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Speech: Forests and climate change

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 7 Nov 2011

Adjournment speech, Monday 7 November 2011

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (22:15): On the eve of the historic passing of the climate bills, it is timely to discuss rainforest degradation, internationally recognised as a major contributor to climate change. Any plan to tackle climate change must include the urgent prevention of deforestation. This is clearly an issue of climate justice. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 2007 fourth assessment report estimated that deforestation and degradation contribute globally to approximately 17 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions. This is more than the global transportation sector, third only to the global energy sector, at 26 per cent, and the industrial sector, at 19 per cent.

Tropical forests such as those found in Brazil and Indonesia are the largest terrestrial storehouses of carbon in the world. But, when they are logged or burned, the carbon they contain is released and they become massive emitters of carbon into the atmosphere. The UN states that tropical deforestation now accounts for nearly 20 per cent of all global warming pollution—more than the combined emissions of every car, truck, ship, plane and train on the planet. At the same time, it reduces the planet's ability to absorb carbon dioxide. More than three-quarters of the world's accessible fresh water comes from forested catchments. As forest cover decreases, so does water quality. Deforestation causes an increase in natural hazards such us floods, landslides and soil erosion.

So how do we ensure that we protect our forests and maintain low greenhouse gas emissions? AusAID, other bilateral aid programs and a number of multilateral agencies are promoting REDD as a way to protect forests and address climate change. REDD stands for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation. Increasingly, it is being seen as a highly controversial forestry initiative. The UN threw its weight behind REDD in 2008. The UN's REDD Program has 36 partner countries, spanning Africa, the Asia-Pacific and Latin America, and at least 13 countries are already involved.

Put simply, REDD schemes create market based offsets by putting a value on the carbon stored in forests. They claim to offer developing countries an incentive to protect and better manage their forest resources and, by doing so, also contribute to the global fight against climate change. When developed countries pay developing countries REDD offsets for their intact forests, they shift responsibility for addressing climate change from rich, developed countries onto poor, developing nations. They do not address the causes of global warming.

There have been strong criticisms of the many flaws and negative consequences of REDD schemes. The Greens share these concerns. One criticism is that it is an offset scheme that invites developed countries to offset their responsibilities to make the larger cuts they should be obliged to achieve through domestic greenhouse gas reductions. The Australian government has done just that, giving $200 million in overseas aid to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea to offset its domestic responsibility to reduce greenhouse emissions under a REDD program.

A report published in 2009 by AID/WATCH and Friends of the Earth Australia titled What a scam: Australia's REDD offsets for Copenhagen, revealed why the Australian REDD offset program breaches Australia's international obligations to the UN requirement that climate aid only be granted in addition to development assistance. It makes a convincing case that Australia's REDD offsets are aimed not at reducing deforestation but at creating a source of cheap credits for increased emissions in Australia.

The report also exposes how Australia's 'first large scale' REDD pilot scheme's documentation failed to acknowledge the rights of local forest dependent communities, or the opposition from local people who do not want REDD offset schemes in their area. Unlike other REDD agreements, the Australian agreement with Indonesia failed to guarantee indigenous rights—another breach of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, signed by Australia in April 2009.

Another criticism of REDD is the methodology used to assess the value of the carbon abatement in the REDD scheme. This year Greenpeace UK released a report which scrutinised the work of a consultancy firm, McKinsey and Company, and their advice to rainforest countries including Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. The report argued that the 'McKinsey cost curve'—a tool used to measure the cost-effectiveness of carbon abatement strategies, including REDD—was an 'optical illusion' that overstated the destructive impact on small landholders and farmers. This leads to large-scale land acquisition by plantation companies. The report also downplayed the environmental impact of industrial logging and deforestation for plantations. REDD programs can also drive governments to plan for deforestation so that they can claim a carbon credit when they stop those plans. In Indonesia, plantations for pulp and paper have destroyed much of Indonesia's rainforest. Indonesia is now planning to allow more extensive logging operations on its largely forested islands, such as Kalimantan, the home of the endangered Bornean orangutan. Getting a good price for carbon credits will not save these forests.

In 2008, the then Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, and the President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, established the Indonesia-Australia Forest Carbon Partnership to support practical cooperation on REDD. To date, Australia has committed $40 million to assist Indonesia build and create the conditions to develop REDD projects. This incorporates $30 million for the Kalimantan partnership and a $10 million bilateral package to support the development of Indonesian climate related forest policy.

The AusAID Kalimantan project is quite controversial in Indonesia. Water Land Foundation, an NGO in central Kalimantan known locally as Yayasan Petak Danum, has taken up the problems with this project. It has raised its concerns with how AusAID has handled the criticism. Following an exchange of letters between AusAID and the foundation, the locals felt that the Australian aid organisation was trying to placate the critics of the project rather than seriously address them. Few of the points raised by the foundation in its letter are acknowledged by AusAID to be genuine points of concern about this project. The foundation had written:

… we appeal to your delegation to urge the Australian Government to withhold funding from the KFCP project until the issues raised in this letter are resolved.

However, AusAID, rather than work with a local NGO of high standing, ignored its appeals. Maybe they disagreed with them. Maybe they considered the issues raised by the foundation to be either resolved or in the process of being resolved. But the key issues of working with forest-dependent communities have not been addressed.

The UN estimates that worldwide as many as 300 million people, most of them very poor, depend substantially on forest ecosystems for their subsistence and survival. The 60 million indigenous people who live in forest areas are especially dependent on forest resources and the health of forest ecosystems. REDD threatens their sovereign rights by imposing global commercial pressures on their local communities, denying them the right to self-determination. The problem was summed up on the REDD-Monitor website. Many of the countries hoping to implement REDD are riddled with corruption, illegal logging and a failure to respect land rights and indigenous people's rights. The forestry ministries in these countries are often among the most corrupt institutions in the government. Pouring money into these countries in the hope that it will help reduce deforestation is like pouring water into a leaky bucket.

These problems raise the question of where REDD fits in the carbon credit aspect of Australia's new clean energy fund. There are too many problems with REDD for it to be accepted as a legitimate carbon reduction strategy under Australia's carbon price package. We need to take responsibility for our own carbon emissions and work in a constructive way with low-income countries rather than impose an unfair scheme on disadvantaged people in these countries. We need to significantly reduce our greenhouse gas burden before we start imposing such difficulties on these people.

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