Fighting for ecological justice

Community Logging may Address Deforestation

Indonesia is the third biggest contributor to global warming after the United States and China, adding to the country’s position as having the highest deforestation rate in the world. But on the other hand, Indonesia also wants to form Forestry Eight, which will propose Avoided Deforestation (AD) as a way to mitigate climate change.

This is more or less taking up a position leading up to the United Nations conference on climate change to be held in Bali in December, which will have as its main agenda discussions on how to achieve Reduced Emissions from Deforestation (RED).

As reported by Stern Review (2007), deforestation produces 18 percent of global greenhouse gasses, higher than emissions from the global transportation sector.

Simply put, AD is the prevention or reduction of forest loss in order to reduce emissions of global warming gases, by which economic incentives — payment for carbon stored in the forests — will be provided. These payments may come from the carbon market mechanism, public funding or a mix of the two.

The problem with climate change, clean development mechanisms (CDM), carbon trading, AD, etc., is that they seem to be part of a hugely complex global mechanism, too complicated to be understood and acted upon by lay people and communities. This greatest challenge to humankind has spiraled into the domain of intergovernmental forums, international conferences, consultants and experts.

This should not be the case because this is a simple problem that civilization has been experiencing and working on for a long time: The fossil fuel economy from the North’s point of view, conserving forest natural resources and improving the livelihoods of local communities from the South’s point of view, and promoting human rights and democracy from both points of view.

The major argument in favor of carbon-market financed AD is that it will provide an opportunity to respond with critically-needed funding for conservation work. It has been said that global AD funds will be in the order of US$100 billion annually.

While this is a huge amount in the eyes of developing country governments and conservation groups, it is nothing compared to, say, agricultural subsidies in the US or Europe ($180 billion in the U.S. in 2005), the trident missile replacement plan in the UK (up to $150 billion), or the cost of the Iraq war ($350 billion since 2003).

Carbon market financed AD could hinder real and meaningful ways of mitigating global warming by reducing GHG emissions from fossil fuels. International NGOs like Friends of the Earth International have said that avoided deforestation/destruction, which is a carbon offsetting scheme, is being used as a smoke-screen to ward off legislation and delay the urgent action needed to cut emissions and develop alternative low-carbon solutions.

If, or when, the Bali meeting gives its consent to AD, it should be financed through public funds, sourcing from fossil fuel or carbon taxes, and should not come from the carbon-market mechanism. Even with public funding, which has always been a financing mechanism for conservation work and NGOs, the London-based Forest People’s Program in June 2007 warned that the avoided deforestation scheme risks renewed and even increased state and “expert” control over forests, overzealous government support for anti-people and exclusionary models of forest conservation (evictions, expropriation) to protect lucrative forest carbon “reservoirs”, and unjust targeting of indigenous and marginal peoples as the “drivers” of deforestation.

Current AD development initiatives are led by the World Bank, big international conservation NGOs, and carbon-trading brokers and consultants. The failure and destructive performance of these parties in past and on-going global environmental and development initiatives is very well documented, which should have effectively undermined their authority and credibility to lead the world in fighting against climate change.

To avoid deforestation, one needs to tackle the underlying causes. These include major international economic phenomena, such as macroeconomic strategies that provide strong incentives for short-term profit-making instead of long-term sustainability, deep-rooted social structures that result in inequalities in land tenure, discrimination against indigenous peoples, subsistence farmers and poor people in general, political factors, such as the lack of participatory democracy, the influence of the military and the exploitation of rural areas by urban elites, overconsumption by rich consumers, and uncontrolled industrialization.

For Indonesia, self-sufficiency, sovereignty and dignity can only be achieved by actively resisting carbon trading schemes that will preserve economic-political dominance of the developing countries by the developed countries, and instead focusing on strengthening the country’s economy and political posture while opting for socially and environmentally friendly carbon-trading approaches. Indonesia should support global movements against trade liberalization, privatization and commodification, while challenging oil wars and fossil fuel extraction.

Equal allowances of carbon emissions per capita should be the strongest negotiating argument to push for reduced emissions in the developed countries and support conservation and development in developing countries (Indonesia currently ranks 102 out of 176 in terms of carbon emissions per capita).

It is in this context that “From Illegal Logging to Community Logging” movements championed by groups like the Bogor-based Telapak need to be considered as the central building block of avoided deforestation.

Community logging is defined as community-based sustainable timber and non-timber forest product, and ecological services based forestry. This serves as a means to deliver forest conservation and carbon storage while generating livelihood benefits for local communities on an ongoing basis. The scope of this includes the building of local socio-economic infrastructure made up of indigenous institutions that can participate in resource assessment and mapping, and sustainable forest resource and carbon storage management.

Ecolabel certification and the development of local small-scale post-production and value-adding timber industries may also be supported. Community logging should become the mainstream of forest management in, and not just, at the model sites of AD and carbon financing.

The writer is President of Telapak, an environmental group based in Bogor.

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