Entries tagged with “WWF”.

The WWF has just released its 2010 Living Planet Report (download a copy here).  The big headline, being run by all the news organizations, is that we “need to find another Earth”.  The headline is attention-grabbing, but misses the real issue here.  In several posts on this blog I’ve referenced the fact that we need about three Earths worth of resources to allow everyone to live at the standard of consumption of the average person in the US.  Implicit in this measurement has been the fact that we here in the US (and in Europe, Australia, Japan, parts of China, parts of India, etc.) can go on consuming as we do just so long as the other 4-odd billion people don’t consume much at all.  This is the part of sustainable development nobody likes to talk about – there are two ways to achieve it: either cutbacks on the consumption of those who consume the most until consumption at a fairly high level is available for all (how most people tend to think of it) or just keep a hell of a lot of people really, really poor so that a small minority can just go on consuming (de facto, this is the choice that we’ve made up to this point – that’s right, if you are reading this blog, you live the way you do because 4 billion people cannot).

Well, this report now throws a bit of a wrench into the ugly, unacknowledged path we have chosen – turns out that our current levels of consumption will not be sustainable past the next 20 years no matter how many people we impoverish.  Our global population and consumption figures are simply too high.  That’s right, by 2020 we’d better have figured out how to get twice as much resource out of this planet as we do now.  I don’t see that happening.

I don’t think this means the revolution is coming anytime soon – I think the steadily rising inequality we see here in the US will eventually be mirrored by similar patterns across the advanced economies, as a smaller and smaller group of people cling to their privileges.  Further, the whole two Earths in 20 years argument is a bit overstated, as they work in carbon sinks and other regulating services from ecosystems that are not completely understood and therefore sometimes more resilient than expected, and are often fungible with other resources and biophysical processes.  But if the WWF is right (it is too early to say for sure), we are shifting into an era where our choices for how to achieve sustainable development narrow to one: reducing consumption.  Then we will have new choices – who reduces, and how?

The WWF reports that the upcoming meeting of the REDD+ Partnership issued invitations to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) only a week before the meeting.  The WWF’s Paul Chatterton argues:

“By waiting until the last minute to invite civil society participants to this meeting, the organizers have virtually guaranteed that these invitees will not be able to participate.”

I agree completely – most NGOs operate with very small budgets, and the soaring cost of last-minute international plane tickets will price many NGOs out of the meetings entirely, and greatly curtail the size of the teams other NGOs might otherwise send.  Further, this is not accidental – these meetings are well-orchestrated events, and while it is possible that a single organization, or even a handful, might be accidentally omitted, there is simply no way that the program organizers “forgot” the entire NGO community.  Clearly, someone is trying to minimize the involvement of NGOs, who are the principal voice for the communities who live in and around many of the forest resources likely to be covered under REDD+.

Aside from the underhanded nature of this move, why does this matter?  As I argue in my upcoming book, we are lumbering (no pun intended) slowly toward a global agreement on how to use the protection of threatened forest resources and the reforestation of degraded forest areas as means of offsetting carbon emissions as part of a much larger global carbon market.  This is not a problem, in and of itself.  Cap and trade is not inherently flawed – but its success is completely contingent on its implementation.  And what I am seeing from the private markets (via informal proposals that get passed my way) is a lot of project planning that completely ignores local communities.

Now, think what you will about the rights of communities to the natural resources in and around them – I know that some argue that these rights have to be curtailed for the greater good of humanity.  I happen to disagree, as I feel that this stance makes a small group of people who play little role in the global climate issues that REDD+ is trying to address responsible for bearing the negative impacts of our efforts to deal with these problems – in short, we are outsourcing the pain of mitigation to these communities.  However, whatever your stance might be on this, there is no refuting the fact that people, when forced off of a resource they once could use, have a very high incentive to monkey wrench these projects in an effort to regain access to the resource (there is a large literature on this with regard to how people displaced by protected areas like game reserves respond).  Thus, these proposals, and this odd effort on the part of the REDD+ Partnership, are more or less guaranteeing a high rate of project failure until someone figures out that they will have to take the needs of these local populations quite seriously.