By Edgardo Ayala
Central American environmentalists and indigenous people are intensifying efforts to prevent governments in the region from participating in a program promoted by the World Bank that seeks to include these countries in the carbon credits market, claiming it will have deleterious effects on the environment and the people.
Social organizations have sent letters to the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, or FCPF, the body that coordinates the program, demanding that it either reject admission requests made by the region’s governments, or clarify a number of deficiencies and irregularities.
“We’re calling on the governments of Central America … and the World Bank’s FCPF to review and correct their actions,” reads a resolution from the Regional Meeting on Extractive Industries and Climate Policy in Mesoamerican Indigenous Territories, which convened in San Salvador on Aug. 17.
Several Central American governments have started the process to participate in the FCPF’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program, or REDD. Once the admission requirements are met and approved by the Participants Committee, countries can enter the FCPF’s US$215 million carbon offset trading market.
On June 1, El Salvador sent a new version of its application to the FCPF in the hope of demonstrating compliance with the requirements to join the REDD, which first requires a preparation period that could extend until the end of the year. These include the development of systems to monitor, measure, and verify greenhouse gas, or GHG, emissions, which cause global warming. They also include the implementation of social and environmental safeguards, which they are not fulfilling, according to the opposing organizations. Honduras, Nicaragua and Panamá are involved in the preparatory process as well.
REDD is a complex Clean Development Mechanism, or CDM, as provided for in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change with the intention of reducing GHG emissions. Each country that ratified the Kyoto Protocol has predetermined emissions quotas that it cannot exceed. If a country or company goes over the limit and doesn’t meet its GHG reduction levels, they can purchase carbon credits or bonds on the market.
One carbon credit buys the right to release into the atmosphere one metric ton of carbon dioxide, which is one of the six determined greenhouse gases. For example, a company that has a limit of 100,000 metric tons of CO2 annually but exceeds that figure by 10,000 metric tons needs to acquire carbon credits equivalent to that overage.
At the same time, projects that reduce emissions can qualify for Certificates of Emissions Reductions, or CREs; each CRE represents one metric ton of emissions that is not released, and can be sold on the carbon offset market. REDD is considered a clean development mechanism related to forestry issues, given that the burning or razing of forests generates greenhouse gases.
The credits are sold in two markets: an official one regulated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, which establishes the certificates, and a voluntary, unregulated one in which some companies buy credits in a futures market, just as in a stock exchange.
Criticisms of REDD
REDD is strongly questioned by Central American and international civil organizations which see it as a way for wealthy countries to circumvent their responsibility to reduce GHG emissions.
“Instead of implementing policies that lead to a reduction in emissions, industrialized countries want to continue with their same consumption patterns … And it’s better to pay poor countries to do it for them”, Yvette Aguilar, a Salvadoran expert on climate change, told Latinamerica Press.
Last June, the National Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples in Panama lodged a complaint in a letter to the National Environment Authority and the UN representative in Panama, Kim Bolduc, for not furnishing the promised funding to develop social projects in indigenous territories.
In theory the money would go toward the government’s efforts to include native populations in the REDD program that the government is supporting in conjunction with the United Nations, known as UN-REDD.
“We feel used in this process,” the letter read.
Just before those allegations, around 20 Salvadoran civil organizations also wrote to the FCPF, rejecting the inclusion in the REDD in which the government is involved, and demanding that this request be vetoed because its approval “would have serious implications for Salvadoran society, increasing vulnerability and the frequency of disasters.”
Moreover, it doesn’t get at the underlying problem, which is that industrialized countries, which are the worst polluters, must make a concerted effort to reduce GHG emissions, said experts consulted by Latinamerica Press.
The Indigenous Peoples Confederation of Honduras, or CONPAH, in February denounced that the government is ready to carry out the process to participate in the REDD program without consulting the indigenous and Afro-Honduran communities.
“It’s a violation of our rights, since we as communities don’t know the content and reach of the program, and the free and informed consent has not been obtained as prescribed by the FCPF,” CONPAH wrote in a letter to the Honduran State Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, Rigoberto Cuéllar.
CONPAH demanded a stop to all activities related to REDD in indigenous and Afro-Honduran territories.
Salvadoran expert Maritza Erazo told Latinamerica Press that the REDD programs could mean the displacement of communities that live in the forests, since contracts must be fulfilled that require keeping woodlands intact — meaning no production of any type can take place.
“When this mechanism is applied, that would affect the indigenous or campesino communities that live there, because it could change their ways of life; they would no longer be able to use [that] wood as building materials or fuel, for example, because that would be considered forest degradation,” Erazo said.
The consulted experts agreed that, in addition to the effects on communities and people, the planet is at stake if there is a failure to reduce GHG emissions. And the REDD program allows industrialized nations, the worst polluters, to not lower emissions levels.
In the international climate change conferences in Cancun, Mexico, in November 2010, and Durban, South Africa, in November 2011, industrialized nations broke away from their obligation to reduce their emissions, as they had established with the Kyoto Protocol, and instead offered to negotiate in 2015 a reduction that would only come into force in 2020.
Ángel Ibarra, president of the non-governmental Salvadoran Ecological Unit, or UNES, told Latinamerica Press that as climate change makes an impact, GHG emissions need to be halved by 2020 so the global temperature increase does not exceed 2°C.
“Otherwise, the temperature will go up 4°C, with serious repercussions for life,” Ibarra added.