Saturday, May 10, 2008

Indigenous peoples protest carbon trading at U.N. forum

Indigenous peoples protest carbon trading at U.N. forum
Friday, May 9, 2008
By: Jane Cutter

U.N. body for Indigenous issues deaf to objections

Indigenous people representing 20 nations and organizations from South America held a protest at the May 2 conclusion of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York.

The Indigenous Caucus of Abya Yala was angered by the final report of the forum, which ignored their stated concerns about carbon trading projects and the impact such projects have had on Indigenous peoples and their lands.

"Indigenous Peoples attending the 7th session of the Permanent Forum are profoundly concerned that our key recommendations on climate change are not being taken into account by the Permanent Forum," stated Florina Lopez, coordinator of the Indigenous Women’s Biodiversity Network of Abya Yala. "This Permanent Forum was created precisely to recognize, promote, and support the rights of Indigenous Peoples."

The UNPFII is an advisory body to the U.N. Economic and Social Council, submitting recommendations on issues related to Indigenous peoples. Sixteen independent experts are appointed for three-year terms, eight of them nominated by governments and another eight nominated by Indigenous organizations. The theme of this year’s forum was "Climate change, bio-cultural diversity and livelihoods: the stewardship role of Indigenous peoples and new challenges."

Carbon trading is a system whereby companies are allowed to emit a limited amount of carbon dioxide, a gas linked to global warming. If a company does not "use up" all its carbon credits, it can sell them on the carbon market, allowing the buyer to pollute more.

Companies can also buy into "carbon offset" schemes. The idea behind this is that the polluter can "offset" the carbon it has emitted by helping to finance a "clean energy" development.

At first glance these ideas may seem good. However, there are many problems with this market-based approach.

"In promoting the clean development mechanism projects and carbon trading, the Permanent Forum is allowing oil companies, who are the biggest emitters for greenhouse gases, to continue to pollute," said Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Goldtooth went on to describe carbon trading as "commodification of the air." In other words, big corporations can buy and sell the right to pollute freely, while poor and working people—including the Indigenous peoples of the world—have no say in determining where or how much carbon should be emitted.

Additionally, the allegedly "clean energy" development programs may actually cause environmental damage and have been imposed on Indigenous people against their will.

The Jeripachi wind power project in Colombia, discussed in a press release from the protesting Indigenous groups, provided a dramatic example.

"[The project] did not get the free, prior, and informed consent of the Wayuu people to build this wind farm in a sacred territory of the Wayuu People. Indigenous Peoples’ organizations contend the assassination of over 200 Wayuu People prior to the implementation of the project was to clear the area for this and other projects. Additionally, most of the energy generated from the wind farm is used to power the Cerrajon mine, the biggest open air coal mine in the world, which itself is known for numerous human rights violations and environmental damages. Representatives of the Wayuu people who attended the Permanent Forum didn’t even know the project was being promoted as a good example."

During the two weeks of the UNPFII, Indigenous community representatives testified about the injustices associated with the clean development mechanism projects and asked that the UNPFII not promote the projects. However, in the final report, their testimony was ignored. The final report of the UNPFII hails World Bank-funded carbon trading as "good examples" of partnership.

Indigenous peoples are disproportionately impacted by climate change because global warming is destroying ecosystems on which they have traditionally depended. A predicted rise in coastal waters and higher temperatures may lead to drought and famine, affecting primarily the poor. Colonialism and genocide have caused Indigenous peoples, among the poorest on the planet, to face the most severe effects of global warming.

It is not a surprise that the UNPFII has ignored the concerns of Native people regarding carbon trading. The United Nations is dominated by imperialist powers and serves their interests. The United Nations has the authority to send troops to occupy other countries in violation of their sovereignty, yet it does not have the binding authority to stop the carbon emissions that are causing the climate crisis. Rather, it supports pro-capitalist plans that are funded by the World Bank and do little to protect the environment.

Untrammeled capitalist development is the root cause of global warming. The world needs a system of planned, sustainable economic development that can provide for human needs while protecting the environment for future generations.

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