Peoples’ defence of climate stability
Activists involved in the defence of climate stability have been concerned about the destruction caused to lands, diversity and the very existence of communities by the extraction of fossil fuels. They have been equally concerned over the attempt to use forests and plantations as ‘carbon sinks’, a process which also involves the destruction and displacement of communities and ecosystems. We reproduce below a call for a moratorium on the expansion of the oil frontier by OILWATCH, an international movement against fossil fuel-mining in the tropics, and a statement on forest and plantation ‘sinks’ by the World Rainforest Movement, a global coalition, based in Montevideo, of grassroots communities and NGOs in defence of forests and indigenous communities.
The oil frontier and peoples’ survival
WHILE governments and scientists engage in the climate change debate, local populations are taking actions into their own hands by stopping oil mining and preventing more carbon dioxide from polluting the atmosphere.
From Colombia through Nigeria to Burma, there is a groundswell of peoples’ resistance in defending their lands, diversity and their very existence. Every project that they stop holds back further catastrophe to the earth’s climate, which has been destabilised by industrial development based on fossil fuels.
The link between climate change and fossil fuels is now recognised. Oil, gas and coal are the main sources of CO2 emissions, caused by the burning of these fossil fuels as the primary source of energy in industrial society.
In spite of the climate crisis, the main focus of discussion between different governments is not how to decrease the amount of oil on the market (as was agreed upon at the Kyoto conference in 1997) but how to lower the cost and therefore continue with a model of development based on the use of fossil fuels as the main source of energy.
Although lowering the consumption of oil is a goal of the protocol, the supply of oil on the market continues to rise as a result of new reserves.
The new oil reserves are mainly located in countries with large areas of natural forest and in deep seas. The extraction of oil in these cases has a double impact on climate change. Firstly, marine photosynthetic organisms that absorb atmospheric CO2 are destroyed, and secondly, processes of deforestation increase (which releases CO2 into the atmosphere). At the same time, increases in the use of fossil fuels stored underground and the emission of gases worsen the greenhouse effect.
Industrialised countries, which are the biggest emitters of CO2,now want to occupy both the territories of non-industrialised countries and international waters. These same countries want to occupy the South with forest plantation projects and with the mortgage of forest areas through the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol.
In spite of the absence of governmental measures in the developing world, traditional and local populations across the South are now taking part of the solution into their own hands: ‘to close the tap’ of oil ready to be burned, and in this way defending their right to a sustainable life.
Burning away the future
Three point five billion tonnes of crude are used every year. This results in burning three GigaTons of carbon. In addition, the consumption of gas and coal is estimated to be equivalent to an annual production of six GigaTons of carbon.
It has been calculated that there are around one trillion barrels of oil in underground reserves, including reserves in production, reserves tested but not exploited, and those yet to be discovered. This equals approximately 117 GigaTons of releasable carbon.
Current CO2 emissions are already exceeding the absorption capacity of the planet and are causing huge disasters. A further increase of carbon in the atmosphere will provoke, among other things, widespread profound ecological changes in forests, extinction of plants and animals, the disappearance of glaciers, crop changes, a decrease in freshwater reserves, flooding, the loss of coral reefs, avalanches, storms, diseases, and death.
According to Article 3 of the Climate Change Convention, measures are needed to ‘anticipate, prevent or minimise the causes of Climate Change, and to mitigate adverse effects’. These objectives can be met by stopping the expansion of the oil frontier.
Survival of people and nature
Local communities, which have a close relationship with nature, have traditionally been marginalised by development, especially of oil consumption, production and development.
A moratorium on the expansion of the oil frontier is a matter of survival, because the material, social and cultural bases of survival are being destroyed in the process of extracting fossil fuels.
For local communities, the main objective is not to demand a legal declaration of a moratorium, but to actually apply it with the supreme right of peoples’ resistance.
Preventing the extraction of oil allows and enables the conservation of forests, which are indispensable for the survival of local populations, and for the environmental services which they provide. Without doubt, the zones where watersheds or coasts are protected by forests are less adversely affected by climate changes.
The local communities that protect these forested areas have greater possibilities of maintaining the stability of the climate in their region.
If forests are conserved, biodiversity is also protected and this is another basic guarantee for adaptation and resistance to changes in the climate. Farmers who are able to maintain a wide diversity of seeds will be able to confront adverse climatic conditions, using their varieties which are resistant to drought, frost and other calamities.
As has often been the case throughout human history, small farmers guarantee and protect food security, even though they compete with industrialised farmers whose economies are subsidised by oil.
A moratorium on oil mining
In Kyoto in 1997 when CO2 reduction targets were being fought out by governments and industry, OILWATCH, together with hundreds of other organisations, called for a moratorium on the exploration for oil, gas and coal. This was reiterated in The Hague climate change conference last November.
The call is for no new exploration activities, the closing of oil wells, phasing out of oil and gas extraction to be replaced by alternative, renewable energy sources, and a declaration of oil-free zones.
The moratorium is a unilateral declaration of peace and well-being for the planet, based on the following arguments:
1. Oil activity is an outrage against the survival of indigenous populations and threatens local communities with ties to the earth.
2. The use of oil increases the greenhouse effect, unleashing severe changes in the climate.
3. The extraction of hydrocarbons destroys forest and marine ecosystems, thus decreasing CO2 absorption and increasing emissions into the atmosphere.
4. Hydrocarbon activities induce other activities that also destroy ecosystems, such as the opening of roads and the construction of infrastructure for oil activity. Additionally, oil activities generate social problems that in turn intensify pressure on natural resources.
