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Carbon trading: The real threat facing Africa?

14th September 2010

By: In On Africa IOA

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Amidst current initiatives to mitigate global warming such as reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD projects), vulnerable local communities in Africa that depend on such forests, might face a renewed form of marginalisation. Developed nations increasingly advocate sustainable forest management practices to developing nations, whose local communities are in some cases expected to adapt or mitigate their traditional livelihoods in order to reduce the negative environmental damage that such livelihoods presumably cause. Moreover, within a new global system of carbon trade, first set in motion by the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, developed nations can now earn greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction credits by being involved in mitigation projects in developing countries. This, as will be shown, has caused concern among some local communities, demanding that their rights and livelihoods to these forests be respected by REDD projects that aim to reduce the negative effects of destructive environmental practices.

 

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This paper introduces the concept of carbon trade, in an effort to highlight how this new system might, inadvertently, negatively impact on or even marginalise the livelihoods of local communities that utilise such forests. Recent REDD project initiatives are drawn upon (mostly in Africa) to indicate tension that erupted amidst the implementation of such projects, and local communities demanding that their rights to forests be protected. An argument is made that carbon trade might be the real danger lurking for Africa's local forest communities, as opposed to the propagated consequences of global warming itself.


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Deforestation in the context of global warming

 

In 1990, an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that GHG emissions result from human activities, thus also called anthropogenic emissions (human-induced).(2) Today, the media depicts global warming as an environmental orthodoxy. In this way, climate change is reiterating the natural environment we know and the future we harbour for our children, with dreadful consequences attached.

 

As humid forests act as sinks that absorb carbon dioxide, degradation of such forests equates to the release of these gases. As a result, the conservation of forests holds one key to slowing the pace of the effects of GHG emissions. Consequently, media attempts are made to direct our attention to the ways in which forests in particular are degraded, as a subtle way to highlight the effects of global warming. Perhaps this does provide sufficient reason for concern. Forest degradation, which is defined in terms of a direct human-induced long-term loss of forests,(3) is growing at an alarming rate, and amounts to about 13 million hectares of forest (from 1990-2005) being conversed to agricultural land, per year.(4) Forest degradation, which results in the release of carbon that was originally stored in trees, also includes human-induced activities such as selective logging, forest fires, or the collection of fuelwood.(5) Developing countries that are specifically characterised by such selective human-induced deforestation activities include, for example, Brazil, Indonesia and Ghana.(6)

 

In Africa, more than 60% of humid rainforests, specifically in the Congo Basin, fall within the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These forests cover an area of approximately 2 million km2.(7) Extensive parts of these forests, and other such forests around the world, are inhabited by local communities that use forests as natural resources and as part of their livelihoods. A number of academics argue that the only way for some of these communities to halter or adapt their livelihood activities, which ostensibly degrade forests, is for governments to create a market for the conservation of ecosystems, which should promote sustainable forest use and management.(8) However, the question that is raised in this paper is whether such a market for sustainable forest management, which might function within an emerging, virtual carbon trading regime, is not marginalising communities who are already vulnerable, and who depend on such forests for their livelihoods. In order to understand contemporary policies concerning the trading of carbon emissions, a bit of history is necessary.


Mitigating climate change: The Kyoto Protocol

 

A market approach to sustainable forest management commenced in 1992 with the inception of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).(9) One of the latter's aims include the mitigation of climate change through the stabilisation of atmospheric GHG emissions.(10) Taking action on climate change, the UNFCCC instigated conventions [Conferences of the Parties (COP)], with the first held in Berlin in 1995 (COP1).(11) During COP3, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted by the UNFCCC (12) in 1997 (which entered into force in 2005),(13) which would lead action on climate change. This Protocol established binding GHG emission limits for countries until 2012.(14) The developed world has accepted the blame for GHG emissions, and is required by this protocol to provide the aid for global projects aimed at reducing these emissions. However, it does not require these countries to reduce domestic emissions, but rather to take responsibility for such emissions on a global scale.(15) The Protocol established three mechanisms through which countries can reduce their own emissions, which include the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Joint Implementation (JI), and emission trading (known as the carbon market).(16) These mechanisms have provided cost-effective ways for developed countries to reduce global GHG, while promoting green technologies and assisting developing countries with local, adaptive projects to mitigate global warming.(17) To illustrate, JI allows a developed country to ‘earn' reduction credits from participating in emission reduction or removal projects in another developing country.(18) Furthermore, under the CDM, the developed world may, through investing in projects in developing countries, apply for international credits meeting their own reduction targets.(19) Consequently, these mechanisms arguably promote a win-win strategy for the developed and developing countries to mitigate global warming. However, developing countries expressed concern that developed countries would use these to ignore responsibility to reduce their own emissions.(20)


