Saving REDD after Cochabamba

The historical “World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth” held in Cochabamba last month highlights the need for a new global development model that secures harmony with nature and among people. Such a new system would require a change of mindset away from the current consumerist practices of human beings, and their striving for ever greater accumulation of material goods.

According to Working Group 2, the construction of new paradigms such as Living Well in Harmony with Nature requires the examination of different forms of wisdom and experiences, and a collective evaluation of current realities using new indicators that allow us to measure the well being of humans as well as the wellbeing of the planet.

This is a very wise statement as the currently most popular indicator, GDP per capita, has only a very limited correlation with human well-being and life satisfaction and probably a negative correlation with the well-being of the planet. The current system of national accounting is out of sync with the real objectives of development, and indeed violates the basic principles of sound accounting, as it does not take into account the reduction of natural capital nor the accumulation of human capital.

There are many other wise statements in the Peoples Agreement that came out of the Conference, but the very strong condemnation of the REDD mechanism is not one of them. As long as REDD is not based on the trading and shifting around of carbon emissions permits and carbon emissions reductions, the mechanism has the potential not only to help reduce the decimation of the natural forests on which many indigenous peoples depend, but also to help secure financing for a development path that is consistent with living well in harmony with nature.

I agree that a market based REDD mechanism is likely to do more harm than good. But so far, all funds behind the still-to-be-designed REDD mechanism have come from direct donations unrelated to carbon markets. Such donations from countries eager to make a real difference (instead of just shifting carbon emissions from poor people to rich people) are likely to dominate REDD funding for quite some time.

Almost all developed countries, as well as many developing countries – including China – have stopped deforestation within their own borders (1). They consider their forests too valuable to chop down, and prefer to buy the timber they need from countries like Bolivia, which are still willing to sell out their forests cheaply. The same countries have also stopped expanding their agricultural frontier, because they prefer to import agricultural products from countries like Bolivia, instead of ruining their own natural areas.

Well managed, the REDD mechanism could help stop this exploitation of Bolivia, by increasing the perceived value of forests. Not only could it protect natural forests on indigenous lands from capitalist depredation, but it could also provide the Bolivian government with substantial funds for public investments in favor of living well in harmony with nature.

The Peoples Agreement states that a REDD mechanism would be “violating the sovereignty of peoples and their right to prior free and informed consent as well as the sovereignty of national States, the customs of Peoples, and the Rights of Nature.” But in reality, it is the responsibility of the Bolivian Government to design its own internal REDD policies in a way that does not violate the sovereignty of peoples and their right to prior free and informed consent. Bolivia has already been awarded several million dollars to finance this process of designing fair and efficient REDD policies in an inclusive way, and there are more funds on the way, on the condition that the country demonstrates a realistic plan for consultation and inclusion of stakeholders in the preparation phase.

The people’s conference and the Bolivian government are right to condemn market based mechanisms as both unfair and ineffective. Instead they should demand a fund based REDD mechanism, with funds deriving from the rich countries ‘historical environmental debt’ and voluntary contributions from countries and institutions with a real interest in protecting forests and biodiversity for future generations.

The main institutions promoting REDD at the international level (UN, FCPF and some environmental institutions) should avoid relying on carbon markets for the reduction of deforestation. Forests are infinitely more than just carbon, and we don’t want natural forests to become a casualty of bungled international climate negotiations and over-eager paper-pushing bureaucrats.

Do you think REDD can help Bolivia? How? Leave a reply below.

Lykke E. Andersen is the Director of the Center for Economic and Environmental Modeling and Analysis (CEEMA) at the Institute of Advanced Development Studies (INESAD), La Paz, Bolivia.


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