struggles under the climate change umbrella
For peoples struggling for their rights
in forest areas, climate change appears to be far removed from
their immediate concerns. However, whether they know it or not,
they are one of the most important and committed actors in protecting
the Earth’s climate.
For instance, those opposing industrial
logging operations in their territories may feel that their struggle
is only about rights and livelihoods. And that’s what it’s about
for them, of course. However, by stopping logging operations,
they are also preventing the release of large amounts of carbon
dioxide emissions –the main greenhouse gas leading to global warming-
which is safely stored in the forest biomass.
Communities fighting against large
hydroelectric dams are also preventing the release of huge amounts
of greenhouse gases such as methane, CO2 and nitrous oxide from
the dams’ water reservoirs, as well as the release of CO2 from
the forests that would be destroyed and from many other dam building-related
Indigenous and other forest-dependent
communities confronting government or corporate plans for the
“conversion” (destruction) of forests to large scale agriculture
and cattle raising, to oil palm and timber plantations, to industrial
shrimp farming, to mining, are also in fact protecting the world’s
climate by preventing the release of enormous amounts of CO2 and
other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
Forest communities confronting oil
exploration and exploitation in their territories are even more
directly linked to combating climate change, because they are
doing exactly what needs to be done: preventing the extraction
–and thus the burning- of fossil fuels, which are the main and
climatically the worse source of CO2 emissions related to global
From the above, it is quite evident
to anyone having a minimal knowledge about the causes of climate
change that those peoples’ struggles are in fact preventing further
climate change. However, most of those struggles are being repressed
and criminalized by governments that have signed and ratified
the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
At the same time, the corporations that are directly or indirectly
involved in those investments are based in countries –mostly Northern-
that have also signed and ratified that Convention.
The conclusion is obvious: by repressing
those struggles –or supporting corporations involved in the issue-
governments are not only violating local peoples’ rights but also
a United Nations Convention created to address the most serious
threat faced by humanity: climate change.
Additionally, many of the “solutions”
put forward by governments for addressing climate change result
in further social and environmental impacts which lead to local
resistance. For instance, as a means of avoiding the necessary
cuts in their own emissions, Northern countries were instrumental
in the creation of mechanisms for “offsetting” their emissions.
One of such mechanisms promotes the establishment of large-scale
tree plantations to act as “carbon sinks.” This means promoting
the same type of plantations that are already being opposed by
countless local communities throughout the world. Another “solution”
for avoiding the necessary changes in production and consumption
leading to climate change has been the promotion of agrofuels
–ranging from corn and soya to oil palm and eucalyptus- which
have also proved to be socially and environmentally destructive
thus resulting in organized local opposition.
Though it is not easy to establish
if those –and many other equally absurd- “solutions” originate
from government delegates at the Convention on Climate Change
or from corporate lobbyists at home and present at the Convention,
it is clear that a large number of corporations and entrepreneurs
are benefiting or plan to benefit from them.
As regards to climate, the current
situation thus shows that those who have the power to make things
change –governments- are unwilling to do what’s necessary.
On the other hand, there are a large
number of actors carrying out different forms of resistance at
the local level, that originate in different issues apparently
far removed from climate, such as land reform, small scale agriculture,
food sovereignty, indigenous and traditional peoples’ rights,
gender equity, human rights, pollution, consumption and many more.
In most –if not all- those struggles
there is at least some link with climate and therefore all those
different resistance processes could be part of the much broader
struggle to prevent climate change. This can be the common link
for uniting local, regional and international movements under
the climate change umbrella, in order to bring about the major
social and economic changes needed for achieving that aim.
While governments play the fiddle -for
the delight of corporations- the future of humanity now lies in
the hands of its peoples.
WHAT THE CONVENTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE DOES NOT SEE
Agribusiness, deforestation and climate change
The present development model has been
strengthened on the basis of large-scale models – production,
marketing, consumption – and the activities sustaining it are
also on a large scale and basically involve intensive land use.
They are the causes of the greatest problem presently hanging
over an unconcerned humanity: the stepping up of greenhouse effect
gas concentrations in the atmosphere, responsible for climate
One of these industrial economic activities
is deforestation – generally to obtain timber and/or gain land
for industrial cattle ranching or industrial monocrops (food,
fuel or trees).
Every time vegetation is burnt or decomposes,
it causes the emission of carbon contained in leafs and stalks,
released as carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse effect gases.
When this is a natural process, re-growth balances the net carbon
emissions but when a forest is cut down and land use change takes
place, the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide increase
enormously. Deforestation implies the total elimination of the
ground biomass, including tree trunks, stumps and roots. Giving
over forest lands to industrial agriculture makes them one of
the least efficient ways of absorbing carbon from the air.
Presently, most of the net emissions
from deforestation take place in tropical regions and the expansion
of large-scale mechanized agriculture is one of the most important
factors involved in forest loss. According to data from a PNAS
report (1) in the nine States of the Brazilian Amazon, industrial
agriculture increased by 36,000 km2 and deforestation totalized
93,700 km2 between 2001 and 2004. The report reveals that the
strengthening of industrial agriculture for the production of
commercial crops in high demand – such as soybean – has been done
at the expense of Amazon deforestation, presently the greatest
source of CO2 emissions in Brazil.
Furthermore, deforestation is generally
the direct or indirect result of government policies. This appears
– although not at a first glance – in the information given in
Brazil on the stepping up of deforestation in the Amazon during
the month of August: 75,600 hectares against 32,300 in July. The
Ministry of the Environment submitted a list of the “100 greatest
deforesters” between 2005 and 2008. The first six places are taken
by the settlements of the National Institute for Settlement and
Agrarian Reform (Instituto Nacional de Colonización y Reforma
Agraria - INCRA) – which met with a broad and sly smile from agribusiness.
The Brazilian professor, Ariovaldo
Umbelino de Oliveira, from the University of Sao Paulo, makes
a very revealing exposé of the reasons concealed behind these
figures and affirms that the guilty party is the official agrarian
“The government” points out de Oliveira
“in its political decision not to confront agribusinesses that
are part of its parliamentary support, did not implement the agrarian
reform in areas where the encampments [of people demanding land]
are located and preferred to concentrate it in the Amazon. A total
of 307,000 families were settled in the Legal Amazon between 2003
and 2007. This is the primary reason for separating the defence
of agrarian reform from the defence of the policy implemented
by INCRA. The agrarian reform will continue being supported because
it is the way to achieve food sovereignty. However, INCRA’s policy
is not the way. It must be severely criticised for the mistake
it contains: that of not assuming the need for agrarian reform
throughout the country.
INCRA’s agrarian reform policy is marked
by two principles: not to implement it in areas under the direct
domination of agribusiness and to implement it in areas where
it can “help” the expansion of agribusiness. That is to say, the
agrarian reform policy of the present government is definitely
linked to the expansion of agribusiness in the country. This is
the second reason to separate the defence of agrarian reform from
the policy adopted by INCRA.
The settlements in six municipalities
in the State of Mato Grosso, the absolute champion in Amazon deforestation,
are located exactly on one of the fronts of the territorial expansion
of cattle-raising. Therefore INCRA is responsible because it does
not have any policy to follow up on these settlements. It is a
common practice for the settlers to sell their plots illegally
to agribusiness which, in order to “buy” them, requires them to
be totally cleared. They do this so that the responsibility for
felling is placed on the settler and on INCRA. Another trick is
to hand over cattle to be raised jointly by the settlers. In both
cases, the forest is cleared to give place to pasture-land for
The same processes take place in the
settlements implemented in the locality of Cotriguaçu covering
a total area of 141,000 hectares. According to the Ministry of
the Environment, over 46,000 hectares of forest were felled to
give way to grazing and to cattle-raising. In the Bordolândia
settlement, the picture is identical.
