False solutions: how to resist them and promote alternatives
The common theme than ran through today's talks was false solutions to climate change. Schemes such as REDD - a carbon offsetting mechanism - and carbon capture and storage are being put forward as credible ways to cut carbon emissions. These talks proved the opposite.
The first talk explored the false solutions being promoted in the name of tackling climate change including the role of the World Bank, carbon offsetting, monoculture tree plantations and agrofuels.
The speakers included Camila Morena from Friends of the Earth Brazil and Nnimmo Bassey from Friends of the Earth Nigeria and the Chair of Friends of the Earth International.
Camila looked at REDD as a false solution.
"The Amazon covers 49% of Brazil and Amazon deforestation accounts for 48% of the deforestation taking place at the moment, four times the rate of Indonesia - the second deforester" she said.
REDD, which stands for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation in developing countries, will mean that forests are incorporated into carbon markets.
Put simply, a factory in Europe can offset their emissions by buying credits on the carbon market and as a result a landowner in the Amazon will be paid not to cut down a hectare of trees. The way the mechanism is set up though could also mean that deforestation actually increases under the scheme. It is flawed in many ways.
Camila said there was "tsunami of investment in REDD projects in Brazil at the moment" and said that big agribusiness, who are the owners of most of this land - not peasant farmers as we are led to believe, who are cutting down the rain forest to plant soy are now being rewarded for not deforesting the Amazon anymore.
"We are paying the kings of deforestation not to chop down our forests" she said.
In the climate talks Friends of the Earth are demanding that forests are kept out of carbon markets, that plantations are entirely excluded and land rights are enforced as the basis of any forest policy.
Nnimmo Bassey talked about gas flaring in his country.
Gas flaring takes place when the the associated gasses that occur when oil is extracted from the ground are burnt straight into the atmosphere. This is what Shell and other companies do in the Niger Delta, often in the middle of communities, twenty-four hours a day. Not only are huge quantities of CO2 pumped into the air but also toxins that have had devastating effects on the surrounding communities.
For decades oil companies have broken the law by illegally flaring, saying it's very difficult to stop. Now the clean development mechanism (CDM) has come along, another false solution, and Shell are looking to stop these illegal flares and claim money for doing so under the pretext of reducing their carbon emissions.
Nnimmo put this question to the audience:
"If I were a bank robber and I decide to rob only one bank a day instead of ten should I be given an award? This is what is now happening as oil companies turn to carbon development mechanisms."
a future without fossil fuels
In another room George Monbiot, an environmentalist from the UK, also addressed false solutions and looked at the huge levels of investment that would be needed to continue down the road of fossil fuels.
He dismissed the notion that we'll soon be at peak oil and once that runs out we will naturally progress to renewables because we will have no choice.
"The problem we're facing is not too little fossil fuels, it's too much" he said.
He explained that as fossil fuels become harder to reach, more and more money will be needed to extract them. In the case of coal there is plenty in the far reaches of Siberia and the North Sea bed. The problem is getting it.
He conceded that the path to renewables is an expensive one - around $4.2 trillion he'd calculated - and will totally change our consumption patterns but the path to our continued reliance on fossil fuel would also cost around the same amount just to continue with business as usual.
As he sees it, there are two options:
"We spend trillions on securing fossils fuels for the next generation an adapt to the the disastrous consequences, or we can invest the same amount in renewables that will last forever."
I know which one I would choose.
Find out more - http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2008/11/25/one-shot-left/