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Global civil society, Indigenous Peoples, environmental organizations and social movements from more than 30 countries slammed the State of California’s plans to include methane offsets from coal mining and rice cultivation in its cap-and-trade program because they are false solutions to climate change that greenwash mining and use food for carbon trading.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

“The peoples of the world reject offsets and carbon traders, big polluting corporations like mining companies and oil giants Shell and Chevron, defend offsets,” notes Americans Against Offsets.

This resounding international outcry has already opposed other forms of offsets in California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) including offsets from urban trees, domestic and Canadian forests, and REDD (Reducing Emissions form Deforestation and Degradation) in countries such as Mexico, Brazil and other tropical forest countries. Furthermore, the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee of AB 32 echoed this opposition to offsets when it submitted its final recommendations to the California Air Resource Board (CARB) on April 11.

“Offsets are a carbon trading scam to supposedly compensate greenhouse gas emissions and are used by polluters instead of reducing pollution at source,” says Tom BK Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, who has 16 years of experience participating in national and United Nations climate negotiations.

CARB was slated to adopt the Mine Methane Capture Protocol Friday at its board meeting in Sacramento. The Rice Cultivation Projects Compliance Offset Protocol is slated for adoption in Sept. 2014. This follows CARB’s actions fast tracking the implementation of REDD, a highly controversial forest and plantation offset with uncertainties that beset offsets, including measurement, verification and environmental and human rights concerns.

“The use of offsets, and the possible allowance of offsets from coal mines, is completely counterproductive to any real progress in reversing the root causes of climate change,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch stated in the public comment process of CARB in Oct. 2013. “Offsets do not lead to real, additional or permanent emissions reductions … Addressing climate change requires direct pollution reductions, as well as the use of sustainable and renewable energy sources.”

California Assembly member Nancy Skinner, who serves on the committee on natural resources and public safety, wrote to CARB requesting it postpone indefinitely the adoption of the methane offsets protocol. According to Skinner, “The protocol, as written, will subsidize coal mining, likely for export … Mine Methane Capture [offsets] could actually increase carbon emissions … We cannot have a policy that directly incentivizes coal mining. The best way to reach our AB 32 goals is to keep coal in the ground.”

Goldtooth agrees, “IEN just released a brief report, Burn, Baby, Burn: California’s Methane Offsets, that shows the MMC has extremely strong potential to become a major driver of national coal mining. The proposed offset protocol purports to be about the environmentally motivated capture and destruction of methane gas for offsets. However, it actually incentivizes and subsidizes the development of additional and potentially major coal mining and natural gas extraction operations, including flaring and burning, in existing and future coal mines. And let us not forget that coal is the biggest contributor to climate change.”

CARB is moving aggressively to include its first agricultural-based offsets into its cap-and-trade program. The Rice Cultivation Project Protocol will open the door for carbon offsets from growing rice. More than 125 civil society organizations from 30 countries sent the “No REDD Rice Manifesto” to the CARB demanding the rejection of the rice cultivation offset protocol and denouncing the use of sacred staple crops and food for carbon trading. The public comment log shows that 90.7 percent of the respondents are against rice offsets, and only 7.4 percent in favor.

According to Kartini Samon of GRAIN’s Indonesian office, “REDD is another form of privatization of our natural resources including land, water, seeds and air. REDD rice will increase land grabbing of farm land all over the world. We really need to fight REDD rice.”

“I thought California wanted to be a leader for real climate action. If they do, they need to cancel all offset regimes,” Goldtooth concluded.

Concerns have also been raised about the lack of transparency of the Air Resources Board’s comment log and attempts to minimalize the overwhelming opposition to offsets.

“We refuse to be erased,” said Americans Against Offsets. “Stopping offsets is a matter of life and death for Americans and the planet.”

