November 2010, Week 5


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Tue, 30 Nov 2010 22:00:48 -0500
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Commodifying Nature in an Age of Climate Change

By Nnimmo Bassey 
Friends of the Earth International 
November 29, 2010


For about two weeks, starting today, the world will be locked
into another session of negotiations on how to tackle climate
change. The conference, to be held in Cancun, Mexico, has
drawn less excitement than its predecessor held in
Copenhagen, Denmark, a year ago.

The excitement of Copenhagen was partly driven by the false
information that circulated that the Kyoto Protocol was
ending at that meeting. Though there were serious, but failed
efforts, made at that conference to lay the protocol to rest,
its first period actually ends in 2012, while a second
commitment period will be entered into as soon as the first
period elapses.

But why would anyone want to kill the protocol and why should
it be sustained? The Kyoto Protocol is seen by some as the
only legally binding instrument to which the industrialised
and highly polluting nations can be made to commit to cutting
emissions at source. From this perspective, when countries
fight to abolish the protocol, they are simply trying to
avoid making any real commitment to tackling climate change.
Leave it to the market?

One problem with the workings of the United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the ongoing
negotiations is that it bases a chunk of its reasoning and
framings on the market logic. This follows the path created
by the mindset that has built a vicious paradigm of disaster
capitalism, in which tragedy is seen as opportunity for
profit. What do we mean by this?

Rather than take steps to curtail emissions of greenhouse
gases responsible for global warming, some people are busy
devising ways of making every item of nature a commodity
placed at the altar of the market. Through this, everything
is being assigned a value and many others are privatised in

What makes this offensive is firstly that you cannot place a
price on nature, on life. Secondly, speculators are hyping
the utility of the carbon market as a means of fighting
climate change. Some of the ways this manifests is through
the carbon offsetting projects by which polluters in the
industrialised countries continue to pollute, on the
calculation that their emissions are being compensated for

As Friends of the Earth International stated in a recent
media advisory, "Carbon trading does not lead to real
emissions reductions. It is a dangerous distraction from real
action to address the structural causes of climate change,
such as over-consumption. Developed countries should
radically cut their carbon emissions through real change at
home, not by buying offsets from other countries. Carbon
offsetting has no benefits for the climate or for developing
countries - it only benefits developed countries, private
investors, and major polluters who want to continue business
as usual."

Cancun will obviously be crawling with carbon speculators and
traders, as was the case in Copenhagen. And they have good
reasons to be there. They will be there because policy makers
on both sides of the divide see benefits in the schemes, even
though the so-called benefits are pecuniary and are actually
harmful to Mother Earth. But as far as the money enters the
pockets of some poor countries, the rich countries can go on
polluting, having paid their "penance." Not just money alone

The world appears deaf to the need for real actions to curb
climate change, and the focus remains on money. In fact,
while many of the items of the Cancun agenda have stalled,
with regard to reduction of carbon emissions in the
industralised nations, there is no shortage of proposals on
how carbon markets can be brought in to give appearance of

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD)
is one of such schemes in the scheme. Quick progress is being
made on REDD and already, talks are advancing on other
variants of the scheme. Indigenous and forest community
people are opposed to REDD and object to its implementation,
as attention is being focused on forests merely as carbon
stocks for mercantile purposes. Significantly, many see REDD
as not seeking to stop deforestation, but merely to reduce

It is also argued that that any reduced deforestation may not
be sustained, as deforesters may just shift to another forest
or zone to continue with their activities. In other words,
REDD is a pretty fiction that may pump money into the pockets
of some countries and corporations, but will marginalise
forest peoples and will not help to fight climate change. The
attraction, as critics have said, is that if this mechanism
is linked to the carbon market, it will allow developed
countries pay money to REDD-projects that preserve forests in
developing countries, and in return receive carbon credits -
buying the right to pollute.

There will also be strident rejection of any role at all for
the World Bank in the climate finance architecture that may
be devised in Cancun.

The atmosphere is set for a somber, winding series of
negotiations. However, social movements and other civil
society groups are set to push up the voices of the people,
as already broadly articulated in the Peoples Agreement,
reached at the World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and
the Rights of Mother Earth held in April 2010 at Cochabamba,

The environmental justice movement that took first serious
steps in Copenhagen is sure to take firmer steps on the
streets of Cancun and in thousands of Cancuns being planned
for a multitude of locations around the world.

The message in Cancun, if we must expect motions towards real
actions to tackle climate change, is that governments must
pay attention to what the people are saying, to the real
challenges faced by vulnerable peoples around the world, and
not lend their ears to carbon speculators.

Find out more about what Friends of the Earth is calling for
in Cancun

© 2010 Friends of the Earth International 
Nnimmo Bassey is Chair of Friends of the Earth International.


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