In the locality of Querência, the settlements
cover an area of 101,000 hectares and in Nova Ubiratà they cover
48,000 hectares. These two localities are at the forefront of
the territorial expansion of cattle-raising and soybean plantations.
There the clearing of over 30,000 hectares of forest took place
because of the pressure of the cattle and soybean agribusiness
in regions where clearcutting is practically total. It is obvious
that the process could not have taken place without the participation
or omission of INCRA.
The way in which the Ministry of the
Environment made public the information should also be criticised
as on the list, next to individual owners, are entire settlements
giving the impression that the responsibility is that of the agrarian
reform, which is not true. When the total area deforested is divided
by the number of families settled, it may be seen that on average
it is less than 70 hectares. Therefore, those main responsible
for felling the Legal Amazon continue to be the big cattle ranchers
and soybean growers who take over the land, either illegally or
(1) “Cropland expansion changes deforestation
dynamics in the southern Brazilian Amazon”,
(2) [Text extracted and adapted from:
“A Amazônia e a reforma agrária de novo no banco dos réus”, Adital,
Criminalization, a mechanism to ensure unfair “development”
In Colombia the State resorts to criminalizing
social and grass-roots organizations as a method of repression
aimed at imposing by force the global market’s agribusiness, large
scale infrastructure works and the extraction of natural resources
involving high human, social and environmental costs.
Criminalization has been an effective
method whereby – by using discursive and symbolic strategies,
combined with the formal use of legality – social actors are delegitimized
and penalized for opposing unjust working conditions, environmental
destruction, and policies damaging the survival of the planet,
subordinated to corporate profitability and earnings.
Accusations, breaking up relationships
between society and social movements and legal questioning of
social expressions have been famous in Colombia since the thirties.
The demonstrations by banana plantation workers who were accused
of being “communists,” ended in a collective massacre promoted
by a United States banana company. In the fifties and sixties
the peasant movement demanding land was criminally attacked and
bombarded and unjustly brought up before the courts. During the
seventies, an urban and rural demonstration linked to a National
Civil Strike was drowned by indiscriminate killings of demonstrators,
followed by torture and trials of civilians in military tribunals.
Or in the eighties, when members of social grass-roots peasant
and Afro-Colombian organizations were murdered, forced off their
lands, pushed into exile or exterminated by paramilitary forces
and the survivors later brought up for trial, accused of terrorism.
Today, while interests focused on the
world market are located in those territories, the social expressions
of resistance by rural inhabitants, among them the survivors of
the State’s systematic violence, are subject to further violence
and criminalization with the use of multiple strategies to ensure
they are under control or that they consent to “development” models.
In the North of the Choco in the Colombian
Darien area, the destruction of primary and secondary forests
started with a violent military operation under the name of “Genesis,”
which resulted in the displacement of Afro-Colombian peasants
–accompanied by 80 documented crimes- and the installation of
a paramilitary base where the Maderas del Darien company (a branch
of Pizano S.A) established itself. The leaders who bravely denounced
these actions against the collective territories where they lived
were subject to death threats, to being set-up in the mass media
and sent to trial for rebellion and drug trafficking. Those responsible
for what was known as ecocide in the mid-nineties and for other
crimes were never investigated. The companies deforested the land,
which was never returned to its owners, the military officers
were promoted and the paramilitary forces, together with national
politicians developed new agribusinesses. The communities were
criminalized and stigmatized.
In that same region, in the bio-geographical
Colombian Choco, the watersheds of the Curvarado and Jiguamiando
- declared a natural reserve in 1959 - are an example of the use
of official – military and paramilitary – violence for the implementation
of oil palm agribusiness and the spread of cattle ranching. Starting
in 1996 when President Alvaro Uribe Velez was governor of the
Department of Antioquia, the 17th Brigade of the national army
and the paramilitary forces launched a persecution against Afro-descendent
and indigenous inhabitants. More than 140 peasants were murdered
or went missing and 40 community leaders had court action brought
against them, including capture orders for the crime of rebellion.
These facts together with the death threats, the economic blockade,
the abuse of power, the bombing and the ransacking of local peoples’
means of survival, led to 15 forced mass displacements of hundreds
This violence has made it possible
for over 23,000 hectares of collective territory to be appropriated
illegally by oil palm growers, cattle ranchers and loggers linked
to State criminality, paramilitary forces and money laundering.
This dispossession of land has been accompanied by intensive deforestation
of primary forests in over 10,000 hectares, the drying up of five
rivers and the contamination of streams by agrochemicals, causing
serious health problems particularly affecting women and children.
Criminalization can only be understood
as part of a repression mechanism, the violation of human rights
and an attempt to exert social control, clearly associated today
with business in these territories.
In Colombia, according to Human Rights
organizations, over the past 15 years, close on 4 million people
have been forcefully evicted from their lands by armed operations
involving State responsibility and 14,000 crimes against humanity
were committed between 1988 and 2003 . Organizations of missing
people’s families indicate that over 15,000 people have disappeared
with the use of force . Nearly 7 million hectares of lands have
been illegally appropriated by paramilitary forces or drug traffickers
in the past 15 years, very often after having forced the inhabitants
to leave .
The policy of democratic security and
construction of a community State, launched in 2002 by the Uribe
government, boasts that it has moved away from the National Security
Doctrine and that it has zero tolerance of Human Rights violations.
Such statements are no more than reengineering advertising of
the old repressive military and police practices. Between 2002
and 2006, close on 6000 illegal and arbitrary arrests were made,
together with nearly 1000 murders by the armed forces. Many of
these victims are depicted before the mass media as having died
The Colombian State justifies the use
of violence against peasants, Afro-Colombians, indigenous peoples
and trade-union and social leaders, under the pretext that they
are persecuting guerrillas or drug trafficking. But these attacks
usually favour the economic interests of national and international
companies engaged in agribusiness, infrastructure works and extraction
of natural resources. These companies also protect themselves
against criminality or use it to support their interests.
Actual violence is accompanied by practices
such as false incriminations and accusations in the mass media,
leading to criminal prosecution. Organizational processes affirming
the right to a healthy environment, the respect of biodiversity
and to collective territories are penalized to ensure investment.
Since October 2008, demonstrations
by indigenous Nasa people in the Departments of Cauca and Putumayo
against the signing of Free Trade Agreements and in favour of
respect for biodiversity and the territories have seen two murders
and over 200 people injured. High government officials have delegitimized
the indigenous movement, accusing it of being led by FARC guerrillas.
These accusations are not new and for some time now indigenous
leaders have been set up in legal proceedings.
Recently sugar cane workers launched
a strike to question the national energy policy and the absence
of labour guarantees and were the target of false accusations.
Three of them were later arrested.
Criminalization in the mass media and
in the courts is part of repressive mechanisms and of a formality
to legitimize the violation of Human Rights. This is part of an
attempt to ensure territorial privatization for businesses focused
on the global market, to destroy opposition, impose silence and
social consent to an unfair “development” model.
