If REDD can’t save this…

Written by Margaret

Topics: Climate

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Cross-posted at Grist

Bukit Tigapuluh Forest is truly one of those special places. It’s got three endangered species, two minority groups of indigenous people and a superlative: it’s the last remaining stand of tropical lowland forest left on the island of Sumatra.

Funnily enough, it’s also about to be cut down.

Notorious rainforest destroyer Asia Pulp and Paper has cut a road through the forest and is working on getting a concession to convert the forest (containing over 1,000 species of trees) into a tree plantation (containing maybe 2 species).

They’re calling this development.

Nonprofits and businesses around the world are calling it deforestation. Unfortunately, the new forest part of the of the climate change treaty (called REDD) under negotiation this week here in Bangkok may end up calling it carbon savings and subsidizing its destruction.

Only two days into Bangkok, REDD talks have been picking up from the snail’s pace that they were running at in the Bonn sessions earlier this year. Developing countries like India and Brazil have come out with stronger positions that are challenging developed countries to truly make forests a priority in the negotiations, and formerly timid Australia is stepping up to the plate.

But forest definitions remain a problem. As the situation currently stands, the proposed treaty text does not distinguish between intact natural forests (those that humans didn’t plant) and tree plantations. Not only is this a problem from a cultural and biodiversity point of view – since tree plantations don’t provide any of the habitat or cultural benefits of natural forests – it’s a problem from a climate point of view.

Intact natural ecosystems like forests store and absorb massive amounts of carbon, tree plantations, being younger and less diverse, store and absorb significantly less carbon. This equation means that converting forests to plantations is a net loss for the climate, increasing the 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by deforestation, rather than decreasing it, which is ostensibly, the point of REDD.

Right now, Bangkok is all about setting rules for how the game of REDD will be played. Just like in any sport, we need to know where the goal is and which plays will draw a red card. If the rules aren’t set out clearly, we may end up permanently offsides.

Forest definitions sound geeky, but they really do matter. If a treaty intended to protect forests and the climate can’t save a place like Bukit Tigapuluh, then what are we doing here?

1 Comment For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Margaret, THANK you for this article. Please read this release from bangkok:
    Report Calls for the Rejection of REDD in Climate Treaty

    Indigenous Environmental Network calls for alternative solutions that reduce emissions, protect forests and respect rights

    What: In a new report, the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) breaks down the possible consequences of the new climate treaty for Indigenous peoples, biodiversity and the climate; highlighting the problems that current projects, referred to as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), have posed for Indigenous peoples around the world.

    Who: Speakers will include:

    Tom B.K Goldtooth, Executive Director, Indigenous Environmental Network (United States)

    Anna Pinto, Centre for Organization, Research and Education (India)

    Carlos Picanerai, Coordination for Indigenous Peoples Self-Determination (Paraguay)

    Kate Horner, Friends of the Earth (United States)

    When: 10:30 – 11:00 a.m., October 1, 2009

    Where: UNFCCC press conference room, Bangkok. Watch live: http://unfccc.int/meetings/intersessional/awg-lca_1_and_awg-kp_5/webcast/items/4341.php

    Why: REDD-type pilot projects have already demonstrated that forest carbon offset schemes violate Indigenous people’s rights. Projects have exacerbated eviction, fraud, conflict, corruption, coercion and militarization. IEN and many other Indigenous groups are rejecting offset based REDD – and are calling for alternate solutions that focus directly on reductions of fossil fuel emissions without compromising the rights of Indigenous peoples or destroying the environment.


    Indigenous Environmental Network is an Indigenous organization works with Indigenous Peoples worldwide on environmental justice, energy and climate policy issues. For more information, visit: http://www.ienearth.org

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  1. The Understory » Sumatra’s Bukit Tigapuluh: The ‘30 Hills’ ecosystem a natural asset, under threat

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