REDD Teach-In

Friday, December 2

REDD stands for the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries.
The idea is that forest-dwelling peoples around the world will be paid not to cut down their habitats. Where will this money come from? There’s the rub. In most cases it will come in the form of “offsets” from polluting industries in the global North. The resemblance to the medieval Catholic system of pardons is striking: you sin, and then you pay to have your sin forgiven. But in this case the scenario is infinitely more corrupt, since these environmental pardons also often involve preventing forest-dwelling peoples continuing to access their land. It’s essentially one of the most vast schemes of what Marx called primitive accumulation ever developed.

The REDD Teach-In was introduced by Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network:

When IEN first began working on these issues they very quickly realized that they needed to form links with people in the global South because when they pushed out a refinery or a toxic waste facility in the US, the facility very quickly just moved to the South.

We are taking responsibility for moving to an alternative towards a more sustainable model in the US, but we’re also interested in linking up with our brothers and sisters in the global South.  We’re also part of the Durban Group, a formation that emerged in early 2000s to strategize on how to confront the UN’s emerging attempt to use carbon markets to make money. Our discussions anticipated the Clean Development Mechanism, and we released a statement condemning use of carbon offsets. One of the groups that met with us was Carbon Trade Watch, which helps challenge this new regime — backed by financial institutions and governments of the North. A lot of governments don’t like what we do because they are invested in financial speculation that is directly linked to the carbon market.

After this introduction by Goldtooth, we broke into small groups and did a very North American workshop. First we introduced ourselves and talked about our favorite color and fruit. Then we each were given keywords linked to REDD and asked to define them.  The point of this was to see what kinds of associations people have with the central terms being used in REDD discourse. The group leader then mentioned that these keywords are defined in two recently published pamphlets.

Next we heard a speaker from Brazil talk about a particular REDD project:

This project was based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The company buying the carbon credits is the Disney Company, and the company selling them is Conservation International, a big American NGO. The project is based in eastern Congo, an area that has been wracked by civil war. You arrive there and find that conservationists have been struggling to save gorrillas, and protecting the forest in order to do so. They tried to do this by creating what they call a “community reserve.” Sounds good, right? A place for the community? But what it is really is a national park in which the guarding duty has been pawned off to the local people. We saw that there are many communities
outside the border of the park, with some small development projects to help communities. The Diane Fossey organization had backed this, and people were relatively happy. But then Conservation International arrived. REDD, we discovered, was about taking people out of the park because they disturb the forest. And the local people are now totally against REDD, because it displaces them from their land. We interviewed people and found that they are totally opposed to this project.

We then played a role playing game. The scenario: Conservation International is setting up a REDD project that will offset pollution from a refinery based on a poor community of color in California with a tree plantation in Chiapas. We each drew lots and then played out the roles. I was the project developer. There was also an NGO head supporting the project, a government representative, a California mother and youth, and a community leader from Chiapas. The scenario played out as one would expect, with the first three supporting the project through various forms of sophistry, and the latter three opposing it by pointing out that it would have many negative impacts on their communities. The most exciting moment of the role play came when the youths from Chiapas and California began talking to one another about their experiences of resistance. Other scenarios include the following:

1) You are from a community on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. You live near a REDD forest that is protected and you can no longer enter it. You found out that the government is selling concessions to a coal mining company in the REDD territory. What do you do?

2) You are part of a REDD project in Brazil. A major US oil company has come out to set up the REDD project in your forests and offered you all jobs and money but you won’t be able to use the forest any longer and you will have to travel a long distance to receive the money. What do you do?

3) You are part of a REDD project based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The project is being set up by a major international conservation organization that plans to keep people from entering their forests so they can sell REDD credits on the voluntary carbon market. What do you do?

The conclusion of the teach-in featured a number of speakers giving discussions of concrete examples of REDD. One woman talked about the use of REDD as a strategy for counter-insurgency. Other impacts of REDD include land grabs, a new form of colonialism, servitude and semi-slavery, evictions, huge plantations, threats to cultural survival, and corporate greenwashing.

We’ve heard about conservation refugees. Now we’re on the dawn of the era of REDD refugees. Examples of people who have been placed in this position include the Ogiek refugees in Kenya. Shell is bankrolling REDD projects in places like Indonesia. BP doing REDD in Bolivia, while Chevron-Texaco has a REDD project in Brazil. In Uganda, more than 22,000 people were evicted a month ago in Uganda for a REDD project.

REDD = final phase in colonization of Africa. But all over the world people are saying No REDD.

Concluding remarks by Tom Goldtooth:

Those of you have followed UNFCCC know that it’s been hard to stop REDD on the inside. It seems like it’s a juggernaut that we can’t halt. Even though people see the contradictions, they feel like they have to sign up because the process is inevitable and at least they’ll get some sort of money. We indigenous people know that anytime someone comes and promises money, it’s very hard to resist: we’re dealing with a situation of dire poverty. Part of our strategy for this COP is to continue to educate and inform civil society, because many people in forest communities don’t yet know what’s at stake in REDD. We’re working with organizations like Timberwatch which have been steady in this situation. We’re going to continue to work on grassroots organizations to explain that this could end up being the largest land grab in the history of humanity. Those of you who work on biodiversity
know that REDD is also going to affect your communities. In Nagoa, Japan, a decision was made last year that affects Intellectual Property, leading to privatization of our community knowledge. Now corporations can buy any knowledge, and they know that we’re vulnerable because of our poverty. And they have help from NGOs like the Environmental Defense Fund, which give lots of money to people to support REDD.

We need to tell negotiators here at Durban that the language needs to be stronger — free, prior, and informed consent needs to be part of the treaty. And people have to have the right to say no. And if the countries don’t agree to this, we’re going to ask for a moratorium to any further implementation of REDD. We have to make a stand. That’s why we’re demanding things now, rather than being on our knees. We’re telling our brothers and sisters that we are saying NO to REDD, no to
colonialism, no to capitalism. I’m telling you this now because top NGOs and environmental organizations are already invested in supporting REDD; they tell us there is no alternative to REDD. But we have many publications that explain what to do. It doesn’t take money to save the trees; in fact, money has been the cause of the destruction of forests. What we really need are real solutions, systemic change not climate

Ashley Dawson

Ashley Dawson is professor of postcolonial studies in the English department at the Graduate Center, City University of New York and the College of Staten Island. His latest books include People’s Power: Reclaiming the Energy Commons (O/R, 2020), Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change (Verso, 2017), and Extinction: A Radical History (O/R, 2016). A member of the Social Text Collective and the founder of the CUNY Climate Action Lab, he is a long-time climate justice activist.