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Is REDD the New Green? Why a Much-Hyped Carbon Offset Program May Do More Harm Than Good

There's a real division, not only between rich countries who are very much for this and others, but also in the progressive community.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the U.N. climate talks in Cancún, Mexico. Is REDD the new Green? That’s R-E-D-D, which stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. Well, it’s a mouthful, but to talk more about REDD, which is being talked about all over the U.N. climate talks, we’re joined by Anne Petermann, executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project.

There’s a real division, not only between rich countries who are very much for this and others, but also in the progressive community. You have a number of indigenous groups that are for REDD and also many who are opposed. Anne Petermann, talk about exactly what REDD is without using the U.N. diplo talk.

ANNE PETERMANN: As you said, it’s supposed to be about reducing emissions from deforestation. Unfortunately, if you really look at the agreements and what’s behind it, you find that that’s not exactly what REDD is designed to do. REDD is being pushed by the United States as a way for industries and Northern countries, industrialized nations, to avoid actually reducing their emissions at the source. So, countries and companies can continue polluting by saying that they’re protecting forests somewhere else that will supposedly sequester the carbon that they’re putting out into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, there’s absolutely no credible science behind the notion of offsets. So, in fact, what’s going to happen is, because they’re not reducing their carbon emissions, global warming will continue, which will inevitably damage, destroy and completely eliminate forests, eventually, if global warming isn’t stopped.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait. Now, so explain how it works. Take a company and how they want to continue polluting somewhere, and then what exactly they do to get the carbon offset?

ANNE PETERMANN: Well, the idea is that instead of, for example, BP or Shell reducing their own emissions, they can buy some forests in another place, say Brazil, and protect the carbon in that forest so that that supposedly offsets the carbon that they’re putting into the atmosphere. But in order to actually secure that carbon and to say, OK, the carbon in this area is not going to be disturbed in any way, it requires making sure that there aren’t any people who could use that carbon, either for shelter, for firewood or anything like that, which is why a number of indigenous groups are opposing this, saying that this is going to displace indigenous communities. This is going to have very serious impacts on indigenous communities while allowing pollution and global warming to continue.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, several of the world’s most prominent backers of REDD met in Cancún at a public forum. The speakers included the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, financier George Soros, Walmart chairman Bob Walton. The longtime conservationist Jane Goodall spoke by video, as did the Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, all in support of REDD. World Bank president Robert Zoellick gave the keynote address.

ROBERT ZOELLICK: It’s absolutely clear that REDD-plus enjoys very broad support all around the world. And it’s pretty easy to see why. It offers some very significant opportunities, as Dr. Goodall said, to achieve multiple goals: trying to mitigate climate change, of course, but also improving local livelihoods, protecting species, restoring biodiversity and ecosystems, while improving local livelihoods. Now, you’ve just heard hope from Dr. Goodall that the foot soldiers of the forest protection are expecting REDD-plus to open a new area of opportunity for habitat protection and community development, as well. So we really need this Cancún COP meeting to adopt a decision on REDD-plus.

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