Greenwashing the green desert in Copenhagen

30 Nov

The UN definition of forests must exclude industrial tree plantations.

By Chris Lang. Published in WRM Bulletin 148, November 2009.

It seems increasingly likely that no binding deal will come out of Copenhagen and that the North will attempt to scrap the Kyoto Protocol. It also seems likely that some sort of deal will be pushed through on reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).[1] There is a serious danger that REDD will act as greenwash for the North’s failure to reduce emissions dramatically. REDD could generate a massive land grab, it could pour money into some of the most corrupt governments and forestry ministries in the world, it could trample on indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ rights, it could accelerate conversion of forests to plantations and it could create a massive loophole allowing pollution in the North to continue. All the while allowing deforestation to continue.

But with or without a REDD deal, the UN climate negotiations have already caused serious problems for people and forests, through the Clean Development Mechanism’s support of industrial tree plantations. “CDM fraud at its worst,” as WRM described it in August 2009.[2]

The problem starts with the definition of “forest”. So far, there is no agreed definition of forest in the REDD negotiations, but under the CDM definition any area bigger than 500 square metres with crown cover of 10 per cent and trees capable of growing two metres high is a “forest”. Even clearcuts are included in this definition of a “forest”.[3]

The FAO has long supported the myth that plantations are forests.[4] Recently, the FAO produced a leaflet, explaining that “Negotiations need clear terminology”.[5] That much is true. But the leaflet discusses the difference between “sustainable forest management” and “sustainable management of forests”. Needless to say both versions of “sustainable management” include industrial tree plantations. The FAO is institutionally incapable of seeing the difference between a plantation and a forest, but will pay intelligent people very comfortable salaries to produce an analysis of the word “of”.

A look at the lending of the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank’s lending arm to the private sector, illustrates why the definition of forests matters. First the good news. In August 2009, World Bank President Robert Zoellick ordered a complete moratorium on Bank investment in oil palm plantations. The change came after a complaint to the IFC’s Compliance Advisory Ombudsman (CAO) by a series of NGOs about the IFC’s loans to palm oil giant Wilmar.[6]

As we’re dealing with the World Bank, it should come as no surprise that there’s also some bad news: The IFC is planning to increase lending for non-oil palm industrial tree plantations. In October 2009, at the World Forestry Congress in Argentina, the IFC’s Mark Constantine gave a presentation titled “Increasing Private Sector Impact in the Forest Sector”.[7] When Constantine says “forest”, he also means “plantations”.

Constantine’s presentation included a section titled “What have we learned?”. But he apparently didn’t mention the problems caused by Wilmar’s oil palm plantations. Nor did he mention a US$50 million loan that the IFC gave in 2004 to the Brazilian pulp company Aracruz. The loan was hastily repaid shortly after Aracruz and the local police violently removed the Tupinikim and Guarani indigenous peoples from their villages that they had reclaimed from Aracruz’s monocultures.[8]

Among the “new approaches” that Constantine suggested are to “Increase forest access to carbon market” and to “Invest in plantations and forest industries”. He talked about the need to “Ramp up investments in forest plantations”. While Constantine mentioned the risk of “monoculture / ‘green desert’”, this does not mean that the IFC will not be handing out money to expand the green desert.

On 18 November 2009, the IFC announced that it is planning to invest in 250,000 hectares of industrial tree plantations in Indonesia. In the IFC’s press release, Adam Sack, IFC Country Manager for Indonesia said that “This new program is part of IFC’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emission.” IFC states that the plantations could cut approximately 90 million tons of carbon emissions each year and that this supposed reduction in emissions could be traded under the CDM.[9]

IFC describes its proposed projects as “reforestation” that “sequesters carbon by removing CO2 from the atmosphere.” But it is not reforestation – it is replacing a degraded landscape by a monoculture. And any carbon dioxide stored in the trees will be quickly released, when the trees are used to produce paper or bioenergy.

When the CAO carried out its review of IFC lending to Wilmar’s palm oil plantations in Indonesia it found that “Because commercial pressures dominated IFC’s assessment process, the result was that environmental and social due diligence reviews did not occur as required.”[10]

In his presentation at the World Forestry Congress, IFC’s Constantine asked “How do we measure success?”. His answer, for plantations was “Number of hectares in new plantations. Dollars invested. Number of projects.” History, it seems, is due to repeat itself.

