Global Forest Coalition https://globalforestcoalition.org Global Forest Coalition Fri, 16 Nov 2018 11:38:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Policy recommendations for the Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of the Parties 14 https://globalforestcoalition.org/cbd-cop14-policy-recommendations/ https://globalforestcoalition.org/cbd-cop14-policy-recommendations/#respond Thu, 15 Nov 2018 09:49:38 +0000 https://globalforestcoalition.org/?p=9574 This brief provides a summary of the 2018 global report of the Community Conservation Resilience Initiative (CCRI) and sets out overarching recommendations for select draft decisions of the 14th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP14). The recommendations are drawn from the CCRI assessments and the second Fostering Community Conservation Conference. Download the briefing: High resolution (3.1MB) | Low resolution (1.1MB)

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This brief provides a summary of the 2018 global report of the Community Conservation Resilience Initiative (CCRI) and sets out overarching recommendations for select draft decisions of the 14th Conference
of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP14). The recommendations are drawn from the CCRI assessments and the second Fostering Community Conservation Conference.

Download the briefing: High resolution (3.1MB) | Low resolution (1.1MB)

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The industrialisation of the Bioeconomy poses risks to the climate, the environment, and people https://globalforestcoalition.org/the-industrialisation-of-the-bioeconomy-poses-risks-to-the-climate-the-environment-and-people/ https://globalforestcoalition.org/the-industrialisation-of-the-bioeconomy-poses-risks-to-the-climate-the-environment-and-people/#respond Thu, 08 Nov 2018 06:15:51 +0000 https://globalforestcoalition.org/?p=9566 Civil society groups reject the impact of an exponential growth of the Bioeconomy In recent years, governments have given support to substitute fossil fuels with biomass for energy, in the name of climate change. Increasingly, they are also considering support for other products made out of bio-materials, which is fashionably named the ‘bioeconomy.’ The Biofuture Platform, an initiative proposed by the Brazilian government and launched with support from 20 countries in 2016, is one example. However, a closer look at …

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Civil society groups reject the impact of an exponential growth of the Bioeconomy

In recent years, governments have given support to substitute fossil fuels with biomass for energy, in the name of climate change. Increasingly, they are also considering support for other products made out of bio-materials, which is fashionably named the ‘bioeconomy.’

The Biofuture Platform, an initiative proposed by the Brazilian government and launched with support from 20 countries in 2016, is one example. However, a closer look at this Platform shows that the bioeconomy is simply a cover-up for a significant increase in bioenergy, together with other short lived ‘bio-products’ whose climate credentials are as bad for the climate as bioenergy. [1] The European Union and several countries (which have not so far signed up to the BioFuture Platform) are also developing ‘bioeconomy strategies’ with a similar purpose. [2]

The undersigned organisations are concerned that scaling-up the use of bioenergy and other short-lived bio-products (the so-called-bioeconomy) will have detrimental impacts on the climate, human rights, nature protection, and the transition to a low-carbon energy system. We reject the BioFuture Platform and other similar developments for the following reasons:

Bad for the climate:

To meet the Paris Agreement goal of keeping the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees, we must swiftly phase out emissions and simultaneously increase the amount of carbon that can be removed by forests, grasslands, and soils. In direct opposition to this, the BioFuture Platform advocates transitioning the energy, transport, and industrial sectors to bioenergy and biomaterials. This ignores the science – burning biomass for energy releases as many emissions as burning coal[3], while the production and consumption of biofuels, bioplastic or other biomaterials reduces land available for crops, leads to deforestation and other land conversions, and releases nitrous oxide.

To mitigate the worst effects of climate change, we need governments, NGOs, academia, and the private sector to work together to reduce overconsumption of energy and decarbonize the energy, transport, and industrial sectors – not merely allow the rich to continue over-consuming whilst transitioning to another carbon-intensive resource.

Bad for human rights:

An industrial bioeconomy would increase demand for land to grow biomass. This would drive deforestation and other land use change on a scale that would have devastating impacts on people. A conservative study about the global biomass potential [4] found that for bioenergy to provide five per cent of global energy use, it would require the conversion of an area of land larger than India (386 million hectares). The bioeconomy foreseen by the BioFuture Platform would need even more land to be converted for bioproducts. The underlying assumption is that most the land needed to convert the fossil fuel economy to the bioeconomy would be provided by the global South. But growing demand for biofuels and biomass for heat and electricity, has already led to large-scale land grabbing and the eviction of entire villages, and reduced access to farmland, forest and water resources. [5] Expanding demand will worsen those impacts, especially where forests are replaced by plantations, increasing pesticide poisoning and labour rights violations, and reducing clean water and food sovereignty. In addition, the processing and burning of biomass for energy releases a variety of toxic emissions, posing additional health risks.

Bad for nature and biodiversity:

We are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, which will be worsened by the BioFuture Platform’s proposals to increase demand for land, water, and forests. Demand for palm oil and soy is already accelerating forest destruction in many countries and intensification of agriculture (more chemicals, less fallow land) in Europe and North America is accelerating the decline in insects and birds. [6] Demand for bioenergy has already led to the clearcutting of highly biodiverse forests in the southern US, [7] the Baltic States [8] and elsewhere, and as monoculture plantations advance, agrobiodiversity reduces, and nature suffers. Plantations for bioplastics and other biomaterials will just make these problems worse. We need to be reducing demand for wood and crops, not increasing it. There is also an assumption that production of bioproducts will depend heavily on use of genetically engineered crops, trees, and microbes, all of which pose serious risks to the environment and human health.

Bad for a just transition from the fossil fuel economy:

The BioFuture Platform’s vision distracts attention and resources away from real, proven solutions to climate change and entrenches energy, social and economic injustices around the world. It would encourage further bioenergy subsidies at the expense of genuinely low-carbon renewable energy such as wind and solar power which must be immediately scaled up in a manner which respects community rights. “Modern bioenergy” (biofuels and biomass for heat and electricity) promoted by the BioFuture Platform is primarily used in the global North and by the energy-hungry industries who should be reducing consumption. Bioenergy gives them a get out clause from dealing with their wasteful consumption.

The undersigned groups call on the 20 countries and the multilateral organisations that are signatories to the BioFuture Platform to end support for bioenergy and other short-lived bioproducts. We call on other governments to refrain from supporting the Platform and its demands. We call instead for governments to propose meaningful and equitable responses to the climate crisis which respect human rights, focus on proven low carbon technologies, reduce overconsumption and waste, and protect forests and other ecosystems.

