Honduras is among the leaders in destruction of forests

‘Honduras is among the leaders in destruction of forests’ was one of the rubrics in the following article and perhaps illustrates why the people of Olancho have to go to such lengths in order to have their say.

Deforestation still ‘winning’ in Latin America

By Diego Cevallos*

MEXICO CITY, Feb 16, 2008 (Tierramérica) – Never before have Latin America and the Caribbean fought so hard against deforestation, say experts and government officials, but logging in the region has increased to the point that it has the highest rate in the world. Of every 100 hectares of forest lost worldwide between the years 2000 and 2005, nearly 65 were in Latin America and the Caribbean. In that period, the average annual rate was 4.7 million hectares lost — 249,000 hectares more than the entire decade of the 1990s.

Deforestation remains difficult to deal with because there are many economic interests in play, according to Ricardo Sánchez, director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). At their latest forum, held Jan. 30-Feb. 1 in Santo Domingo, the region’s environment ministers received a limited-circulation report that reveals, among other matters, the failure of strategies against forest destruction. The document, ‘Latin American and Caribbean Initiative for Sustainable Development – 5 Years After Its Adoption’ (ILAC), evaluates the official commitments made by governments in 2002.

“There is action by governments against deforestation like never before, but we are seeing that it is not an easy task, because there is strong pressure from economic groups,” Sánchez told Tierramérica.

Logging results in the loss of biodiversity and degradation of soils, as well as contributing to extreme climate phenomena, added the UNEP official.

Between 2000 and 2005, the proportion of total land surface covered by forests fell in the Mesoamerica region (southern Mexico and Central America) from 36.9% to 35.8%, and in South America from 48.4% to 47.2%. However, in the Caribbean it increased from 31.0% to 31.4%.

According to Mexican expert Enrique Provencio, author of the ILAC report, the principal cause of the increased pace of deforestation is the advance of the monoculture farming frontier. “There was a rise in international prices of products like soybeans, which drove the occupation and clear-cutting of forested areas, especially in Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay,” Provencio told Tierramérica.

The ILAC report indicates that although forestry activity has maintained a positive performance in terms of improving productivity and advances in sustainable management and other practices, such as certification of sustainably harvested lumber, it has not prevented the loss of forests. According to the study, in some countries the shrinking of forested areas continues to be associated with an increase in livestock-raising and the classic model of expanding pasture area by cutting down forests.

To combat deforestation, in recent years most governments have designed new monitoring and control mechanisms, with some even using the army to go after illegal loggers. Many countries have also passed laws that crack down hard on those who destroy forests. But the problem persists. “This shows that we continue to be economies dependent on the intensive use of natural resources and that the growing demand for food and other products has fuelled an advance of the agricultural frontier,” said Sánchez.

Another positive sign is the increase in the total area designated as nature reserves. In the 2000-2005 period, it grew from 19.2 to 20.6 percent of the territory in Latin America and the Caribbean, representing 320,400 square kilometres. Although the increase in protected areas cannot compensate for the loss of forest, “the process gives us some hope,” said Provencio.

*Diego Cevallos is an IPS correspondent. Originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme.

Illegal logging continues

From ‘Nicaragua News’ 3 May 2011, produced by the Nicaragua Network.

Illegal timber extraction continued in 2010 to outpace the cooperative efforts of the army, police and environmental authorities to control it under the Natural Resources Protection Plan. Concentrating their efforts on the Bosawas Nature Preserve and Ometepe Island, the joint enforcement effort undertook 16,589 actions that resulted in the seizure of 511,121 board feet of illegally harvested timber, 9,911 logs, and 20 transport vehicles. All were turned over to civilian authorities for criminal prosecution of the responsible parties. To increase enforcement, the Army has created a 500 member Ecological Battalion that will deploy to 76 nature preserves across the country in the second half of this year.

