The United Nations Environmental Award presented to President Bharrat Jagdeo may well turn out to be the last such award given for advocates of climate change.
The tide is slowly turning against climate change advocates and especially those, such as President Jagdeo, who are pushing for a financial deal that would see countries rewarded for not cutting down their forests.
The REDD and REDD + and REDD ++ initiatives are all part of this genre and are increasingly coming under the microscope of peoples’ groups and organizations, and especially by indigenous organizations.
President Jagdeo is no doubt well aware of the brewing opposition to REDD programs and this would have certainly accounted for his pitch to local Amerindian groups during the special ceremony which was held last week to herald his award.
Just days before the event at the International Convention Centre, there was a major meeting of indigenous groups. That meeting was hosted by the Bolivian President, Evo Morales, and was held in Cochababa, Bolivia.
According to the REDD- Monitor website, that conference rejected REDD and its variants. The final communiqué condemned REDD and its versions, REDD+ and REDD++, as neo-liberal market mechanisms that are violating the sovereignty of indigenous peoples and their right to “free, prior and informed consent” and self-determination.
All is equally not well on the local front with divisions within the local indigenous community on the support given to Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). The government claims that in developing the LCDS it undertook widespread consultation with the local indigenous community. However, there have been objections from at least one local indigenous group to the LCDS.
Consultation, however, is not the sole means of realizing what the United Nations deems as “free, prior and informed consent”. Such consent must involve representative organizations and, therefore, unless the government can find ways of allowing the local indigenous organizations a significant and leadership role in the LCDS process, then questions are likely to continue to be raised as to whether it has attained the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous population.
It is not an issue that is likely to go away soon since there is a chorus of opposition to climate change proposals. REDD- Monitor reported the President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities as arguing that REDD is not a solution to climate change. REDD, he says, was created by the multinational institutions like the World Bank that routinely violate the rights of Indigenous Peoples and pollute the environment. He noted that, “It is perverse that these institutions are pretending to have the ‘solution’ when they have actually caused the climate crisis.”
Having had the privilege of recently Chairing the Board of Governors of both of the World Bank and IMF, President Jagdeo must be aware of the negative perceptions of these institutions not just in the Southern cone of the world but also within non-governmental organizations within the North.
One such grouping which has started to campaign against REDD is the Durban Group for Climate Justice. Again, according to the REDD- Monitor website, this group has launched a global petition against REDD and has been critical of much of the arguments which we have heard locally, championing the preservations of the forests as a sink for the storage of carbon.
The Durban Group for Climate Justice is opposed to REDD because it does not believe that the strategy will be pursued independently of carbon markets.
It also is fearful that REDD would transform the carbon living in trees into private property and lead to land-grabbing that would displace indigenous peoples. More notably, the group argues that biotic carbon, that is, carbon stored in forests is not a permanent sink for carbon as is fossilized carbon.
This argument has grave implications for Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy for while a valuation commissioned by the government has placed a high value on Guyana’s forests, the Durban Group for Climate Justice are making the point in their petition that it is not going to be easy to value biotic carbon sinks.
Guyana estimates that it can earn as much as US$500M per year as a result of its forests. But so far the only pledge that it has received is a US$50M per annum from Norway, a mere ten per cent of our estimated potential.
And the mining community has real concerns about the conditions that are attached to this deal with Norway that would allow for a drawdown of that US$50M.
Those concerned about what Guyana will have to give away or surrender for the ecological dollars from the North may soon, however, have a reprieve. If the present trend of opposition to REDD grows, and if the leaders of the developed world continue to dither on financing a climate change deal that includes paying countries for not cutting down their forests, we may be at a turning point that will see the entire climate change run its course and like so many other nice-sounding initiatives, collapse without much progress.
What will the Champion of the Earth do then?
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