When pollution means profits

December 8, 2007

Kevin Smith, a researcher for Carbon Trade Watch, participated in the December 3-14 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Bali, Indonesia. Smith spoke to Green Left Weekly's Zoe Kenny about the campaign against carbon trading.

With the global carbon trading market now worth almost US$30 billion, there is increasing interest in climate change from unlikely candidates. For example, according to a December 6 media release by the World Development Movement, "the biggest NGO delegation at the Bali negotiations is the International Emissions Trading Association, which has 336 representatives including lawyers, financiers, emissions traders, consultants, certifiers and emissions trading experts from companies like Shell. The ETA makes up 7.5% of the 4483 Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) delegates at the UN climate talks. This dwarfs even the largest environmental groups like WWF (2%) and Greenpeace (1.6%)."

According to Smith, over the last seven years international climate negotiations "have become more and more dominated by the ways and means of making money out of climate change, and less and less focussed on the actual business of trying to minimise the impacts of climate change. It's become like a trade show for the carbon market, with the real issues being heavily sidelined."

Smith noted that although there is more discussion within the mainstream NGO community about the problems with carbon trading, "Many of them, like WWF [which recently published a report critical of carbon trading] for example, are still locked into the groove of 'What do we need to do to fix this?', rather than seeing the problems as being systemically rooted in the whole system of carbon trading".

A disturbing trend unfolding at the current negotiations is the campaign by developed countries to transfer more of the burden of stopping climate change to poor countries that are the least responsible for the mess and are worst placed to eliminate industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

One aspect of this campaign is to put more emphasis on stopping deforestation in poor countries, otherwise known as "reducing emissions from deforestation" (RED). RED will involve payments, via the World Bank's Global Forest Partnership Facility, to poor countries to safeguard their forests. Smith explained, "There's a strong possibility that the lure of carbon finance is going to cause an increase in the 'guns and guards' approach to forest conservation in many of these countries, with forest dwellers, many of whom have been living low carbon lifestyles, being violently excluded from their lands". A forestry plan in Uganda along these lines resulted in the eviction of thousands of people from their traditional lands. Armed park rangers have killed at least 50 people who have attempted to regain access.

Smith continued: "What's more, if carbon financing goes into RED, poor people would probably be last in line to see any of the huge money generated. Avoiding deforestation should be tackled by looking at the reasons why it's happening and trying to tackle the root causes rather than throwing carbon finance at states to beef-up often very repressive security measures."

While the official negotiations look likely to be dominated by First World buck-passing and corporate money-making, there are grassroots activities occurring during the Bali talks. Smith said that the Indonesia Civil Society Forum has "put out a strong statement that condemns the neoliberal, market-based bias of the negotiations, and some of the Indonesian groups have been doing some protests focused on the proposed RED mechanism. These are groups that have had first-hand experience of the devastating impact of the World Bank (even the resort where the conference is at, Nusa Dua, was a controversial WB development that was opposed by local groups and involved the destruction of marine reefs) and the last thing they want is to see the safe-guarding of their forests handed over to the likes of the World Bank Forest Carbon Partnership Facility."

Smith argues that it's "hugely important that climate activism goes beyond the carbon counting fixation and cross-fertilises with trade folks, labour activists, human rights types and so forth, if it is going to develop a robust social justice analysis of the situation".

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