References:

[1] biofutureplatform.org
[2] See ec.europa.eu/research/bioeconomy/index.cfm?pg=policy&lib=strategy for the EU Bioeconomy Strategy review.
[3] See biofuelwatch.org.uk/biomass-resources/resources-on-biomass/ for a list of scientific studies which show that energy from burning wood is far from carbon neutral.
[4] Biomass Energy: The Scale of the Potential Resource, Christopher B Field et al, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, February 2008; Note that the 5% figure is based on global energy use in 2005. It translates into 27 EJ
[5] According to an ActionAid report, EU investors acquired 6 million hectares of land in sub-Saharan Africa for biofuel production by May 2013, yet the EU has imported very little feedstock for agrofuels from Africa, suggesting that the hype around bioenergy alone was a major driver behind those large land-grabs, which led to the eviction of entire villages, and to many communities losing access to their farmland, forests and water resources actionaid.org/sites/files/actionaid/adding_fuel_to_the_flame_actionaid_2013_final.pdf
[6] See for example e360.yale.edu/features/insect_numbers_declining_why_it_matters
[7] See for example dogwoodalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/NRDC_2014-2017Booklet_DigitalVersion-resize.pdf
[8] See climatechangenews.com/2018/01/16/logging-surge-threatens-quarter-estonias-forest-warn-conservationists/

Signatory civil society organisations

International:

Global Forest Coalition
Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN)
Soroptimist International
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
ActionAid International

Regional:

Birdlife Europe and Central Asia
Corporate Europe Observatory – EU
Fern – Europe

National:

Acción por la Biodiversida – Argentina
Amigos de la Tierra Argentina – Argentina
Kalang River Forest Alliance – Australia
Bellingen Environment Centre – Australia
Bob Brown Foundation – Australia
Kalang Progress Association – Australia
“System Change Not Climate Change” – Austria
Aliança RECOs – Redes de Cooperação Comunitária Sem Fronteiras – Brazil
Movimento Mulheres pela P@Z! – Brazil
Grupo de Trabalhos em Prevenção Posthivo (GTP) – Brazil
Oykos Capacitação – Brazil
No One Left Out (NOLO) – Cameroon
Struggle to Economize Future Environment (SEFE) – Cameroon
Ecology Action Centre – Canada
Journalists for Human Rights
Blue Dalian – China
China Environmental Paper Network – China
Green Longjiang – China
Scholartree Alliance – China
Snow Alliance – China
Wuhu Ecology Center – China
COECOCEIBA – Amigos de la Tierra Costa Rica – Costa Rica
Red de Coordinación en Biodiversidad – Costa Rica
Czech Coalition for Rivers – Czech Republic
Forests of the World – Denmark
NOAH – Friends of the Earth Denmark
EcoHaina – Dominican Republic
CESTA – Friends of the Earth El Salvador
Estonian Forest Aid (Eesti Metsa Abiks)
New Wind Association – Finland
Finnish Association for Nature Conservation – Finland
Ilmastovanhemmat (Climate Parents) – Finland
Kepa – The Finnish NGO Platform
Luonto-Liitto – Finnish Nature League
Canopée – France
Les Amis de la Terre – France
Worldview – the Gambia
Arbeitsreis Regenwald und Artenschutz (ARA) – Germany
BUND Kandertal – Germany
Rettet den Regenwald e.V. – Germany
Seeds Action Network – Germany
denkhausbremen – Germany
The Development Institute – Ghana
Abibiman Foundation – Ghana
Plataforma Internacional contra la Impunidad – Guatemala
All India Forum of Forest Movements – India
Centre for Environment Education Himalaya – India
Indigenous Perspectives – India
JIKALAHARI – Indonesia
Kaliptra Andalas – Indonesia
KKI WARSI – Indonesia
Link-AR Borneo – Indonesia
WALHI-Friends of the Earth Indonesia
Yayasan Citra Mandiri Mentawai – Indonesia
Cevi de Udine – Italy
Solidarietà e Cooperazione/CIPSI -Italy
SONIA/“Society for New Initiatives and Activities” for a Just New World – Italy
Coordinadora de Pueblos y Organizaciones del Oriente del Estado de México en Defensa de la Tierra, el Agua y su Cultura – Mexico
Frente Amplio No Partidista en contra del Nuevo Aeropuerto y otros Megaproyectos en la Cuenca del Valle de México – Mexico
Grupo Mesófilo A.C. – Mexico
Forest Observatory – Morocco
UNAC – Uniao Nacional de Camponeses – Mozambique
Association of Collaborative Forest Users Nepal
Forest Environment Workers Union Nepal (FEWUN)
National Forum for Advocacy, Nepal (NAFAN)
Rural Area Development Programme (RADP) – Nepal
Food Justice Working Group – Netherlands
Gender and Water Alliance – Netherlands
Groene Zon – Netherlands
Milieudefensie / Friends of the Earth Netherlands
Nederlands Platform Gentechnologie – Netherlands
Network Vital Agriculture and Nutrition – Netherlands
Forest Peoples Programme – Netherlands and UK
Colectivo Voces Ecológicas (COVEC) – Panama
HEÑÓI – Paraguay
Pastoral de la Tierra del Vicariato Apostólico de Yurimaguas – Peru
Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE)/Friends of the Earth Philippines – Philippines
ZERO – Associação Sistema Terrestre Sustentável – Portugal
Ole Siosiomaga Society Incorporated (OLSSI) – Samoa
South Durban Community Environmental Alliance – South Africa
AFRICANDO – Spain
GRAIN – Spain
Salva la Selva – Spain
Verdegaia – Spain
Protect the Forest – Sweden
Les Amis de la Terre-Togo
Regional Center for International Development Corporation – Uganda
National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) – Uganda
Development Alternatives – UK
EcoNexus – UK
Gaia Foundation – UK
Genetic Engineering Network – UK
The Corner House – UK
The Real Farming Trust – UK
Biofuelwatch – UK and USA
Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project – USA
Dogwood Alliance
Friends of the Earth US – USA
Global Justice Ecology Project – USA
Greenvironment – USA
Heartwood – USA
Keep The Woods – USA
Mangrove Action Project- USA
Natural Resources Defense Council – USA
Oakland Institute – USA
Partnership for Policy Integrity – USA
Pivot Point – USA
Rainforest Relief – USA
RESTORE: The North Woods – USA
Save Our Sky Blue Waters – USA
Southern Environmental Law Center – USA
Tribe of the Oak – USA
Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) – USA
Stand.earth – USA and Canada

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The Dark Side of the Bioeconomy: Climate Catastrophe, Forest Destruction, and Human Rights Abuses https://globalforestcoalition.org/the-dark-side-of-the-bioeconomy-climate-catastrophe-forest-destruction-and-human-rights-abuses/ https://globalforestcoalition.org/the-dark-side-of-the-bioeconomy-climate-catastrophe-forest-destruction-and-human-rights-abuses/#respond Wed, 07 Nov 2018 05:59:44 +0000 https://globalforestcoalition.org/?p=9563 Over 115 Organisations from 40 countries hold day of action to reject the “BioFuture Platform” (November 7, 2018) — An international coalition of more than 120 organisations from 40 countries today warns that the rapid global growth of the so-called bioeconomy poses a grave risk to the climate, nature, and human rights. In addition to publishing an Open Letter[1], a petition is being launched today to coincide with the International Day of Action on Bioenergy[2] which calls on governments around …

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Over 115 Organisations from 40 countries hold day of action to reject the “BioFuture Platform”

(November 7, 2018) — An international coalition of more than 120 organisations from 40 countries today warns that the rapid global growth of the so-called bioeconomy poses a grave risk to the climate, nature, and human rights.

In addition to publishing an Open Letter[1], a petition is being launched today to coincide with the International Day of Action on Bioenergy[2] which calls on governments around the world to support proven low carbon technologies, reduce overconsumption, and protect forests and other ecosystems.

In recent years, governments from the UK to Brazil to South Korea have promoted burning forest biomass for energy as a substitute for fossil fuels. Yet a large and growing[3] number of scientific[4] studies show that, far from being the ‘green energy’ climate solution, burning biomass[5] for energy emits no less carbon than burning coal, while also threatening biodiversity,[6] and human rights.[7]

The petition and global day of action come as the bioenergy industry is striving for further expansion and influence.

