Developing countries and human rights groups are heading for a clash at a U.N. climate change meeting intended to stop the destruction of tropical forests. Diplomats from more than 100 countries are meeting in Accra, Ghana, to open talks on whether tropical forests should join the emerging global carbon market. This would allow countries and companies to earn money from not cutting down trees.
The felling is responsible for almost 20 per cent of annual global carbon emissions, making it a crucial target in the battle against global warming.
The move, which is backed strongly by many developing countries and the G8, is expected to greatly increase the financial value of forests, encourage governments and corporations to protect them, and would potentially transfer millions of dollars a year to some of the poorest countries.
Human rights and environment groups are warning that the over-hasty inclusion of forests in the post-Kyoto carbon market could trigger a “land grab,” leaving millions of people worse off. 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, it would: undermine the world carbon price; damaging the effectiveness of the market; drive indigenous peoples from forests; and benefit only a wealthy elite and increase the risk of corruption.
Without clear guidelines on land ownership and the involvement of local people, the groups said, the money poured into preserving forests could also fuel violent conflict. “Sixty million indigenous people are dependent on forests for their livelihoods, food and medicines. These people have already been severely impacted by deforestation,” said Belmond Tchoumba, Friends of the Earth International coordinator of the Forest and Biodiversity Programme. “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,” he added.
Slashing the price of carbon could even lead to a failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions overall, said the campaigners. “The U.S. could say that it will only join a post-Kyoto agreement on condition that they 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 become quite uneconomic,” he added.
Justice groups are disturbed that logging, soya and palm oil companies, who have been responsible for large-scale deforestation and who own vast tracts of the tropical forests in Asia and Africa, could now demand compensation for every tree they do not cut down. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008