California Cap-and-trade Scheme Could Endanger Rainforest Peoples
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Under California’s new cap-and-trade program, the state is considering allowing a controversial form of carbon credits
that have been rejected by the European Union as ineffective and potentially harmful to rainforests in developing
countries. Now an international coalition of environmental groups including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Sierra
Club California is urging Gov. Jerry Brown to reject the so-called REDD credits, which could endanger the lives and
livelihoods of indigenous forest peoples.
Since California signed a memorandum of understanding in 2010 with Chiapas, Mexico and Acre, Brazil, the state Air
Resources Board has been working to forge an agreement to allow California industries, under the Global Warming
Solutions Act (AB 32), to offset their pollution by purchasing Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation
credits that supposedly promote rainforest conservation in those areas.
A consulting group to the ARB recently released recommendations for the program and is accepting public comments
through May 7. The environmental groups’ letter to Gov. Brown and the ARB
-- on the heels of letters of protests from Indigenous groups in Acre
-- points out deep flaws with the proposal:
[The] proposal is not only unlikely to deliver real, additional and permanent emission reductions, but it would also
prevent Californians from getting the benefits of AB 32 at home. By allowing enterprises to buy international forest
offsets, the amount of industrial emissions within the state would be greater than otherwise allowed by law, exposing people here in California to greater health and
environmental risks, and preventing progressive Californian companies from benefitting from new technologies and
“REDD looks like a forest protection program,” said Jeff Conant, international forests campaigner with Friends of the
Earth U.S., “but it’s not. It’s a carbon offset scheme. It fails to address the real causes of both deforestation and
the climate crisis.”
“We need to reduce both deforestation and industrial emissions,” said Roman Czebiniak, senior climate and forest policy
analyst at Greenpeace International. “Allowing major industries to merely replace one with the other not only puts the
climate at great risk but also exposes Californians to greater pollution here at home.”
Europe’s emissions trading system, the largest carbon market in the world -- itself beset by scandals and failure to
reduce emissions in Europe -- does not accept REDD credits. The EU says reductions in carbon emissions from forest
preservation are impossible to verify accurately, that preserving one forest in one place may only drive deforestation
to another area, and that industrial pollution remains in the atmosphere for centuries while forests are more vulnerable
to short-term changes.
Tropical forests have unique social, economic and cultural significance to those who live in and depend on them for
their livelihoods. But REDD projects like the one California is considering raise serious concerns about violations of
the rights of forest dwellers.
"Forest carbon projects are causing grave human rights abuses, including evictions, land grabs, jailing, persecution of
activists and violations of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” said Alberto
Saldamando, a spokesman for the Indigenous Environmental Network. "California should not repeat its mistakes of the past
with regard to indigenous peoples, in order to let polluters continue to pollute."
Organizations in Acre
who sent letters to California policymakers last week denounced the proposed program as “neocolonial” and “incoherent.”
Objections have also been sent by Friends of the Earth Latin America and Caribbean
and Oilwatch International
urging that “common sense requires that we end fossil fuel addiction, not let corporations continue to profit while
setting the planet ablaze.”
Environmental justice advocates also pointed out that communities in the shadow of polluting industries, like Chevron’s
refinery in Richmond and Shell’s in Martinez, see REDD as a failure to address their concerns as well.
"We have struggled to ensure that ARB addresses the needs of low-income communities and communities of color in AB 32
implementation,” said Strela Cervas, coordinator of the California Environmental Justice Alliance. “But they have
continued to pass harmful and ineffective offset programs that only benefit big polluters. ARB has shown little concern
for communities of color here at home-- how can we expect them to ensure a California REDD program will protect the
rights of communities abroad?"
“To really tackle tropical deforestation at its root,” the letter recommends, “California policymakers should consider
examining how the state’s existing policies…may enable rainforest destruction through contributing to demand for
petroleum, timber, soy, paper, palm oil, and other commodities.”