Clash Over Plan to Save Tropical Forests

Soy fields encroach on tropical rainforest in Brazil. (Photograph: Greenpeace/Rodrigo Baleia)

Clash Over Plan to Save Tropical Forests

Conservation and justice groups split over forest carbon trading. Fears that 'land grab' could leave millions worse off.

Developing countries and human rights groups will clash today at a
key UN climate change meeting intended to arrest the destruction of
tropical forests. The felling is responsible for almost 20% of annual
global carbon emissions, making it a crucial target in the battle
against global warming.

Diplomats from more than 100 countries
are meeting in Accra, Ghana, to open negotiations on whether tropical
forests should join the emerging global carbon market. This would allow
countries and companies to earn money from not cutting down their

The move, backed strongly by many developing countries
and the G8, is expected to greatly increase the financial value of
forests. It would encourage governments and corporations to protect
them and would potentially transfer hundreds of millions of pounds a
year to some of the poorest countries in the world.

But human
rights and environment groups from three continents are warning that
the over-hasty inclusion of forests in the post-Kyoto carbon market
could trigger a "land grab" leaving tens of millions of people worse

According to the groups, which include Friends of the
Earth International, the Rainforest Foundation and the Rights and
Resources Initiative, a coalition of environment and justice groups
from around the world, it would:

  • Undermine the world price of carbon, damaging the effectiveness of the market Drive indigenous peoples from the forests Benefit only a wealthy elite and increase the risk corruption

clear guidelines on land ownership and the involvement of local people,
the groups say, the money poured into preserving forests could also
fuel violent conflict.

"Sixty million indigenous peoples are
dependent on forests for their livelihoods, food and medicines," said
Belmond Tchoumba, Friends of the Earth international coordinator of the
forest and biodiversity programme.

"These people have already
been severely impacted by deforestation. If the value of their forests
increases, governments and corporations may be willing to go to extreme
lengths to wrest forests away from indigenous peoples and others."

added: "Delegates are focusing on finance but to stop deforestation,
land rights must be centre stage. These UN climate talks shamefully
continue to take place without any meaningful participation by
indigenous peoples."

Slashing the price of carbon could even lead to a failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions overall, say the campaigners.

US could say that it will only join a post-Kyoto agreement on condition
that they it can offset emissions by buying deforestation credits. It
would be a catastrophe," said Simon Counsell, director of the
Rainforest Foundation in London.

"It could crash the price of
carbon and would mean the reduction of pollution in rich countries
would be come quite uneconomic."

The proposal to use the global
carbon-market to stop deforestation has split some of the world's
environment and conservation groups which have long disagreed over the
relative importance of people and nature.

Conservation groups
are strongly supporting the carbon-market plan in Accra. But many
justice groups are disturbed that logging, soy and palmoil companies -
which have been responsible for large scale deforestation and which own
vast tracts of the tropical forests in Asia and Africa - could now
demand compensation for every tree they do not cut down.

concerns are legitimate and need to be heard and respected. We strongly
support we have to learn from the past," said Tom Cohen, media director
of Conservation International, the world's largest conservation group,
based in Arlington, Virginia.

"Without quick and robust
investment in securing forest-community rights, these carbon markets
will further marginalise the poorest of the poor," said Kyeretwie
Opoku, of Civic Response, a Ghanaian justice group.

"Even the World Bank is saying that this is the social justice issue of our generation."

meeting is regarded as key to the success or failure of the UN's
ongoing climate talks which are expected to culminate next year in
Denmark with a global agreement to slow and then reduce greenhouse gas

A full agreement, not expected in Accra, will
encourage developing countries to sign up, but could also allow rich
countries to buy credits and thereby avoid reducing their own emissions.

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