Today, major figures from the industry and policymakers will gather in San Francisco for an event organised by the Biofuture Platform [8], an initiative supported by 20 countries and backed by organisations including the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The Biofuture Platform promotes products made out of bio-materials as well as the wider bioeconomy.

“The BioFuture Platform actively promotes bioenergy and biomass products, which incentivizes more forest destruction. In the Southern US, we are already facing the insatiable appetite of European demand for biomass thanks to well-intentioned policies that have had damaging results. The bioeconomy harms our precious forests, rural communities, and the climate. In the wake of the latest UN IPCC report, it’s clear that forests are our best defense against climate change and we need to keep them standing,” said Rita Frost, campaign manager of Dogwood Alliance [9], which works to protect the Southern forests of the US.

“Over the past year, reports of an up to 60% decline in animal populations worldwide and an 80% decline in insect populations in several regions have made the headlines, with habitat loss remaining the number one cause of biodiversity loss. Yet the Biofuture Platform and numerous governments are promoting policies which will accelerate habitat loss in favour of vastly more crop and tree monocultures for energy and materials,” said Almuth Ernsting, co-director of Biofuelwatch [10], which campaigns on the impacts of large-scale bioenergy and bio-based products.

“The exponential growth of the bioeconomy is a global threat. Instead of contributing to climate mitigation, bioenergy and ‘bio’ products keep energy generation locked-in to the carbon cycle, decrease the amount of land available for food crops, drive land-grabs, and decimate forests – our most efficient carbon sinks. For a sustainable world, we must protect forests and rely on truly renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar,” said Katja Garson, bioenergy campaigner at forests and rights NGO Fern [11].

“Demand for biofuels, woodchips, pellets, and charcoal is a major driver of forest destruction and land-grabbing across the global South. Realising the plans of the Biofuture Platform would require tens or even hundreds of millions of hectares of new plantations at a devastating cost to forests, indigenous peoples, other forest dependent and traditional communities, and small farmers” said Mary Louise Malig, Campaigns Coordinator of the Global Forest Coalition, based in Bolivia.

Civil society organizations call for an end to support for bioenergy and other short-lived bioproducts. In the era needing urgent action on climate change, the NGOs call for “meaningful and equitable responses to the climate crisis which respect human rights, focus on proven low-carbon technologies, reduce overconsumption and waste, and protect forests and other ecosystems.”

###

Contacts:
Rita Frost, Dogwood Alliance, +1 512 4230620, rita@dogwoodalliance.org
Almuth Ernsting, Biofuelwatch, +44 131 6232600, biofuelwatch@gmail.com
Katja Garson, Fern, Tel +32 2 8944694, katja@fern.org
Mary Louise Malig, Global Forest Coalition, Tel +591 6 100-2627

Notes:
[1] For an online version: http://environmentalpaper.org/bioeconomy-day-of-action The letter will also be delivered to policymakers at the BioFuture Platform Conference being held in San Francisco, California
[2] https://www.rainforest-rescue.org/petitions/1152
[3] http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/biomass-resources/resources-on-biomass/
[4] https://www.euractiv.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2018/01/Letter-of-Scientists-on-Use-of-Forest-Biomass-for-Bioenergy-January-12-2018.pdf
[5] https://fern.org/bioenergy
[6] https://e360.yale.edu/features/insect_numbers_declining_why_it_matters
[7] http://actionaid.org/sites/files/actionaid/adding_fuel_to_the_flame_actionaid_2013_final.pdf
[8] http://biofutureplatform.org/about/
[9] https://www.dogwoodalliance.org/about-us/our-story/
[10] http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/about/
[11] https://fern.org/team

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132 civil society organisations critizise CORSIA in open letter to ICAO Council https://globalforestcoalition.org/132-civil-society-organisations-critizise-corsia-in-open-letter-to-icao-council/ https://globalforestcoalition.org/132-civil-society-organisations-critizise-corsia-in-open-letter-to-icao-council/#respond Thu, 25 Oct 2018 07:00:22 +0000 https://globalforestcoalition.org/?p=9541 Today, 132 civil society organisations from around the world sent an open letter to National Representations to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The letter comes just ahead of the 215th session of the ICAO Council to be held from 29th of October to 16th of November, in Montreal, Canada. The signatories of the letter criticize the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) to be discussed during the Council session. CORSIA does not tackle the climate impact …

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Today, 132 civil society organisations from around the world sent an open letter to National Representations to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The letter comes just ahead of the 215th session of the ICAO Council to be held from 29th of October to 16th of November, in Montreal, Canada.

The signatories of the letter criticize the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) to be discussed during the Council session. CORSIA does not tackle the climate impact of aviation, and could even lead to further problems, like land conflicts and biodiversity loss due to offset projects and biofuel production, so the signatories.

The letter explains the danger of carbon offsets, biofuels and also points out that technical improvements for aircraft and operations will not be sufficient to overcome aviation’s emission problem.

Reduce aviation instead of greenwashing it
Therefore, the signatories demand ICAO to finally cut the unjust privileges of aviation, on the national as well as the global level, by introducing kerosene taxes, VAT and ticket taxes, frequent flyer levies, aircraft environmental standards, caps on the number of flights and moratoriums on airport infrastructure. The letter refers to the “13 steps for a just transport system and for rapidly reducing aviation”, as outlined in the Stay Grounded position paper.

“In order to address the serious climate crisis, it is necessary to put a cap to aviation, instead of pretending that “carbon neutral growth” could exist in the future. This is because on the one hand, the climate impact of aviation is at least double the impact of carbon dioxide alone. On the other hand, numerous studies and recent history have proven that a decoupling of resource use and emissions from economic growth remains a myth.” [Read the whole open letter as PDF]

See the original post on Stay Grounded here.

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Over 120 groups from around the world declare large scale forest biomass energy a dangerous ‘delusion’ https://globalforestcoalition.org/over-120-groups-from-around-the-world-declare-large-scale-forest-biomass-energy-a-dangerous-delusion/ https://globalforestcoalition.org/over-120-groups-from-around-the-world-declare-large-scale-forest-biomass-energy-a-dangerous-delusion/#respond Wed, 24 Oct 2018 01:39:33 +0000 https://globalforestcoalition.org/?p=9533 Organisations from over 30 countries release statement calling for an end to monetary and policy support for biomass (24 October 2018) – A loud chorus of civil society organisations representing hundreds of thousands of people around the world has come together to release a new statement expressing concern over the use of forest biomass for renewable energy. The groups are concerned that biomass is a societal delusion for climate change mitigation and increased their commitment to working collectively for real …

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Organisations from over 30 countries release statement calling for an end to monetary and policy support for biomass

(24 October 2018) – A loud chorus of civil society organisations representing hundreds of thousands of people around the world has come together to release a new statement expressing concern over the use of forest biomass for renewable energy. The groups are concerned that biomass is a societal delusion for climate change mitigation and increased their commitment to working collectively for real solutions that protect and restore forests.

The statement concludes with, “We, the undersigned organisations believe that we must move beyond burning forest biomass to effectively address climate change. We call on governments, financiers, companies and civil society to avoid expansion of the forest biomass based energy industry and move away from its use. Subsidies for forest biomass energy must be eliminated. Protecting and restoring the world’s forests is a climate change solution, burning them is not.”