By Danilo Rueda, Justicia y Paz, e-mail:
Doing away with forests, people and climate through logging
DRC’s rainforest --the world’s second
largest-- is disappearing through logging. According to a report
from The Guardian (1), “today a dozen large, mostly European,
companies dominate the industry and have vast concessions: Trans-M
has Lebanese owners; another group, which controls around 15m
acres, is owned by the Portuguese Trinidade brothers; the American
Blattner family has more than 2m acres; the German Danzer Group
has 5m. To make worthwhile the tricky task of exporting wood over
the rapids near the capital city of Kinshasa, the demand is for
the highest quality wood for European kitchens, floors and furniture.
Peace has exacerbated the problem, opening up the forest to smaller
Most logging concessions were granted
in spite of a national moratorium on logging titles since 2002
and in violation of the new forest laws. The companies know they
will be able to appeal, and log, for many years.
The forest provides food, medicines
and building materials to two-thirds of the people in Congo --40
million people. DRC’s rainforest is also one of the biggest stores
of carbon in the world. However, the companies are being encouraged
to take what they can. A flawed World Bank-financed review of
the legality of 156 logging contracts has otherwise increased
the peril as some 46 of the total contracts were converted into
legal concessions --33 of which were granted after the 2002 moratorium
was already in place. (2) With no social and environmental criteria,
the review process ignored the impact on local people's livelihoods.
Most concessions were granted in areas inhabited by people dependent
on the forest, many have Pygmies living in them, and a third is
in areas identified as vital for conservation. Also the global
significance of tropical forests in stabilizing climate change
and protecting biodiversity was ignored. (3)
In 2003, Safbois,
a part-American, part Belgian-owned conglomerate, was awarded
a more than 100,000 square miles concession to log the forest
for the precious African teak. Local communities condemn the company
which they say will profit from their trees while providing little
or nothing for them: their hunting grounds are being destroyed,
their access to wild food denied, there are few jobs, they pay
The Guardian’s report explains that:
“The system of concessionaries offering gifts to communities in
return for permission to log is now the basis of the whole forestry
operation in Congo. Isolated communities, which have seldom had
contact with outsiders, are being persuaded to sign away, for
just a few machetes and bags of salt, the rights to the forests
on which they have depended for millions of years. One company
gave a community 18 bars of soap, four packets of soup, 24 bottles
of beer and two bags of sugar. Another signed a deal for 20 sacks
of sugar, 200 bags of salt, 200 machetes and 200 spades. In Orientale
province, another company promised a school, a clinic and enough
wood to provide for their coffins.”
"Concessions are being given out,
and the villagers are not being told what the chiefs are signing
up to. Communities are in chaos and there is more and more social
conflict. It is a cruel system that continues the injustices and
atrocities of the colonial system but it is even worse because
it deprives communities of their resources and consigns them to
A World Bank official spoke anonymously:
"Clearly the companies are the root of the problem. They
are taking advantage of the chaos. They exploit the poor. It's
normal. They are businessmen. It's a very small group of people
who get rich and the very large group stay poor. Because the government
is weak, it cannot take them on. Nothing much has changed since
King Leopold's day. All this started in colonial times. The government
continued the same old ways after independence. It's still a system
Companies say they want to take just
a few trees, but “to take out just one valuable tree requires
roads to be built deep into the forest, which means hundreds of
other trees are cut or smashed down - often the very ones that
the communities use and need for medicines and foods. The companies
do not replant - the trees they cut down may be 100 years old
- and they leave the forest vulnerable to floods of hunters and
other farmers moving in to pull down more.”
The forest is gone forever, and the
companies take everything, “including the chance to develop",
as a local regrets.
Additionally, industrial logging is
also a major contributor to climate change. By churning and compacting
the soil logging releases stored gases, and quickens its breakdown
when it's exposed to oxygen. When logs are removed from a forest,
a high percentage of the carbon remains in the “waste” --dead
plants, unwanted trees, branches, stumps, roots-- that decomposes
and sometimes is set alight, releasing large quantities of CO2
to the atmosphere. Logs are transported in trucks that drive thousands
of kilometres daily producing millions of tonnes of greenhouse
gases. Logs exported as roundwood or converted into planks or
woodchips are then shipped to markets abroad in huge tankers that
add more tonnes of carbon emissions.
In spite of all the above, the same
old colonial concessionary system “is now accepted by the World
Bank and western governments. It deprives millions of people of
their resources, encourages corruption, prevents development,
divides communities and contributes to climate change. The real
scandal today is that, for a few square metres of flooring, or
a kitchen door, or a bedpost, the second greatest forest in the
world is being destroyed, probably for ever”.(1)
Rica: Grass-roots resistance to open cast
mining in Crucitas
On 17 December 2001, by Resolution
# R-578-2001-MINAE and in a totally underhand manner, the Costa
Rican Ministry of the Environment and Energy (MINAE) granted a
concession for the exploitation of an open-cast goldmine using
leaching with cyanide to Industrias Infinito S.A. a branch of
the Canadian transnational corporation Vanesa Ventures.
The plans of Industrias Infinito S.A.
are to exploit an area of 18 square kilometres in Crucitas, in
the north of the country, between the mountains La Fortuna and
Botija, some 3 km from the San Juan River. This involves the felling
of over 190 hectares of forest (including species that are protected
such as almond trees) because, as described by the journalist
and opponent to the project, Marco Tulio Araya:
“Mining activities do not allow for
any trees to remain standing, the trees must be clear-cut that
is to say the mountain must be left bare to start digging and
take out the rocks containing gold. Roughly a ton and a half of
rock are needed to obtain one gram of gold. In order to obtain
one kilo large amounts of material need to be ground and liquefied
using millions of litres of water with cyanide, because cyanide
acts as a magnet to the microscopic gold particles. A mine extracting
gold and other metals using this procedure known as leaching requires
as much water per hour as a peasant family uses in 20 years. To
obtain such a quantity of water the company buys up the farms
around the mine so nobody accuses it and diverts the streams to
join them up, which is something clearly illegal. The water -contaminated
with cyanide residues- that is no longer necessary goes to big
lagoons where it continues poisoning any animal that drinks it.
Sometimes the company puts up warning notices, but as neither
the birds nor the animals know how to read, death and destruction
The cost is very high: it is not only
the landscape of Las Crucitas that will be destroyed,
but also no less than 32 neighbouring communities and the
San Juan River, neighbouring with Nicaragua, will also be affected.
As in Costa Rica clear-cutting is banned
and the only exception allowed is for National Convenience projects,
after various comings and goings, the open-cast mining project
ended up by being considered to be of “public interest” in order
to get it approved. But the people of Costa Rica ask themselves
what public usefulness is being referred to when mining brings
destruction, contamination and more climate change.
It has been clearly shown -and communities
affected by mining all over the world can testify to it- that
mining is a short-term activity but with long-term, extended and
generally irreversible destructive effects. One of these effects
is to contribute to climate change, both through the deforestation
it generally involves – as is the case in Costa Rica – and because
it is an industrial activity requiring a large amount of energy
for its operation, mainly coming from the burning of fossil fuels
(coal, gas or diesel), with emissions causing climate change.
Ever since the Government of Costa
Rica issued the declaration of public interest, the ecologist
and social movement led by the organizations and communities of
the North Zone have been carrying out a struggle against the project,
with wide support from the general public.
Coecoceiba – Friends of the Earth Costa
Rica reports that “The struggle against the Crucitas project has
been going on for over fifteen years, thanks to the communities
from the north zone. Over these fifteen years, they have managed
to reject environmental impact assessments, enormous companies
such as Placer Dome and to build up a strong social web that today
once again unites to resist and overcome a further onslaught against
the communities and their environment.”