Towards reducing deforestation and degradation: trading in carbon

 

Through these mechanisms discussed above, a new commodity has thus been created in the form of GHG emissions. In short, particular targets for limiting or reducing such emissions are expressed as levels of allowed emissions. The act of trading in these emission-units (referred to as Assigned Amount Units, or AAUs) allows a country that has such units to spare the permission to sell these (as excess units) to a country that has exhausted its target units.(21) Other similar types of ‘units' that can be sold in this virtual market, include removal units (RMU) on the basis of land-use change practices and forestry activities such as reforestation, units generated from JI projects, or units granted from a CDM project activity. To illustrate the extent to which this trading scheme has already been endorsed by developing countries, the CDM - officially operational since 2006 - has already registered more than 1,650 projects to date.(22)

 

The UNFCCC's agenda to urgently focus particularly on deforestation and degradation was certainly first introduced in the Bali Action Plan, that was adopted at COP13 held in December 2007 in Bali, Indonesia.(23) During this commitment conference, developing nations called for binding commitments of financial support on behalf of developed countries, to finance projects that would be geared towards mitigating and adapting degrading livelihood activities in forests. Additionally, developing countries demanded technology transfers from the developed nation on favourable terms.(24) In short, this pressing development, under the auspices of the UNFCCC, to call upon local people in developing countries to adapt their ‘destructive' livelihoods on forests, would be realised through the Kyoto Protocol's mechanisms such as CDM or JI projects, supported and financed by developed countries.(25) In return, projects aimed at the reduction of deforestation and degradation (REDD projects) was also legitimised in the Bali Action Plan on the grounds that it would alleviate poverty, while conserving biodiversity in developing countries. Furthermore, there seems to be this argument that developing countries need incentives to participate in REDD efforts, as if they are the countries who will not offer their full participation to mitigate climate change. Their partaking is then also painted as their benefit, since they are granted such participation rights but above all, financial support and technologies.

 

The latest UNFCCC conference (COP15) was held in Copenhagen from 7 to 18 December 2009.(26) Only five nations (of which South Africa was one) negotiated the delivering of aid to developing countries over the next three years.(27) COP15, which builds upon the Kyoto Protocol and Bali Action Plan irrespectively, is now ultimately the cornerstone of government actions that are taken on climate change. However, the success of this conference, in agreeing upon the future mitigation of climate change post 2012 of the Kyoto Protocol, has ambiguously been hailed as a ‘disaster' by the Swedish EU Presidency, as well as a ‘breakthrough' by President Obama of the US.(28) What is perhaps more important for the focus of this paper, is the fact that this conference seemed to have failed in delivering on its objectives to sign an agreement for further action on climate change, but above all, it also introduced serious issues of gaining trust between developing and developed nations. As such, some academics described COP15 to have created a breach between these nations,(29) and leaving tough months of future negotiations on climate change ahead.(30) Most of all, developing nations have seen this summit in particular as a mechanism through which the developed world would sidestep its responsibilities for climate change.

 

The implementation of future REDD projects and the marginalisation of human rights

 

Several REDD projects and schemes have been introduced in developing countries. In Africa, the DRC has been selected by the UN as one pilot country for such projects. Since 2009, a readiness phase has been launched by the Government of the DRC to prepare for REDD projects in coming years.(31) Other projects include low-impact forest logging schemes in Guyana in Brazil,(32) where REDD programmes have been proposed for these schemes by the Guyana Forestry Commission and World Bank alike.(33) A number of mechanisms have also been proposed during COP conferences to finance REDD projects. Such mechanisms include, to name a few, the Climate Investment Fund (CIF), the Forest Investment Programme (FIP), as well as fund-mechanisms directly announced by the World Bank.(34)

 

Provided that many forest communities are situated in geographical areas characterised by their low adaptive capabilities and high population densities, they might be regarded as particularly vulnerable to the consequences of global warming. However, such communities might also be extremely fragile to the influences and consequences of REDD projects that are financed by the developed world. Fortunately, all these financial aid mechanisms recognise the need for such projects to respect human rights, as well as the fair treatment of ‘indigenous peoples'. Above all, local communities - whose livelihoods depend upon forests - have their rights protected under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, having been adopted by the UN on 13 September 2007.(35) Although human rights issues appear to be harboured by REDD projects in particular, in many cases, forest communities have deplored such projects for marginalising their rights to participate in both mitigation and adaption oriented projects, and to have their livelihoods and title to land respected.