Environmental scientist Kamilo Lara called the actions “significant” but said the results “don’t reflect the magnitude of the environmental destruction drama.” He said, “The data demonstrates that there is a strong movement of wood traffickers and predators that take advantage of the lack of controls to remove the forests for economic gain.” Presidential environmental advisor and father of Nicaragua’s environmental movement Jaime Incer Barquero stated that Nicaragua has lost 50% of its forests in the past 50 years and that has resulted in the drying up of 60% of the principal rivers of the country. He called the environmental future of the country “exceptionally frightening.”

El Nuevo Diario, May 2, 2011

More on Honduran mangroves

Also in Honduras, journalist Diego Cevallos has reported a “marginalisation and expulsion of fishing families in the shrimp farming areas, a loss of access to traditional fishing sites and a decline in the fish catch.”[1]

The brief details given of these few examples and others in ‘The Violence of Development’ book and the associated website show that the expansion of industrial aquaculture (farming of shrimp and other seafoods, especially tilapia and salmon) has been responsible not only for the loss of mangroves but also for environmental pollution, biodiversity loss, livelihood destruction of local communities and violence.

[1]   Diego Cevallos (November 2010) ‘Shrimp industry devastating mangrove forests’, Tierramérica, citing Saúl Montufar, CODDEFFAGOLF spokesman.

Why REDD is wrong

low-res-gjep_logo_light1Reproduced by kind permission of the Global Justice Ecology Project: www.globaljusticeecology.org

The UN states that the chief aim of its program for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is “to make forests more valuable standing than they would be cut down, by creating a financial value for the carbon stored in trees. Once this carbon is assessed and quantified, the final phase of REDD involves developed countries paying developing countries carbon offsets for their standing forests.”[1] On its face, the idea of “reducing emissions from deforestation” is extremely appealing. But the devil, as they say, is in the details. While the major multilateral institutions, including the UN, the World Bank, and many large environmental organizations, support REDD – indeed, accept it as a done deal – a vocal core of forest-dependent communities[2], environmental justice advocates[3], Indigenous organizations[4], and global South social movements[5] see REDD as a Trojan Horse.

Here’s why:

REDD will restrict access to forests for livelihoods and cultural practices

Over 1.6 billion people depend on forests for some aspect of their livelihoods, but only about 9 percent of the world’s forests are legally owned by forest-dependent and Indigenous communities. People without land rights have no legal power to influence REDD projects.[6] In order to protect investments, project developers need to keep people from using the forests, especially those who depend on them. REDD pilot projects have already encouraged forest enclosures, arrests, and evictions; cases in Kenya[7], Congo[8], Papua New Guinea[9], and elsewhere[10] have raised alarms among human rights advocates.

REDD will reduce biodiversity

The UN definition of forests is vague enough to include monoculture tree plantations (such as oil palm, pine, eucalyptus), as well as clearcuts (termed “temporarily unstocked areas”) and genetically engineered (GE) trees.[11] While forest-dependent peoples are reduced to wage-labour, national and corporate entities will be enabled to “temporarily unstock” forests before planting new trees.

REDD will degrade livelihoods

The working definition of forest degradation includes such activities as shifting cultivation, foraging, collecting medicinal plants, and accessing sacred sites—meaning most the activities of forest-dependent communities. Yet science has shown that those who can best protect forests – indeed, those who have protected forests for millennia – are those who live in them.[12] It is precisely the lure of the market that forces forest dwellers to succumb to external pressures to degrade and destroy their own homes.

Carbon offsets are a false solution to climate change

REDD projects can be financed through “carbon offsets”: the CO2 saved when forests are left standing is purchased to “offset” CO2 released by polluting industries. Purchasing these offsets allows rich countries and companies to reduce their emissions on paper, without making real changes. The result is no actual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions at the source. Even public funding for REDD-readiness is widely seen as a gateway toward carbon-market based financing. When forest protection projects are financed through public sources, they should use another name to draw the distinction from market-based REDD.