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Earth Island Journal

By Maureen Nandini Mitra and Michael Stoll

One hot day this spring John Buckley scrambled up a dusty slope of a patch of deforested land in the middle of California’s Stanislaus National Forest in the Sierra Nevada, five miles west of Yosemite National Park, and surveyed the bleak landscape: 20 acres of blackened tree stumps and the shriveled remains of undergrowth. On neighboring ridges, similar brown expanses dotted the green forest canopy. “This,” he said, spreading his arms wide, “is resource management.”

For environmentalists like John Buckley, who finds clear signals of climate change in the Sierra Nevada's rapidly receding snow line, the idea of timber companies that clear cut forests being allowed to sell offsets is worrisome. Photo credit: Photo by Ian Umeda // Public Press

The denuded clearing is on a tract of private forestland owned by timber giant Sierra Pacific Industries that is close to being approved as a sort of carbon bank under California’s new cap-and-trade scheme. It will soon grow into a plantation of mostly Douglas fir, ponderosa pine and cedar.

Based on calculations of how much carbon the new and old trees in this forest area will remove from the atmosphere, the timber giant will soon be able to sell carbon credits, which regulators call “offsets,” to the largest California polluters so they can compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions. Looking to make a profit from their environmental practices, companies in forestry and other industries are rushing to meet the demand.

Buckley, an environmental activist from Tuolumne County, is dismayed that projects like these—that involve clearing out old, diverse forests and replanting the area with a handful of quick-growing timber varieties—are being considered as a means to enable California industries to emit more pollutants into the air.

Many environmentalists say that because it is notoriously difficult to prove that such projects actually reduce the state’s overall carbon footprint, California should proceed slowly in approving a vast expansion of the cap-and-trade market.

The plan is to start the Compliance Offset Program this summer. Sellers include some of the largest forestland owners in the U.S., dairy farms and companies that neutralize greenhouse effect-producing refrigerants. The program might also expand to other activities, such as methane capture from mining and rice farming.

Proponents say that by providing incentives to voluntarily reduce emissions and use new technology, the offset program could help California meet its legal requirement, set in 2006, to reduce its carbon footprint from all sources by about 16 percent by 2020, and even more in later years.

But critics call offsets a loophole that could undermine an effective cap-and-trade system. They say pledges of reductions that are not required by law often cannot be considered real, since companies might have made them anyway without the extra money from selling offsets. Left unchecked, the critics warn, poorly measured offsets could lead to an overall increase in California’s emissions.

Depending on the future price of offsets, the addition of these credits from around the country and possibly abroad could swamp the existing regulated emissions market. Independent environmental economists now estimate that offsets could  grow to more than 200 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) or the equivalent in other greenhouse gases—representing at least 50 percent of the program.

And under certain supply-and-demand conditions, state trading rules could allow offsets to cover 100 percent of the reductions required under cap-and-trade. In those circumstances, no power plant, cement factory or refinery would have to cut its emissions to comply with the carbon cap.

Offsets “create the illusion that we are doing something to mitigate climate change,” said Kathleen McAfee, a professor of international relations at San Francisco State University, who studies global markets for environmental services. Instead, she said, the government should impose strict regulations on fossil fuel extraction and invest in renewable energy technology.

Dave Clegern, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, the main state agency writing regulations to fight global warming, argued that carbon reductions can take many forms and should not be limited to one accounting method. He said several other regulatory programs in the state also aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions cover many of the same sectors regulated by cap-and-trade.

“Frankly, as long as the emissions are reduced we are achieving our goals,” Clegern said. “Whether that’s done with offsets, whether that’s done with allowances, whether that’s done with reductions, there obviously would have to be some reduction in there to achieve this.”

Billions of Dollars

The cap-and-trade program, which went into effect in January, covers about 80 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, those emitted by the biggest electricity, industrial and fuel facilities.

It sets an annual limit on total emissions that California’s largest polluters can release. The total supply of pollution allowances falls each year, helping the state reach emissions targets established by the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

The offsets program allows regulated industries to use offsets to cover up to eight percent of their carbon emissions. But analysts say that based on the rules, that figure could exceed the reductions required statewide for the entire cap-and-trade program. That means offsets—until now offered mostly as voluntary credits to companies hoping to burnish their green image—could soon become a major part of California’s lucrative mandatory program.

