Forests, Climate and Communities Need System Change Not Offsets

A Response from Global Justice Ecology Project to the “Stand4Forests” Platform & a Call for Further Debate

 

The Dogwood Alliance is currently circulating a sign-on letter called “Stand4Forests.” [1] It is a platform which emphasizes U.S. forest protection as a key strategy for preventing climate catastrophe, and points out that the communities at the frontlines of forest destruction are “often the same ones who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and face oppressive polluting and extractive industries.” In doing so, Dogwood aims to build a united front for saving U.S. forests.

We write today to urge further debate on the content of this platform. While we feel that the current content is sound, there are intentional omissions which undermine its important intent. 

At the invitation of Dogwood Alliance, Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP) participated in constructing their platform. We know that in any collaborative effort, there are always necessary compromises, but the refusal to include language denouncing carbon offsets and the fact that the platform is not firmly rooted in the need for systemic transformation prevents us from endorsing it or urging others to do so. For this reason, and because we are accountable to frontline and grassroots allies globally, we feel we must explain our concerns.

Without a direct denunciation of forest carbon offsets as an unjust and false solution that ultimately condemns both forests and communities, and without an emphasis on the fundamental need to challenge and transform the current dominant political and economic systems that are driving forest destruction, social injustice and the climate crisis, the platform risks being an exercise in futility.

The myth of offsetting carbon emissions with forests

Forest carbon offsets neither protect forests nor reduce emissions. They allow continuation of business as usual. Under forest carbon offset schemes including the international program Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), forests are priced according to the carbon they contain, and credits can be earned by preserving those forests. Through their Carbon Canopy Program [2], Dogwood Alliance promotes carbon offsets to landowners with an emphasis on selling that carbon to the California carbon market, under California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32). Under AB32, corporations can buy permits to create emissions above the otherwise-allowed limit in California.

That means two things: locally, for example, at the notorious Chevron refinery in Richmond, California, “offset” emissions will continue to devastate surrounding communities, and the gross level of emissions remains the same. [3]

California’s Environmental Justice Advisory Committee denounced offsets, stating, “…environmental justice communities are disproportionately impacted by climate polluters, [and] excessive use of offsets denies environmental justice communities the benefits of on-site reductions…” [4]

The tortured equations of forest carbon offsets also impact Indigenous and forest dependent communities globally, through forced relocations of entire societies so that governments can take over forests and sell the carbon stored as offsets. [5]

Beyond the social injustice of forest carbon offsets is the simple scientific fact that offsets literally mean a net result of standing in place. [6] If today’s living species are to survive, this will not suffice; what is required are drastic reductions in emissions at the source.

Any hope for eventually stabilizing the climate cannot include only maintaining and restoring forests, it must include dramatically cutting emissions and leaving fossil fuels in the ground. Forest carbon offsets are an unjust false solution to climate change that enables business and pollution as usual, condemning forests and communities globally to its devastating impacts. In not denouncing offsets, the Stand4Forests letter leaves the door wide open for them and risks defeating its own purpose.

To protect forests and communities from the impacts of climate catastrophe, we must actively oppose unjust market-based and profit-oriented false solutions to climate change. If what is proposed as a solution to catastrophic climate change jeopardizes other people or ecosystems it cannot claim to be just or sustainable.

To keep forests standing, we must fundamentally transform the dominant political and economic systems and transition to small-scale, local and traditional systems.

We are already beginning to see the result of this suicidal political and economic system in the form of climate and other crises, including loss of fresh water and arable land, ocean collapse, mass-extinction, extreme weather; and escalating human rights abuses including forced displacements, migrations and genocide.

These systems cannot be simply reformed. We must organize to fundamentally confront and transform them. Even the generally conservative National Academy of Sciences agrees. A paper they published on August 6th concludes, [A] Stabilized Earth trajectory requires deliberate management of humanity’s relationship with the rest of the Earth System if the world is to avoid crossing a planetary threshold. We suggest that a deep transformation based on a fundamental reorientation of human values, equity, behavior, institutions, economies, and technologies is required.” [7]

But we in the U.S. cannot achieve this transformation alone. We must act in unity with allies globally.

International solidarity is fundamental to solving the climate crisis. It is critical to defend the traditional knowledge and rights of Indigenous and land-based communities around the world that have been living harmoniously and sustainably with the Earth for millennia. This will help ensure that long-term solutions to climate change, based in their traditional knowledge, are protected.
 
