Eye on the Amazon

Lesson from Durban

We are the climate changers we've been waiting for

Another global climate conference has come and gone, another heartbreaking missed opportunity for humanity to actually do something about impending climate chaos. As noted in a December 16th New York Times editorial, "Once again, the world's negotiators kicked the can down the road."

The emerging consensus is that grassroots social movements can't count on our governments to solve the climate & energy crisis. They are simply too bought off by the Pollution-Industrial Complex (read: oil, gas, and coal companies) and plenty of other corporate interests to adopt a climate responsible energy policy. Exhibit A: The U.S. Congress pushing the Keystone XL pipeline.

The outcome of the Durban conference likely means postponing climate action till 2020 at the earliest. It's well understood that this spells a recipe for global disaster. Even prior to Durban the International Energy Agency's chief economist warned, "If we do not have an international agreement, whose effect is put in place by 2017, then the door to holding temperatures to 2C of warming will be closed forever."

Unfortunately, that agreement doesn't appear to be forthcoming. So it's up to you and me to stop global greenhouse gas emissions in whatever way we can. As long as there's paralysis at the top, change is going to have to sprout bottom-up from the grassroots.

Given all the extreme energy projects in the pipeline, our work is cut out for all of us. In the U.S. and Canada, there's the Keystone XL pipeline. Here and around the world we're seeing the emergence of hydrofracking projects for natural gas. And many other oil extraction projects are underway or otherwise planned for the world's most fragile eco-systems.

In addition to stopping emissions at their source, we must continue campaigning for the world's rainforests. The mighty Amazon is already reaching the tipping point, potentially starting down the road of inexorable ecological collapse in the next few years. Given the role of the Amazon in moderating the climate – not to mention its importance to the millions of people who live there – we cannot afford to allow the potential death of the world's largest rainforest.

Beyond many false solutions that are being proposed to reduce deforestation – many guaranteed to generate profits for investors but not-so-guaranteed to actually save the forests – Amazon Watch continues to support the true forest defenders and its best guardians: indigenous peoples.

One example of Amazon Watch's climate work is based on an interesting indigenous proposal for forest protection policies coming out of the Peruvian Amazon. Our colleagues at AIDESEP – Peru's largest Amazonian indigenous federation – have devised a rights-based approach called "Indigenous REDD", adopting the climate vernacular for "reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation."

Key components of their framework include legal recognition of millions of hectares of indigenous territory, strict respect of the central indigenous right to free, prior, and informed consent, support for community management of forests, and keeping indigenous territories out of carbon markets. For a critical overview of the situation in Peru regarding implementation of forest carbon projects and the Indigenous REDD proposal, please see the recent report co-authored by AIDESEP and Forest Peoples Programme, The Reality of REDD+ in Peru.

It's worth mentioning that other indigenous allies issued strong statements during and following Durban. A number of indigenous leaders from around the world came together and formed a new coalition, called the Indigenous Peoples Biocultural Climate Change Initiative. In a statement issued on November 26th, they issued a trenchant critique of REDD stating:

"REDD+ policies and projects are directly targeting Indigenous Peoples and their territories, as this is where the remaining forests are found. Corporations, conservation organizations and powerful state agencies will capture the benefits by grabbing forest land and reaching unfair and manipulated agreements with forest-dwelling indigenous peoples. REDD+ is triggering conflicts, corruption, evictions and other human rights violations. Calculating how much carbon is stored in forests (monitoring, reporting and verification) is a very complicated and expensive process, and indigenous knowledge is being ignored within it. As a result, the overwhelming majority of REDD+ funding will end up in the hands of consultants, NGOs and carbon brokers like the World Bank."

The delegation from Indigenous Environmental Network left Durban issuing a call for a moratorium on REDD, quoting Ecuadorian indigenous leader and long-time Amazon Watch collaborator Marlon Santi as saying:

"We are here to express our concern about the false solutions that have made a business out of climate change. For indigenous Peoples, the way of life we maintain in our territories is sacred. Therefore, we see carbon markets as a hypocrisy that will not detain global warming. With this moratorium, we alert our peoples about the risks that come with REDD+: threats against our rights and those of our Mother Earth, with the attempts to turn our lands and our forests into a waste-basket for carbon, while those responsible for the crisis continue reaping the benefits."

In addition to campaigning to strengthen indigenous rights in the context of climate solutions, Amazon Watch will continue to work with our indigenous and other allies to challenge the real drivers of deforestation and climate change – industrial mega-projects like the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil, unwanted oil exploration by companies like Talisman Energy in Peru, and roads through indigenous territories such as the proposed TIPNIS road in Bolivia.

It is clearly no longer sufficient to pin our hopes on our elected officials to do the right thing for the climate. Yes, we will continue to hold them accountable. But ever more each day, we must take our future into our own hands. We must become the agents for change (and against climate change) that we have been waiting for.

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