It is great to see forests, and tropical rain forests in particular, high on the agenda at the conference. During the Heart of Brazil Expedition, we established that a fundamental force driving deforestation in Mato Grosso and Para States is money.
It is a sad fact that as long as cleared land is worth more than land with forests standing – in Brazil at the moment roughly five times more – then the destruction will continue.
While schemes to market forest products are important and praiseworthy, they will fall far short of turning this situation around.
World demand for soya beans remains high, and continues for the most part to be blind to the destruction being wreaked to make way for the biodiversity deserts such monocultures create. At the same time, Brazil is pressing ahead with planning a runaway expansion of biofuel production. This can do nothing but exacerbate the situation.
Brazil’s representatives in Bali are bickering with the United States over import tariffs on biofuels, but seem keen to downplay the huge contribution which forest clearance is making to the tally of human-generated greenhouse gases. Currently, rainforest destruction accounts for 20 percent of ALL greenhouse gas emissions worldwide – more than all forms of transport put together!
The delegates in Bali must acknowledge that, purely from a pragmatic point of view, the United Nations Climate Change process has to develop a mechanism to reimburse the rainforest nations for the services the forests provide in terms of the global climate, and they are making some progress in that direction.
Avoidance of forest destruction is a relatively cheap way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Saving all of that 20% would cost a fraction of what it would cost to develop and roll out the technology required to cut 20% of global emissions in industrial nations.
But, at the same time, avoidance is not sequestration. Preventing the emissions from deforestation should not be used by industrialised nations as an ‘offset’ against their emissions. Industrialised nations should only be permitted to emit greenhouse gases if they make arrangements for equivalent amounts of carbon to be captured and sequestered effectively, whether this is by planting new forests where none stood before, or by technological means such as carbon dioxide capture direct from the creation process, for example in the chimneys of coal-fired power stations.
The mechanism for reimbursing forest nations must be something different and innovative, but it could be linked to the carbon trading system which is being developed as a result of the Kyoto Protocol.
There is, however, a real and present danger that any ‘market-driven’ system which might be developed will do great damage. Large flows of money inevitably attract large corporations with no other motive but profit. They are adept at subverting good intentions, using the system to undermine itself and leaving behind a worse situation than existed in the first place.
Large flows of money rarely even trickle down to rural people, pouring instead into the pockets of already-rich jet-setting city dwellers. They often bring only further poverty and marginalisation to the local people where large-scale projects are implanted. Yet it is rural people, and especially indigenous tribal people like the ones you can see here on this site, who hold the key to really preserving the forests, for the health of the planet’s climate, for the mitigation of the wave of extinctions which scientists tell us is already happening, and for the future prosperity of mankind.
We are hopeful but not optimistic about the outcome of this conference. It seems ironic that, while thousands of delegates spend millions of dollars on this conference, we at IPCST are struggling to raise a few thousand dollars for small projects, which will have such a fundamental and beneficial impact on the people and the trees of the Xingu River basin.
Please consider making a donation to IPCST to support our work with the indigenous people of the Xingu. Click here.
© Patrick Cunningham