Forests need to be protected – not commodified

Turning forests into mere carbon sinks and giving them enhanced economic value can be expected to encourage private investors to buy up lands that do not have a clear title, leading to displacement of forest dependent communities. Further, while treating forests as carbon sinks and commodities may create economic value, it greatly diminishes their intrinsic value as forests.[13]

The Carbon Market is inherently volatile and vulnerable to failure[14]

The UN says REDD is about “making the private sector part of the solution by providing the kinds of market signals, mechanisms and incentives to encourage investments that manage and conserve the world’s nature-based resources rather than mining them.”[15] “If REDD can be structured right,” the UN literature says, “the money will be made not just by carbon traders, but also by developing countries and communities for providing the forest-based carbon storage service.” But can REDD be structured right? When the carbon bubble bursts, it is forest-dependent communities who will suffer the impact. The current calculated price for REDD credits is as low as $4 USD – 6 to 8 times cheaper than other offsets.[16] This makes it cheaper to buy pollution permits through REDD offsets than to reduce emissions. And because forest carbon is inherently volatile (trees eventually die and release their carbon; forests are subject to natural flux from fires, pests, aging, and natural disasters), this biological carbon cannot be equated with fossil carbon emissions that are permanently released into the atmosphere.

REDD projects force subsistence communities into the cash economy

Most REDD projects provide a combination of jobs, services, and cash payments to affected community members.[17] Some provide payments to meet basic needs, or directly provide services like health clinics or schools. Still others offer gifts like laptop computers and fuel-efficient cooking stoves. But bringing people into the cash economy or offering them social services is no replacement for traditional livelihoods, cultures, and place-based traditions. Indeed, by buying people out of their forest-dependent livelihoods, REDD will leave forests more vulnerable to predatory interests – not less.

REDD creates perverse incentives

The President of Guyana has argued that the country should “proceed full-steam ahead with exploitation of forestry resources” in order to reap the benefits of “avoided threatened deforestation.”[18] In other words, countries are increasing deforestation now in order to earn more revenue when REDD comes into effect because they will be able to decrease their deforestation by a greater amount.

It is unclear if REDD projects will be able to protect forests or reduce emissions in the first place

If measurements of carbon stored in REDD projects are inaccurate, or if deforestation is stopped in one area but increases elsewhere as a result, then overall emissions increase (both from the activity seeking the offset and by the deforestation).[19] And, because project developers rely on concessions, regional deforestation rates, and other market-based indicators to calculate carbon futures, we can never really know if forests were in fact saved. Since there is nothing in REDD to stop a project developer from cutting down native forest and replacing it with a plantation, REDD may result in more deforestation, not less.

REDD is not rights-ready

The vast majority of REDD projects thus far are not based in the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of the communities who live in the affected forests. In many countries, benefits from REDD projects will flow to the government, or to the private project developer, instead of to the communities who have managed the land for generations. This leads to inherent violations of FPIC and other human rights safeguards guaranteed through the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

REDD is still evolving, but it doesn’t bode well

The final form REDD will take is still being negotiated. There are many who defend REDD for valuing ecosystems services; there are others who see it as the only way to protect forests and stabilize the climate. But whatever form REDD takes, even if it includes Human Rights safeguards, it will be designed to allow industrialized countries and polluting industries to continue polluting while forcing subsistence-based communities into the market economy. Corporations and countries responsible for the climate crisis need to take responsibility for their own emissions and cut them at the source. And the human and environmental rights and cultural practices of forest-dependent peoples need to be respected.

To learn more and to follow the debate on REDD and climate solutions, visit: http://climatevoices.wordpress.com/