Experts estimate that the higher price for California’s state-issued carbon allowances, currently more than $14 per metric ton, make the use of cheaper offsets, projected to bring costs down to about $10, especially attractive. If California industries do require at least 200 million offsets over the next eight years it would make them worth more than $2 billion on the market.

The high financial stakes make accurate measurement of offsets a key concern. Cap-and-trade sets carbon allowance targets based on gases detected from smokestacks at the state’s 350 largest polluting companies at about 600 facilities. By contrast, offsets are calculated as comparisons with predicted future “business-as-usual” levels of pollution.

This modeling requires teams of scientists and economists to anticipate choices that companies would have made had the offset payments not been available. And as any economist will admit, predicting the future is hard.

Even when emissions cuts are proved to prevent the business-as-usual growth scenario, the exact amount of CO2 stored or released comes with great scientific uncertainty. Supporters of offsets concede that it is hard to verify whether the offsets are valid.

The use of offsets is also associated with unintended consequences such as increases in other pollutants locally, loss of biodiversity in timber plantations and reduced incentives to invest in local mitigation technologies.

That is why some scientists and environmental advocates say cap-and-trade should not incorporate offsets.

“The integrity of the offsets is the integrity of the cap-and-trade program, because of how strongly the program is relying on them,” said Brian Nowicki, California climate policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Foggy Future

Offsets preapproved for California’s cap-and-trade program are thus far restricted to U.S.-based projects in four sectors—industrial forestry, urban forestry, dairy digesters and destruction of ozone-depleting substances.

The Air Resources Board has developed elaborate protocols for each. The first round of credits, totaling 6 million metric tons of carbon from 45 offset projects, are expected to go on sale after a final staff review, according to a Reuters Point Carbon analysis.

The board is considering adding offsets from other domestic sectors, such as methane capture from rice plantations and mines. It will expand the program internationally, linking up with Quebec’s offset program in 2014. It is also considering including offsets from a controversial program called Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) that offers carbon credits for preserving forests and plantations in Mexico, Colombia and other developing countries.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

One obvious benefit of offsets for polluters is lower-cost mitigation. Since global warming can be addressed by reducing greenhouse gases anywhere, offsets proponents say innovative projects out of state or in other countries can achieve reductions more cheaply.

“You want to make the program as cost-effective as possible to reduce the economic burden of the program for California consumers,” said Gary Gero, president of Climate Action Reserve. He said offsets offer businesses now outside cap-and-trade an incentive to curb emissions through innovation.

Critics say this reasoning ignores myriad uncertainties that beset offsets, including measurement, verification and environmental justice concerns. The conundrum facing climate offsets policy is the debate over “additionality”—whether emissions reductions would have been made anyway. Carbon-saving technologies include installing methane-capture devices at large dairy farms or keeping trees standing for 100 years instead of 50.

But there is no counterfactual world against which to measure which reductions are real. In many instances they must accept offset developers at their word.

Economist David Roland-Holst at the University of California, Berkeley, said background changes in consumer demand for products and services with a lower carbon footprint make additionality difficult to determine.

“Rising energy prices and a rapidly increasing public desire for environmental quality will drive emerging markets toward pollution mitigation,” Roland-Holst wrote in a recent paper on sustainable economics.

But Roland-Holst notes that relying on offsets also produces “unwelcome secondary effects.” If industries meet the majority of their cap-and-trade requirements through out-of-state offsets, local air pollution in California’s industrial areas would worsen.

In June 2012, two environmental groups, Citizens Climate Lobby and Our Children’s Earth Foundation, sued the state. They said offsets “credit emission reductions that would occur or have already occurred without the incentive of offset credit payments,” resulting in “false accounting of progress.” They sought a court order prohibiting offsets trading.

