REDD shafted by deepwater drilling concessions

The world will benefit from lower carbon dioxide emissions if you stop exploiting your natural resources. But we’re going to continue exploiting ours.

That’s the apparently hypocritical New Year’s message conveyed by industrialised countries to the developing world.

On the one hand there is consternation at the failure of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia to sign a decree imposing the freeze on new logging concessions promised for 1st January.

The two-year moratorium brokered by the Norwegian government aims to reduce emissions from deforestation. Funding of $1.0 billion for Indonesia is on offer in return.

On the other hand, this period of hesitation has also seen encouragement for the fossil fuel industry from both the US and UK governments. The path for exploration for oil and gas in the most extreme deepwater locations is to be smoothed.

The overlap of these contradictory developments may be coincidental but will nonetheless aggravate tensions over the integrity of REDD, a central plank of UN climate change strategy.

This strategy for “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation” was agreed in outline at the December climate conference in Cancún. It rests on the principle of financial compensation for developing countries which refrain from exploiting their tropical forests. The Indonesian package is a trailblazer for the concept.

Critics within some of these countries see REDD as symbolic of a deeper malaise within the UN package. They allege that poor governments are being paid off as mercenaries in the fight against climate change whilst the rich carry on polluting.

Sunita Narain, Director of the Centre for Science and Environment in India, says that “the clandestine endgame afoot at Cancun…. legitimises (the US) right to pollute…while the burden of the transition (will) shift to the developing world.”

The insistent search for oil in its most forbidding haunts may embolden such views. If the threat of climate change compels elaborate plans to avoid deforestation, why are the rich countries taking such risks to squeeze out the last drop of oil?

The environmental movement will be asking itself even tougher questions. Circumstances last week for a sympathetic outcome to their lobby against fossil fuel exploration could not have been more propitious. The politicians made their decisions whilst assailed by media stories depicting a world unhinged by climate change.

A land mass the size of Germany and France lies under water, with more Queensland rains forecast. Arctic sea ice retreated to its lowest point ever recorded for the month of December. The FAO Food Price Index reached its all time high, with riots in Algeria signalling the potential implications.

Then the US National Commission report on the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster landed on ministers’ desks. It concludes unequivocally that BP, its US partners and oil industry regulators were unfit for the purpose of operating in this extreme environment.

Rarely will the fossil fuel industry be confronted with such unfavourable winds of political fortune. Yet both UK and US governments fluffed the chance to hasten the transition to low carbon economics.

The Obama administration, hounded by a more powerful Republican presence in Congress, promised to accelerate the resumption of deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico for projects under way at the time of the BP spill.

In the UK, the House of Commons energy and climate change committee refused pleas for a moratorium on deepwater drilling in the North Sea. Committee chair Tim Yeo cited the “national interest”, a phrase of uncertain meaning in the context of a global threat.

Meanwhile, the equivalent committee inside the US Congress released a very different report last Monday. Ed Markey’s Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming has been deemed by the new Congress to be surplus to requirements. It presented a final summary of achievements.

Having pointed out that the “threats from climate change are not going away”, the concluding section of the report observes that “someday, our children and grandchildren will look back on…whether or not this generation has taken the bold action required.”

They will search in vain for bold action in the archives for January 2011.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK