World Rainforest Movement

Presenting GMO Trees to the United Nations COP 10

Organizations and representatives from social movements from Eastern and Western Europe, as well as North and South America came together in Buenos Aires, Argentina over the first half of December, 2004 to tell the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s tenth Conference of the Parties (COP 10) to ban GE trees from the Kyoto Protocol —the international global warming treaty.

It was at last year’s UN COP 9 where a committee of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) declared that GE trees could be used in plantations created to supposedly offset the carbon emissions from factories in the Industrialized North as a part of the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism.

This decision galvanized an international network of groups who came together to demand the UN get GE trees out of Kyoto and further, to ban them outright. In May of last year, World Rainforest Movement, Friends of the Earth International, Global Justice Ecology Project and the Peoples Forest Forum went to the United Nations Forum on Forests to present to UN delegates and other non-governmental organizations from 22 countries the dangers of GE trees and how they would likely worsen global warming rather than help mitigate it.

In addition, the Peoples Forest Forum of Finland, which includes the Union of Ecoforestry, Peoples Biosafety Organization and Friends of the Earth, started an international petition drive shortly after the UN’s December, 2003 decision. By the May UNFF meeting, they had gathered 1,500 signatures demanding the UN ban GE trees.

At a meeting of anti-GE tree groups at the May UN meeting, it was suggested that another GE trees presentation be made at the UN’s COP 10 in Buenos Aires to apply more pressure to reverse the pro-GE trees decision. WRM and Global Justice Ecology Project discussed these plans further in Durban, South Africa at a meeting on alternatives to carbon trading and other methods being used by governments and corporations to evade their commitments to reduce carbon emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.

In December, 2004, FERN, World Rainforest Movement, Global Justice Ecology Project, a Mapuche scientist from Chile, Peoples Forum on Forests, Global Forest Coalition, Friends of the Earth International and others converged on Buenos Aires for the COP 10.

The GE trees issue made its debut at the 2004 COP 10 during a “Climate Justice” press conference organized by the groups at the COP 10 that had met in the previous October in Durban, South Africa at the meeting critiquing carbon trading. Rachel Nuñez of the World Rainforest Movement spoke at the press conference stating, “Monoculture tree plantations are devastating for local communities and the environment. If the Kyoto Protocol allows large plantations of GE trees to count as clean development projects, the results will be catastrophic.”

A few days later, WRM organized a side event on GE trees for the local community at a school in the Botanical Gardens, outside of the COP 10. This event discussed the problems and dangers associated with GE trees to a large and very interested audience.

At another press conference on Thursday, December 16, the group again presented the facts and dangers of genetically engineered trees. The media that attended seemed very interested and asked several follow up questions. In addition, Hannu Hyvonen, of the Peoples Forest Forum presented his group’s petition of 2,000 names opposing the release of GE trees into the environment. Global Justice Ecology Project also showed a promotional clip from their upcoming video documentary, “The Silent Forest: The Growing Threat of Genetically Engineered Trees,” to be released in February of this year.

At the press conference, Lorena Ojeda, a Mapuche scientist explained the impacts being felt by rural and indigenous communities. “Plantations impact southern Chile causing great environmental and social problems. Pollen from these plantations travels in the wind large distances, contaminating water and affecting people with allergies and asthma.”

“If industrial tree plantations already cause so many problems with pollen, what will be the effect of GE tree pollen that contains the pesticide Bt?” she asked. “This engineered pollen could cause increased illness as it contaminates water, ecosystems, flora, fauna and people,” she continued.

The press conference was jointly organized by the World Rainforest Movement, FERN, Friends of the Earth International and Global Justice Ecology Project after their request for an official GE trees side event at the UN convention, where they could address UN delegates directly, was lost.

During the COP 10, the network of groups working on the GE trees issue met to discuss future plans. At this meeting, Ricardo Carrere of WRM explained that the UN delegate from Uruguay had explained to him the origins of the GE trees decision made at last year’s COP 9. He said it had come about because Norway had attempted to have GE trees banned from the Kyoto Protocol. This set off a backlash by other countries such as China (which had already begun growing insect-resistant GE trees in plantations) and Brazil, who felt their state sovereignty would be violated by such a ban. In essence, the pro-GE trees decision was made simply because the group would not agree to a ban.

On the final day of the COP 10 meetings, Buenos Aires and Argentine political groups held a rally outside the conference gates. GJEP’s Orin Langelle spoke to one of the protesters who objected to the public being blocked from participating in decisions about global warming, the effects of which will be felt by everyone. When Orin explained he was with Global Justice Ecology Project, the young woman exclaimed, “Oh, you were part of that GE trees event over at the Botanical Gardens last Monday! That was great! The UN should have had all of its events open to the people like that!”

By: Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project, e-mail:

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