The Costa Rican people have reacted
strongly against what they consider to be an environmental crime,
showing up the duality of the Government’s policy: “The present
Government has two policies regarding the environment. One that
it shows on an international level, maintaining that environmental
conservation must exist, that the world is in danger due to the
environmental collapse, among other universally accepted phrases.
Around the world, the “Initiative of Peace with Nature”, carbon
neutral and “Costa Rica for Ever” have become an important part
of the foreign policy whereby the country attempts to position
itself in diverse fora while requesting financial resources. The
country’s internal environmental policy, its everyday policy,
is in contradiction with the other. This second policy is the
one advocating deregulation, eliminating the requirement of environmental
impact assessment to more and more activities to determine if
they are feasible. This is the policy that defends tooth and nail
that an open-cast mine with cyanide leaching is compatible with
the environment and to achieve this, they recite the old and outdated
formula that “the project is viable from a social, economic and
A "March for Life" was organized
in Quezada City on November 14th to express the peoples' opposition
to destructive projects. People from communities in the vicinity
of the mining `project came together to demonstrate against open-cast
mining and to demand the repeal of the decree. The march was followed
by a cultural activity.
Many organizations have filed an application
for enforcement of rights, demanding that the permits granted
be reconsidered and cancelled. From neighbouring Nicaragua, the
events are being followed with concern as there are communities
in this country that would be affected by the open-cast mine.
Indignation is great and resistance
For more information, visit the webpage
of the anti-mine campaign in Crucitas:
on the Mekong mainstream would destroy fisheries for millions
"The Mekong matters to the people
who live round it perhaps more than any other river on earth,"
wrote Fred Pearce in his book about the world's rivers, "When
the Rivers Run Dry". Something like two million tons of fish
are caught in the Mekong River each year, second only to the Amazon.
In Cambodia, 70 per cent of villagers' protein comes from fish.
The Mekong is also extremely diverse, with about 1,300 species
of fish, again second only to the Amazon.
The Mekong's flow is the most variable
of any major river in the world. During the monsoon, it contains
up to 50 times as much water as during the dry season. This variability
is crucial for the fisheries in the Mekong. Every year, as the
monsoon rains turn the Mekong into a raging torrent, the water
in the Tonle Sap tributary in Cambodia reverses flow and floods
a vast area, called the Great Lake. The flooded forests are an
incredibly productive ecosystem. Billions of fish fry are flushed
into the lake to feed on floating vegetation. An enormous fishing
industry exists on the Great Lake.
Overfishing is a threat to this fecundity,
but the biggest threat is a cascade of dams planned for the mainstream
of the river. China has already build several dams on the upper
Mekong and more are planned. In recent years, Laos, Thailand and
Cambodia have been dusting off plans first dreamed up decades
ago for ten dams on the mainstream Mekong.
In February 2008, the Lao government
signed a project development agreement with the Mega First Corporation
Berhad, a Malaysian engineering company, to build the Don Sahong
dam. The dam would block the Hoo Sahong channel "with devastating
consequences for fisheries and fishery-based livelihoods locally
and throughout the wider Mekong region", notes a new report
by International Rivers about dams in Laos.
Two months before the Don Sahong agreement
was signed, more than 200 NGOs from 30 countries (including WRM)
wrote to the Mekong River Commission, the inter-governmental body
that is supposed to manage development on the river. The NGOs
complained that "Despite the serious ecological and economic
implications of damming the lower Mekong, the Mekong River Commission
has remained notably silent. We find this an extraordinary abdication
of responsibility." In February 2008, the MRC appointed a
new chief executive officer, Jeremy Bird, a Chartered Engineer.
The MRC's silence on mainstream dams has now been replaced by
"The dramatic fluctuations in
oil and gas prices over the last year and the growing evidence
of change in the planet's climate have focused global attention
on the need for sustainable sources of clean energy," Bird
wrote in the Thai newspaper The Nation in September 2008. The
Mekong River is "a source of enormous collective energy potential",
Bird wrote. "To date only around 5 per cent of that potential
has been realised."
As Patrick McCully of International
Rivers points out, dams are not sources of clean energy. "Dams
and reservoirs are major global sources of global warming pollution,"
McCully said last year in a presentation at the Commonwealth Club
of California. Organic matter rotting in the reservoirs behind
dams emits carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. More emissions
come from the huge amount of cement used to construct the dams
and from land clearing and road building related to the construction.
McCully points out that emissions from dams in the tropics are
comparable to, and in some cases far higher than, emissions from
an equivalent sized fossil fuel power plant.
In September 2008, the MRC organised
a meeting in Vientiane to discuss the proposals to dam the lower
Mekong. None of the millions of people who will be affected if
the dams are built were invited to the meeting. Bird explained
to a journalist from Inter Press Service that he did not see that
as a problem. In any case the meeting took place in English and
"in an environment that the communities are not familiar
with". Bird added that "What is important for us is
to understand the concerns and the problems of those communities
and we can do that in a number of ways."
While Bird acknowledged that "the
issue of fish migration has become central to the discussions,"
he did not think that this should stop the dam building. According
to Bird. "[T]here will be tremendous efforts now targeted
towards first of all avoiding those impacts; if that is not possible,
to them minimise what they are and to then mitigate to the extent
The damage caused by blocking the Mekong
with concrete and dramatically altering the river's seasonal flows
cannot be mitigated. Justifying building these dams by claiming
that they are climate-friendly, as Bird does, is truly "an
extraordinary abdication of responsibility". Already, fisheries
in the Mekong have been severely affected by the upstream dams
in China. Building dams on the lower Mekong would destroy the
fisheries completely. In turn it would condemn millions of people
to serious food shortages and increased poverty.
By Chris Lang, http://chrislang.org
Government will hand over mangroves belonging to the Ecuadorian
people to the shrimp farming industry
On 15 October, the President of the
Republic, the Economist Rafael Correa Delgado, and four Ministers
of State issued Decree 1391 regulating industrial shrimp farming.
The Decree is contradictory, because
on the one hand it recognizes the illegal situation in which thousands
of hectares of shrimp farms have been operating, together with
the felling of mangroves resulting from this industry. But on
the other hand it ends up by rewarding the shrimp farming industry
by granting it concessions in areas that are a National Asset
of Public Use (see
), thus violating 56 legal provisions that have protected
the mangrove ecosystems since the seventies.
The measure of “regulating” illegal
actions (which in practice will be legalized) sets a precedent
of legal insecurity regarding environmental issues and regarding
guaranteeing the Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental
Rights of the Ancestral Fisher-folk and Artisanal Gatherer Peoples
of the Ecuadorian coast, who have been violently displaced from
their territories and who have insistently requested the various
Governments in office to give back the mangrove ecosystem areas
occupied with impunity by the shrimp farming industry.
Will Ecuadorian mangroves fall into
The mangrove ecosystem is one of the
five most productive ecosystems in the world. Alarmed by its destruction,
Official Records No. 722 of 6 July 1987 declared as protective
forests 362.802 hectares of land covered by mangroves, other forest
species and saline areas located in 5 hydrographic systems on
the Ecuadorian coast.
A study made by the Centre for Integrated
Surveying of Natural Resources by Remote Sensing (CLIRSEN) in
the year 2000 reveals that 254,503 hectares had been felled, the
equivalent of 70% of the original mangrove areas. Furthermore,
the Third Agricultural and Livestock Census of 2001, showed the
existence of 234.359 hectares of shrimp
Traditionally, Ecuadorian legislation
has prohibited mangrove felling, burning or destruction. It penalises
mangrove destruction by levying fines, ordering restitution of
the entire area destroyed and even by prison sentences.
