Nature, Forests, and Indigenous Peoples Are Not for Sale

Indigenous brothers of the world:

I am deeply concerned because some are attempting to use certain indigenous leaders and groups to promote the commodification of nature and in particular of forests through the establishment of the REDD (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) mechanism and its versions REDD+ and REDD++.

Every day an expanse of forests and rainforests equivalent to 36,000 football fields disappears in the world.  Each year 13 million hectares of forests and rainforests are lost.  At this rate, the forests will disappear by the end of the century.

The forests and rainforests are the largest source of biodiversity.  If deforestation continues, thousands of species, animals, and plants will be lost forever.  More than three quarters of accessible freshwater zones come from catchment areas in forests, hence the worsening of water quality when the forest condition deteriorates.  Forests provide protection from flooding, erosion, and natural disasters.  They provide non-timber goods as well as timber goods.  Forests are a source of natural medicines and healing elements not yet discovered.  Forests and rainforests are the lungs of the atmosphere.  18% of all emissions of greenhouse gases occurring in the world are caused by deforestation.

It is essential to stop the destruction of our Mother Earth.

Currently, during climate change negotiations, everyone recognizes that it is essential to avoid the deforestation and degradation of forests.  However, to achieve this, some propose to commodify forests on the false argument that only what has a price and owner will be taken care of and conserved.

Their proposal is to consider only one of the functions of forests, which is their ability to absorb carbon dioxide, and issue “certificates,” “credits,” or “carbon rights” to be commercialized in a carbon market.  This way, companies of the North have the choice of reducing their emissions or buy “REDD certificates” in the South according to their economic convenience.  For example, if a company has to invest USD40 or USD50 to reduce the emission of one ton of CO2 in a “developed country,” it would prefer to buy a “REDD certificate” for USD10 or USD20 in a “developing country,” so it can say it has reduced the emissions by the said ton of CO2.

Through this mechanism, developed countries will hand their obligation to reduce their emissions to developing countries, and the South will once again fund the North, since that same northern company will save a lot of money by buying carbon “certificates” from the Southern forests.

However, they will not only have cheated their commitments to reduce emissions, but they will have also begun the commodification of nature, starting with the forests.  The forests will start being priced by the CO2 tonnage they are able to absorb.  The “credit” or “carbon right” which certifies that capacity for absorption will be bought and sold like any commodity worldwide.  To ensure that no one damages the property of “REDD certificate” buyers, a series of restrictions will be put into place, which will eventually damage the sovereign right of countries and indigenous peoples over their forests and rainforests.  So begins a new stage of privatization of nature never seen before, which will extend to water, biodiversity, and what they call “environmental services.”

While we assert that capitalism is the cause of global warming and the destruction of forests, rainforests, and Mother Earth, they seek to expand capitalism to the commodification of nature under the term “green economy.”

To get support for this proposal of commodification of nature, some financial institutions, governments, NGOs, foundations, “experts,” and trading companies are offering a percentage of the “profits” of this commodification of nature to indigenous peoples and communities living in native forests and rainforests.

Nature, forests, and indigenous peoples are not for sale.

For centuries, indigenous peoples have lived conserving and preserving natural forests and rainforests.  For us the forests and rainforests are not objects — not things you can price and privatize.  We do not accept that native forests and rainforests be reduced to a simple measurable quantity of carbon.  Nor do we accept that native forests be confused with simple plantations of one or two tree species.  The forests are our home, a big house where plants, animals, water, soil, pure air, and human beings coexist.

It is essential that all countries of the world work together to prevent forest and rainforest deforestation and degradation.  It is an obligation of developed countries, and it is part of their climate and environmental debt, to contribute financially to the preservation of forests, but NOT through their commodification.  There are many ways of supporting and financing developing countries, indigenous peoples, and local communities that contribute to the preservation of forests.

Developed countries spend tens of times more public resources on defense, security, and war than on climate change.  Even during the financial crisis many have maintained and increased their military spending.  It is unacceptable that the needs of communities and the ambitions of some indigenous leaders and “experts” are being exploited to involve indigenous peoples in the commodification of nature.

All forest and rainforest protection mechanisms should guarantee indigenous rights and participation, but not because indigenous participation is achieved through REDD and we can accept that a price for forests and rainforests be set and negotiated in a global carbon market.

Indigenous brothers, let us not be confused.  Some tell us that the carbon market mechanism in REDD will be voluntary.  That is to say that whoever wants to sell and buy will be able to do so, and whoever does not want to will be able to stand aside.  We cannot accept that, with our consent, a mechanism is created where some voluntarily sell Mother Earth while others look on without doing anything.

Faced with the reductionist and commercial views of forests and rainforests, indigenous peoples with peasants and social movements of the world must fight for the proposals that emerged of the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth:

1) Integrated management of native forests and rainforests, considering not only their mitigation function as CO2 sink but all their functions and potentials, whilst avoiding confusing them with simple plantations.

2) Respect for the sovereignty of developing countries in their integral management of forests.

3) Full compliance with the Rights of Indigenous Peoples established by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Convention No. 169 of the ILO, and other international instruments; recognition of and respect for their territories; revalorization and implementation of indigenous knowledge for the preservation of forests; indigenous peoples’ participation and management of forests and rainforests.

4) Funding from developed countries to developing countries and indigenous peoples for integral management of forests as part of their climate and environmental debt.  No establishment of any mechanism of carbon markets or “incentives” that may lead to the commodification of forests and rainforests.

5) Recognition of the rights of Mother Earth, which includes forests, rainforests, and all its components.  For the purpose of restoring harmony with Mother Earth, the path to be taken is not to put a price on nature but to recognize that not only human beings have the right to life and to reproduce, but nature also has a right to life and to regenerate, and that without Mother Earth human beings cannot live.

Indigenous brothers, together with our peasant brothers and social movements of the world, we must mobilize so that the conclusions of Cochabamba are taken up in Cancun, to propel a mechanism of ACTIONS CONCERNING THE FORESTS based on these five principles, while always maintaining high the unity of indigenous peoples and the principles of respect for Mother Earth, which for centuries we have preserved and inherited from our ancestors.

Evo Morales Ayma
President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia

En español.

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