 

Such concern was raised during the International Indigenous People's Forum on Climate Change held on 4 October 2009 in Spain.(36) During this conference, representative forest communities expressed their concern regarding UNFCCC and that their traditional attachment to their land and their livelihoods were being affected by climate change. Some therefore called for land rights, but also for the protection of such rights and of their traditional knowledge and livelihoods. A common challenge for the UNFCCC seems to be that several forest communities often perceive to have inadequate knowledge regarding REDD initiatives and projects, and sensing that their rights will be violated since they have always, historically, been marginalised by the West.(37) The same concern was recently brought to light in a press release on 12 March 2010, when indigenous leaders in Guyana had been harassed by its Government for exercising these rights amidst their Government's proposals for REDD projects, and demanding that such projects respect their rights to forests.(38) A number of indigenous communities in Guyana are now demanding action from their Government and the international community to advance their livelihood rights to these forests, while many locals remain shunned about mining and exploration projects that might follow under the auspices of the UN's REDD programme.

 

The lack of land rights, in the wake of the UNFCCC and proposed REDD programmes, is also widely documented in case studies in Indonesia, where many rural communities already lack secure rights to their land.(39) As a result, with REDD schemes, government land-use plans might ignore customary rights and allocate development or conservation projects to developed countries without taking local livelihoods into account. On the African continent, concern of the consequences of REDD initiatives is also mounting as denial of land rights to some forest communities, such as within the Congo Basin, seems to be neglected by governments.(40) This, unfortunately, will easily contribute to the dispossession of land and resulting conflict, if REDD schemes do violate existing, tenuous rights even further. One might argue that carbon trade adds to the possibility that such rights might be violated, as developed countries can implement projects in developing nations, in order to obtain carbon emission credits to reach their own domestic GHG emission reduction targets. A faulty misperception also seems to have been propagated during COP conferences, namely that it is the developing countries, and especially forest communities, who must change and adapt their ‘destructive' livelihoods.

 

Although REDD projects and carbon trade will add financial benefits to vulnerable forest communities, financial aid will come with rules and possible land rights restrictions or regulations attached. This has already been indicated, as developed nations now seem to know how to advocate best land-use and management practices to developing countries, whilst not willing to reduce their own emissions. African countries such as the DRC might be faced with a renewed challenge of being marginalised by the same parties that highlight the negative impacts such communities might face in the wake of climate change. This might be even more true considering that some scholars argue that there is less consensus on whether REDD should be pro-poor, or simply not to harm the poor.(41) If forest communities now also demand assistance, they must realise that, by offering their ‘excess' carbon reduction units to developed nations in trade for assistance, they also position themselves in the vulnerable seat of having their rights to land be violated.

 

Concluding remarks

 

One cannot deny that climate change is affecting our lives. Nor can one deny that forest degradation in developing countries is adding to the challenge, and that action particularly concerning the sustainable conservation of forests is urgently needed. However, what this paper has been describing is that carbon trade adds a new dimension to the discourse of climate change, as it widens the possibility for developed nations to assist already vulnerable forest communities to adapt or mitigate their livelihoods - in this way portrayed as destructive. This assistance, amidst a newly-formed carbon trading regime, will undoubtedly render such communities more vulnerable, as their already tenuous rights to forest land might be violated even further by local land-use projects that are implemented by the developed world.

 

On home ground, countries like the DRC, with its expansive forest cover, might increasingly be drawn upon by the UNFCCC to manage its forests in a sustainable manner. More REDD projects will follow, and in this process, forest communities' livelihoods and rights to land will be violated. It is only now with carbon trade that incentives for the developed world to engage in projects in Africa, that aim to mitigate or adapt to climate change, might reinforce such violation of rights to forest-use. As the media depicts global warming as an environmental orthodoxy, and especially Africa suffering its consequences, the more intrusive, subtle mechanism of carbon trade might be the real danger facing the African continent and its people.

Written by: Jan Anton Hough (1)


NOTES:

