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Public Comment to California Air Resources Board Considering the Adoption of a Proposed California Cap on Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Market-Based Compliance Mechanisms Regulation, Including Compliance Offset Protocols

Comments Written and Presented by Jeff Conant, GJEP Media Coordinator on December 16th, 2010

Good morning, and thank you, Madam Chair and Members of the Board, for the opportunity to share testimony here today.

California has always been a leader in environmental policy and environmental action, and is set to be a leader in climate legislation as well.  But leadership in this field will not happen through offset-based emissions reductions. My comments today are in regard to offsets in general, but specifically in regards to forest protocol and the program known as REDD — Reducing emissions from Deforestation and Degradation. I understand that the offset protocol through REDD is not on the table today, but the decisions made here today will open the door for the REDD protocol, which exemplifies all of the problems with offsets in general.

Offsets do not and will not provide real emissions reductions; as the name implies, they will offset the responsibility of the state and polluting industries. On the one hand, this will allow pollution in California to continue largely unabated (both in the form of Co2 emissions and in the form of the more immediate toxic threats of releases from refineries, incinerators, power plants, chemical factories, and agriculture), leading to the kinds of immediate health impacts we see around the Richmond refineries, Kettleman City, West Oakland, Fresno, and other industrially impacted areas. I would recommend that offset allowances within AB32 be kept to a strict minimum in order to truly encourage clean and green economic alternatives for California.

I have just returned from the United Nations Climate Summit in Cancun, Mexico, where REDD was one of the most controversial topics on the table. 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.”  On its face, the idea of “reducing emissions from deforestation” is extremely appealing. But the devil, as they say, is in the details. A vocal core of forest-dependent communities, environmental justice advocates, Indigenous organizations, and global South social movements see REDD as exactly the wrong approach to combat climate change.

While offset-based climate legislation in California will be problematic for California’s most vulnerable communities, it will also bring potentially devastating impacts to the developing world communities on the other side of the offset equation. REDD will restrict access to forests for livelihoods and cultural practices; it will reduce biodiversity; it will force subsistence farmers into the wage economy; it will violate human rights and indigenous rights; and it will not reduce global warming. If we are seeing clearcutting as a potential generator of offsets under AB32 here in California where we have some of the strongest environmental regulations on earth, imagine the potential impacts in the developing world.

We are hearing word of a California-Chiapas REDD partnership that would fall under AB32. I lived for several years in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, and I worked directly with indigenous communities suffering human rights abuses and displacement due to low-intensity warfare. There is a common misconception that the greatest threat to indigenous communities, in Chiapas and elsewhere, is rural poverty and lack of access to economic opportunity. The literature surrounding the REDD program takes this as a basic premise; unfortunately it is a false premise. The greatest threat to indigenous communities in Chiapas is the loss of their livelihoods and their natural resource base to the profit-driven industrial sector that has traditionally sought access to their oil, their timber, their water, their pastureland and their other resources, and which now seeks access to their productive lands for the purpose of producing jatropha curca and other biofuel-producing crops to generate carbon offsets.

A California offset partnership with the state of Chiapas – and California’s support for the REDD program in general – will not only fail to prevent such abuses, it will exacerbate them. An offset-based emissions reduction plan will lead to continuing pollution of California communities on the one hand, and to continuing violations of the rights of indigenous and land-based peoples in the global South on the other. The legislature and the people of California should not be fooled by bait-and-switch carbon trading; let’s take real leadership on climate, and institute real emissions reductions right here at home.