By Robert Hall, Managing Director of Global Ecovillage Network – Europe.
During the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP20) in Lima, Peru, the governments of the world gathered in December, 2014 to discuss their contributions to the reduction of carbon emissions. The aim of the meeting in Lima was to prepare a much-need, far-reaching agreement in Paris in 2015. But the negotiations were stuck in the old paradigm, unable to think outside our present system to find solutions to the grave challenges facing mankind. We all know it is our disrespect for human life and of nature which has brought us to the rand. A new set of values where respect for human life and co-existence with other species needs to be the foundation of the global solution.
But what we heard from Lima was about market-based solutions, new mechanisms to commodify nature, so that the current “Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and Forest Degradation, REDD+” will be joined by new mechanisms – Climate-smart agriculture and Blue Carbon to pay foresters, farmers and aquaculturalists to accumulate, store and sequester carbon. There is nothing wrong in getting polluters (indirectly consumers) predominantly in the global North to finance planting trees, enriching soils and increasing natural coastal vegetation if it is done right. But when global market forces and international mechanisms are combined, can we be ensured that the focus will be pro-poor, community-empowering and regenerative?
I fear that mechanisms funded by global carbon markets and a huge quantity of public funds will have unforeseen consequences, such as favouring technology and other capital-intensive inputs, that can further marginalise small-scale growers that are already excluded, exacerbating existing inequalities in the food system. The carbon trading included in the Lima draft agreement could increase deforestation, displace farmers and contribute to the food crisis in the South. Both the World Bank and the International Energy Agency both agree that unless up to 80 percent of known fossil fuel reserves are left under the Earth, we will face unacceptable rising temperatures. These rising temperatures will impact on the global South more than the North even though it is the North – with just 15% of the people – which is historically responsible for most of the fossil fuel emissions. But no one is talking about an immediate ban on carbon extraction. The focus is instead on carbon markets where polluters are allowed to pay for continued fossil fuel emissions. The most disturbing aspect is that these polluting industries and consumers in the North do not have to stop emissions if they buy up forests in the global South. There are now reports of people being forced off their lands with military so as to secure areas for carbon reserves.
Given that the global North has been the greatest polluter throughout history, it is this very industrially developed North that has to take responsibility for so called “climate refugees” or “environmental migrants” meaning the people forced to flee their homes because of sudden or long-term environmental changes. People in the less developed South being displaced due to the behaviour of unbridled consumption of the industrialised North is not some hypothetical future scenario – it already has gone into the millions and recent research indicates that the figure might reach as high as 250 million by 2050. We in the North need to take responsibility for our own actions. By no means does this imply that developing countries in the South should enjoy impunity as minor polluters (especially countries as China or India). On the contrary, both we in the North and the South must change our ways for a sustainable future. Nonetheless, the industrialised nations must acknowledge that they are the major culprits as regards the current climate change. Hence, not only does it behove these countries to occupy a prominent position in the vanguard of providing viable solutions to the current situation, but also to provide funds to poor countries as repayment of their climate debt. Enabling the major polluters to purchase their polluting rights and atone for their atrocities by means of planting a forest in a developing country (and thereby forcing poor people off their land and destroying their livelihood) is tantamount to perpetuating the existing unjust system.
This is in stark contrast to what was happening parallel in Dakar, Senegal. The first Ecovillage World Summit, 10-14 December, promoted a new vision of ecovillages for sustainable development. Ousmane Pame, President of the GEN Africa, explained that ecovillage development focuses on the development of natural resources and rural structures into productive communities, allowing state authorities to give support to local development that puts people and their natural environment in the heart of the process. Let’s hope that we can get international agreement next year in Paris at COP21 for the global shift to a post-carbon society that empowers communities in the global North and South to meet their needs sustainably while regenerating the local environments. Here in Europe we do not need to wait for the conclusion of COP talks in Paris to start downshifting our own lifestyle towards something our planet can sustain.