Forests and indigenous peoples 'left vulnerable in final text'

 

COPENHAGEN 2009:THE FINAL draft of a deal on curbing carbon emissions from deforestation has been stripped of any real protection for natural forests or indigenous peoples who have looked after them for centuries, environmentalists claimed yesterday.

The Accra Caucus on Forests and Climate Change said the REDD (reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation) agreement had been “stripped” of these safeguards, “as developing country governments react to lack of commitment by rich countries”.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from around the world condemned negotiators at the Copenhagen climate summit for removing key paragraphs aimed at protecting rainforests and downgrading language protecting local communities.

In the draft text, agreed after three days of closed-door discussions, the objective for reducing deforestation by at least 50 per cent by 2020 that had been included in an earlier “pre-Copenhagen” draft of the REDD agreement has now been removed.

Safeguards that would have protected biodiversity and the rights of indigenous peoples had been “severely weakened” by moving them to a non-binding preamble, the NGOs said, adding that only ministers and heads of state or government could “save REDD now”.

According to sources, the changes were made at the behest of countries in Africa’s Congo Basin “and possibly Papua New Guinea”. Its climate change envoy, Kevin Conrad, is an outspoken champion of REDD and chairman of the Coalition of Rainforest Nations.

“We are watching an historic opportunity turn into a monumental disaster,” said Kate Dooley, speaking for the Accra Caucus, which consists of more than 100 NGOs from 30 countries – including all the major countries with surviving tropical rainforests.

She said it was “hardly surprising” that these countries would not agree to global targets to reduce deforestation when developed countries were not prepared to commit to global targets for reducing their carbon emissions and giving “adequate” financial aid.

“Currently, an acre of forest is cut down every second, depriving the world of critical carbon reservoirs and creating huge emissions bursts into the atmosphere,” said Stephen Leonard, of the Australian Orang-utan Project. Most of this deforestation is due to the global demand for (mostly illegal) tropical timber and palm oil.

Nicaragua-born Bianca Jagger, who chairs her own human rights foundation, said REDD must involve a commitment both to protect natural forests and the indigenous peoples who knew these areas best and had looked after the forests for centuries.

“REDD will never succeed and cannot be implemented unless the agreement contains strong provisions to ensure good governance, protect natural forests and ensure that the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities are protected,” she said.

“Emissions from deforestation account for approximately 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, so we need an effective REDD agreement to avoid climate chaos,” Ms Jagger said, appealing to governments to ensure a successful landmark agreement.

At the weekend, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said that politicians at the Copenhagen talks this week would focus on “big picture issues” and forest campaigners needed to “safeguard the nitty gritty” by ensuring that any deal had “environmental integrity”.

“I was very happy to hear Mr de Boer’s statement,” Ms Jagger said. “We must be clear – climate justice is a prerequisite to achieve an effective and ethical REDD agreement that puts peoples and forest first and an agreement that will help us tackle catastrophic climate change.”

Copenhagen: the numbers

There are now 45,215 registered participants in the UN climate summit in Copenhagen, it was revealed yesterday.

They include 11,500 official representatives of 192 countries, 22,400 observers, nearly 3,500 media and 7,500 technical staff.

According to Axel Wuestenhagen of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat, the media contingent includes 240 television and film crews. On any day, “22,500 [identification] badges are active” at the Bella convention centre, which has a capacity of 15,000.

Yesterday, hundreds of new arrivals had to queue for several hours in the cold to gain access to the venue. There were so many people getting off the nearby metro that the station had to be closed for a period, in the interest of public safety.

The logistical nightmare will worsen as more than 110 heads of state and governments begin arriving tomorrow. Due to security concerns, Mr Wuestenhagen said the number of observers would be cut to just 1,000.