[1] UN definition of REDD: www.un-redd.org/AboutREDD/tabid/582/Default.aspx
[2] Global Forest Coalition:www.globalforestcoalition.org/cms/paginas/view/223
[3] Grassroots Global Justice Alliance: www.ggjalliance.org/node/350
[4] Indigenous Environmental Network, ‘Reaping Profits from Evictions, Land Grabs, Deforestation and Destruction of Biodiversity’, www.ienearth.org/REDD/index.html
[5] Vía Campesina on REDD: http://viacampesina.org/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=941:the-people-create-thousands-of-solutions-to-confront-climate-change&catid=48:=climate-change-and-agrofuels&Itemid=75
[6] Tom Griffiths (2008) ‘Seeing REDD? Forests, Climate Change Mitigation and the Rights of Indigenous People and Local Communities’, Moreton-in-Marsh, England: Forest Peoples Programme.
[7] www.unep.org/documents.multilingual/default.asp?DocumentID=540&ArticleID=5877&l=e
[8] Op.cit. (Griffiths)
[9] The Economist (6 June 2009) ‘Money grows on trees’, www.economist.com/world/international/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13724646
[10] Lorenzo Cotula and James Mayers (2009) ‘Tenure in REDD: Start-Point or Afterthought?’, Natural Resource Issues 15.
[11] Chris Land (2009) ‘REDD will fail with current definition of “forest”’, www.redd-monitor.org/2009/09/08/redd-will-fail-with-the-current-definition-of-forest/
[12] See two recent studies: Nepstad, D., Schwartzman, S., Bemberger, B., Santilli, M., Ray, D., Schlesinger, P., Lefebvre, P., Alencar, A., Prinz, E., Fiske, G. and Rolla, A. (2006) ‘Inhibition of Amazon Deforestation and Fire by Parks and Indigenous Lands’, Conservation Biology, 20: 65-73, doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2006.00351.x; and Arun Agarwal and Ashini Chhatrea (2009) ‘Trade-offs and synergies between carbon storage and livelihood benefits from forest commons’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/10/05/0905308106
[13] Links catalogued at www.globaljusticeecology.org/publications.php?ID=472
[14] www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/feb/23/glover-carbon-market-pollution
[15] Somerauer, http://forestindustries.eu/content/redddummies-un-redd-qa-version-july-2010
[16] Katherine Hamilton, Unna Chokkalingam and María Bendana (2010) ‘State of the Forest Carbon Markets 2009: Taking Root and Branching Out’, Ecosystem Marketplace.
[17] Brihannala Morgan (December 2010) ‘REDD at the Community Level: Community Engagement and Carbon Conservation in Indonesia’s Forests’, Master’s thesis submitted to the University of Michigan.
[18] Chris Lang (24 June 2009) ‘Offsetting: A dangerous distraction’, www.redd-monitor.org/2009/06/24/offsetting- a-dangerous-distraction/
[19] This problem is termed ‘leakage’, and is a widely recognised barrier to the success of market-based conservation schemes. Op.cit. (Hamilton et al).

The Clean Development Mechanism in action in Honduras

The Copenhagen Climate conference in 2009 established that between the years of 1990 and 2008, Honduras was the third worst affected country in the world by global climate change.[1] The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) implies that this was due to augmented incidences of major hurricanes, torrential rains and flooding, heat waves, droughts, loss of soil productivity and rising sea levels, plus increased intensity of the El Niño and La Niña phenomena. Yet in 2005, Honduras proudly proclaimed itself to be the first country in the world to voluntarily comply with the Kyoto Protocol’s guidelines[2] because their emissions of greenhouse gases were 5 per cent lower than 1990 levels.[3]

In 2005 the Executive Board of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) issued the first ever certified emission reductions (CERs). These were awarded for two hydroelectric projects in Honduras. La Esperanza Hydroelectric Project is expected initially to generate 37,000 CERs annually and is registered in partnership with Italy, while the Rio Blanco Small Hydroelectric Project, in which Finland has a stake, produces 17,800 CERs per year.[4]

La Esperanza is a small containment and runoff facility located in the department of Intibucá. The project was developed by a Honduran company Consorcio de Inversiones SA de CV (CISA) and commercial operation began in 2006. CISA claim to have assisted the community by:

  • providing regulated electrical power to La Esperanza and the surrounding communities;
  • employing 120 Hondurans during construction and still employing over 70 local people;
  • bringing electricity to the community of San Fernando through a US$13,000 donation of electrical supplies;
  • repairing the main road into Santa Anita; and
  • planting 25,000 trees per year since 2002.