But a San Francisco Superior Court judge rejected the petition in January, saying the judiciary could not rewrite the statute. Our Children’s Earth Foundation filed an appeal on May 24. A hearing date has not been set.

State officials say that they have developed stringent standards for additionality, and that offsets are subject to continuous monitoring. If the state finds flawed credits, they will be invalidated.

“There are third-party verifiers who have been certified by us and there are more of them being trained,” said Air Resources Board (ARB) spokesman Clegern, adding that independent experts will do on-site inspections.

“If ARB finds malfeasance by any party that developed or verified the offset,” he said, the state “can take enforcement action on that party.”

Larger Than They Seem

Steven Cliff, manager of the cap-and-trade program at the Air Resources Board, said it was “premature” to make assumptions about the scope of the offsets program.

Offsets, he said, “can account for a pretty high portion of overall reductions. But under the most likely scenario, offsets would cover no more than 41 percent of the reductions.” Cliff based his assessment on a 2011 white paper by Adam Diamant, an energy and environment analyst at Electric Power Research Institute.

More recent assessments by Diamant and at least one other independent researcher, Barbara Haya, a fellow at the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, show that offsets could represent a big chunk of the allowed emissions from industry—anywhere from 53 percent to 224 percent of required carbon reductions, measured cumulatively through the year 2020.

Diamant said the range of projections is so wide because the calculations depend on several variables. The first is the overall cap. The state plans to block off a small portion of credits each year to ensure a steady price for allowances. This reduces California’s emissions limit. But if demand for allowances is high, the state will release reserves starting at $40 per metric ton.

Other complementary state policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gases might further reduce emissions. These include energy efficiency, mandates on electric companies to produce renewable energy, and the low-carbon fuel standard for vehicles. That would ease the reductions requirements under cap-and-trade. If reserve allowances were untouched and complementary policies achieved their targets, total allowed offsets could add up to more than twice the reductions needed to make cap-and-trade work.

Achieving reductions from complementary programs achieves the same overall environmental goals, Diamant said. “So it’s not like nothing is happening.”

But critics say that if industries can buy offsets to meet all their reductions requirements in the program’s first eight years, technological innovation could stagnate. They say it also deprives California of the environmental, economic and public health benefits that former Gov. Schwarzenegger promised when the global warming law was passed in 2006.

“The more offsets you allow to be used,” said Nowicki, “the more you put the program at risk.”

Clear cutting wipes out blocks of habitat, one after another, that are important shelter and food sources for wildlife species that depend upon mature shady forest conditions. Photo credit: Earth Island Journal

Forest or Tree Farm?

Clear cutting wipes out blocks of habitat, one after another, that are important shelter and food sources for wildlife species that depend upon mature shady forest conditions. The risk is most evident in the case of forest offsets, which market analysts predict is the sector where the bulk of California offsets will be generated.

“Forestry offers the greatest opportunity, but it is also by far the most complicated and challenging offset protocol,” said Belinda Morris, California director of the American Carbon Registry, another agency certifying offsets for the state.

Environmentalists say the state’s forest protocol, which rewards carbon sequestration through reforestation, forest management and avoided conversion of forests to other uses, contains several fundamental flaws.

The rules do not account for “critical carbon pools” on the forest floor. It also inadequately accounts for soil carbon released during logging, said Nowicki. The protocol only accounts for soil disturbance through “deep ripping, furrowing or plowing” on more than 25 percent of a project area, which can cover several thousand acres.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s guidelines for voluntary greenhouse gas reporting estimates that one acre of typical California mixed-conifer forest contains 60 percent more carbon collectively stored in soil (19.2 tons), litter and duff (12.6 tons), down deadwood (2.6 tons), understory (0.9 tons) and standing deadwood (2.5 tons) than in live trees (25.4 tons).

Nowicki said even conservative estimates like these show that if logging takes place on smaller parcels, soil disturbance could dramatically change the overall carbon storage capacity of the area: “The worst case would be that the project gets carbon credits in a year that they should actually show a carbon deficit if they had fully accounted for the soil carbon emissions.”

