World Rainforest Movement

Global Environmental Politics: The cheating game

A workshop on global environmental politics (1) brought up a number of issues and actors of relevance to forests and forest peoples: protected areas, climate change, biodiversity, the World Bank.

The different “solutions” to global environmental problems (deforestation, biodiversity loss, climate change) were contextualized as part of the approach of appropriation of nature for profit, carried out through agencies such as the World Bank, the IMF and the FAO and through entirely new mechanisms supposedly created to protect the environment.

The World Bank and other actors promote what they call “sustainable logging”, facilitating the intrusion of the most rapacious capital into virgin forests. As a result, forests have been degraded and the remaining forests -particularly tropical- are threatened throughout the world. Along with the forests, huge numbers of species are disappearing. This has impacted on forest communities, which are broken up and individuals are left to fend for themselves. In India alone, since independence, some 35 million people have been displaced and similar processes are occurring throughout the tropics.

The Convention on Climate Change has not only been unable to fulfil its role in the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases but has been instrumental in the promotion of so-called carbon sink plantations (tree monocultures), thus enabling corporations to continue polluting, while further impacting on local peoples livelihoods and on nature.

Global environmental politics were described as a “cheating game”. People are being cheated by governments and made to believe that that they are doing what needs to be done to address global environmental problems, while in fact doing practically nothing. As a result, climate change, biodiversity loss and deforestation continue putting the future of humanity at risk.

To facilitate this cheating, an entire language has been invented and the environmental movement’s language has been appropriated by power, changing its meaning. The Climate Change Convention’s “Clean Development Mechanism” was used as a good example of this. While not being “clean” at all (having been created to allow polluters to pollute) and while having no relationship whatsoever with “development” (unless the creation of carbon dumps in the South is considered to be a form of development), it gives the uninformed public the impression that it is aimed at the type of clean development that most people would like to happen.

The World Bank was identified as one of the most prominent actors in this “cheating game”. After years of providing loans for road building to open up forests for exploitation, loans for large-scale hydroelectric dams, loans for industrial forestry, oil exploitation, mining and every imaginable cause of deforestation and forest degradation, the Bank suddenly decided to be good and approved a new forest policy, which would prevent the Bank from further destroying tropical forests. This was of course to a large extent the result of years of NGO campaigning against Bank lending. But the fact was this was part of the cheating game: the Bank never implemented the policy. Ten years later it carried out a much publicised and participatory process to review that policy. The result was the approval of a much weaker policy which will probably only see the implementation of its worse aspects.

It was stressed that the World Bank has a big brother (the International Monetary Fund) and that they both work together. One of the major well-documented causes of deforestation are the IMF-imposed structural adjustment programmes, carried out through World Bank lending, but this is -of course- not addressed by the Bank’s new forest policy. Anyway, the World Banks role is not to protect forests nor, in fact, to eradicate poverty –which is only in its mandate for cheating purposes. The World Bank’s role is to open up spaces in the South for northern corporations and at that everyone will agree it has done a brilliant job.

Global environmental problems are however very real and governments and international organizations must not be allowed to continue playing this cheating game. Things need to be done, and fast. Another world is in fact possible.

(1) Organized by: National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers, Delhi Forum and World Rainforest Movement. Panelists: Praful Bidwai, Roy Burman, Medha Patekar and Ricardo Carrere