The solution to this is simple. The UN needs a definition of forests that excludes plantations. Then the IFC’s plans in Indonesia could be seen for what they are. Not as “reforestation,” or part of a “commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emission,” but as a subsidy to the socially and environmentally destructive plantation sector.


[1] See “As Climate Negotiations Slow, Forests Won’t Wait” on the Rainforest Alliance’s website, for one example of an organisation actively hoping that a REDD deal comes out of Copenhagen, regardless of what else happens.

“Climate negotiators are downplaying expectations and talking about incremental steps, but meanwhile, we’re continuing to lose tropical forests at an unacceptable rate,” says Jeff Hayward, manager of the Rainforest Alliance’s climate initiative, who is attending the Copenhagen meeting. “We need robust commitments from both developed and developing countries to finance and implement REDD now, in order to stop deforestation, help keep all parties at the negotiating table and to be effective at cutting emissions. That’s the message we need to get through to climate policymakers.”

Of course Hayward doesn’t mention that if REDD includes forest carbon credits, it will not reduce emissions.

[2] Plantations as sinks: CDM fraud at its worst“, WRM, reposted on Climate and Capitalism, 25 August 2009.

[3] For the CDM definitions and a discussion about the problems with these definitions see Chris Lang, “REDD will fail with the current definition of forest“, REDD-Monitor, 8 September 2009.

[4] I’ve written a short version of what’s wrong with the FAO’s failure to see the difference between forests and plantations, here:
Chris Lang, “Wilful ignorance: FAO and industrial tree plantations“, WRM Bulletin 141, April 2009.
For a longer version, see:
Chris Lang, “The Food and Agriculture Organisation: Promoting the lie of ‘Planted Forests’“, in Plantations, poverty and power: Europe’s role in the expansion of the pulp industry in the South, WRM, December 2008.

[5] Sustainable management of forests and REDD+: Negotiations need clear terminology“, Information Note, FAO, November 2009.

[6] Annie Jia, “ World Bank unit to review palm oil and other carbon-intensive loans“, E&E News, 20 November 2009.

[7] Mark Constantine, “Increasing Private Sector Impact in the Forest Sector“, Presentation at the World Forestry Congress, 22 October 2009.

[8] For more details about the IFC loan to Aracruz, see:
Chris Lang, Brazil: World Bank loan to Aracruz is in breach of bank forest policy“, WRM Bulletin 92, March 2005.
For more details about the firing of rubber bullets from helicopters, see:
Brazil: The Federal Police invade Tupiniquim and Guarani villages on land recovered from Aracruz Celulose plantations“, World Rainforest Movement Bulletin, January 2006.

[9] IFC Launches Program to Help Create Forest Plantations on Degraded Indonesian Lands“, IFC press release, 18 November 2009.

[10] The CAO report is available here. For the background on the complaint to the CAO, see the Forest Peoples Programme’s website.


6 Responses to “Greenwashing the green desert in Copenhagen”

  1. Lauren 1 December 2009 at 5:37 am #

    Redd is not the only thing greenwashed.

  2. Chris Lang 4 January 2010 at 10:35 am #

    I received the following email from Mark Constantine at the IFC on 17 December 2009:

    Dear Chris,

    Read your recent article with interest regarding –among other things–my presentation on IFC’s approach to the forest sector at the World Forest Congress in BA.

    While appreciating the coverage of the IFC presentation, don’t you think there was a bit more to it than the one dimensional focus on plantations you describe ? What about sustainable forest management of natural forest? What about leveraging private capital in support of REDD/conserving natural forest? What about the focus on moving sustainable agribusiness and forestry to degraded lands? And in terms of plantations, what about the sensitivity that was expressed to ensuring when plantations are undertaken they are done in places with adequate rainfall, preferably in mosaic form, and not to replace cleared natural forest?

    Obviously, one must respect that we have differing views when it comes to tree crop plantations (though I have never fully appreciated the distinction between such and vast fields of corn, or soy etc) but our approach is a bit more nuanced than you indicated.



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