However, the recent Decree 1391, completely
demolishes current legislation, in an attempt to reward shrimp
farm industrialists that have destroyed mangroves and with them,
deprived the local communities of their source of sustenance and
livelihood, consenting to the reforestation of a minimum percentage
of the area destroyed, absolving the industry from paying fines
and from criminal penalties.
Decree 1391 not only violates Laws
and Codes, but above all the Constitutional text, approved by
the majority of the Ecuadorian people on 28 September 2008. The
new Constitution, applauded at international level because it
sets out a progressive constitutional text, establishes a series
of Nature rights, Water rights and rights of the People, that
have been violated by this Decree.
And what if mangroves were to become
The Ancestral Peoples of the Mangrove
Ecosystem live in an intimate relationship with their natural
ecosystem which is their source of sustenance and life. The ecosystem
not only benefits local communities but fulfils essential ecological
functions for the planet. The terrible scenes of the Asian tsunami
(December 2006) should be remembered when, after felling the natural
protective barrier and windbreak curtain formed by mangroves,
entire villages were wiped out and thousands of people killed
or seriously injured, not to mention the enormous damage done
to material goods.
Mangroves are also important in desalinization
of waters entering the continent, enabling land to be used for
agriculture and therefore for food production which, together
with fish and shellfish – that shelter among the mangrove roots
during spawning and the larval stage – are our population’s main
source of food.
Our food sovereignty would be seriously
affected by the privatization of our coasts and their handing
over to the shrimp industry, because the fantastic crustacean
it produces is solely aimed at feeding the North, given that farmed
shrimps are not consumed in the producer countries: they are export
Standing mangrove ecosystems feed our
population and generate decent jobs for local communities who
day by day have seen the fish, crab and shellfish banks decrease.
Their natural habitat is disappearing at the speed of the mechanical
arm of a digger that in just a few days transforms a rich and
lush thousand-year old mangrove into a shrimp pond.
The ancestral peoples of the mangrove
ecosystems demand the abolition of Decree 1391 and penalization
of the shrimp farm industry that has usurped mangroves, a fact
that has been recognized in this same Decree. This demand is set
out in the Manifesto of the Ancestral Peoples of the Mangrove
Ecosystem against the Regulation and Certification of the Captive
By Verónica Yépez, C-CONDEM, e-mail:
Forest dependent Vangujjars harassed by local government
Vangujjars, a distinct nomadic tribe
with a very rich cultural heritage has been living scattered in
the Indian upland forests of the Uttrakhand since the last three
centuries. They still maintain nomadic life with their buffaloes
and travel between higher reaches of Himalaya in summer to lower
Himalaya in winter. They have always received step motherly treatment
by all the governments whosoever ruled Uttar Pradesh or Uttrakhand.
But from October 2008 the attack on vangujjars has become more
intensified and blatant. More than 100 hutments were totally smashed
by the Rajaji National Park administration.
The Scheduled Tribe and other Forest
Dweller (Recognition of forest rights) Act 2006, popularly known
as Forest Rights Act was enacted by the Parliament on 15th Dec
2006 and enforced on 1st Jan 2008. All the states were bound to
enforce this act in their respective states by passing Government
Orders to all the districts. But no such enforcement of the act
has been done by the Uttrakhand government. No Government order
has been issued and neither the government is showing any political
will to implement this act despite the fact that Uttrakhand has
more than 65% forest cover and around 80% of its population is
entirely dependent on the forest.
Now the Rajaji National Park, which
is the famous tourist spot for the middle and upper class people
of Delhi and Dehradun, has become the battleground of forest dwelling
communities versus the forest department. The forest department
planned to evict around 500 families this October and targeted
the “deras” (hutments) of the leaders of vangujjars who were active
in forming their organization and fighting a legal case against
eviction by forest department in High Court. The goons of forest
department have attacked and smashed their “deras” scared little
children and women, looted their belongings and thrown them out
of the forest mercilessly. Even four youth were arrested on
false charges, while they were grazing their animals.
The vangujjar community of the Rajaji
national park has been fighting a very long battle since 2004
for recognition of their rights. The park authorities have only
recognized 512 families and have resettled them in Pathri, Hardwar
which is not built according to the needs and environment of this
The National Forum of Forest People
and Forest Workers (NFFPFW) on behalf of vangujjars filed a public
interest litigation. The Honorable High Court in a historical
judgment ordered the Uttrakhand State government to implement
the forest rights act 2006 within 60 days by forming the forest
rights committee so that the rights of the vangujjar could be
settled according to the act.
The delay in enforcement of the act
created lots of problems for the vangujjar community as the new
park director S.S Rasily was much more ruthless than the one before.
His only mission was to throw the vangujjars out of the forest
without settling their rights. Even after all such orders in their
favor, the vangujjars faced the worst eviction ever in October
The forest department staff with the
local police stations used massive police force to evict the tribal
On 3rd November 2008, thousands of
vangujjars, forest villages and other forest dwellers from 11
districts of Uttrakhand challenged the State government and protested
in front of the State Secretariat at Dehradun to stop such illegal
evictions, implement the forest rights act immediately and reestablish
all the 110 evicted families in Rajaji National Park. The forest
communities have announced that if their demands are not met they
will start the movement to reestablish their “deras” in their
original place from 16th November 2008
onwards. Ashok Chowdhury the founding member of NFFPFW observes
that “If the situation is not handled properly by the State government
then it may turn into a serious conflict between the forest dwelling
communities of Uttrakhand with the State”.
Resumé from the longer article by Roma,
, NFFPFW (Kaimur) / Human Rights Law Centre, Purab Mohal,
Email : email@example.com
Mining causes ecocide in Coahuayana, Michoacan
The Italo-Argentine mining company
TERNIUM is planning to mine for iron minerals in nearly 2,000
hectares of tropical forest in the Municipality of Coahuayana
in the State of Michoacán (south-western Mexico). Among other
negative impacts, this activity will leave the whole Municipality
(15 thousand inhabitants) without water. The El Saucito River
has already felt the consequences as have the mountains and forest,
and the villages of Santa Maria Miramar, El Saucito, La Palmita,
El Parotal and Achotan are already suffering from the effects
and have asked the authorities to declare a Municipal Ecological
The communities have denounced that
“the company entered the territory to destroy our source of life
– the mountains, the forest and the river El Saucito. Trees that
were over one hundred years old, cedars, rosamoradas, mojos, ceibas
and many other species have been felled.” “With the felling they
have caused landslides with thousands of tons of silt and stones
ending up in the river, in addition to the oil they use for their
machinery.” In their letter of complaint to the authorities, the
communities consider this damage as “ecocide.”
In ecological terms the company has
already caused serious damage to the Municipality of Coahuayana
in the process of collecting, storing and releasing the rainwater
that supports life in this zone. For this reason the population
is opposing any activity at the La Colomera mine by TERNIUM as
they have observed over the past months how mining works have
accelerated pollution of the El Saucito River and the forest and
all the living beings that inhabit it. According to them “they
are part of our very selves as communities. This company is a
stranger in this land and doesn’t care if it destroys the forest
and the river.” The communities’ greatest concern is that “in
ten years time we will have become practically lifeless villages.”