California’s forest protocol is also the first in the world to credit durable wood products, including building materials and furniture, that lock carbon out of the atmosphere for a long time.

The Air Resources Board says objections to state rules are premature because none of the proposed offsets have yet been approved for the market.

Lobbying Rewards

That the forest protocol allows timber companies to sell offsets by replanting trees in areas they clear-cut is among the most controversial of the state rules. This is called “even-aged management”—a stand of trees all planted at the same time, for future harvesting.

Landowners may clear-cut up to 40 acres at once, as long as they show that tree growth elsewhere in the project area stores more carbon than is lost.

But environmental groups contend that making even-aged management more profitable undermines less damaging alternative carbon storage options. Clear-cutting degrades forest ecosystems, water quality and wildlife diversity, scientists say.

Initial drafts of the forest protocol disallowed clear-cutting. But around 2007, the timber industry began to seek more favorable rules. Some of the most aggressive lobbying came from Sierra Pacific Industries, California’s wealthiest timber company and largest private landowner. It made sure to regularly attend offset rule-making workshops hosted by Climate Action Reserve. The company, which owns nearly 1.9 million acres of timberland in California and Washington, has long sparred with environmentalists who oppose its clear-cutting practices.

A recent report by the Center for Investigative Reporting found that between 2007 and 2008 Sierra Pacific Industries hired a Sacramento lobbying firm, California Strategies, for $37,500, to present its case. In September 2007, the company sent a letter to the Air Resources Board requesting rule changes to permit even-aged management and storage of carbon in wood products. The board accepted most of the recommendations. But the decision to include clear-cutting led to a schism among environmentalists.

Nearly 50 groups, including the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Rainforest Action Network and Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, urged the Air Resources Board to exclude offsets for clear-cutting. But other big green groups, such as the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Pacific Land Trust supported the idea.

“It’s a sticky situation, but it’s probably the best way to get landowners to follow better forest management practices,” said Paul Mason, vice president of policy and incentives at the Pacific Land Trust.

Mark Pawlicki, director of corporate affairs and sustainability at Sierra Pacific Industries, said the company’s influence in framing the forestry protocol was completely aboveboard: “It was an open and public process, and there were many diverse groups involved. We just participated in the process like anyone else in the public would.”

Rajinder Sahota, the Air Resources Board’s offsets policy manager, dismissed criticisms that carbon accounting was imprecise and that the standards for additionality were lacking.

“With an approved forest project you can have situations where you are able to harvest within a geographical boundary and also sequester carbon at the same time,” Sahota said.

Wildlife vs. Carbon

Sierra Pacific Industries is now preparing four offset project areas on its land totaling 80,000 acres for approval by the Air Resources Board. This includes the clear-cut area near Yosemite that Buckley surveyed. The company owns about 130,000 acres of forestland in the area. Viewed from an airplane, its land resembles a patchwork quilt of green forests and brown clear-cut land that stretches for miles.

Pawlicki said improved land management practices in the project areas would remove an additional 5.6 million tons of carbon from the air over 40 years. That would yield the Redding-based company $56 million at current offset prices.

For Buckley, who finds clear signals of climate change in the Sierra Nevada’s rapidly receding snow line, this is worrisome news.

“It is not the loss of a 20-acre block of forest that hurts any particular species, because most wildlife can move to another area when bulldozers and chainsaws destroy a block of forests,” he said.

Aggressive logging and replanting, he explained, leads to “a loss of the biggest trees—most of the oaks, dogwoods, maples and alders, and most of the plant diversity. It wipes out blocks of habitat, one after another, that are important shelter and food sources for wildlife species that depend upon mature shady forest conditions.”

Heavy logging has been associated with the disappearance of the American marten and Pacific fisher from that corner of the Sierra Nevada, and has affected populations of the spotted owl, the northern goshawk, the pileated woodpecker and the northern flying squirrel.

