembre con tres caravanas que partieron desde San Luis Potosí, Guadalajara y Acapulco, que recorrieron los territorios más simbólicos de la devastación ambiental pero además de las resistencias y las luchas de las comunidades afectadas. El esfuerzo de las caravanas fue un trabajo conjunto con la Asamblea Nacional de Afectados Ambientales, el Movimiento de Liberación Nacional, el Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas y cientos de pueblos y personas que nos abrieron las puertas de su generosidad y solidaridad. El 30 de noviembre arribamos con nuestras caravanas a la Ciudad de México, celebramos un Foro Internacional y una marcha acompañados de miles de personas y cientos de organizaciones que también luchan por la justicia social y ambiental.

 En nuestra jornada hacia Cancún, otras caravanas, una de Chiapas, otra de Oaxaca y una de Guatemala, después de muchísimas horas de viaje, se unieron en Merida para celebrar una ceremonia en Chichen Itza y finalmente llegar a Cancún el 3 de diciembre  para instalar nuestro campamento por la Vida y la Justicia Social y Ambiental. Al día siguiente, 4 de diciembre, abrimos nuestro foro y así dimos inicio a nuestra lucha en Cancún.
¿Por qué llegamos a Cancún?

 Los actuales modelos de consumo producción y comercio han causado una destrucción medio ambiental de la cual los pueblos indígenas, campesinos y campesinas somos las principales victimas. Así que nuestra mobilización hacia Cancún y en Cancún es para decirle a los pueblos del mundo que necesitamos un cambio de paradigma de desarrollo y economía.

 Hay que trascender el pensamiento antropocéntrico. Hay que reconstituir la cosmovisión de nuestros pueblos, que se basa en el pensamiento holístico de la relación con el cosmos, la madre tierra, el aire, el agua y todos los seres vivientes.  El ser humano no es dueño de la naturaleza, si no que es parte de todo lo que tiene vida. 

Ante esta necesidad de  reconstituir el sistema, el clima, la madre tierra, denunciamos

Que los gobiernos continúan indiferentes ante el calentamiento del planeta y en vez de debatir sobre los cambios de políticas necesarias para enfriarlo, debaten sobre el negocio financiero especulativo, la nueva economía verde y la privatización de los bienes comunes.
Las falsas y peligrosas soluciones que el sistema capitalista neoliberal implementa como la iniciativa REDD+ (Reducción de emisiones por deforestación y degradación); el MDL (Mecanismo de Desarrollo Limpio), la geoingeniería, representan comercialización de los bienes naturales, compra de permisos para contaminar o créditos de carbono, con la promesa de no talar bosques y plantaciones en el Sur.
La imposición de la agricultura industrial a través de la implementación de productos transgénicos y acaparamiento de tierras que atentan contra la Soberanía Alimentaria.
La energía nuclear, que es muy peligrosa y de ninguna manera es una verdadera solución.
Al Banco Mundial, al Fondo Monetario Internacional, a la Organización Mundial de Comercio por  facilitar la intervención de las grandes transnacionales en nuestros países.
Los impactos que ocasionan los tratados de libre comercio con los países del Norte y la Unión Europea, que no son más que acuerdos comerciales que abren  más las puertas de nuestros países a las empresas transnacionales para que se adueñen de nuestros bienes naturales.
La exclusión de los campesinos y pueblos indígenas en las discusiones de los temas trascendentales en la vida de la humanidad y de la madre tierra.
La expulsión de Compañeros y compañeras del espacio oficial de la COP 16 por su oposición a los planteamientos de los gobiernos que apelan por un sistema depredador que apuesta por exterminar a la madre tierra y a la humanidad.

No estamos de acuerdo con la simple idea de “mitigar” o “adaptarnos” al cambio climático. Se necesita justicia social, ecológica y climática,  por lo que exigimos:

Retomar los principios de los  acuerdos de Cochabamba del 22 de abril  del 2010 como un proceso que realmente nos lleve a la reducción real de la emisión de gases de carbono con efectos invernaderos y para lograr la justicia social y ambiental.
La Soberanía alimentaria en base a la agricultura campesina sustentable y agroecológica dado a que la crisis alimentaria y la crisis climática son lo mismo, ambas son consecuencias del sistema capitalista.
Es necesario cambiar los estilos de vida y las relaciones destructivas del medio ambiente. Hay que reconstituir la cosmovisión de nuestros pueblos originarios, que se basa en el pensamiento holístico de la relación con el cosmos, la madre tierra, el aire, el agua y todos los seres vivientes.

La Vía Campesina como articulación que representa a millones y millones de familias campesinas en el mundo y preocupados por la recuperación del equilibrio climático llama a:

Asumir la responsabilidad colectiva con la madre tierra, cambiando los patrones de desarrollo de las estructuras económicas y desapareciendo  a las empresas transnacionales.
Reconocemos a gobiernos como el de Bolivia, Tuvalu y algunos mas, que han tenido la valentía de resistirse ante la  imposición de los gobiernos del Norte y de las corporaciones transnacionales  y hacemos un llamado para que otros gobiernos se sumen a la resistencia de los pueblos frente a la crisis climática.
Tomar acuerdos obligatorios de que todos los que contaminen el ambiente deben rendir cuentas por los desastres y delitos cometidos contra la madre Naturaleza. De igual forma obligar a reducir los gases de carbono en el lugar donde se genera. El que contamina debe dejar de contaminar.
Alertamos  a los movimientos sociales del mundo sobre lo que acontece en el planeta para defender la vida de la madre tierra porque estamos definiendo lo que será  el modelo de las futuras generaciones.
A la acción y a la movilización social de las organizaciones urbanas y campesinas, a la innovación, a la recuperación de las formas ancestrales de vida,  a unirnos en una gran lucha para salvar a la madre tierra que es la casa de todos y todas contra el gran capital y de los malos gobernantes, es nuestra responsabilidad histórica.
A que las políticas de protección a la biodiversidad, soberanía alimentaria, manejo y administración del agua se basen en las experiencias y participación plena de las propias comunidades.
A una consulta mundial a los pueblos para decidir las políticas y las acciones globales para detener la crisis climática.

¡Hoy!, Ahora mismo  llamamos a la humanidad para actuar inmediatamente por la reconstitución de la vida de toda la madre naturaleza, recurriendo a la  aplicación del  “cosmovivir”.

Por eso, desde las  cuatro esquinas del planeta nos levantamos para decir: ¡No más daño a nuestra Madre Tierra! ¡No más destrucción al planeta!. ¡No más desalojos de nuestros territorios! ¡No más muerte a los hijos e hijas de la Madre Tierra! ¡No más criminalización de nuestras luchas!

No al entendimiento de Copenhague.  Si a los principios de Cochabamba.

¡Redd NO! ¡Cochabamba SI!



Delegación de la Vía Campesina a Cancún, 9 de diciembre de 2010