The ecosystem the local population
is defending is an area of incalculable ecological value as it
is a natural transition system between the tropical forest ecosystem
and the pine and oak forests and acts as a regulating mechanism
for the water cycle. Furthermore, it is known that these forests
contribute to balancing global climatic phenomena such as the
greenhouse effect and global warming by trapping and storing carbon
dioxide. This is very significant considering that this vegetation
grows very fast thanks to the tropical climate.
The forest is also the ultimate refuge
for endangered fauna, which is already feeling the effects of
this ecocide: river otters
(Lontra longicaudis), long-clawed freshwater prawns
(Macrobrachium spp), parrots (Amazona finschi y oratrix),
white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), and the
ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata)
– which in fact was considered to be extinct but is still to be
found in the area – are examples of this.
At the beginning of 2008, the TERNIUM
mining company has entered the territory of the Municipality of
Coahuayana with the intention of working the iron mine in the
vicinity of El Saucito and Cerro de la Aguja. The authorities
did not react to defend the interests of the communities although
the company never notified the Municipality of the works nor did
it have any kind of permit. For this reason, the affected parties
lodged various complaints and insisted on getting an answer. Thus
on 29 October representatives of the Federal Environmental Protection
Prosecutor (Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente - PROFEPA)
and from the mining company visited the area to check on the damage
caused to the forest and river. However the inspection took place
at night and only accompanied by representatives of the company,
preventing participation by the communities that had made the
complaints. The argument was that according to their regulations,
there is no obligation to invite the complaining party, but only
the accused party. That same day the regional representative of
the Environmental Secretariat (SEMARNAT) stated that the “SEMARNAT
agency in Michoacán has no record of any mining site in this Municipality,
therefore there can be no type of permit to carry out work in
this respect.” However, on the contrary PROFEPA affirms that the
company does have a permit, which the communities find suspicious.
For this reason, the inhabitants are
making two appeals: first that the Northeast area of the municipal
territory of Coahuayana ranging from the El Saucito river to the
Cerro de la Aguja be declared a Municipal Conservation Zone, so
that never again may any company or person feel they have the
right to come and destroy the natural resources to be found in
this forest and river. And secondly, that the concession to TERNIUM
in the Municipality of Coahuayan must be cancelled.
Finally, the inhabitants state that:
“we do not want to negotiate, we do
not want the money or the jobs promised by the company because
there is no money nor any job that can pay for the life that is
being destroyed there. We only want our right to clean water respected
and our dignity and that of the forest respected.”
In spite of the company’s attempts
to create social division and confrontation through false accusations
against those resisting the mining works, the communities pointed
out that resistance has been peaceful at all times and explained
“We do not oppose the development of
our Municipality, provided that this development is not a threat
to our environment and to basic natural resources, such as water.”
It is encouraging that little by little,
the authorities are beginning to realize that the movement is
advancing beyond their own expectations.
The inhabitants of the communities
of El Parotal, La Palmita, Achotán, Santa Maria Miramar and El
Saucito, members of the peaceful civil resistance movement against
the La Colomera mine belonging to the TERNIUM company in the Municipality
On this thirteenth day of the month
of November of the year 2008
NO TO THE MINE, YES TO LIFE!!!
Note: In order to support these communities,
you are invited to sign a letter of protest addressed to the local
and national Mexican authorities, by entering
www.salvalaselva.org Here you
will find an action of protest by e-mail: NO to the death mining
in Coahuayana, Michoacán, Mexico.
Gas flaring – major contributor to climate change and human rights
Nigeria holds 11,700 square kilometers
of mangrove forest: the third largest in the world and the largest
in Africa. Most of this mangrove is found in the Niger Delta.
Nigeria is also a major oil producer
and most oil extraction takes place in the Niger Delta. There,
petroleum or crude oil abounds in rock formations. The complex
mixture of hydrocarbons and other organic compounds that make
up the flammable liquid fossil fuel is extracted from oil wells
found in those oil fields.
When crude oil is pumped out it also
drags associated gas with it. Such natural gas could be separated
from the oil and be used but oil companies prefer to burn it off.
Shell-BP was the first one to start with this practice in the
Flaring of natural gas associated to
oil extraction has been internationally acknowledged as a significant
source of greenhouse gas emissions and a major contributor to
climate change. In combustion, gaseous hydrocarbons react with
atmospheric oxygen to form carbon dioxide (CO2).
Gas flaring also causes acid rain which
acidifies lakes and streams and damages vegetation, produces air
pollution, and can lead to leukemia or asthma and premature death.
Though the British government implemented
domestic policies to reduce gas flaring to a minimum at home,
the same criteria does not apply to British companies in Nigeria,
where gas flaring is still carried out by Shell as well as other
corporations that control oil business such as Agip, ExxonMobil,
Texaco, TotalFinaElf and Chevron.
It’s just a matter of money –and power.
Of money, because in places that lack infrastructure to make use
of the associated gas and are far from potential markets –as is
the case with the Niger Delta mangroves- it’s cheaper to simply
burn the gas off, despite the damaging impacts. Of power, because
transnational corporations have the leverage to impose their commercial
interest over the health, livelihoods and human rights of local
communities thus showing their disregard for people. Despite an
Act passed in 1984 that technically declared that gas flaring
was illegal, the oil industry still flares billions of cubic meters
of gas a year.
Through chimneys, released gas is burnt
bringing up sizeable non-stop orange glowing flames whose fumes
and huge heat lead to mangrove destruction and degradation, and
spread conflicts and death (see WRM Bulletin Nº 56).
In spite of being a major oil producer,
Nigeria is among the world’s poorest nations thus proving that
oil based economies in Southern countries just enrich a tiny group
of transnationals and local elites. Furthermore, the country suffers
chronic energy shortages.
A huge amount of suffering, repression
and death have accompanied the long-standing opposition to the
impacts of oil production including pollution and gas flaring
in Nigeria. Last September, during a community interactive forum
on the impact of gas flaring at Iwherekan community, Delta State,
Nigerian soldiers guarding gas flaring sites operated by Shell
arrested about 25 persons attending the forum.
Among the detainees were community
elders, women, children, members of Environmental Rights Action
/Friends of the Earth and journalists from national newspapers
and television stations including the Federal Government-owned
Nigeria Television Authority (NTA); the camera of the NTA crew
was seized and confiscated.
On November 14, 2005, Shell had been
ordered to stop gas flaring in Iwherekan Community by April 2007.
The rule of a Federal High court acknowledged that the practice
of gas flaring violated the fundamental right to life and dignity
and was the result of a suit filed on July 20, 2005 by Mr. Jonah
Gbemre on behalf of himself and the Iwherekan community against
Shell, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the
Attorney General of the Federation.
However, the company went on with the
lethal practice of burning gas. People have expressed their concern
and the arrest apparently was to intimidate the community and
prevent environmentalists from their continued campaign for an
end to gas flaring.
Nnimmo Bassey, ERA/FoEN Executive Director,
declared: “This action has shown clearly that this government
is not concerned about the impact of gas flaring on the livelihoods
and health of Niger Delta people. It is also a clear evidence
that what this administration has to offer for the genuine agitation
of Niger Delta people for an end to gas flaring is, intimidation,
crude force and cover ups. It is so sad that this has happened
under a government that has gone to the roof top to profess its
belief in the rule of law”.
Article based on information from:
“Gas Flaring, LAC & Climate Change”, Keith R, Temas Actuales
; “Gas Flaring Disrupts Life in Oil-Producing Niger Delta”,
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR,
; “Press Release: Environmentalists Denounce Arrests in
Gas Flaring-Affected Community”, Environmental Rights Action /
Friends of the Earth Nigeria,
Palm oil expansion for agrofuels:
Burning all hope of stabilising the climate?