One hundred twenty three organisations from over thirty countries have published this joint statement calling on the world’s governments to end policy support for large scale forest biomass energy. Forests are vital for mitigating the worst impacts of climate change and should not be destroyed for electricity production. The document’s global release happened as the North American Wood Products Industry celebrated #BioenergyDay which is promoting the further expansion of this false solution to climate change.

The statement shows the widespread, diverse, and growing opposition to forest biomass energy production and details biomass energy’s harmful impacts, with signatory organisations from major international NGOs to grassroots groups participating in large numbers. It comes on the heels of the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, outlining a startlingly short timeframe of 10-12 years to rapidly reduce emissions and limit global warming to that threshold. A key highlight of the report was the importance of protecting and restoring forests alongside rapid reductions in fossil CO2 emissions if we are to keep temperature increases within limits that could prevent catastrophic climate change.

In summary, the statement conveys the organisation’s conclusions and agreement that expansion of the forest biomass industry is misguided due to four key issues:

* It harms the climate as burning forest biomass is not low carbon and its encouraged by flawed systems of emission accounting.
* It harms the forests by threatening their biodiversity and climate resilience as well as undermines their climate mitigation potential.
* It harms people as the industries undermine community rights and interests and biomass burning harms human health and well-being.
* It harms the clean energy transition as it provides a life-line for continuing to burn coal for energy production and pulls investments away from other renewable energy sources.

“Forest biomass energy is a lose, lose proposition that has prompted this strong statement of concern from such a multitude of groups. We appeal to policy makers, financiers, the markets and consumers to abandon support for large scale energy production from the forests,” said Peg Putt, Forests and Climate Coordinator for the Environmental Paper Network, which has been the organiser of a year-long global dialogue with NGOs leading to the development of this joint statement.

“All India Forum of Forest Movements is concerned with the recent developments in India where the public sector power companies like National Thermal Power Corporation has announced their plan to use biomass to replace coal, based on the same delusion that biomass reduces carbon emission. This development should be strongly opposed,” said Souparna Lahiri,  a Secretariat Member of AIFFM.

“At the same time as evidence of the harm caused by wood-based bioenergy to climate, forests and communities is growing, more and more countries and energy companies are seeking to scale up this disastrous energy source. Subsidies for biomass burning must stopped and redirected to genuinely low carbon renewables, energy efficiency and conservation as a matter of urgency”. Stated Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch and Regional Coordinator of the Global Forest Coalition.

Full statement and its signatories: http://environmentalpaper.org/the-biomass-delusion/

Media contact:

Peg Putt, Forests and Climate Coordinator, Environmental Paper Network
peg.putt@gmail.com, +61 418 127 580
Almuth Ernsting, Biofuelwatch and Regional Coordinator of the Global Forest Coalition: almuthbernstinguk@yahoo.co.uk, +44-131-6232600
Simone Lovera, Global Forest Coalition: simone@globalforestcoalition.org, +595-981-407375

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The Chaco under attack https://globalforestcoalition.org/world-food-day-chaco-under-attack/ https://globalforestcoalition.org/world-food-day-chaco-under-attack/#respond Tue, 16 Oct 2018 12:00:25 +0000 https://globalforestcoalition.org/?p=9488 A photoessay about indigenous communities in the Chaco region of Paraguay, and their existence in a landscape under threat by agribusiness and international trade policies. By Fernando Franceschelli and Ines Franceschelli, Global Forest Coalition Today is World Food Sovereignty Day. To commemorate the occasion, we bring you this photo-essay to highlight the plight of indigenous communities living in the shadow of toxic agribusiness, with their territories polluted and their resources extracted and exported abroad. “El Chaco” has been home for …

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A photoessay about indigenous communities in the Chaco region of Paraguay, and their existence in a landscape under threat by agribusiness and international trade policies.

By Fernando Franceschelli and Ines Franceschelli, Global Forest Coalition

Today is World Food Sovereignty Day. To commemorate the occasion, we bring you this photo-essay to highlight the plight of indigenous communities living in the shadow of toxic agribusiness, with their territories polluted and their resources extracted and exported abroad.

“El Chaco” has been home for millennia to at least 15 groups of Indigenous Peoples. But over the past few years the land has been invaded by agribusiness, for unsustainable livestock production, to the extent that there are now twice as many head of cattle in the Chaco then there are human beings in the whole of Paraguay. As a result, the Chaco is losing forests at a rate of 2,000 hectares per day, and is recognised as one of the places on Earth that is being most rapidly deforested. And to make matters even worse, the land is increasingly being covered in genetically modified soy and the toxic agrochemicals that go hand-in-hand with it. The soy is primarily produced as feedstock for factory farms in Europe and other parts of the world. Cattle ranchers and soy planters have stolen indigenous land in the Chaco, and forced its people into slave labour.

Every day the Chaco’s inhabitants see immense convoys of ships and barges passing before their eyes, carrying away their resources to feed others in faraway places, with the profits of this trade remaining out of their reach. The unjust and exploitative trade rules that have caused the agribusiness take-over of the Chaco are set to worsen further with the proposed EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement. This deal will give corporations even more power to prioritise producing steak, pork and chicken for European consumers, while the lives of the Chaco’s inhabitants will remain submerged in poverty and hunger.

The photos below offer a glimpse into the lives of the Chaco’s Indigenous Peoples, and the struggles they face.


Despite living along the Paraguay River, one of the most important navigable rivers in the Americas, the Indigenous Peoples of the Chaco live completely isolated lives, forgotten by governments and public policies.

Pictured here is an Ayoreo elder from the community of Puerto María Auxiliadora.

Looking into the distance, she doesn’t say a single word as she listens to others narrate her story. She used to live in the forest as a member of one of the remaining uncontacted tribes in the Chaco. While still young, in the 70s, she was contacted and taken to “civilization”. Most Ayoreo die from diseases like measles when they are contacted for the first time, she was one of the few who survived.

Photo by Fernando Franceschelli


Pictured here is Puerto Diana in Alto Paraguay. In the foreground, members of the Ishir indigenous community are crossing the Paraguay River by a small boat. In the background is a gigantic tugboat, pulling a convoy of barges carrying products from the Chaco including soybeans. In Paraguay, two main products make up to 80% of export value: cattle and soybeans. A trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur countries will only exacerbate the high rate of deforestation and land clearance to make way for cattle ranching and monoculture soy fields.

Photo by Fernando Franceschelli


An Ishir man from Puerto Esperanza walks towards the community limits to cut firewood.

The communities here depend on fishing, and they also raise pigs and chickens for subsistence. Virtually nothing remains of their forest because everything has been cleared to plant soy and graze cattle. These communities are in a constant battle with agroindustry and large cattle ranchers, who have taken their lands and limited their access to it. The total absence of state infrastructure means that there there is no rule of law in these regions.

The EU-Mercosur agreement could create a framework that restricts the state’s ability to define policies that favour sustainable production and consumption. Fiscal reforms and subsidies supporting small-scale farmers and other sustainable livestock production methods would not be possible under the agreement currently proposed. This would lock places like the Chaco into continued cycles of ecological destruction, displacement of Indigenous Peoples and resource extraction.

Photo by Fernando Franceschelli


A convoy of eleven barges sails along the Paraguay River crossing in front of a mountain range that lies in the neighboring country of Brazil.

In Paraguay, soybean farming has displaced food production to the point that 60% of vegetables consumed by Paraguayans are now imported.

