Cross Currents

December 2, 2008

December 2nd – A young man representing the indigenous peoples of Bolivia just stole the show. Let me explain this exceptional moment.

After the initial presentations critiquing REDD, in the comments part of the breakout session, a woman from the Nature Conservancy took the microphone to offer that her agency was in fact doing appropriate projects with indigenous peoples, and mentioned some specific areas.

But the fellow I mentioned above then took the microphone and took her to task.  He IS an indigenous person, not an abstraction, who came here to represent the voice and interests of his people and other neighboring peoples.  He spoke through translation of such well-intentioned NGO projects force upon his people without prior informed consent, against their perception of their own interests, for which they received no benefit.  He drew applause.

So there is no clear consensus that the mechanisms under negotiation, such as REDD and CDM, are even beneficial in the first place, as all sorts of ‘cheats’, ‘leakage’, and regressive financial flows are claimed possible and even inescapable under these mechanisms.

The currents and cross currents at this conference are amazing.  That something positive, comprehensive, and effective may come out of the conference is an amazing concept.

For the Earth – §

Complex Issues

December 2, 2008

December 2nd -This afternoon I am circulating through several events.  I guess my objective was to grasp the huge amount of information and opinion that was being presented, as well as the complexity of some of the issues.  It is natural for the layman to think in simplified broad concepts.  For instance, with the issue of how to decrease deforestation and forest degradation, and encourage reforestation, one is tempted to say something like, “Just pay people to not cut down trees and replace ones that have been cut.”  But think about that simplification for a moment and you start to realize how complex an issue it is.

Who is paying, where does the money come from, to whom does it go, how are results assessed, how is fairness and equity maintained so that, for instance, land barons or national governments do not subsume rights to ancestral forests of indigenous peoples’ forests and claim the financial flows.  And there are so many notions of what is fair.  This whole thread at the conference is simply referred to as REDD.  It was a concept introduced at the Bali conference last year.  By next year at this time, the decisions must be made and the mechanisms agreed to and in place.  At least there is a recognition of how our time to fix what we’ve broken is so short.  And REDD is a proposed mechanism only to reduce the rate of deforestation and forest degradation.  We are not talking about planting trees.  We are only talking about reducing the rate at which they are cut down.  As one presenter put it, “We are not talking about paying people to do good things, we are talking about paying bad people to do less bad things.”

Having walked up 4 flights to the meeting rooms for the NGO side events, I ducked into a couple of additional rooms.  In one of them a discussion was under way of the issue of climate ‘forcings’ in the arctic region.  Having accepted that there will be an ice free arctic in summer within a few years, what issues will arise.  Ozone hole issues will move from southern hemisphere to northern.  New shipping lanes with subject new areas of the ocean to ‘black carbon’ emissions (soot from poorly burned carbon fuels), which form a ‘forcing’ for further climate change in the area.

It is depressing that there are so many issues coming up so quickly, and the need to make and institutionalize wise decisions on such a short time frame.  But it is also hopeful that this globally distributed body of individuals is working so hard to get it right.

For the Earth – §

The Forest and the Trees

December 2, 2008

December 2nd -The plenary session of the SBSTA is turning out to be not so boring after all.  The last three speakers, while reading from prepared statements, were connecting with me to a much greater extent.  The discussion has turned to the subject of the management of forests as a mechanism for carbon sequestration.  The subject is referred to as REDD in the necessary UN habit of acronym use, which is Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation.

While this might seem a ‘no brainer’, grow more trees, it is not quite so simple.  Few things ever are.  Such invisible issues as I am learning include the following:

  • The rights of indigenous peoples who fear they will be stripped of their standing (as well as sitting, lying, sleeping and eating) when the ‘experts’ come in to manage their forests.
  • The question of to whom any financial resources flow in the effort to encourage the preservation of existing forests and the re-establishment of degraded ones.
  • Questions of national vs. regional vs. local accounting/incentives for the management of ‘carbon stocks’ (UN-speak for trees).
  • The particular methods which will sustain or re-establish appropriate forest ecosystems.
  • Recognition of nations who are already ‘with the program’, and conscientious steward of their forest resources (more or less).
  • The difficulty of establishing credible reference levels for individual countries, especially ones with historically low rates of forest deforestation…

You can see where this one goes.  The possible list of valid concerns goes on and on.  This is planned as a 3 hour meeting and Madame Chairwoman has just said she will have to enforce the 2 minute time limits to the individual statements of member delegations.

For the Earth – §