Two years ago, 5.3 million hectares
across Indonesia were engulfed in flames in the worst fire season
since 1997/98. Haze blanketed large parts of South-east Asia,
hiding additional peat and forest fires in Malaysia. Over 75,000
fires burnt across Sumatra and Borneo. Peat expert, Professor
Florian Siegert helped to analyse details from satellite images
and concluded: “Most fires were set to clear land for plantations.
Those burns often run out of control because the forests have
already been damaged by illegal logging” (1).
Similar fires now occur every year, though their scale varies
depending on how long and dry the dry season is. Palm oil has
become the main driver of peatland destruction, followed by tree
plantations for pulp and paper.
According to Siegert, the carbon dioxide
released by the 2006 peat and forest fires accounted for up to
15% of all global carbon dioxide emissions that year. This figure,
however, gives only a glimpse of the true scale of the climate
impacts associated with palm oil in South-east Asia.
South-east Asia peatlands account for
60% of the world's tropical peatlands and hold around 42 billion
tonnes of carbon. Globally, peatlands play a vital role in stabilising
the climate: As long as peat remains undisturbed and does not
dry up as a result of climate change, it represents a permanent
carbon store. Peat formation is one of the earth's ways of removing
carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and thus an important 'global
thermostat'. There is strong evidence that South-east Asia's peat
swamps played a vital role in preventing more extreme and rapid
global warming at the end of the last ice age. Nobody knows exactly
why the warming at that time did not run out of control and cause
a mass extinction, as had happened tens of millions of years ago.
After all, warming automatically results in more carbon dioxide
being released into the atmosphere, particularly by the oceans.
Much of that carbon dioxide must have been absorbed by soil and
vegetation and we know that peat accumulation accelerated at the
time, when those peatlands were much larger, due to lower sea
level (2). Left
intact, we could expect South-east Asia's peat forests to absorb
some of the carbon dioxide which has already been emitted by fossil
fuel burning and to mitigate climate change. Their destruction
is thus a double whammy to the earth's climate: Once the peat
is drained and logged, all of the carbon in the peat will 'oxidise',
which means they will react with oxygen to form carbon dioxide.
This process can take several decades, but it is greatly speeded
up by fires. There is little hope that even a catastrophic 2oC
warming could be avoided if all the 42 billion tonnes of carbon
in Indonesia's and Malaysia's peat goes into the atmosphere, regardless
of any measures taken to phase out fossil fuels and end deforestation.
Even worse, at a time of catastrophic climate change, one of the
few ways in which the planet can eventually stabilise its temperature
is being destroyed, putting the future of all life at even greater
Already, 48% of the original 27 million
hectares of peatlands have been intensively logged and drained
and 3.7 have been completely destroyed. In theory, it should be
possible to restore what remains of the drained peat, through
re-flooding and reforestation. Several NGOs have begun a demonstration
project, although anecdotal evidence suggests that this is not
very successful due to a lack of community involvement. In reality,
however, we can expect virtually all of the remaining peatlands
to be destroyed, barring a u-turn in Europe's and other countries'
bioenergy policies and the Malaysian and Indonesian governments'
policies of promoting monocultures for agrofuel exports. In the
past, Europe's use of rapeseed oil for biodiesel has been one
of the main causes of palm oil expansion, since the food and cosmetics
industry has responded by switching from rapeseed to palm oil.
Palm oil use for heat and power, has been another serious factor.
In future, it is likely that more palm oil will be used directly
for biodiesel: Several large biodiesel refineries are being built
specifically to use palm oil, including the world's biggest one,
which Neste Oil is constructing in Singapore, while the US and
Australia are increasing their imports for agroenergy.
According to Wetlands International,
at least 15% of Malaysian and 25% of Indonesian oil palm plantations
are now on peat. In Indonesia, over half of all new concessions
for such plantations have been granted on peatlands. In Malaysia,
the state government of Sarawak has recently allocated 400,000
hectares of peat swamp forests for plantations, mostly for palm
oil (3). Peat forests
are being targeted not least because virtually all of Sumatra's
and most of Borneo's rainforests have been destroyed, hence the
less accessible wood in peat swamps becomes attractive to loggers.
Extra profits from the timber make oil palm plantations significantly
more attractive and in some cases, palm oil and logging firms
are part of the same company. Furthermore, government policies
which promote palm oil for export, largely to serve Europe's growing
demand for agrofuels, make it easy to obtain concessions to convert
Peat forests are not the only frontier
for Indonesia's palm oil expansion. Indonesia's last large continuous
rainforests, in Aceh and West Papua are facing similar destruction.
The Indonesian government has designated 9.3 million hectares
of West Papua's forest for 'conversion', mostly for palm oil.
So far, large concessions have been awarded but there are as yet
relatively few productive oil palm plantations
(4). As in Borneo and Sumatra, logging
and plantation development go hand in West Papua, too.
According to Watch Indonesia!, 40 million
people in Indonesia depend directly on the forest for their livelihoods.
They are today paying the price for a false 'climate solution'
which, instead of mitigating climate change, is one of the most
effective ways of ensuring, that warming will run out of control.
By Almuth Ernsting, Biofuelwatch,
http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk , e-mail:
2. “A record of Late Pleistocene and Holocene carbon accumulation
and climate change form an equatorial peat bog (Kalimantan, Indonesia):
implications for past, present and future carbon dynamics”, Susan
Page et al, Journal of Quarternary Science, Vol 19, Issue 2, 27th
3. “Malaysian palm oil: green gold or green wash?”, Friends of
the Earth, October 2008,
4. “Forests in Papua: Data and Facts”, Marianne Klute, Watch Indonesia!,
Eucalyptus plantations degrade soils and release carbon
In spite of all the scientific evidence
existing on the negative impacts of large scale monoculture tree
plantations, the Climate Change Convention insists on promoting
them under the false argument that plantations can alleviate the
effects of climate change, acting as “carbon sinks.”
The negative impacts of monoculture
tree plantations in forest areas have been thoroughly studied
and documented in nearly all the countries where they are located.
However, there is a tendency to minimize the negative impacts
these plantations cause on grasslands, the main ecosystem of countries
such as South Africa, Swaziland, Uruguay, the south of Brazil
and vast areas in Argentina, where such monoculture plantations
continue to expand.
This situation, explains Carlos Cespedes,
a researcher at the Uruguayan Faculty of Science, is what encouraged
him to undertake a study for his doctoral thesis, aimed at assessing
the effects of the conversion of grasslands to tree plantations.
In a previous paper, this researcher
had demonstrated that eucalyptus plantations have negative effects
on grassland soils. In this study, Cespedes had verified that
monoculture eucalyptus plantations cause a considerable loss of
organic matter and increased acidity, associated to the alteration
of the normal values of other physicochemical properties.