Photo by Fernando Franceschelli


Pictured here is a makeshift bathroom made with Caranday wood on the banks of the Paraguay River in Puerto Pollo. Caranday is a native palm, used for constructing homes.

The state’s abandonment of the Indigenous Peoples of the Chaco is such that local communities here lack even basic health, sanitation and communication services. The revenue from soy and beef production, concentrated into the hands of the few, has not yet reached the people of the Chaco. While the corporations increase their profits, local people face extermination.

Photo by Fernando Franceschelli


Pictured here is a fisherman from the Ishir community of 14 de Mayo. He displays the day’s catch in front of a Caranday bark wall.

Artisanal fishing is one of the main sources of food for the indigenous communities of the Chaco. The river today is significantly polluted, a result of the massive quantities of toxic chemical runoff from genetically modified soy plantations in the area.

Photo by Fernando Franceschelli


A young woman washes clothes in the waters of the Paraguay River in the Ishir community of Puerto Diana.

The majority of women do housework and produce handicrafts. Some have managed to go school and have become teachers in their own communities. But sadly, in order to make a living many also end up as sex workers in the capital, Asunción, or in neighboring Brazillian towns.

Photo by Fernando Franceschelli


A starving dog looks at the camera. Hunger prevails over a land that looks sterile thanks to an economic model of extractivism that prioritizes the (over-) consumption of meat and dairy by Europeans over the food sovereignty and survival of Indigenous women and men in the Chaco.

Government policies should ensure healthy diets, however, under trade agreements like the EU-Mercosur, corporations drive decisions, using land for commercial purpose rather than food sovereignty.

Photo by Fernando Franceschelli


Life resists death and destruction in the Chaco.
In the Ayoreo community of Carmelo Peralta, a mother lovingly looks at her newly born two-day-old daughter.

Photo by Fernando Franceschelli


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Guahory women fight for the earth: https://globalforestcoalition.org/world-food-day-guahory-women-fight-for-the-earth/ https://globalforestcoalition.org/world-food-day-guahory-women-fight-for-the-earth/#respond Tue, 16 Oct 2018 08:35:31 +0000 https://globalforestcoalition.org/?p=9465 A World Food Sovereignty Day photo-essay about the impacts of toxic agribusiness in Paraguay and the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement By Fernando Franceschelli and Ines Franceschelli, Henoi and Global Forest Coalition On World Food Day, we bring you this photo-essay, which tells the story of rural women from the community of Guahory, in Paraguay, and their struggle against the impacts of agribusiness. Although Paraguay is a country with extraordinary natural wealth and a small population of 7 million inhabitants, it …

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A World Food Sovereignty Day photo-essay about the impacts of toxic agribusiness in Paraguay and the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement

By Fernando Franceschelli and Ines Franceschelli, Henoi and Global Forest Coalition

On World Food Day, we bring you this photo-essay, which tells the story of rural women from the community of Guahory, in Paraguay, and their struggle against the impacts of agribusiness. Although Paraguay is a country with extraordinary natural wealth and a small population of 7 million inhabitants, it is home to 2 million poor and 800,000 malnourished people. Over 1.6 million women of childbearing age suffer from anemia.

These shocking statistics are due to the fact that agribusiness exercises control over our national territory. These corporations have turned Paraguay into an agri-livestock enterprise that produces commodities for export rather than food for local people. Agribusiness occupies 94% of the cultivated land in Paraguay. It has been deforesting and contaminating our lands at a scandalous rate. It has concentrated wealth in the country, to the extent that the richest 10% of the population earns more than 4 times what the poorest 40% earns. They do not respect laws, don’t pay taxes, and claim more than 80% of the wealth produced in our country. For all of this they provide just 2.5% of jobs.

As the political landscape in South America shifts towards an even more ruthless form of neoliberalism, these impacts are set to worsen. Driving this shift is the prospect of the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement between EU and South American nations. Efforts to liberalise international trade in key commodities such as soy and beef will cause more landgrabbing and displacement of rural people, and more deforestation. Women will bear these impacts disproportionately.

Paraguayan women lack access to education and employment, with 40% of families dependent on women to sustain them. But they are also leaders in the struggle against agribusiness, and its unsustainable model of production. This model has been expanding with the complicity of government support, and communities that stand up and fight it are criminalized and persecuted, and their activists are assassinated.

These photos tell the stories of Paraguayan women and their struggles to protect their communities, land and way of life.


A woman from the Guahory community.
“We need to open our eyes, work with our conscience, and recognise our popular power. Together, women and men, for a new country!”

Photo by Fernando Franceschelli


A peasant woman’s feet planted upon the soil.

“What are we going to do without our peasant seeds, what are we going to plant? Genetically Modified Seeds? Our Earth will not end, the money will.”

Photo by Fernando Franceschelli


The further intensification of livestock and feedstock production resulting from the EU-Mercosur trade deal will lead to even more deforestation and ecosystem destruction, harm to communities and Indigenous Peoples, and animal suffering.

“It is necessary to recover our community work. To avoid the use of agrochemicals, mutual solidarity is central. Reforestation, soil recovery, local agricultural fairs, recovering our local food culture are all central to our resistance. it would be good to have a nursery of natural remedies in each organisation and to exchange seedlings”.

Photo by Fernando Franceschelli


A peasant Guahory woman preparing meat for lunch. While the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement will include quotas for agricultural products aimed at boosting beef exports from Mercosur countries to the EU, peasant farmers will find it even harder to practice their traditional and sustainable livelihoods.

“In our communities, there are no schools. Young people are forced to leave the community. Our produce has no price. There are no health services. We have lost our seeds and knowledge. We are losing our most important heritage, our culture.”

Photo by Fernando Franceschelli


A young woman from the Guahory community. Many Guahory have been violently evicted, and their lands taken for monoculture soy production.

“Our major strength for resistance comes from our organisations, our conscience, and our desire to fight. By organising, we have already confronted the police several times to stop chemical pesticide spraying by agribusiness in our territories.”

Photo by Fernando Franceschelli


Peasant women cooking for an “olla popular” (community meal). These community meals are an important space for women to get together and organise.

“We can and we want to provide healthy, chemical free food for our children and families.”

Photo by Fernando Franceschelli


Pictured here is a makeshift house built by community members to live in after their home was destroyed by state security forces in an attempt to evict them.

“In spite of everything we have not stopped producing. Our peasant agriculture cools the planet. We practice crop diversification, use no chemicals, and protect the soils. We resist by conserving our own seeds and fighting for the earth. We resist because we retain our ancestral knowledge; our knowledge is our power.”

Photo by Fernando Franceschelli


This young woman is a victim of aerial crop spraying. Her land is next to a large industrial farm. The EU-Mercosur deal will increase the area of land that is sprayed with pesticides from the air, which will continue to displace local communities and force them away from their traditional ways of life. The EU is trying to frustrate negotiations on a legally binding treaty that would hold Transnational Corporations accountable for the human rights violations triggered by their supply chains.

“The worst are aerial fumigations, chemicals sprayed from airplanes, that affect all our crops. We can stop tractors, but we cannot stop airplanes. Many of our community members are forced to sell their land because of the chemicals on their fields, water sources, and homes. They are forced to live on the edges of cities where they face many hardships.”

Photo by Fernando Franceschelli


A pot of mandioca (cassava) being cooked for lunch. Mandioca is a staple crop for peasant communities in Paraguay. As well as agricultural commodities, the EU-Mercosur agreement also brings control of intellectual property to the table, putting more control into the hands of companies and meaning that peasant farmers could find it harder to share and use their traditional seeds.

