Forestry and Poverty Project Newsletter Issue 8 – November 2009

Is Gucci the Marie Antoinette of Fashion?

Threatened with a Rainforest Action Network (RAN) greenmail campaign to stop it buying Indonesian paper, Gucci’s declared it will submit to RAN’s demands.

Just as Marie Antoinette said “Let them eat cake” when told there was no bread for the people of Paris, is Gucci saying to 35 million poverty-stricken Indonesians, “Let them live Green”?

“Standing rainforests are not a luxury, they’re a necessity if the world wants to stop climate change,” Gucci announced in a statement which was reported in Los Angeles.  To support the case, the statement cited RAN’s cooked case about how much deforestation in Indonesia is contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Maybe no one told Gucci that it is endorsing action that will increase poverty and not reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.  Or that the driver of deforestation in Indonesia is poverty – the relentless hunt by the poor for land, shelter, food and incomes – and that the solution to reducing deforestation is not to boycott the products, like paper, which produce the wealth to end the poverty, but to buy more.

Gucci also declared it would now only buy paper from operations certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (an ally of RAN).  It may not have looked at the fine print of the Council’s policies.  They indicate the Council will only certify forest operations if they are not converting forest to other uses, and that includes activity which reduces poverty.

Is that the spot where Gucci wants to be placed?  Other luxury goods manufacturers are usually sensitive about acting in ways which show disregard for the poor.

In her defence, Gucci is unlikely to have got the full story from RAN or the Council. They usually don’t point out that most developing countries have already reserved more land to protect forest biodiversity than the European countries in which she spends most of her time, particularly in the UK where it is less than half; and that these poor countries have deliberate policies to convert some of their remaining forest to more productive uses to reduce poverty.

They usually also omit to mention that many of those replacement activities, like plantations for the paper Gucci buys and palm oil, can create more effective sinks to absorb carbon dioxide than the forests they replace.

Gucci might also want to think about their growing market of consumers in countries which do not support the idea economic growth must be subordinated to environmental goals.  They include China, India and Brazil, all with significant population of poor.  But maybe Gucci doesn’t sell much product made in those economies, or have any made there?  Yeah right.


Copenhagen Update: Conversion of Forest Land – The Other Dealbreaker

It now seems accepted by all that negotiators at Copenhagen will aim just to agree on targets and goals for a new global Treaty on climate change.  That will be hard enough.  The EU (at the urging of environmental NGOs) is pressing another issue equally capable of stalling the conference  – it wants agreement to “no conversion” of forest for any purpose. This is key development tool for developing countries.

Forest conversion is now the central issue in the debate over “REDD”, UN-speak for forestry issues in the Copenhagen negotiations.  The forested developing countries that use forest land to raise living standards have already rejected the concept.  But the EU has put it back on the table – along with an equally anti-development Plan B.

Plan B is to insist that parties agree as well that there will be no climate change aid to developing forest economies unless they themselves agree to cease conversion of forest land.

Developing countries themselves have created the opportunity for the rich countries to exercise this leverage.  They have insisted all along that rich countries must provide the finance to enable poorer economies to adapt to the impact of climate change. The UK and the EU are talking about global aid packages of US $30 to 60 billion a year.  (Traditional aid runs at around US$100 billion a year).  This will not materialize.  Eastern European members of the EU oppose such large aid and the US Congress would not make the requisite contribution.

The movers behind this effort at financial leverage are likely to be the British, the European Commission, WWF, Greenpeace and the World Bank.

For example, a few hundred million which has already been separately pledged by Australia, Norway, the UK and the World Bank to a World Bank “Forest Investment Program” fund.  The Fund has a rule that aid will be conditional on “no conversion” of forest land. For good measure, Greenpeace (which opposes any commercial forestry anywhere) is the official NGO advisor to the Fund.

In endorsing this approach, the Bank and the donors have breached commitments made in the Non-Legally Binding Agreement on Forests which was adopted by the UN Forum on Forests in 2006.  It specifically called on donors to restore aid to forestry to enable developing forest economies to use forestry to raise living standards.

It also disregards clear provisions in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change itself, as well as in the Bali mandate for the current negotiations, that the development interests of developing countries be respected.

The only development-friendly outcome from Copenhagen on forestry is agreement that conversion be recognized as essential for development and that developing countries should  be provided assistance to develop their forest resources sustainably, not  to “sustainably” reduce them.


Forest Emissions Overstated – Another Report

University of Amsterdam has released a report demonstrating that forest emissions have generally been overstated by as much as 70 per cent. The report follows research from the Brazilian Space research agency, INPE, stated that forest carbon emissions from Brazil has probably been overstated by a factor of two.

Both reports severely dent the case that global deforestation is responsible for one-fifth of emissions.  The Dutch report says that the figure is closer to 12 per cent. This is based on work by the FAO that revised deforestation rates down by 30 per cent, and work on satellite imaging from tree forest cover that also shows deforestation and degradation rates are lower than assumed.

Deforestation emissions are generally blamed on two nations: Brazil and Indonesia. Yet INPE stated that annual deforestation rates have declined each year by an average of 25 percent in Brazil. Much of the blame laid upon Indonesia stems from its peak emissions period, following a severe El Nino event in 1997 and a breakdown in political order following the Suharto era.

Despite this, the claims deforestation are a major source of increasing greenhouse gas emissions continue to be promoted as a leading factor in the global climate change debate.


FAO Calls It: Stop Efforts to Undermine Sustainable Forest Management

The FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization) does not play politics and gets on with the business of supporting economic and technical development.  Yet even it recently has felt driven to release a note pointing out that in the UNFCCC negotiations there are efforts to erase the development dimension of the formal UN position on sustainable forest management.

It would be polite enough not to name people.  But the positions about which it is concerned are being advanced by Greenpeace, WWF and Friends of the Earth and even the World Bank (which has basically consigned its forestry policies to WWF principles).

This has been obvious to close observers of the backroom manouvering in the negotiations for some.  But it is not obvious to the media.

The FAO statement is quite unusual.  International agencies usually do not comment critically on the actions of others.  Evidently personnel in FAO are concerned at efforts in the negotiations to disregard well and long established positions, even in the UN, to ensure there is balance between economic development and the environment.


World Bank Policy Discriminates Against Small Countries

There is marked inconsistency in World Bank policy.  It embedded an anti-growth principle into its forestry policies when it adopted WWF/Forest Stewardship Council principles after James Wolfensohn sanctioned an alliance with WWF.   Yet it appears only to apply it to small countries.

Earlier this year the Bank approved a multibillion loan, including expansion of commercial forestry, to Brazil.  There is a commitment by Brazil to reduce deforestation (something that is happening anyway), but no commitment to cease conversion.  The Bank program will support further conversion of forest land in Brazil, but not apparently in other forestry economies.

Given the Bank’s tortured history of trying to direct forest policy in small countries (it was thrown out of Cambodia and Papua New Guinea after trying take control of national forest policy) most are better off without its “help”.

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