(1) Contact Jan Anton Hough through Consultancy Africa Intelligence's Eyes on Africa Unit (eyesonafrica@consultancyafrica.com).
(2) Breidenich, C., Magraw, D., Rowley, A. & Rubin, J.W., 1998. Current developments: the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The American Journal of International Law, 92(2):315-331.
(3) 'Measuring and monitoring forest degradation for REDD', Centre for International Forestry Research, 2008, http://www.cifor.cgiar.org.
(4) ‘Kyoto Protocol', United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2010, http://www.unfcc.int.
(5) ‘Measuring and monitoring forest degradation for REDD', Centre for International Forestry Research, 2008, http://www.cifor.cgiar.org.
(6) Ibid.
(7) ‘Consultations with indigenous peoples and others affected by REDD initiatives in the DRC', Forest Peoples Programme, 2010, http://www.forestpeoples.org.
(8) Jackson, W., 2009. Realizing the potential of forest biodiversity in a changing world. XIII World Forestry Congress. Buenos Aires (Argentina), 18-23 Oct. 2009.
(9) Boston, J., 2008. Global climate change policies: From Bali to Copenhagen and beyond. Policy Quarterly, 4(1):50-60.
(10) Cosgrove, S, 2009. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In: AMUNC (Asia-Pacific Model United Nations Conference). The University of Queensland, 12-17 July.
(11) Breidenich, C., Magraw, D., Rowley, A. & Rubin, J.W., 1998. Current developments: The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The American Journal of International Law, 92(2): 315-331.
(12) Ibid.
(13) Huettner, M., Freibauer, A., Haug, C. & Cantner, U., 2010. Regaining momentum for international climate policy beyond Copenhagen. Carbon Balance and Management, 5(2): 1-8.
(14) Ibid.
(15) Ibid.
(16) ‘Kyoto Protocol', United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2010, http://www.unfcc.int.
(17) Breidenich, C., Magraw, D., Rowley, A. & Rubin, J.W., 1998. Current developments: The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The American Journal of International Law, 92(2): 315-331.
(18) ‘Kyoto Protocol', United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2010, http://www.unfcc.int.
(19) Ibid.
(20) Breidenich, C., Magraw, D., Rowley, A. & Rubin, J.W., 1998. Current developments: The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The American Journal of International Law, 92(2): 315-331.
(21) ‘Kyoto Protocol', United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2010, http://www.unfcc.int.
(22) Ibid.
(23) Hufbauer, G.C. & Kim, J., 2010. Reaching a global agreement on climate change: What are the obstacles? Asian Economic Policy Review, 5(1):39-58.
(24) Ibid.
(25) Campbell, B.M., Beyond Copenhagen: REDD+, agriculture, adaption strategies and poverty. Global Environmental Change, 19(4):397-399.
(26) Hufbauer, G.C. & Kim, J., 2010. Reaching a global agreement on climate change: What are the obstacles? Asian Economic Policy Review, 5(1):39-58.
(27) Babel-Fish, ‘Key powers reach compromise at climate summit', NowPublic, Dec. 2009, http://www.nowpublic.com.
(28) Egenhofer, C. & Georgiev, A., 2009. The Copenhagen Accord: A first stab at deciphering the implications for the EU. [Internet]: Centre for European Policy Studies, 25 Dec. Available at: http://www.ceps.eu.
(29) ‘Consultations with indigenous peoples and others affected by REDD initiatives in the DRC', Forest Peoples Programme, 2010, http://www.forestpeoples.org.
(30) John Vidal, Allegra Stratton & Suzanne Goldenberg, ‘Low targets, goals dropped: Copenhagen ends in failure', Guardian.co.uk, 19 Dec. 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk.
(31) ‘Consultations with indigenous peoples and other affected by REDD initiatives in the DRC', Forest Peoples Programme, 2010, http://www.forestpeoples.org.
(32) ‘Moving the goal posts? Accountability failures of the World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF)', Forest Peoples Programme, 2009, http://www.forestpeoples.org.
(33) ‘Indigenous peoples demand action on land rights', Indigenous Peoples Issues and Resources, 2010, http://www.indigenouspeoplesissues.com.
(34) ‘The World Bank's Forest Investment Programme (FIP): Core elements and critical issues', Forest Peoples Programme, 2009, http://www.forestpeoples.org.
(35) ‘United Nations Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples', United Nations, 2007, http://www.un.org.
(36) ‘Indigenous Peoples denounce attempts by Annex 1 to weaken the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol' (press release), Asia Indigenous Peoples' Pact, 2009, http://www.aippnet.org.
(37) ‘Consultations with indigenous peoples and other affected by REDD initiatives in the DRC', Forest Peoples Programme, 2010, http://www.forestpeoples.org.
(38) ‘Indigenous leaders harassed for exercising their constitutional rights', Forest Peoples Programme, 2010, http://www.forestpeoples.org.
(39) ‘Indonesia: Indigenous peoples and the Kampar Peninsula', Forest Peoples Programme, 2009, http://www.forestpeoples.org.
(40) ‘Consultations with indigenous peoples and other affected by REDD initiatives in the DRC', Forest Peoples Programme, 2010, http://www.forestpeoples.org.
(41) Campbell, B.M., Beyond Copenhagen: REDD+, agriculture, adaption strategies and poverty. Global Environmental Change, 19(4):397-399.

 

 

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