Letter from President Evo Morales to Indigenous Peoples:
Nature, Forests and Indigenous Peoples Are Not for Sale
October 7, 2010
Indigenous brothers of the world:
I am deeply concerned by attempts to use indigenous leaders and groups to promote the commodification of nature, and in particular of forests through the establishment of the mechanism known as REDD (Reduction Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), and its versions REDD+ and REDD++.
Worldwide, an expanse of forest and rainforest equivalent to 36,000 football fields disappears each day. Each year, 13 million hectares of forest and rainforest are lost. At this rate, the forests will disappear by the end of this century.
Forests and rainforests are the Earth’s largest source of biodiversity. If deforestation continues, thousands of species of animals and plants will be lost forever. More than three quarters of accessible fresh water has its source in forested areas, hence the worsening of water quality when forests deteriorate. Forests provide protection from flooding, erosion and natural disasters. They provide timber and other materials. Forests are a source of natural medicines and many curative substances that have yet to be discovered. Forests are the atmosphere’s lungs. Of the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions occurring throughout the world, 18% are caused by deforestation.
It is absolutely essential that we stop the destruction of our Mother Earth.
In the current process of negotiations on climate change, all parties recognize that it is essential to avoid deforestation and forest degradation. However, to achieve this, some propose the commodification of forests based on the false notion that only what has a price and an owner can be taken care of and conserved.
Their proposal is to consider only one of the functions of forests, which is their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide, and, based on this function, to issue “certificates”, “credits” or “carbon rights” that can be sold on the carbon market. This way, companies in the North can choose between reducing their emissions or buying cheap “REDD certificates” in the countries of the South. For example, instead of spending $40 or $50 to reduce emissions by one ton of carbon dioxide in a “developed country,” a company could choose to buy a “REDD certificate” in a “developing country” for just for $10 or $20, and thus could say that they have reduced their emissions.
Through this mechanism, developed countries will pass off their emissions reduction obligations to developing countries. The South will once again finance the North, because companies in the North will save a lot of money by buying “certified” carbon from Southern forests.
But not only will the North have cheated in their commitments to reducing emissions, but they will also have initiated the process of commodifying nature – beginning with forests. Forests will come to have a price tag based on the amount of carbon dioxide they are able to absorb. The “credit” or “carbon right” which certifies that capacity to absorb carbon dioxide will be bought and sold worldwide like any other commodity. To ensure that nobody affects the property of those who bought those “REDD certificates,” a series of restrictions will be put into place that will interfere with the sovereign right of countries and indigenous peoples over their forests and rainforests. In this way, we will begin a new chapter in the privatization of nature which will extend to water, biodiversity and what they call “environmental services.”
While we assert that capitalism is the cause of global warming and the destruction of forests, rainforests and Mother Earth, they seek to expand capitalism to the commodification of nature through the so-called “green economy.”
To get support for this proposal to commodify nature, some financial institutions, governments, NGOs, foundations, “experts” and intermediary or broker companies are offering a percentage of the “benefits” to indigenous peoples and communities living in native forests and rainforests.
Nature, forests and indigenous peoples are not for sale.
For centuries, indigenous peoples have conserved and preserved natural forests and rainforests. For us, forests are not objects, not things you can put a price on and privatize. We cannot accept that native forests and rainforests be reduced to a quantity of carbon. Nor can we accept that native forests be confused with plantations of one or two species of trees. The forest is our home, a big home where plants, animals, water, soil, clean air and human beings coexist.
It is essential that all countries around the world work together to avoid deforestation and forest degradation. Developed countries have an obligation and it is part of their climate and environmental debt toward developing countries, to contribute financially to the preservation of forests, but not through their commodification. There are many ways of supporting and financing developing countries, indigenous peoples and local communities that do contribute to the preservation of forests.
Developed countries spend tens of times more public resources on defense, security and war than on climate change. Even during the financial crisis, many have maintained and increased military spending. It is inadmissible that, by taking advantage of the needs of communities and the ambitions of some leaders and indigenous “experts,” some would attempt to involve indigenous peoples in the commodification of nature.
All mechanisms designed to protect forests and rainforests should guarantee the rights and the participation of indigenous peoples, but indigenous participation in REDD does not mean that we can accept that a price be put on forests and rainforests and negotiated through the global carbon market.
Indigenous brothers, let us not be fooled. Some say the carbon market mechanism in REDD will be voluntary, meaning that whomever wants to sell and buy will be able to do so, and whomever does not want to may stand aside. We cannot accept that, with our consent, a mechanism is created under which some are allowed to sell Mother Earth while others sit idly by.
In the face of reductionist and mercantilist views of forests and rainforests, indigenous peoples, together with the peasants and social movements of the world, must fight to defend the proposals that emerged of the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth:
1) Integrated management of native forests and rainforests from a perspective that considers not just their function as carbon sinks, but all their functions and potentials, that avoid confusing forests with plantations.
2) Respect for the sovereignty of developing countries in their integral management of forests.
3) Full compliance with the Rights of Indigenous Peoples established by the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, and other international instruments; recognition of and respect for indigenous territories; revalorization and implementation of indigenous knowledge for the preservation of forests; the participation and management of forests and rainforests by indigenous peoples.
4) The provision of funding by developed countries to developing countries and indigenous peoples to support integral forest management, as part of the payment of their climate and environmental debt. No establishment of any carbon market mechanisms or “incentives” that may lead to the commodification of forests and rainforests.
5) Recognition of the rights of Mother Earth, which includes forests, rainforests, and all their components. To restore of harmony with Mother Earth is not by putting a price on nature, but by recognizing that human beings are not the only living things that have the right to life and to reproduce, that Nature also has a right to life and to regenerate itself, and that without Mother Earth, humans cannot live.
Indigenous brothers, together with our peasant brothers and the social movements of the world, we must mobilize so that the conclusions of Cochabamba are adopted in Cancun. We must promote a forest-related actions mechanism based on these five principles, while always maintaining unity among indigenous peoples and sustaining the principles of respect for Mother Earth, which for centuries we have preserved and inherited from our ancestors.
EVO MORALES AYMA
President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia