Earth Day in Bolivia

From Copenhagen to Cancun, Indigenous Peoples Vow to Defend the "Rights of Mother Earth" & Condemn Predatory 'REDD' Forest Programs

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Cochabamba, Bolivia: As Earth Day celebrations commenced around the world, Indigenous Peoples from across the Americas gathered in Cochabamba, Bolivia to close the historic conference on climate change and the "Rights of Mother Earth" hosted by President Evo Morales.

Morales, the only Indigenous Head of State in the world, called this conference in the wake of failed climate talks in Copenhagen. As the world prepares for the next round of talks in Cancún, Mexico, Indigenous Peoples vowed on Earth Day 2010 to push for proposals that keep fossil fuels in the ground, protect Indigenous rights, and reject predatory policies like REDD (Reducing Emissions Through Deforestation & Degradation).

"REDD is branded as a friendly forest conservation program, yet it is backed by big polluters and climate profiteers. We cannot solve this crisis with out addressing the root cause: a fossil fuel economy that disregards the rights of Mother Earth," said Alberto Saldamando, legal counsel for the International Indian Treaty Council.

"President Morales has heard our recommendations on the structural causes of climate change and predatory carbon schemes like REDDs, and will bring our voices to the world stage in Cancún later this year."

President Morales was joined by representatives of 90 governments and several Heads of State to receive the findings of the conference on topics such as a Climate Tribunal, Climate Debt, just finance for mitigation and adaptation, agriculture, and forests.

The working group on forests held one of the more hotly contested negotiations of the summit, but with the leadership of Indigenous Peoples, a consensus was reached to reject REDD and call for wide-scale grassroots reforestation programs. The final declaration on forests states, "We condemn the mechanisms of the neoliberal market, such as the REDD mechanism and its versions REDD+ and REDD++, which are violating the sovereignty of our Peoples and their rights to free, prior and informed consent and self determination." The working group on forests also challenged the definition of forests used by the United Nations, which permits plantations and transgenic trees, saying, "Monocultures are not forests."

"REDD is not a solution to climate change," said Marlon Santi, President of CONAIE, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, the largest Indigenous organization in that country. "REDD has been created by multilateral institutions like the World Bank that routinely violate Indigenous Peoples' rights and pollute Mother Earth. It is perverse that these institutions are pretending to have the 'solution' when they have actually caused the climate crisis. REDD should not be implemented in any country or community."

"REDD is a predatory program that pretends to save forests and the climate, while backhandedly selling out forests out from under our Indigenous Peoples," said Tom Goldtooth, Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), based in Bemidji, MN. "REDD will encourage continuing pollution and global warming, while displacing those of us least responsible for the crisis, who have been stewards of the forests since time immemorial."

The declarations forged by the working groups in Cochabamba will be taken to the Cancún summit by President Morales as a counter-proposal to the widely criticized "Copenhagen Accord." Movements of Indigenous Peoples, trade unions, farmers and environmentalists are also building momentum out of Cochabamba with plans for mass demonstrations in Cancún.

While it may be true that monocultures of trees are not natural forests, per se, they still are much better than no forests at all, I would like to add to this.

It is true that I am a professional forester and hence commercial forestry is part of my metier people may say that I have a vested interest but the wholesale condemnation of professional forestry and commercial forestry is getting us nowhere either.

Commercial forestry can be sustainable and the operations in Britain and continental Europe show this. Any group of trees is a forests or at least a woodland, unless those trees are fruit trees and they they are an orchard.

So, let's get real. None of those constructed programs are any solution and the changing climate is but one problem that we are facing. Climate change is, however, hijacking the entire environmental agenda.

When it comes to carbon capture, forests are more important than anything and a young growth forests absorbs more carbon than any old growth, thus plantations of trees, for commercial forestry, and especially in management systems such as coppicing are an ideal solution.

© 2010