The event, “Launch of United States Strategy for REDD+ USAID,” was held today at COP 16. As U.S. negotiator Todd Stern publicly called upon us to have “measured expectations” for an international climate agreement, officials from U.S. AID and U.S. Treasury laid out exuberant strategies for implementation of REDD+ projects to protect forests around the world. As of yet, the U.S. has made no commitments for reducing its own contributions to the alteration of the atmosphere. But, this has not stopped what presenters today outlined as a push for developing countries to adopt large scale REDD+ projects.
The session was intended to present how the U.S., through a range of bilateral and multilateral projects, was providing equity-driven capital for a carbon-reduced development path. After each panelist presented there was opportunity for questions. Question after question asked what the U.S.’s solutions for climate change were. The panelists seemed stumped for answers. At one point, an audience member asked, “are you for colonialism or are you against?” Response: “I don’t understand the question.”
At a minimum, one would expect that U.S. representatives outlining the strategies of such a massive controversial investment would have at least been prepared for an answer. Instead, in an interesting effort at redirecting the discussion, the response was that environmental justice issues were being taken very seriously by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Emphasis was also given to the U.S.’s commitment to a “process” of inclusion. Note the word “inclusion,” and not the word “outcome.” The evidence is overwhelming when it comes to guaranteeing an equitable outcome by only focusing on participatory processes. The powerful can listen, but do not have to act upon what they hear.
Admittedly, there was a humorous side to the day’s event. The microphone carrying facilitator, try as she might, to select the most benign looking person behind the raised hands, found herself time after time giving the microphone to people with similar questions. By the end of the event, a woman in a dress suit, quite professional in appearance—perhaps even mistaken as a potential REDD+ investor—was given one of the last opportunities to ask a question. But, once again, the inquiry focused on the U.S.’s commitment to Indigenous rights.
Clearly, people concerned about REDD+ and issues of justice dominated the press event. What is the U.S.’s position relative to Indigenous rights and vulnerable communities? How will REDD+ resolve the pollution burdens placed on its own high–environmental risk communities at home? How will issues of transparency be resolved? And one which this blogger was not able to ask: What is the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of REDD+ as a real emission-reducing strategy? Answer: The U.S. is committed to an inclusive process and please come to the White House briefing on Environmental Justice.
Interestingly, nearly the entire first string panel was soon replaced by a set of bureaucrats from various federal agencies. Whether this was a spontaneous effort to remove U.S. AID and U.S. Treasury from the hot seat, or whether it was a planned switch, we will never know. At the end of the day, U.S. commitment for $1 billion over the FY2010 to 2012 to REDD+ projects is a notable investment. The problem is that the U.S. remains unwilling to change the way it does business. No matter how many press conferences and brochures with pictures of people measuring trees are presented, REDD+ does not in any way change the U.S.’s greenhouse gas appetite. The U.S. Congress remains one of the most belligerent institutions in addressing this fundamental problem.
Measured expectations, indeed.
Dr. Cecilia Martinez is blogging from the U.N. global climate talks in Cancún, Mexico. She is a senior policy fellow at the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy at IATP.
Also contributing to this piece, Michele Roberts, campaign and policy coordinator with Advocates for Environmental Human Rights.