“To somehow claim that this will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and have no impact on the environment,” Buckley said, “is ridiculous.”

This story is part of a special report on California’s cap-and-trade program, in collaboration with San Francisco Public Press and Bay Nature magazine. It was made possible by the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE and BIODIVERSITY pages for more related news on this topic.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Global Justice Ecology Project

Indigenous Peoples participating in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Durban, South Africa have called for a moratorium on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) Dec. 6. In a statement released to the press, the Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities against REDD and for Life declares: “REDD+ threatens the survival of Indigenous Peoples and forest-dependent communities and could result in the biggest land grab of all time. Based on in-depth investigations, a growing number of recent reports provide evidence that Indigenous Peoples are being subjected to violations of their rights as a result of the implementation of REDD+-type programs and policies.”

Berenice Sanchez, of MesoAmerican Indigenous Womens BioDiversity Network, Mexico, said, “The supposed safeguards are voluntary, weak and hidden in the annex. REDD+-type projects are already violating Indigenous Peoples’ rights throughout the world. We are here to demand an immediate moratorium to stop REDD+-related land grabs and abuses because of REDD+.”

The President of the Ogiek Council of Elders of the Mau Forest of Kenya, Joseph K. Towett, said, “We support the moratorium because anything that hurts our cousins, hurts us all.”

Marlon Santi, former president of the National Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, said, “We are here to express our concern about the false solutions that have made a business out of climate change. For Indigenous Peoples, the way of life we maintain in our territories is sacred. Therefore, we see carbon markets as a hypocrisy that will not detain global warming. With this moratorium, we alert our peoples about the risks that come with REDD+—threats against our rights and those of our Mother Earth, with the attempts to turn our lands and our forests into a waste-basket for carbon, while those responsible for the crisis continue reaping the benefits.”

“REDD+, in its readiness phase, has proved that it is not an effective tool for providing binding safeguards. We have seen the problems it causes and we take them extremely seriously,” said Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Basing their alert on the precautionary principle and on serious concerns regarding human rights, Indigenous Peoples’ rights, and an increasing spate of reports citing the failure of REDD to protect forests or to mitigate the climate crisis, the Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities against REDD and for Life calls for an immediate moratorium.

In addition, in the document released to the press Dec. 6, they call for the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and other human rights organizations, to investigate and document violations from REDD+-type policies and projects, as well as to prepare reports, to issue recommendations and to establish precautionary measures and reparations to guarantee the implementation of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and other instruments and norms.

The call for moratorium was announced at a press conference at UNCOP17 Dec. 6. See the entire press conference on video by clicking here.

The call for a moratorium follows, below:

Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities against REDD and for Life Calls for a Moratorium on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+)

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 17th Conference of the Parties
Durban, South Africa, December 5, 2011

The Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities against REDD and for Life calls for a moratorium on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) at the 17th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), until the following concerns are fully addressed and resolved. However, we reserve the right to expand these demands.

Our call for a moratorium is based upon the precautionary principle which says that, “when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not established scientifically.” The moratorium that we are demanding is the precaution that must be taken to ensure our rights and our environment because the majority of the forests of the world are found in the land and territories of indigenous peoples.

REDD+ threatens the survival of Indigenous Peoples and forest-dependent communities and could result in the biggest land grab of all time. Based on in depth investigations, a growing number of recent reports provides evidence that Indigenous Peoples are being subjected to violations of their rights as a result of the implementation of REDD+-type policies and programs, including—the right to life of objectors to REDD+, forced displacements and involuntary resettlement, the loss of lands, territories and resources, means of subsistence, food sovereignty and security, and the imposition of so-called “alternative livelihoods” that lead to separation of our people from their communities, cultures and traditional knowledge. Similarly, our rights to free, prior and informed consent, self-determination and autonomy consecrated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIPs) are also violated. It is worth noting that the United Nations itself recognizes that REDD+ could result in the “lock-up of forests." Furthermore, REDD+ is portrayed as a vehicle for strengthening land tenure rights, but, in fact, is used to weaken them.