“We must improve our agroecological practices. We must seek food sovereignty, abandon the use of pesticides. Instead we can make our own homemade organic pesticides. With training, it is possible to learn how to do all this and become self-reliant.”

Photo by Fernando Franceschelli


Women from the community gather with their children who, like them, will need to organise to protect their land and livelihoods. The EU-Mercosur agreement will tie South American communities in to generations of struggle, compounding the impacts that they already experience.

“The future of the world is in our hands, in the hands of poor women. If it were up to them, we would’ve given up, but we will continue to resist and fight.”

Photo by Fernando Franceschelli


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Cerrado towns terrorized to provide toilet paper for the world, say critics https://globalforestcoalition.org/cerrado-towns-terrorized-to-provide-toilet-paper-for-the-world-say-critics/ https://globalforestcoalition.org/cerrado-towns-terrorized-to-provide-toilet-paper-for-the-world-say-critics/#respond Tue, 02 Oct 2018 06:31:40 +0000 https://globalforestcoalition.org/?p=9527 A Mongabay investigation has found that global consumers who buy brand name toilet paper and tissues may unwittingly be fuelling land conflicts, environmental crimes and the loss of native vegetation in Brazil. Read the original article here. Image by Cássio Abreu on flickr.

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A Mongabay investigation has found that global consumers who buy brand name toilet paper and tissues may unwittingly be fuelling land conflicts, environmental crimes and the loss of native vegetation in Brazil.

Read the original article here. Image by Cássio Abreu on flickr.

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GFC deeply congratulates and celebrates with LVC on its historic victory! https://globalforestcoalition.org/gfc-deeply-congratulates-and-celebrates-with-lvc-on-its-historic-victory/ https://globalforestcoalition.org/gfc-deeply-congratulates-and-celebrates-with-lvc-on-its-historic-victory/#respond Sun, 30 Sep 2018 03:44:27 +0000 https://globalforestcoalition.org/?p=9381 La Via Campesina UN Human Rights Council passes a resolution adopting the peasant rights declaration in Geneva 28 SEPTEMBER 2018 Press Release (Geneva, September 28, 2018) Seventeen years of long and arduous negotiations later, peasants and other people working in rural areas are only a step away from having a UN Declaration that could defend and protect their rights to land, seeds, biodiversity, local markets and a lot more. On Friday, 28 September, in a commendable show of solidarity and …

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La Via Campesina

UN Human Rights Council passes a resolution adopting the peasant rights declaration in Geneva

28 SEPTEMBER 2018
Press Release
(Geneva, September 28, 2018) Seventeen years of long and arduous negotiations later, peasants and other people working in rural areas are only a step away from having a UN Declaration that could defend and protect their rights to land, seeds, biodiversity, local markets and a lot more.

On Friday, 28 September, in a commendable show of solidarity and political will, member nations of United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution concluding the UN Declaration for the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. The resolution was passed with 33 votes in favour, 11 abstentions and 3 against. [1]

The declaration now goes before the upcoming 3rd Committee session at UN General Assembly in New York in October. From there, in November 2018, this Declaration will be up for voting and adoption by all Member States of the United Nations. Once adopted, the UN Declaration will become a powerful tool for peasants and other people working in rural areas to seek justice and favourable national policies around food, agriculture, seeds and land keeping in mind the interests of millions of rural food producers comprising all genders and youth.

After several rounds of international consultation process, La Via Campesina – a global movement of peasants, indigenous people, pastoralists and migrant workers adopted in 2008 a Declaration of Rights of Peasants – Women and Men[1]. With the support of civil society groups like CETIM and FIAN International, La Via Campesina presented this proposal to the Human Rights Council in 2008.

“This has been a long tough path but as peasants, as people who have seen the worst of poverty and neglect, we are tough too and we never give up”, says Elizabeth Mpofu, the General Coordinator of La Via Campesina

To be clear, today, peasants and others working in rural areas have insufficient recourse in the face of the discrimination they suffer and the other challenges they confront when seeking an adequate standard of living when subjected to forced displacement and marginalization. However, with this win in Geneva, peasants a step closer to getting their rights recognised and protected. According to Elizabeth, “This includes the right to life and adequate standards of living, the right to land, to seeds, to information, justice and equality between women and men” For her, it is a turning point for peasant struggles around the world. “Today, we are just a step away from acceptance by all member nations of the United Nations.” She added.

This UN Declaration can provide a global framework for national legislation and policies to:

  • better protect the rights of peasants – women and men – and improve livelihoods in rural areas;
  • reinforce food sovereignty, the fight against climate change and the conservation of biodiversity
  • take actions to implement comprehensive agrarian reform and a better protection against land-grabbing;
  • realise the right of peasants to conserve, use, exchange and sell their seeds;
  • ensure remunerative prices for peasant production and rights for agricultural workers;
  • recognise the rights of peasant women and bring about social justice for people of all origin, nationality, race, colour, descent. Sex, language, culture, marital status, property, disability, age, political or other opinion, religion, birth or economic, social or other status without discrimination

“While all of the member states said they are committed to human rights for all, the no votes and also abstentions are abysmal,” says Ramona Duminicioiu from Via Campesina Europe. “The nos and abstentions mean that these countries are not up to the protection of human rights of peasants and rural populations. They are against a bigger picture: eradication of poverty, food sovereignty, and the effort to reduce inequalities,” lamented Ramona.

“Our campaign for food sovereignty and people’s agrarian reform in Indonesia has received an important and much-needed boost,” says Henry Saragih, the Chairperson of Serikat Petani Indonesia. Indonesia has just passed a Presidential Decree in support of agrarian reform that favours peasants.

“Once the resolution is adopted at the UN General Assembly in New York, we will take the message of the Declaration to our people back home, and elaborate its significance and how it could strengthen our struggles against privatisation, criminalisation and more. The more we educate and inform our people back home, the stronger our movements become. It will enable us to demand better policies and laws that will take into account the rural realities of the developing world” added Henry.

“At this point, despite producing the bulk of the food we eat – peasants are subjected to extreme forms of violence. Those who resist are either murdered or arrested. This criminalisation of peasant struggles has to stop and this Declaration is a step forward in that direction”, says Diego from Movimiento Nacional Campesino Indígena (MNCI) Argentina CLOC-Vía Campesina

The adoption of such a Declaration and the recognition of rights contained in the proposed legal instrument can contribute to better protect the rights of peasants and improve livelihoods in rural areas in the long term and at the global level. It will fill existing normative gaps in protection and should also be forward-looking to deal with emerging gaps and thus end discriminatory practices by giving them more visibility and coherence.