The soils of Uruguayan grasslands have
an acidity level (pH) of approximately 6.5 – 6.8 (that is to say
they are classed as “slightly acid”) although in the case of sandy
soil grasslands, these values may be around 5.5. In the analysis
of eucalyptus plantations on these same types of soil the results
showed much lower values, situated at about 4.5 (values that are
defined as “strongly acid”). To understand the importance of this
figure it must be stated that pH is expressed on a logarithmic
scale, where one point of difference in the pH (5.5 versus 4.5)
is considerable. However, it is important to know that a pH of
5 represents a threshold, that is to say, above or below this
value significant changes take place in the soil (which would
not happen if the change were from 7 to 8 or from 3 to 4), such
as changes in its Cationic Exchange Capacity (CEC), a property
that is strongly linked to soil fertility as explained further
Acidity was higher in the first layer
of soil (known as horizon A) and although it decreased somewhat
in the deeper layers (horizon B), the pH was equally lower than
in the grassland soil. The explanation for this notorious increase
in acidity given by various authors is the extraction of significant
amounts of calcium from the soil, which is accumulated in the
tree biomass in the form of crystals (calcium oxalate). As would
be expected, the low pH rate led to a notorious increase of aluminium
in the soil, in concentrations that may be toxic for most native
species of flora. As a result, certain species of plants that
inhabit these soils now – following years under eucalyptus trees
– find that soil conditions have become inappropriate for survival.
However there are species that have managed to adapt themselves
to the new soil characteristics, such as “Bermuda grass” (Cynodon
dactylon), an exotic invasive species. For the microorganisms,
these changes could be even more serious, due to the fact that
they are very sensitive to physicochemical changes in the soil.
This more acid environment is a factor
that also contributes to the spread of fungi, particularly basidiomycetes.
These fungi generate a web of mycelia over the soil (the “body”
of the fungi that can be seen in the soil as white filaments)
inducing a phenomenon known as “water repellency” of the soil,
preventing water from penetrating in-depth easily. This leads
to a smaller infiltration to the water-table and a comparative
increase in surface runoff, stimulating soil erosion.
The decrease in soil organic matter
responds to various interrelated factors. Among them it is important
to note that there is less incorporation of organic residues to
the soil in a eucalyptus plantation than in the case of grasslands.
The eucalyptus residues remain on the surface and due to their
biochemical nature they are more resistant to biodegradation.
Furthermore, the decrease also originates in the “exportation”
made by the eucalyptus plantation of the organic matter originally
accumulated on the soil by the grassland.
The drastic drop in soil organic matter
leads to a decrease in the Cationic Exchange Capacity (CEC). CIC
expresses the capacity to retain mineral nutrients in the soil,
that is to say, it determines its potential fertility. The research
showed that the CEC decreased in horizon A due to the influence
of the eucalyptus trees. This decrease in CIC in horizon A is
serious, given that it is on this soil horizon that agriculture
and livestock production is based. On decreasing organic matter
and CEC, not only does soil fertility decrease but important negative
effects take place in its structure, in the aeration and in biological
activity among other phenomena.
Tree plantation defenders argue that
the plantation of trees can even improve soils, although they
sometimes add that this does not happen in well cared for, well
managed, scantly degraded soils such as the excellent grassland
soils of Uruguay. But they maintain that this soil improvement
could take place in soils that are not as excellent.
However, another important finding
in this research is that monoculture tree plantations also have
negative effects on soils with a history of other agricultural
uses. Not even in sandy soils – where according to the defenders
of tree plantations all that could happen would be an improvement
– has it been possible to prove this. According to the results
obtained by Cespedes, tree plantations would be the worst option,
even for this type of soils, as in their case, degraded by agricultural
activities and abandoned, they would be re-colonized by herbaceous
plants – many of these native species – that in a certain time-span
would improve the soil considerably, which would not be the case
if the soil were planted with eucalyptus.
But perhaps the most important finding
of this research is that it shows that eucalyptus plantations
on grasslands have a significant negative effect on the soil’s
Lately, one of the most used arguments
to justify large-scale monoculture tree plantations is that they
can be used to improve the climate and counteract the greenhouse
effect. It is argued that as the trees grow, they take carbon
from the air in greater quantities than they release. According
to this vision, plantations are defined as “carbon sinks.”
However, this research has shown that
this is false in the case of grasslands, which accumulate vast
amounts of carbon, but of a totally different kind than that captured
by tree biomass. Carbon stored by grasslands is called stable
carbon (humic substances); this is a carbon reserve that can be
stored there for hundreds or thousands of years, and that under
certain conditions, can continue to increase. This organic carbon,
initially captured by the live mass of grassland plants – mainly
the roots – gradually progresses through soil organism activity
to increasingly stable organic complexes. However, tilling, the
use of agrochemicals and the plantation of exotic and fast growing
tree species, destroy a major part of this reserve. As a result,
the grassland soils reverse their role as “sinks” to become a
source of CO2 emissions.
Furthermore, carbon storage by plantations
will last a relatively short time insofar as the trees will be
felled, used or even – as happens frequently – will burn and release
all the carbon into the atmosphere. In this respect, the promoters
of the so-called “Clean Development Mechanism” affirm that although
this carbon stored by trees does have a low mean residence time
(MRT) it is a carbon that was already in the atmosphere (as carbon
dioxide) and contributing to the “greenhouse effect.” Therefore,
its contribution is equally valid given that it does not use new
carbon, but recycles an already existing one. This opinion could
have some validity if tree plantations did not have carbon emissions
from the soil as a counterpart, as has been proved in this research.
Cespedes’ doctoral thesis not only
shows that monoculture eucalyptus plantations degrade the soil
in an irreversible way, but that they also destroy soils that
act as enormous carbon reservoirs. Those encouraging such plantations
will therefore need to invent new lies to promote them. And they
have increasingly few left!
Article based on the doctoral thesis
of Carlos Cespedes available at
http://ethesis.inp-toulouse.fr/ , on
interviews with the author and material from the article “Impacto
de las plantaciones de eucalyptus en el suelo” (Impact of eucalyptus
plantations on the soil) by Teresa Perez, available at:
TO THE DEBATE ON CLIMATE CHANGE
recent WRM briefings related to climate change
As a contribution for facilitating
the involvement of civil society in the protection of the Earth’s
climate, the WRM has recently published four briefings related
to climate change:
“From REDD to HEDD” (only
available in English) reflects on the mechanism currently
being discussed at the Convention on Climate Change –REDD- to
address carbon emissions from deforestation. The briefing exposes
the uselessness of a carbon market-based REDD, which would enable
Northern polluters to pretend to “offset” their fossil fuel emissions
by helping to avoid deforestation elsewhere. At the same time,
the briefing analyses the problems that could stem from a grant
mechanism focused on “reducing” deforestation and calls for a
totally different approach based on policies and commitments for
“Carbon Neutral Magicians” (only
available in English) deals with the “offsetting” myth based
on the cheating premise that the carbon released from burning
fossil fuels –that have not been part of the functioning of the
biosphere for millions of years– can in
some way be “offset” by other activities such as tree planting.
The document explains that fossil fuel carbon cannot be returned
to its original storage place and that the more it is extracted,
the more the total amount of carbon in the biosphere is increased.
Effective climate action needs to reduce and eventually eliminate
the use of fossil fuels. The “carbon neutral” game is a way of
diverting attention from that very real and pressing issue and
is exposed as a fraud.
“GE tree research. A country by
country overview” (only available
in English). Genetically engineered
(GE) trees have not only been explicitly accepted by the Convention
on Climate Change to be used in so-called carbon sink plantations,
but they are also perceived as possible sources for the production
of ethanol for substituting fossil fuels. In this new briefing,
WRM has put together information on all the countries where research
on GE trees is being carried out in order to enable people in
those countries to engage directly in this issue.
“FSC certification of tree plantations
needs to be stopped” (also
available in Spanish and Portuguese).
Certification of tree plantations has been a way of validating
the expansion of tree monocultures -including so-called carbon
sink plantations- in spite of their negative impacts on nature
and communities. In this briefing, WRM provides arguments for
the exclusion of industrial tree plantations from FSC certification.