We denounce that the safeguards contained in the Cancun Accords do not provide a framework that prevents or halts the violation of our individual and collective rights established by UNDRIPs; given that they do not establish legally binding obligations or mechanisms to guarantee our rights, present complaints, or demand reparations. The efforts we have made to strengthen human rights safeguards at COP 17 have been rebuffed by relevant Contact Groups of Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice and Long-Term Cooperative Action within the UNFCCC process.

REDD+ and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) promote the privatization and commodification of forests, trees and air through carbon markets and offsets from forests, soils, agriculture and could even include the oceans. This could commodify almost the entire surface of Mother Earth, hurts our relationship with the sacred and violates the rights of Mother Earth. We denounce that carbon markets are a hypocrisy that will not stop global warming.

We also share our profound concern that the sources of financing for REDD+ carbon offsets come from the private sector and carbon markets, which extractive industries are involved in. Carbon markets and REDD+ convert our territories and forests into carbon dumps, while those most responsible for the climate crisis do not commit to legally binding reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and continue to make profits. The World Bank itself has reported that the “financial flows required for climate stabilization and adaptation, will in the long run be mainly private in composition.”

REDD+ not only harms Indigenous Peoples and local communities, but also damages the environment. REDD+ promotes industrial plantations and could include planting genetically modified trees. Perverse incentives are already increasing deforestation and the substitution of native forests with monocultures.

REDD+ jeopardize the human future and the balance of Mother Earth because it entrenches fossil fuel use, which is the major cause of the climate crisis. According to the Director of NASA, James Hansen, the world’s most distinguished climatologist, “industrialized countries could offset 24-69 percent of their emissions via the CDM and REDD… thus avoiding the necessary domestic cuts that are required to peak emissions around 2015.”

REDD+-type projects lead to conflicts within and between indigenous communities and other vulnerable populations. The loss of traditional use of forest, financial incentives, converting forests into commodities, financial speculation and land grabs undermine our traditional systems of governance, generate conflicts.

Furthermore, every time that a community signs a REDD+ contract in a developing country, which provides pollution credits for the fossil fuel industry and other entities responsible for climate change, it allows environmental destruction and hurts vulnerable communities elsewhere, including in the North. By favoring continued exploitation and burning of fossil fuels, REDD+ allows for the continuation of pollution in industrialized countries, further threatening communities in the North that are already overburdened by these impacts. It is not possible to reform or regulate REDD+ to prevent this situation.

Due to the problems of calculating baselines, leakage, permanence, monitoring, reporting and verification that policy makers and methodology designers are not willing and cannot solve, REDD+ is undermining the climate regime and violating the principle of common but differentiated responsibility established under the UNFCCC. Pollution credits generated by REDD+ obstruct the only workable solution to climate change—keeping oil, coal and gas in the ground. Like the carbon credits produced under the Kyoto Protocol’s CDM, REDD+ is not intended to achieve real emissions reductions, but merely to compensate for excessive fossil fuel use elsewhere.

Furthermore, biotic carbon—the carbon stored in forests—can never be the climatic equivalent to fossilized carbon kept underground. Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels adds to the overall burden of carbon perpetually circulating between the atmosphere, vegetation, soils and oceans. This inequivalence, among many other complexities, makes REDD carbon accounting impossible, allowing carbon traders to inflate the value of REDD carbon credits with impunity.

Based on the above, we urgently call for the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and human rights organizations to investigate and document the violations from REDD+-type policies and projects, as well as to prepare reports, issue recommendations and establish precautionary measures and reparations to guarantee the implementation of UNDRIPs and other instruments and norms.

In summary, REDD+-type policies and projects are moving too quickly, allowing crucial human rights and environmental concerns to be sidelined or dismissed. We reaffirm the need for the moratorium on REDD+. In conclusion, we emphasize that forests are most successfully conserved and managed with indigenous governance of the collective lands and territories of Indigenous Peoples.

For more information, click here.

World Wildlife Fund

It’s possible to reduce deforestation to near zero by 2020, but delaying action to save forests by even a decade means double the area of forests lost by 2030, says World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

According to the latest chapter of WWF’s Living Forests Report, "Forests and Climate," the world stands to lose 55.5 million hectares of forest between now and 2020, even if we take urgent action to reduce deforestation. If the world delays the necessary steps, we stand to lose 124.7 million hectares by 2030, according to the report.

These forests are not only vital to the well-being of people and wildlife, but also to the global climate, because deforestation releases greenhouse gases, says WWF. The report finds that reducing deforestation to near zero would also bring global emissions from forest destruction close to zero, but delaying this reduction until 2030 would mean sacrificing an additional 69 million hectares of forest worldwide and at least an additional 24GtCO2 into the atmosphere, not including losses from forest degradation or the carbon stored below ground. Currently, up to 20 percent of global carbon emissions come from deforestation and forest degradation—more than the total emissions from the global transportation sector.

The report further finds that new plantations are not the solution, as they will not begin to sequester enough carbon to offset emissions from deforestation until 2040 at the earliest.

“Our forests are disappearing while we sort out how to save them,” said Bruce Cabarle, leader of WWF’s Forest and Climate Initiative. “This continued loss of forests will have dire consequences for our global climate, for nature and for the livelihoods of billions of people. And we know we can’t plant our way out of the problem. The message is clear—we must act now to protect the world’s forests for good or we’ll lose them forever.”

According to WWF, United Nations climate talks, set to get underway this week in South Africa, provide a key opportunity for the world’s governments to unite on efforts to halt global forest loss. At these talks, details on a scheme in which developed countries pay developing countries not to cut down their forests will be agreed.

This effort, referred to as REDD+, is a unique opportunity to address both climate change and forest loss, and while considerable progress has been made on working out the details, governments must now commit to a global target for tackling deforestation at the scale and pace needed, said WWF. The Living Forests Report finds that achieving zero net forest loss by 2020 is highly unlikely without Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).

“WWF understands that these climate negotiations are complex. But we must not let the opportunity that REDD+ presents slip through our fingers. If we get this right, we can safeguard our climate and help people overcome poverty. There is too much at stake to let these talks get mired down by technicalities,” said Gerald Steindlegger, policy director of WWF’s Forest and Climate Initiative.

WWF is asking global leaders to back an ambitious target of near zero forest loss by 2020. The Living Forests Report shows that this target is achievable through improved governance—sustainable land-use plans, law enforcement, improved land tenure systems, transparent and inclusive management, and markets that demand sustainable forestry and agriculture products.

Yet the report shows that in reaching this target, countries must adopt strong safeguards to protect the planet’s biodiversity and benefit local communities and indigenous peoples.

Given the urgency of halting forest loss, WWF is calling on governments to provide the needed finance to support REDD+ actions. Industrialized countries have a critical role to play in providing new and additional, adequate and predictable financing for REDD+. According to recent analysis by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), new and additional, predictable and adequate finance to achieve zero net deforestation and forest degradation (ZNDD) by 2020 lies in the range of US$30-53 billion per year. While public financing is essential, other sources of innovative financing, such as credit support for forest bonds, could be a way to leverage private-sector finance so that governments are not alone in efforts to scale up forest finance, according to WWF.

The Living Forests Report uses the Living Forests Model, developed for WWF by IIASA, to consider a range of different forest scenarios for the next half century, modified by changes in diet, biofuels, conservation policy and fuelwood and timber demand. The report concludes that achieving and sustaining ZNDD is possible if we act now. The report further finds that unless we act now to use REDD+ to successfully halt deforestation, the opportunity to keep global temperature rise well below 2oC will be lost. According to WWF, reaching an agreement on key elements of REDD+ is critical to saving forests and the climate, conserving biodiversity, and benefiting the well-being and livelihoods of people around the world.

To download the Living Forests Report, click here.

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