5. Due to the agreements contained in the Kyoto Protocol, the world reserves of fossil fuels should not be used.
6. The production of oil in Third World countries is a subsidy to industrialised countries since they buy energy at a cheap price and then sell expensive products to the Third World.
7. The money obtained from the sale of oil is inferior to the amount needed to restore all the damage caused by such activity.
8. Among the impacts generated by these activities is the forced displacement of traditional communities.
9. Oil activity induces migration of foreign populations, producing more pressure on resources.
10. Oil has a cultural value for many of the world’s indigenous populations . For many peoples, oil is an element that plays a fundamental role in terms of the earth.
Each barrel of oil NOT extracted constitutes a positive contribution to climate stability. Thousands of millions of barrels are still underground thanks to the struggles of traditional indigenous populations who defend their territories and their rights. The local communities that prevent the extraction of oil are keeping carbon in the only safe deposits that exist: in the depths of the earth.
The above is adapted from the OILWATCH Position Paper to the Climate Change Convention COP6, November 2000. OILWATCH is an international network of ecological, human rights, religious and local organisations that supports the resistance initiatives against fossil hydrocarbon exploitation in the tropics. It promotes the search for clean, sustainable and ecological energy sources. Website: www.oilwatch.org.ec
Forests and plantations in the carbon dealers' market - a statement by the World Rainforest Movement
IN 1997, the negotiators of the Kyoto Protocol came up with an ingeniously-named project: the 'Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).' For the lay person, the message was that the governments of the world had finally agreed to create a mechanism that would allow development which is atmospherically non-polluting. But what this wording hides is anything but clean.
This mechanism is in fact a licence to pollute. In Kyoto, industrialised countries committed themselves to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but they simultaneously invented a way out of those same commitments. The mechanism is simple: instead of cutting emissions at source, they would 'compensate for' emissions by implementing projects in other countries. Some of the possible projects involve forests, tree plantations and soils that would allegedly act as 'carbon sinks'. Climate negotiators have perverted the meaning of those words to create a CDM which is in fact only a Carbon Dealers' Market, through which some will economically benefit at the expense of the world's climate.
One of the main aims of some industrialised-country negotiators at the Convention on Climate Change is to have plantations accepted as carbon sinks within the so-called Clean Development Mechanism. The reasoning seems quite straightforward: while trees are growing, they take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and fix the carbon in their wood. They thus act as 'carbon sinks' and therefore help to counter climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Everything looks logical but, when seriously analysed, a lot of problems arise.
The first problem is that this kind of 'carbon sink' is not aimed at supplementing measures adopted to reduce the use of fossil fuels. On the contrary, the aim is to allow industrialised countries to meet their reduction commitments without actually reducing emissions to the extent agreed upon. If, for instance, a country has made a commitment to reduce fossil fuel emissions from 100 to 90 units, then instead of reducing by 10 it could reduce by only five and plant trees to absorb the remaining five.
Secondly, a widespread trade in plantation and forest 'offsets' would block or undercut necessary and urgent measures such as energy conservation, consumption reduction, more equitable resource use, and equitable development and sharing of clean, renewable and low-impact sources of energy.
Problem, not solution
The above shows that 'carbon sink' plantations are not a solution to the real problem, which is the continued use of carbon reservoirs - coal, oil and natural gas - that is at the root of the current climatic crisis. At the same time, plantations are a problem in themselves. Large-scale tree plantations are commonly a direct cause of deforestation, usurp needed agricultural lands, replace valuable native ecosystems, deplete water resources, worsen inequity in land ownership, increase poverty, lead to evictions of local peoples, and undermine local stewardship practices needed for forest conservation. This means that before they become a 'carbon sink' they in fact cause 'carbon leakage' (to use the climate negotiators' obscure language). That is, carbon that was safely stored in forests is released through deforestation. The carbon balance is thus negative, because most forests store much more carbon per hectare than any plantation. It is clear that deforestation contributes to climate change through the release of carbon in the forest biomass. Thus, forest conservation and rehabilitation activities need to be promoted both to conserve carbon - in the case of primary forests - and to absorb it - in the case of secondary forests allowed to re-grow.
The inclusion of forests in the Clean Development Mechanism is a difficult issue, as anyone willing to pay for a 'carbon forest' service will be continuing carbon dioxide emissions elsewhere. They will also be supporting the extraction of fossil fuels elsewhere. In both cases there will be affected communities. Among them might be a community in another country living near the polluting industry buying the carbon credits from the forest community. Or there might be an indigenous community - in a third country - affected by oil extraction in its territory. For these two communities affected 'long distance' by the carbon project, carbon forestry projects could well be a 'lose-lose' proposition.
Finally, for the indigenous peoples - as they declared in the First International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change (Lyon, France, 4-6 September 2000) - 'sinks in the CDM would constitute a world-wide strategy for expropriating our lands and territories and violating our fundamental rights that would culminate in a new form of colonialism'. They therefore state that this type of sinks 'pose[s] the threat of invasion and loss of our land and territories by establishing new regimes for protected areas and privatisation.'
It is clear that 'carbon sinks' are not the solution but will bring more problems, without solving the root cause of the problem. Like it or not, the industrialised countries - which are responsible for the climatic tragedy that is occurring - have a great problem to solve and that is the reduction of emissions and the transition to clean, renewable and low-impact energy sources. Only then could a solution to safeguard the future of the Earth and its inhabitants become possible.