The carbon offsets yielded by La Esperanza have been sold to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), one of the five institutions that comprise the World Bank Group.[5] The Community Development Carbon Fund (CDCF), also a stem of the World Bank, strongly supports La Esperanza as it promotes a co-benefits approach to climate change by linking carbon finance to tangible poverty reduction and sustainable development outcomes.[6]

[1] Visión de País 2010-2038 (August 2010) ‘Honduras, el primer país en cumplir de forma voluntaria con el Protocolo de Kioto’, Honduran government news sheet, August 2010.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] UNFCCC (20 October 2005) ‘First emission credits issued under the Kyoto Protocol’, http://cdm.unfccc.int/CDMNews/issues/issues/I_WJHSF1N67JGAORWII2BKVAI8O74B5A/viewnewsitem.html (accessed 11 January 2011).
[5] www.laesperanza-hydro.com/carbon.htm (accessed 11 January 2011).
[6] Aditi Sen (June 2009) ‘The Community Development Carbon Fund (CDCF): Assessment of Community Benefits and Sustainable Development’, World Bank, siteresources.worldbank.org/…/CDCF_paper_final_with_cover.pdf

Kyoto Carbon Trading Strategy Discredited

Increasing allegations of corruption and profiteering are raising serious questions about the UN-run carbon trading mechanism aimed at cutting pollution and rewarding clean technologies

By Patrick McCully* | Originally published in the UK Guardian | Date: Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The world’s biggest carbon offset market, the Kyoto Protocol’s clean development mechanism (CDM), is run by the UN, and is intended to reduce emissions by rewarding developing countries that invest in clean technologies. In fact, evidence is accumulating that it is increasing greenhouse gas emissions behind the guise of promoting sustainable development. The misguided mechanism is handing out billions of dollars to chemical, coal and oil corporations and the developers of destructive dams – in many cases for projects they would have built anyway.

According to David Victor, a leading carbon trading analyst at Stanford University in the US, as many as two-thirds of the supposed “emission reduction” credits being produced by the CDM from projects in developing countries are not backed by real reductions in pollution. Those pollution cuts that have been generated by the CDM, he argues, have often been achieved at a stunningly high cost: billions of pounds could have been saved by cutting the emissions through international funds, rather than through the CDM’s supposedly efficient market mechanism.

And when a CDM credit does represent an “emission reduction”, there is no global benefit because offsetting is a “zero sum” game. If a Chinese mine cuts its methane emissions under the CDM, there will be no global climate benefit because the polluter that buys the offset avoids the obligation to reduce its own emissions.

A CDM credit is known as a certified emission reduction (CER), and is supposed to represent one tonne of carbon dioxide not emitted to the atmosphere. Industrialised countries’ governments buy the CERs and use them to prove to the UN that they have met their obligations under Kyoto to “reduce” their emissions. Companies can also buy CERs to comply with national-level legislation or with the EU’s emissions trading scheme. Analysts estimate that two-thirds of the emission reduction obligations of the key developed countries that ratified Kyoto may be met through buying offsets rather than by decarbonising their economies.

Almost all the demand for CERs has so far come from Europe and Japan. In the next few years, Australia and Canada could become significant CER buyers. In the longer term, the US could become the largest single market for CDM offsets under legislation being debated. The climate plan by Republican presidential hopeful John McCain would allow supposed emission reductions in the US to be met through domestic and CDM offsets.

Around 2bn CERs are expected to be generated by the end of this phase of Kyoto in 2012. At their current price, project developers will sell around £18bn-worth of CDM credits over the next five years. The CDM approved its 1,000th project on April 15. More than twice as many are making their way through the approvals process.

Marginal improvement

Any type of technology other than nuclear power can apply for credits. Even new coal plants, if these can be shown to be even a marginal improvement upon existing plants, can receive offset income. A massive 4,000MW coal plant on the coast of Gujarat, India, is expected soon to apply for CERs. The plant will spew into the atmosphere 26m tonnes of CO2 per year for at least 25 years. It will be India’s third – and the world’s 16th – largest source of CO2 emissions.

Many observers had hoped that the CDM would promote renewables and energy efficiency. Yet if all projects now in the pipeline generated the CERs they are claiming up to 2012, non-hydro renewables would attract only 16% of CDM funds, and demand-side energy efficiency projects just 1%. Only 16 solar power projects – less than 0.5% of the project pipeline – have applied for CDM approval.

