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Will Programs to Off-Set Carbon Emissions Fuel Further Conflict in Bolivia's Forests?

The question in Bolivia and all over the Global South is whether forests should be protected, for a price, and who gets a share of that money.

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Morales' government was elected on the promise that it would rewrite Bolivia's long history of exploitation -- and that the natural resources of the country would at last be used for the benefit of the Bolivian people. This, for MAS and its supporters, involves an ambitious program of industrialisation: including gas extraction, dams and a network of roads. But the government has also championed the rights of indigenous people and the 'rights of mother earth' in national and international fora. It is the clash between these two visions, along with a large injection of Brazilian money and a particularly heavy-handed approach by the government's police force, that sparked the ugly scenes on the 25th of September.

Conflict is not the only story to be told about Bolivia -- lowland indigenous groups and migrant farmers from the highlands have worked together for many years, despite diverging interests in the forest.

Along with other key social movements, they formed a powerful coalition called the "Pact of Unity," which has been an important player in Bolivian politics. In one instance from the recent conflict, the lowland marchers were welcomed with applause in a town where confrontations were feared. But whether a cooperative framework can hold up in a context of conflicting claims to large amounts of international carbon market money, and a fierce struggle over which vision of 'development' the country should pursue, remains to be seen. The public agreement between the government and CIDOB on forest carbon payments contains little more detail than promises to develop plans and share documents.

The fates of many ordinary people in Bolivia -- and of similar communities across the globe -- will be in play as technocrats discuss plans for forest carbon trading at the upcoming UN climate negotiations in Durban. As Marcos Nordgren Ballivián, climate change analyst with Bolivian organization CIPCA told us last year: "tensions already exist, and with a new source of profits such as REDD could prove to be, it might cause problems...But we'll have to see how REDD is organized, because that will define, of course, if these conflicts are worsened."  

Kylie Benton-Connell worked with the Democracy Center in Cochabamba, Bolivia from February 2010 to June 2011, where she authored the report "Off the Market: Bolivian forests and struggles over climate change."

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