During the UN Climate Conference in Poznan, Poland in 2008, the international Climate Justice Now! alliance issued a statement titled Radical New Agenda Needed to Achieve Climate Justice, [8] which points out, “We will not be able to stop climate change if we don’t change the neo-liberal and corporate-based economy which stops us from achieving sustainable societies. Corporate globalisation must be stopped.”
 
“Indigenous Peoples, peasant communities, fisherfolk, and especially women in these communities, have been living harmoniously and sustainably with the Earth for millennia. They are not only the most affected by climate change, but also by its false solutions, such as agrofuels, mega-dams, genetic modification, tree plantations and carbon offset schemes. Instead of market led schemes, their sustainable practices should be seen as offering the real solutions to climate change.”

 
About Global Justice Ecology Project [9]

Global Justice Ecology Project co-founders Anne Petermann and Orin Langelle have worked together on justice-based forest protection and Indigenous Rights campaigns from local to national to international since 1991. GJEP co-founded the Durban Group for Climate Justice (Durban, South Africa 2004), Climate Justice Now! (Bali, Indonesia 2007), and Climate Justice Action (Copenhagen, Denmark 2008), all of which have deep and powerful critiques of carbon offsets and carbon markets. GJEP is also a founding member of the U.S. Climate Justice Alliance and Coordinates the global Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees.

GJEP Campaigner Ruddy Turnstone was invited by Dogwood Alliance to participate in the editing process of the platform and did until its finalization. Ruddy is GJEP’s Genetically Engineered Trees Campaigner and has been working with direct action groups to protect forests, other ecosystems and peoples since 2007.

Notes

[1] Stand4Forests Platform https://stand4forests.org/  According to Dogwood Alliance, “For the past 7 months, over 25 environmental organizations and climate justice leaders have worked together to develop the Stand4Forests national platform. This platform’s goal is to elevate the call to protect US forests and is seeking endorsement by organizations, elected officials, scientists and other movement leaders.”

[2] https://www.dogwoodalliance.org/our-work/forests-climate/carbon-canopy/

[3] The toxic impacts of Chevron’s carbon offsets on the community of Richmond and the threats carbon offsets pose to Indigenous communities is documented in GJEP’s film A Darker Shade of Green: REDD Alert and the Future of Forests https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPFPUhsWMaQ.

[4] California’s Environmental Justice Advisory Committee statement:  https://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/ejac/meetings/02142017/20170215ca-ej-declaration-on-carbon-pricing-reform-approved.pdf   Also see: REDD-Monitor http://www.redd-monitor.org/2017/03/02/californias-environmental-justice-advisory-committee-opposes-carbon-trading/

[5] For more recent information on carbon market schemes, see http://www.ienearth.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Carbon-Pricing-A-Critical-Perspective-for-Community-Resistance-Online-Version.pdf

[6] By the 1950s many scientists were already concerned about greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming. This trend was being noted even though at that time, the Earth still contained over 25% more native forest cover than it does now [6] and emissions were 22% less than now. What these numbers say is that, in the 1950s when the size of forests on the planet was considerably greater than it is now (by an area larger than the size of India), and CO2 emissions were much lower, the forests still could not compensate for fossil fuel emissions. With the scales tipped far further, there is no way for the earth’s remaining forests to offset emissions. See UN Food and Agriculture State of the World’s Forests http://www.fao.org/publications/sofo/en/  and NOAA CO2 Data 1958 to Present https://www.co2.earth/monthly-co2

[7] Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences August 2018, “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/07/31/1810141115

[8] Radical New Agenda to Achieve Climate Justice http://www.carbontradewatch.org/archive/poznan-statement-from-the-climate-justice-now-alliance-2.html

[9] https://globaljusticeecology.org/about/

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Carbon Trading: A Critical Conversation on Climate Change, Privatization and Power https://www.academia.edu/3876008/Carbon_Trading_A_Critical_Conversation_on_Climate_Change_Privatization_and_Power_BOOK_

Critical Currents: Carbon Trading – How it Works and Why it Fails http://www.carbontradewatch.org/publications/carbon-trading-how-it-works-and-why-it-fails.html

The Green Shock Doctrine https://globaljusticeecology.org/green-shock-doctrine/

Orin Langelle photo essay on impacts of forest carbon offsets  Chiapas, Mexico: From Living in the jungle to ‘existing’ in “little houses made of ticky-tacky…” https://photolangelle.org/2012/10/chiapas-mexico-from-living-in-the-jungle-to-existing-in-little-houses-made-of-ticky-tacky-3/

The Bali Principles of Climate Justice (2002) https://www.ejnet.org/ej/bali.pdf

 

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