Contacts:
English:
Henry Saragih: +62 811 655 668, Email: hspetani@gmail.com
Elizabeth Mpofu: +263 77 244 3716 Email: eliz.mpofu@gmail.com
Ramona Duminicioiu: +40 746 337 022, Email: ramona@ecoruralis.ro

Spanish: Diego Monton: +54 9 261 561 5062, Email: diegomonton@gmail.com

French: Ndiakhate Fall: +221 77 550 89 07, Email: fallriso@yahoo.fr

Note:
[2] Resolution A/HRC/39/L.16 on the UN Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas
In favour: Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, Chile, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Mongolia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela

Abstention: Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Georgia, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain

Against: United Kingdom, Australia, Hungary

[1] https://viacampesina.org/en/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2011/03/Declaration-of-rights-of-peasants-2009.pdf

Photo credit: Muhammad Ikhwan

 

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Fire and Plantations in Portugal: A case study on the risks of using tree plantations to remove carbon from the atmosphere https://globalforestcoalition.org/fire-and-plantations-in-portugal/ https://globalforestcoalition.org/fire-and-plantations-in-portugal/#respond Fri, 28 Sep 2018 14:05:57 +0000 https://globalforestcoalition.org/?p=9369 We are pleased to share the following piece originally published in Science for the People, a recently revitalized organization of activists and scientists that published a bimonthly magazine from 1969 to 1989. This essay is part of a special issue on geoengineering in the lead up to the official relaunch of the publication, slated for early 2019. You can read the rest of the collection at Science for the People’s website or become a Patreon donor to receive a printable …

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We are pleased to share the following piece originally published in Science for the People, a recently revitalized organization of activists and scientists that published a bimonthly magazine from 1969 to 1989. This essay is part of a special issue on geoengineering in the lead up to the official relaunch of the publication, slated for early 2019.

You can read the rest of the collection at Science for the People’s website or become a Patreon donor to receive a printable PDF version.

 

Fire and Plantations in Portugal

A case study on the risks of using tree plantations to remove carbon from the atmosphere

by Oliver Munnion

Special Issue, Summer 2018

Photo: Domingos Patacho

Devastating wildfires are increasingly a feature of summers across the globe, and their intensity and scale have been linked directly to climate change in a number of recent publications.1 Longer fire seasons, coupled with heatwave and drought conditions, from California to Chile and Siberia to Greece, are more likely, more frequent, and more intense. Forest fires north of the Arctic Circle, unprecedented loss of life in Greece and Portugal, and unique geophysical phenomena such as the “firenados” in California are becoming the “new normal”2 in our climate-changed world.

One response to the climate crisis that is gaining prominence is “Carbon Dioxide Removal” (CDR), and at the forefront of this suite of technological approaches to climate mitigation are afforestation and Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS). These geoengineering techniques came to the fore with the IPCC’s 2014 Assessment Report, which assumed major deployments of BECCS in a majority of its “mitigation scenarios” in order to hold global temperatures to below a 2°C increase by 2100.

BECCS: a huge appetite for land and biomass

BECCS and afforestation go hand-in-hand, owing to the enormous feedstock requirements of BECCS. Bioenergy has by far the largest land footprint of any form of energy generation;3 indeed, one estimate suggests that using BECCS to limit the global temperature rise to 2°C would require that crops be planted solely for the purpose of CO2 removal on up to 580 million hectares of land–equivalent to around one-third of the current total arable land globally. Planting at such scale, at least initially, is predicted to involve more release than uptake of greenhouse gases, due to the impacts of land clearance, soil disturbance and use of fertilizers. Rather than helping to conserve biodiversity, this large land footprint could cause a loss of terrestrial species perhaps worse than the losses resulting from a temperature increase of around 2.8°C above pre-industrial levels.4

Moreover, the technical viability of BECCS remains unproven, and for a technology seemingly essential to the IPCC’s global carbon targets there is startlingly little evidence that BECCS can go from being purely conceptual to commercially viable within the timescale required. Many authors have highlighted the dangers of such a reliance on such an unproven, indeed non-existent, technology.5 Optimism about large-scale BECCS deployment is a dangerous distraction6 from much needed efforts to drastically reduce fossil fuel use, and it threatens to legitimize existing forms of dirty bioenergy that are already being scaled up significantly.

Further threat comes from the fact that afforestation requires no technological breakthroughs, so the raw materials for BECCS can and will be planted regardless of the number of BECCS facilities that are actually built. Private-sector involvement in reforestation and afforestation projects prioritizes industrial-scale planting of fast-growing, non-native tree species that can be harvested and sold, whether for bioenergy, pulp, or timber. Such tree plantations bring serious environmental and social impacts.

Portugal is a prime example of the dangers of an approach to climate mitigation that relies on sequestering carbon through tree planting, for BECCS, commercial afforestation or both.

Portugal: the eucalyptus capital of the world

2017 in Portugal will be remembered for extreme heat waves, severe drought, and catastrophic forest fires. Half a million hectares of land burned, equivalent to 5 percent of the national territory the greatest yearly total in the country’s history. Though relatively small in comparison to its southern European neighbors, considerably more of Portugal burned in 2017 than in the rest of Europe combined.7

Portugal leads Europe in another statistic: it has more land planted with eucalyptus than any other EU country. Concentrated in the northern and central regions, roughly 10 percent of Portugal’s land area is planted with Eucalyptus globulus, an exotic, highly invasive, fast-growing subtropical tree.8 In absolute terms, only Brazil, India, Australia, and China have more eucalyptus–relative giants compared to Portugal. But proportionally, Portugal has by far the largest land area planted with eucalyptus in the world.9

The harm caused by fires in Portugal in 2017 was unprecedented. On June 17, 64 people lost their lives near Pedrogão Grande, in the district of Coimbra, central Portugal, in what has been described as Europe’s first “firestorm.” Climatic conditions conspired to create an inferno that eventually covered almost 50,000 hectares in one fire alone. In the days before the fire, temperatures had reached over 40 degrees during a heat wave, with much of the country already experiencing severe to extreme drought conditions. A dry lightning storm ignited multiple fires, and strong winds quickly spread the fires across a huge area.10 The extreme heat wave in Southern Europe in June 2017 has been clearly linked to climate change, with researchers finding that the conditions in Portugal were ten times more likely to have occurred due to global warming.11 Fires raged throughout the summer, culminating in a second firestorm on October 15, in which another 45 people lost their lives. This time, Portugal’s burned area doubled in size overnight, with fires sweeping across huge areas of central and northern Portugal.12

Satellite mapping of the infamous Pedrogão fire has shown that eucalyptus and pine plantations covered around 70% of the burned area, and that these areas experienced high fire severity.13 Both eucalyptus and pine have evolved to deal with fire. They are resinous trees that burn very easily and give off volatile oils that can even spontaneously combust in high temperatures. The bark of eucalyptus trees moves the fire quickly up the trunk and into the highly flammable leaves, both of which can be projected hundreds of meters, spreading the fire quickly.14 Compounding this is the fact that Portugal’s plantations are often illegal and unregulated,15 meaning that adequate firebreaks and zoning are not in place to prevent fires spreading easily.

From a biodiversity perspective, Portugal’s eucalyptus plantations have sometimes been referred to as “green deserts.”16 Eucalyptus leaves give off oils that inhibit soil microorganisms and prevent the growth of other plant species by blocking the development of root systems and inhibiting seed production. Eucalyptus leaves aren’t easily broken down by soil microorganisms (not even goats will eat eucalyptus leaves), and there are fewer invertebrates, fungi, and herbaceous plants in eucalyptus plantations.17

Soils in eucalyptus forests are also highly hydrophobic, which prevents water penetration into the ground and leads to large seasonal fluctuations in water courses, resulting in greater flood risk in winter and drier conditions summer. Similar to soils, the numbers of organisms in water courses in eucalyptus plantations are lower than in water courses in mixed, deciduous forests.18 Eucalyptus plantations also place a significant strain on water resources,19 which for a country like Portugal, experiencing frequent severe drought conditions on top of long, hot, dry summers, has spelled disaster for many rural communities.

