Global Peasant Movement Left Seeing REDD
by Chris Bisson
At the close of 2010, delegations from 184 governments assembled in Cancun, Mexico for the 16th gathering of the “Conference of Parties” (COP) under the banner of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This gathering of the global political class under the guise of climate change mitigation produced an agreement much heralded by bureaucrats, CEOs and journalists alike.
Though this agreement set a maximum cap of 2 degrees Celsius average global rise in temperature, it involves no binding agreements and relies almost entirely on market mechanisms to accomplish this. Most nefarious of all, the primary mechanism opted for is the “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation” (REDD) programme – which is basically a system whereby rich industrialized countries bribe poor developing countries into cutting back on deforestation.
There are currently no specific details on where this money will come from, though theoretically it is supposed to be generated through a mixture of carbon markets and government funding. This combination, unoriginal to the continuous neoliberal colonization of the Global South, is sure to exacerbate levels of repression and dispossession of the world’s poorest, because there is no doubt where the money will be going; it is common knowledge that aid and foreign investment almost invariably ends up in the hands of multinational corporations and resource extractors. REDD’s only difference is that it doesn’t even try to hide this fact.
Another glaring problem with the program is the unequal capacity for ecological destruction that industrial countries will hold. For instance, in Canada, the government will be able to continue subsidizing the Athabasca Tar Sands, and multinational oil corporations will be able to further expand their operations, provided they increase their financial commitment to the REDD programme. Additionally, this agreement carries with it the risk of further complacency amongst the general public; Canadians may begin to approve of heavier greenhouse gas emissions, not understanding the fallacy of the supposed off-set, nor grasping the myriad other ecological implications of further development - such as the increased cancer rates being found downstream in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta.
A final issue relates to how the terms set out in the programme define the mitigation of deforestation strictly as “conservation”. This form of “environmental” policy will result in the wholesale eviction and dispossession of Indigenous Peoples from regions they have lived in since time immemorial. In addition, those dependent on agroforestry for their livelihoods will have their lands confiscated in order to fit the agreement’s narrow criteria of conservation. Land will also face unjust redistribution, as it is converted into acceptably defined commodified “carbon sinks”, such as golf courses and eucalyptus plantations. These so-called carbon sinks will contain minimal biodiversity and result in what some have termed “green deserts”.
As a result of REDD’s prominence at the COP16 discussions, peasant farmers and allies worldwide rallied at the gates of the talks under the banner of La Via Campesina. Donned with green scarfs, they are a global coalition of 148 international peasant farmer organizations, including the National Farmer’s Union of Canada. La Via Campesina has been advocating for food sovereignty, ecological sustainability and peasant justice since 1999. La Via Campesina has organized against REDD specifically, because they argue it will be ineffective in mitigating climate change, threaten indigenous sovereignty, reward logging and development corporations, and lead to further privatization of the world’s forests.
As peoples worldwide continue to be dispossessed of their rights to land and their very means of production through such programmes as REDD, there can be little doubt that this movement will continue to organize in opposition to capitalism and the state. La Via Campesina is currently mobilizing for a worldwide movement for climate justice based on the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth adopted at the World Peoples’ Conference in April, 2010 in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Throughout this process, they will seek to prove that sustainability can only be achieved through liberation from hierarchical structures of control - not through the creation of new “green” market schemes.