The April preparatory talks in the lead-up to the Rio+20 meeting have underlined the gulf between rich countries – primarily the EU — and poor countries. The slow progress has necessitated another set of talks scheduled just two weeks prior to the conference itself.
The policy areas that emerged as contentious in the April talks were not restricted to those that have caused rifts in the past. In 1992, for example, Malaysia and Brazil rebuffed the West’s calls for a global treaty on forests.
The key thrust of the European Union – the reshaping of sustainable development into ‘green economy’ – has been rebuffed by the G77-China negotiating block.
The EU is attempting to cast the ‘Green Economy’ as “essential” for sustainable development within the negotiating text. This was blocked by poor nations, who want the “green economy” to simply be described as a “useful tool”. Moreover, poor countries insisted at numerous points throughout the meeting that a paragraph be inserted describing what a green economy should not do.
Alongside this were numerous calls by poor countries that sovereign rights to development and resource exploitation be maintained, and that any efforts towards sustainable development be taken in line with national development plans.
This was simply the tip of the iceberg. Many of the working groups failed to agree on any text. For example, one of the working groups agreed on five paragraphs out of a total of 95; another working group is seeking agreement on more than 420 paragraphs.
Ironically, the working group that discussed the future of the Commission on Sustainable Development and the possibility of strengthening or reform of the United Nations Environment Programme (another EU push) also ended in deadlock.
The second set of preparatory talks may yield progress. A simplistic view of the meeting is this: wealthy countries, led by the EU, want agreement in Rio; the leading emerging economies that are now the global drivers of growth have neither the desire nor the need for it. The EU is having difficulty keeping its fiscal and monetary houses in order; its calls to dictate how the majority of the world’s population develop seem a bit rich.
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has struck a social and environmental compromise by vetoing parts of Brazil’s forest code reforms in the lead up to the Rio conference. The supposed widespread opposition to the Bill has been shown to be largely emanating from Germany and France.
On May 25, Rousseff announced that she vetoed 12 parts of the proposed code and made 32 amendments. The key veto that has been highlighted by Brazil’s media is the proposed amnesty for illegal logging in protected areas.
However, much of the bill’s substance remains intact. Farmers will have to maintain certain percentages of forest cover on their farmland depending upon the land type. In tropical forest areas this goes up to 80 per cent, and goes as low as 20 percent in subtropical areas. Hillside and riparian (riverside) areas will contribute to this percentage, with a sliding scale depending upon the width of the watercourse.
Greenpeace, WWF and other international groups expressed disappointment with the final Bill. In the weeks leading up to the veto deadline, the groups had staged protest and advocacy activities against the Bill. A petition of 2 million signatures was presented to the President’s office; approximately 85 per cent of these were from France and Germany.
According to news reports, Brazil’s peak agricultural body, CNA, was reasonably happy with the bIll, but has raised objections to with some “vague language” in the amendments. CNN President Katia Abreu admonished groups such as WWF and Greenpeace, stating “They won’t be happy until everything is Green.”
WWF has been a global champion of its ‘high conservation value’ as a tool for assessing biodiversity values and cultural values among other things. But its latest missive against Indonesia’s largest pulp and paper manufacturer calls into question what it’s actually trying to achieve.
The commitment by APP, Indonesia’s largest paper manufacturer, is to apply high conservation value assessments to its forestry concessions, and impose a moratorium on new forest clearings for plantations.
Yet WWF were eager to criticise the announcement; this may be in part attributable to WWF’s failure to manage its agreement with the same company in 2004. But the criticism demonstrates a disconnect between WWF’s purpose – advocating for greater conservation areas – and what HCVF was originally designed to do – describe natural habitats.
HCV as a concept has taken on a life of its own, and it is possible for companies to make their own HCV assessments without necessarily taking a step towards certification.
Where WWF can make life difficult for the private sector is in its application for land-use planning – and feeds into WWF certification systems such as FSC. The HCVF ‘principles of application’ are separate from the HCVF methodology, and prescriptive rather than descriptive. For example, one of the principles is that “absence of HCVs- shall not be used as sufficient justification for conversion of natural ecosystems.”
This is point at which companies attempting to use HCVF have found themselves in trouble prior to planning development projects. HCVF as an assessment may encourage objectivity, but its application seems arbitrary.
Activist group Greenpeace is now the subject of an investigation by local authorities after accusations of embezzlement. According to Indonesian news reports, the Alliance of Students Rejecting Foreign NGOs made a direct complaint to legal authorities against Greenpeace.
The student organisation claims there is a serious disparity between the amount the organisation receives from Indonesian donors and its published Indonesian expenditure, prompting the investigation.
Indonesian newspapers report that the Police Criminal Investigation Department has commenced the investigation. Senior Commissioner Listyo Sigit Prabowo told the media that, “We will study deeper about the fraud allegation. We are also asking inputs from the Interior Ministry and the Legal and Human Rights Ministry.”
The investigation follows a recent guilty plea by Greenpeace activists in Australia, where protesters destroyed an experimental wheat crop being trialled by the Australian Government. According to court documents, the protesters caused more than AUD300,000 damage.
Similarly, allegations of embezzlement have been levelled at the World Wide Fund for Nature, one of Greenpeace’s affiliated NGOs, in Tanzania. An Ernst and Young audit recently found that WWF staff embezzled around USD400,000 from a Norway-backed project in Tanzania.
WWF recently announced the completion of its review of the Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN). The summary report, which does not include the full findings of the review, glosses over the fact that demand for FSC-certified timber is low.
The review was prompted by investigations by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which had accused the so-called GFTN buyer’s network of overlooking illegal and unsustainable forestry, primarily in Malaysia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The summary report – which does not include the full findings of the report – declares without much fanfare that there is little wrong with the GFTN as it stands.
However, what is glossed over in the report – and has been many times in the past – is that demand for FSC-certified timber is low. The report encourages WWF to put more effort into advocating for FSC certification — a key part of the GFTN approach – in order to stimulate demand for FSC timber.
In the past, WWF’s attempts to stimulate demand for FSC timber products appear to have revolved around Greenpeace’s smear campaigns against major timber purchasers and producers, such as Danzer in the Congo.
A coalition of local NGOs in Australia have written a public letter attacking FSC Australia, Boral Timber and the Soil Association (an accredited certifier) for the process it is using to certify Boral Timber under the Controlled Wood certification.
The coalition is made up of the Wilderness Society, the North Coast Environment Council, North East Forest Alliance, Clarence Environment Centre, South East Forest Rescue and the South East Region Conservation Alliance.
According to the letter, the NGOs are attacking all three parties because they do not believe that the Controlled Wood certification will do anything to protect High Conservation Value Forests that will be harvested by Boral Timber. This action is despite the fact that the Controlled Wood certification is not designed to protect HCVF areas.