World Rainforest Movement

Oceania: A matter of survival

Giant AUSTRALIA is a major actor in the geopolitics of Oceania. With its particular situation in the Southern hemisphere but being a Northern country and included in the Annex I countries, Australia is the only country that enjoys the possibility of increasing its greenhouse gas emissions by 8% above 1990 levels in the commitment period 2008 to 2012. Nevertheless, this country has enthusiastically embraced the idea of offering its territory for forestry-based carbon sink projects.

In November 1999 New South Wales (NSW) –one of the country’s states– established a legal right on carbon sequestered from plantations and signed an agreement with Japan’s Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) –part of the Mitsubishi corporate empire– to this regard. The Japanese are planning to start the project with the plantation of a 1,000 hectares in 2000, and to extend the site up to 40,000 hectares in the following ten years. It is to underscore that Tepco has been the first Japanese company to sign a memorandum of understanding with the World Bank to participate in the “Prototype Carbon Fund” system to trade in carbon offset projects.

Such initiative is not the only one in the push of NSW’s authorities to enter this market. The Sydney Futures Exchange –also in association with State Forests of NSW– is interested in creating an exchange-traded market for carbon credits as part of a plan to become a global emissions trading centre.

Also vast areas of the southern island of Tasmania in Australia are being planted with tree monocultures as “carbon sinks”. The Federal Government’s “Plantation 2020 Vision” programme is aimed at establishing 650,000 hectares of tree plantations in Tasmania over the next twenty years. The National Forestry Policy is even encouraging deforestation, ignoring the multiple environmental services of old growth forests, among which that of being a large carbon reservoir. Australian environmental groups are joining efforts with rural community representatives and local authorities to question and oppose this market-oriented vision, which is causing social disruption and environmental destruction.

While some people in Australia are looking at the possibility of doing business with climate change using the newly created carbon market, other states in the region are facing the dramatic situation and perspectives of global warming on their territories. Small island states of Oceania are under the peril of disappearing in case sea level continues to increase as a consequence of climate change. The Marshall Islands, for example, is in danger of losing 80% of the city of Majuro –its capital– under this scenario, while the larger islands would also be greatly impacted due to concentration of their population and infrastructure along the coast lines.

These small island states have expressed their concern about the fact that the push for carbon sink projects will only serve to allow industrialized countries to continue business as usual while their own countries slowly sink in the ocean. As stressed by the delegate of Tuvalu, speaking on behalf of AOSIS in reference to carbon sinks projects: “This sends some very clear signals about the likely flow of funds for the Clean Development Mechanism, if sinks based activities are included. We are likely to see a flood of funding for sinks activities and a trickle of funding for technologies associated with renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

While Australian carbon dealers’ are trying to reap benefits from the climate change disaster, the small island states in the region are struggling for survival. Will the world’s governments let them disappear?