Compounding the ecological harm caused by eucalyptus plantations is the way in which they are planted, especially where the land is terraced.20 Heavy machinery is brought in to plow the land on contour, causing significant soil erosion21 as it effectively scrapes away any topsoil and vegetation, leaving bare, exposed subsoil. Eucalyptus saplings will grow in these conditions though, and this planting technique is favored as the resulting plantations require much less maintenance.

Eucalyptus production has been sold to the Portuguese public as a green, environmentally friendly industry, bringing economic benefits to areas with few prospects, and producing a high-value export commodity in the form of paper products. More recently, the wood pellet industry has become another driver, supplying the market for domestic biomass heating. Pellets are even exported to the world’s largest biomass power station, Drax in the UK.22 Still, concerns over the impacts of eucalyptus plantations in Portugal are longstanding–some communities physically uprooted eucalyptus plantations almost three decades ago, citing concerns about fires and the drying up of springs.23 Ultimately, the strength of the pulp and paper lobby and large-scale migration away from rural areas left hillsides abandoned, with landowners turning to eucalyptus as an easy way to turn a small profit from land that would otherwise go unused. 24

Over the years, lack of a coherent forestry policy and the absence of effective management of forest areas has resulted in a planning system that has either not been able to or not wanted to regulate where and how eucalyptus can be planted in Portugal.25 On a national level, subsidies and other public supports have incentivized planting, with few regulatory barriers in the way of doing so. In 2017 alone, Portugal’s government made 18 million Euros available to increase the productivity of plantations, supplementing a 125 million Euro investment by Altri, a leading eucalyptus company.26 A further 9 million Euros came from the EU via a rural development program to support the replanting of eucalyptus where plantations had already been cut three times. These areas are also considered to be at high risk for fire.27

To highlight the extent of illegal planting, the Portuguese forest association Acréscimo has pointed out that some 32 million eucalyptus trees were estimated to have been planted in officially sanctioned plantations in Portugal during 2014 and 2015. But nurseries would have produced 60 million trees over the same period. Acréscimo asks, What happened to those extra trees?28 New laws limiting where eucalyptus can be planted that came into force at the end of 2017 saw a rush to get the trees in the ground ahead of the deadline, meaning that, despite the fires, more eucalyptus was planted than ever before.29

The shocking tragedy of Portugal’s fires has galvanized public opinion against eucalyptus plantations and in favor of replanting native forests. However, the worsening impacts of climate change will undoubtedly mean that without significant positive change to forestry policy and enforcement at the national and local levels, forest fires will continue to worsen. As an example of the lack of political will to restore Portugal’s forests, none of a 27 million Euro budget allocated to planting three ecologically and economically important oak species in 2016 and 2017 was spent,30 despite the clear demand from communities to replace eucalyptus with diverse, native forests. Even in areas burned last year, there is now five times more financial support available for replanting with eucalyptus than for native species.31

The most positive changes since the fires have come from the impacted communities themselves. Villages such as Ferraria de São João and Casal de São Simão, both badly burned in June 2017, have taken matters into their own hands and agreed to remove all fire-prone eucalyptus and pine trees within a 500 metre boundary of houses in the villages, creating “Village Protection Zones,” and replant the area with more fire-resistant, native tree species.32

Throughout Portugal, recognition of the important role played by native trees is growing, in contrast to the clear negative impacts of plantation species. Manuela Raposo Magalhães, a landscape architect and professor at the Lisbon Superior Institute for Agronomy, asks: “Have you noticed that southern Portugal, especially the Alentejo, is much hotter than the north, but rarely burns? Why do you think that this is? The cork oak is abundant in the south and it is a fire retardant species, even when the cork has been removed from the trunk… Similar to deciduous trees, cork oaks have broader leaves, which accumulate more humidity, and hinder the combustion process.”33

Industrial tree plantations are a growing global threat

The Portuguese plantation model has been exported with devastating effects to Brazil, and Mozambique is similarly seeing large investments in eucalyptus plantations destined for the pulp and paper industry; both are former Portuguese colonies. Exotic tree plantations cause significant impacts all over the world, particularly in the global South where companies are allowed to operate with even greater impunity than in Portugal. There, the ecological impacts of tree plantations are compounded by more profound social impacts.

Communities are often violently forced from their homes and denied grazing rights and rights of access to their traditional lands, which increases displacement and reduces food security.34 Indigenous peoples are often involved in land disputes over tree plantations, especially where they do not have legal rights to their land. In Chile, for instance, the indigenous Mapuche have lost access to large areas due to privatization of land and the expansion of monoculture tree plantations. With traditional livelihoods impossible to pursue, very low levels of employment per hectare of plantation mean that prospects can be bleak in plantation areas. The expansion of industrial tree plantations is associated with higher levels of poverty,35 and often bring about land ownership concentration, loss of customary rights of resource access, rural displacement, and socioeconomic decline in neighboring communities. Consequent emigration and decreasing population can in turn lead to isolation and reduced social services and infrastructure for the people that stay.36 A transient, low-paid workforce brings further social problems.37

Despite the clearly documented negative impacts, investment in tree plantations is rising. Indeed, climate finance is increasingly directed towards commercial tree plantations: funds have recently been approved for projects in Brazil, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Paraguay, and Uganda.38 In Mozambique, the Forest Investment Program is funding up to 40,000 hectares of new eucalyptus plantations, to be planted and managed by Portucel, a leading Portuguese pulp and paper company.39 And in Paraguay, the Green Climate Fund recently approved funding for a project that will see eucalyptus and other exotic species planted to produce bioenergy for the soy sector, itself one of the leading causes of deforestation in the country.40

International climate finance depends increasingly on the private sector, which means ever more emphasis on commercial tree plantations as a means of generating revenue. If future climate policy is geared toward reliance on BECCS and afforestation then this trend can only be expected to increase.

Conclusion

It is clear that there is a willingness to finance industrial tree plantations, and that private-sector involvement in climate finance is prioritizing commercial plantations ahead of other approaches to carbon sequestration. The example set by Portugal should serve as a strong warning to policymakers that commercial tree plantations, especially with exotic species such as eucalyptus, do substantially more harm than good. At the extreme end of the scale, tree plantations’ susceptibility to fire is a positive climate feedback, reinforcing hotter, drier climates and leaving soils even more prone to desiccation, erosion and desertification.

There are, however, alternative ways to sequester carbon in natural terrestrial ecosystems that benefit not only the planet but the people who live in and depend on them. In Nepal, for example, one-third of the country’s forests are managed by thousands of forest user groups that include some of the poorest and most vulnerable mountain communities. They have played a central role in halting forest loss and promoting forest restoration, which enhances ecosystem-based climate resilience. In turn, access to forest resources has provided an income for the communities.41

To be effective, such alternative approaches require a substantially different form of governance, with much greater emphasis on rights-holders and avoidance of corporate capture. Rights-based and community-led forest restoration could, in theory, involve many positive schemes that together would help to mitigate climate change on a large scale. There are vast areas of deforested and degraded lands that could be restored through community-led, bottom-up approaches. In many parts of the world such schemes are already being practiced by people in their everyday lives. Ecosystem regeneration, agroecology, and indeed many forms of peasant agriculture do restore and conserve terrestrial ecosystems, sequestering carbon on many different scales. Supporting these kinds of practices should be at the forefront of climate mitigation strategies.

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