Evo Morales: Forests, indigenous peoples are not for sale

November 27, 2010

The 2011 UN climate conference in Cancun, Mexico, is not expected to agree to sharp cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. But the UN and rich nations will push for the conference to endorse a carbon trading scheme to protect forests, known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD).

Below is an “open letter to the indigenous peoples of the world” from Bolivian President Evo Morales. Released in September, the letter calls for the protection of the world’s forests, and also for opposition to REDD and other carbon trading schemes.


I am deeply concerned because some pretend to use leaders and indigenous groups to promote the commodification of nature, and in particular of forests through the establishment of the REDD mechanism and its versions REDD+ and REDD++.

Every day an extension of forests and rainforest equivalent to 36,000 football fields disappears in the world. Each year, 13 million hectares of forest and rainforest are lost. At this rate, the forests will disappear by the end of the century.

The forests and rainforest are the largest source of biodiversity. If deforestation continues, thousands of species, animals and plants will be lost forever.

More than three quarters of accessible fresh water comes from uptake zones in forests, hence the worsening of water quality when the forest condition deteriorates.

Forests provide protection from flooding, erosion and natural disasters. They provide non-timber goods as well as timber goods. Forests are a source of natural medicines and healing elements not yet discovered.

Forests and the rainforest are the lungs of the atmosphere. Eighteen percent of all emissions of greenhouse gases in the world are caused by deforestation.

It is essential to stop the destruction of our Mother Earth.

During the climate change negotiations, everyone recognises that it is essential to avoid the deforestation and degradation of the forest.

However, to achieve this, some propose to commodify forests on the false argument that only what has a price and an owner is worth taking care of.

Their proposal is to consider only one of the functions of forests, which is its ability to absorb carbon dioxide, and issue “certificates”, “credits” or “carbon rights” for a carbon market.

This way, companies of the North have the choice of either reducing their emissions or buying “REDD certificates” in the South according to what is cheapest for them.

Through this mechanism, developed countries hand their obligation to reduce their emissions to underdeveloped countries, and the South will once again fund the North.

However, they will not only have cheated their commitments to reduce emissions, but they will have also begun the commodification of nature, starting with the forests.

The forests will start to be priced by the CO2 tonnage they are able to absorb. The “credit” or “carbon right”, which certifies the absorptive capacity, will be bought and sold like any commodity worldwide.

To ensure that no one affects the ownership of “REDD certificates”, a series of restrictions will be put into place, which will eventually affect the sovereign right of countries and indigenous peoples over their forests and rainforest.

So begins a new stage of privatisation of nature never seen before, which will extend to water, biodiversity and what they call “environmental services”.

We assert that capitalism is the cause of global warming and the destruction of forests, rainforests and Mother Earth. But they, with the word “green economy”, seek to expand capitalism to make nature a commodity.

To get support for this proposal, some financial institutions, governments, NGOs, foundations, “experts” and trading companies have offered a percentage of the “benefits” of this commodification of nature to indigenous peoples and communities living in native forests and the rainforest.

But nature, forests and indigenous peoples are not for sale.

For centuries, indigenous peoples have conserved and preserved natural forests and rainforests. For us, the forest and rainforest are not objects. They are not things you can price and privatise.

We do not accept that native forests and rainforest be must reduced to a simple measurable quantity of carbon. Nor do we accept that native forests be confused with simple plantations of one or two tree species.

The forest is our home, a big house where plants, animals, water, soil, pure air and human beings coexist.

It is essential that all countries of the world work together to prevent forest and rainforest deforestation and degradation.

It is an obligation of developed countries, as part of its climate and environmental debt, to contribute financially to the preservation of forests. But not through making it a commodity.

There are many ways of supporting and financing underdeveloped countries, indigenous peoples and local communities that contribute to the preservation of forests.

Developed countries spend many times more on war than on fighting climate change. Even during the financial crisis, many nations have maintained or increased their military spending.

It is inadmissible that, by using the needs of some communities and the ambitions of some leaders and indigenous “experts”, indigenous peoples are expected to be involved with the commodification of nature.

Indigenous brothers and sisters, let us not be confused. Some tell us that the carbon market mechanism in REDD will be voluntary. That is to say that whoever wants to sell and buy, will be able, and whoever does not want to, will be able to stand aside.

We cannot accept that, with our consent, a mechanism is created where one voluntarily sells Mother Earth while others look on.

Faced with the attempts to put our forests and rainforests on the market, indigenous peoples with peasants and social movements of the world must fight for the proposals that emerged from the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth [held in Cochabamba in April].

These included:

1) Integrated management of native forests and rainforests, not only considering its function as a carbon sink, but all its functions and potential.

2) Respect the sovereignty of developing countries in their management of forests.
3) Full compliance with the Rights of Indigenous Peoples established by the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Give recognition and respect to indigenous peoples territories; indigenous knowledge for the preservation of forests; and ensure indigenous peoples’ participation in the management of forests and rainforests.

4) Funding from developed countries to developing countries and indigenous peoples for integral management of forest as part of their climate and environmental debt. No establishment of any mechanism of carbon markets or “incentives” that may lead to the commodification of forests and rainforests.

5) Recognition of the rights of Mother Earth, which includes forests and rainforests. To restore harmony with Mother Earth, putting a price on nature is not the way.

Indigenous brothers and sisters, together with our peasant brothers and social movements of the world, we must mobilise so that the conclusions of Cochabamba are taken up in Cancun.

[Abridged from Bolivia Rising.]

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