Belem, Brazil – Day 5
Today was my first full day at the World Social Forum and I must say that little of what I have found has surprised me. All of the frustrations I was expecting, I have found. All of the interesting perspectives I was expecting, I have found. Yet this is not meant as a critique or to imply that I have not learned a great deal. The people here have given me important new perspectives—some of which may change the way I approach these topics in my future work.
When each person tells their story, it brings these issues to life. Even as I read about the impacts of climate change or globalization on the lives of indigenous people or poor communities, I tend to think, “Yes, I know it is terrible. Let’s move on to the solutions.” But then I forget what I am fighting for. I get caught up in the “wonkery” of policy and economics. Once I am enveloped in these details, I don’t think about how these macro solutions affect people’s lives on the ground.
For instance, it never dawned on me that REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation—a policy to sell carbon credits from intact forests) would have significant negative impacts on people without legal rights to their land. Large landowners who have titles to the land that indigenous and local people use could sell the carbon rights to the global market. Then these “squatters” would be banned from practicing the “slash-and-burn” agriculture that they have been doing sustainably for thousands of years. Without this source of food, they go from being self-sufficient and culturally intact to being impoverished and dependent.
Now, the real problem here is land rights, not forest carbon policy. But without addressing the land rights issue, adding the forest carbon policy exacerbates the consequences of the problem.
One issue that was even more puzzling to my economist-mind was that they sited increasing the economic value of the forests was a major problem. I thought this was the point. You make a standing forest more valuable than a deforested forest. Then people will keep the forests intact because it’s profitable to do so. But these critics of REDD did not see it that way. They felt that the land grab by the rich and the pricing out of the poor that could result from REDD was unacceptable.
While these are very valid issues, I feel that these critics who venomously oppose market-based policies like REDD are being somewhat disingenuous in their motives. They were self-righteous about their love of trees and the UN/REDD proponents love of money, yet they oppose these policies not because they would not promote forest conservation but because they exacerbate land ownerships problems. They create a false choice between land rights and REDD. The real choice is between making it profitable to cut down forests or making it profitable to conserve forests. How is preventing REDD going to address land ownership? It won’t. How is preventing REDD going to affect deforestation? It will allow the status quo to continue.
From the meeting, I took away three major lessons specific to REDD policy.
1)We should change the UN’s definition of “forest” to exclude tree plantations.
2)We need to explicitly recognize the rights of indigenous people to their land.
3)We need to put resources—especially legal and technical expertise—into place to help small landowners take advantage of the program.