For a project to be eligible to sell offsets, it is supposed to prove that it is “additional”. “Additionality” is key to the design of the CDM. If projects would happen anyway, regardless of CDM benefits, then their offsets would not represent any reduction in emissions.

But judging additionality has turned out to be unknowable and unworkable. It can never be definitively proved that if a developer or factory owner did not get offset income they would not build their project or switch to a cleaner fuel supply- and would not do so over the decade for which projects can sell offsets.

The documents written by carbon consultants to justify why their clients’ projects should be approved for CDM offsets contain enough lies to make a sub-prime mortgage pusher blush. One commonly used “scam” is to make a proposed project look like an economic loser on its own, but a profitable earner once offset income is factored in. Examples include the Indian wind developers who failed to tell the CDM about the lucrative tax credits their projects were earning.

Off-the-record, industry insiders will admit that deceitful claims in CDM applications are standard practice. The carbon trading industry lobby group, the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), has stated that proving the intent of developers applying for the CDM “is an almost impossible task”. Industry representatives have complained that “good storytellers” can get a project approved, “while bad storytellers may fail even if the project is really additional”.

One glaring signal that many of the projects being approved by the CDM’s executive board are non-additional is that almost three-quarters of projects were already complete at the time of approval. It would seem clear that a project that is already built cannot need extra income in order to be built.

Michael Wara, a law professor and carbon trade analyst from Stanford University, and Victor show in a recent paper that “essentially all” new hydro, wind and natural gas fired projects being built in China are now applying for CDM offsets. If the developers are being truthful that their projects are additional, this implies that without the CDM virtually no hydro, wind or gas projects would be under construction in China. Given the boom in construction of power projects in China, the fact that it is government policy to promote these project types, and the fact that thousands of hydro projects have been built in China without any help from the CDM, this is simply not credible.

Additionality also creates perverse incentives for developing country governments not to bring in, or enforce, climate-friendly legislation. Why should a government voluntarily act to cap methane from its landfills or encourage energy efficiency if in doing so it makes these activities “business-as-usual”, and so not additional and not eligible for CDM income?

Waste gases

The project type slated to generate the most CERs is the destruction of a gas called trifluoromethane, or HFC-23, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, and a waste product from the manufacture of a refrigerant gas. Every molecule of HFC-23 causes 11,700 times more global warming than that of CO2. Because of this massive “global warming potential”, chemical companies can earn almost twice as much from selling CERs as from selling refrigerant gases. This has spurred concern that refrigerant producers may be increasing their output solely so that they can produce, and then destroy, more waste gases.

A rapidly growing industry of carbon brokers and consultants is lobbying for the CDM to be expanded and its rules to be weakened further. If we want to sustain public support for effective global action on climate change, we cannot risk one of its central planks being a programme that is so fundamentally flawed. In the short term, the CDM must be radically reformed. In the long term it must be replaced.

* Patrick McCully is the former executive director of International Rivers and is now executive director of Blackrock Solar which provides not-for-profit entities, tribes and underserved communities with access to clean energy, education, and job training.

Chapter 6: Deforestation and Reforestation

I have heard it said in Central America that in global terms Central America’s forests are of little or no significance. Clear nonsense at all levels; but if a case has to be made for their significance, then Hurricane Mitch can make it for Central America at a local and regional level.

Chapter 6 starts with a short discussion of the links between deforestation and the vulnerability (as exposed by Hurricane Mitch) of the Central American population. The subject of deforestation and reforestation are covered through the following sub-headings.

Key words: Slash-and-burn | Nutrient reduction | Intensive, non-rotational systems | TNC land takeovers | Forest definitions | Timber industry | Illegal logging | Olancho Environmental Movement (MAO) | Carbon sequestration | Carbon trading | Clean Development Mechanism | Certified emission reductions (CERs) | Cap and trade | Carbon offsetting | Monoculture tree plantations | Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) | Reforestation | Timber certification | Mangrove loss | Shrimp farming | Community forestry