New Colors of Capitalism: REDD+ and the Green Economy

The PopDev program, where I am a Political Research Fellow, recently published my DifferenTakes issue paper, “Is This the Future We Want? The Green Economy vs. Climate Justice.”  This blog post announced the publication on the Black Sheep Journal.

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No REDD protest at the Cancun climate talks, 2010.

Negotiators, big NGOs, and companies In U.N. environmental summits are promoting the “Green Economy” as a win-win-win for people, the environment and business interests.  Yet global South social movements denounce the Green Economy for serving the interests of transnational corporations and wealthy nations, and for stomping on the rights of those most impacted by climate change and environmental degradation.  At the heart of the dispute is one big question– can capitalism solve the climate crisis?  In January 2013 I traveled to Chiapas, Mexico to learn about the impacts of one Green Economy program, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), on local communities.  In PopDev’s latest DiffernTakes article I describe the Green Economy and the dangers of REDD+.

Negotiated in the U.N. climate change summits, REDD+ is a mechanism to transfer funds from Northern countries to forested countries in the global South for forest conservation.  The U.N. wants to make this a global market, where Northern countries would buy carbon credits from countries in the global South who commit to forest conservation, buying the right continue emitting carbon domestically.  Rather than wait for a binding U.N. program to start REDD projects, the Chiapas government entered into an agreement with the state of California through the Governors Climate and Forest Taskforce (GCF).  California hopes use carbon credits from REDD in Chiapas in the new California carbon market.  A California company could buy the right to emit carbon, because it is “offset” by forest conservation in Chiapas.

While REDD+ sounds good in an economic textbook, local communities and climate justice advocates are on REDD alert.   Not only is it questionable whether REDD+ actually reduces carbon emissions overall, projects are putting forest communities at risk of “green” land grabs. In a region fraught with historical disputes over land, the payments may do more to sow conflict between indigenous groups than address the region’s deep poverty, as its proponents claim. Beginning in 2011, the Chiapas government paid communities in the Lacandon Rainforest Biosphere Reserve to conserve the forest.  Other indigenous peoples in the area were excluded from the program, and in the case of the village Amador Hernandez, the government cut off their medical services.

The Green Economy turns the climate crisis into a profit opportunity.  Some say this is the only way to leverage the necessary scale of action. But both in Chiapas and California grassroots groups are seeing the dangers of REDD+ and carbon offsetting.  Globally, international networks are exposing the dark side of the Green Economy and calling for real solutions to climate change.  Read the full DifferenTakes article to learn more.

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