79 SPRING 2013

Is This the Future We Want? The Green Economy vs. Climate Justice
Martha Pskowski
Editors’ note: This issue of DifferenTakes investigates the Green Economy and the rosy view that carbon markets and offsets are the main solution to climate change. Based on her experiences in Chiapas, Mexico, climate justice activist Martha Pskowski challenges the business-as-usual approach of REDD+, a forestbased program that many see as serving the interests of powerful corporations and governments. She outlines alternative programs and policies that champion the rights of small peasant farmers and rural communities. She calls for cross-border organizing that affirms human and ecological health. — Betsy Hartmann and Anne Hendrixson

Two major U.N. summits in 2012 on the global ecological crisis — Rio+20 and the 18th convening of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — promoted the creation of new markets to address environmental problems, an approach known in the U.N. as the Green Economy. The Green Economy is the latest face of the long-standing U.N. commitment to

sustainable development, which the U.N. has conceived squarely within capitalist frameworks. It has three main strategies: • Creating markets in environmental burdens and benefits so that emission and pollution reductions and environmental benefits are distributed where it is most economical. • Using technological advances, frequently capital-intensive, to adapt to or to mitigate environmental and climate impacts, in place of using ecological systems or local knowledge.

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• Privatizing environmental management and related sectors like electricity and water provision, or running public programs under market principles in the name of economic efficiency. A UNFCCC initiative, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), is a cornerstone of the Green Economy. REDD+ involves agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), U.N. Development Program (UNDP) and the U.N. Environment Pro gram (UNEP) in creating a financial mechanism to reduce the 20% of carbon emissions worldwide

A publication of the

Population and Development Program
CLPP • Hampshire College • Amherst, MA 01002 413.559.5506 • Opinions expressed in this publication are those of the individual authors unless otherwise specified.

caused by deforestation.* REDD+ facilitates investment from the global North to make forest conservation in the global South viable as an alternative to the extractive industries driving deforestation. This could take a number of different forms, and influential delegations in the UNFCCC are pushing to create a global market to trade carbon offsets from forest conservation projects. Global North countries would pay forested countries in the global South to conserve, buying the right to pollute instead of lowering their greenhouse gas emissions domestically. U.N. negotiations have not finalized important funding, monitoring and human rights aspects of REDD+, but pilot projects have started through the UN-REDD+ program and states such as California which are also applying the REDD+ model. Currently, in UNREDD+ alone there are 46 partner countries and as of July 2012, they had received US$117.6 million in funding.1

Bank is the second biggest investor in coal plants worldwide. The Bank’s environmental and social impact assessments frequently vastly underestimate the effects of projects.5 • The Green Economy relies on the innovations of finance capitalism without questioning its capacity to address the root causes of the climate crisis. These models allow the global North to continue business as usual by paying for reductions elsewhere rather than address the causes of climate change: the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. Existing carbon markets such as the European Emissions Trading System have proven ripe for fraud and ineffective at reducing net emissions.6 • Market mechanisms do not address the historical responsibility of global North countries for creating climate change or its disproportionate impacts on the global South and the world’s poor. Gustavo Castro of Otros Mundos (Other Worlds), a socio-environmental group in Chiapas, told me in an interview, “Countries that want to buy carbon credits turn the problem of climate change, which they have created, into a speculative business that favors companies.”7 Critics have denounced programs like REDD+ as “CO2lonialism” in which the global South bears the burden of policies to address climate change to the benefit of business and political elites. • Not only are market mechanisms inadequate for the task at hand, they are putting the communities most vulnerable to climate change in danger. Programs such as REDD+, biofuel plantations, and ecotourism development require defining property rights and centralizing resources in areas where resources have often been held communally. When paired with a profit motive, these environmental policies can become “green grabs,” in which purported environmental imperatives justify land grabbing, or large-scale land appropriation.8 A carbon trading project in Uganda, ecotourism in Colombia and wind farm construction in Oaxaca, Mexico are a few examples of Green Economy programs that have pushed indigenous and rural communities off their lands.9 • The Green Economy attempts to isolate and price each component part of nature, contradicting how ecosystems function holistically and the

Other Worlds are Possible: Climate Justice Movements Reject the Green Economy
In January 2013 I traveled to Chiapas, Mexico to learn about the effects of REDD+ on local communities. I found that social movements are denouncing REDD+ as a false solution to climate change. Movements fighting against environmental destruction, particularly in the global South, have long identified the capitalist system and its endless growth imperative as a root of the ecological crisis. Global South social movements criticize the Green Economy for serving the interests of transnational corporations and wealthy nations, instead of affirming the rights and well-being of those most impacted by climate change and environmental degradation.2 The U.N. claims the Green Economy is a “win-win” for the economy and the environment. However, this is not the case for the following reasons: • The same institutions whose neoliberal structural adjustment packages caused economic and social turmoil in the global South are now driving the Green Economy.3 Since the 1990s, the World Bank has jockeyed to be the primary agent of sustainable development worldwide.4 The Bank generally works in a top-down manner, implementing capital-intensive projects around the world. It plays a powerful role in financing and implementing policy decisions of U.N. environmental programs even though the

* According to the UNFCCC the “+” in REDD+ represents the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and improved forest carbon stocks in reducing emissions.


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worldview of many indigenous cultures.10 REDD+ values forests only for the carbon they store, deemed their most valuable “ecosystem service”. Yet forests, especially in tropical regions, are dynamic and complex ecosystems. Under REDD+, a monoculture tree plantation that hardly holds the same cultural or ecological value as a standing rain forest is eligible for the same amount of carbon credits.11

large-scale dams, biofuels and tree plantations.16 These projects have several common denominators: World Bank funding, coercive state implementation and local doubts. In general, social movements avoid the politics of REDD+ reform because in the words of Castro, “Re forms are to gloss it over, to make it pretty. Ultimately, reform does not question the mechanism itself.”17

REDD+ Alert: False Solutions to Climate Change
I spoke with conservation organizations and social movements in Chiapas, Mexico to learn about the existing state-level REDD+ projects. The Chiapas state government has started REDD+ development ahead of a binding U.N. regime, by entering into an agreement with the state of California in the Governor’s Climate and Forest Taskforce (GCF). Beginning in 2011, communities in the Lacandon Rainforest Biosphere Reserve have been paid for forest conservation. Other indigenous groups in the area were excluded, and in the case of the village Amador Hernandez, found their medical services cut off.12 Communities with insecure land tenure are rightfully concerned that REDD+ could push them off their land. REDD+ increases the value of forested land, which can lead to speculation and in some cases the seizure of land from groups with unofficial or insecure land claims.13 Even when communities have legal land title and could access REDD+ deals, social movements are concerned they will lose local autonomy and collective community ownership to the decisions of international bureaucrats. International institutions dictate stringent requirements for carbon storage and measurement and restrict traditional uses of forests. Especially in Mexico with a system of communal land ownership called ejidos, this means a drastic reduction in autonomy. Critics question the social development benefits of REDD+ payments, which would be tied to an international carbon market. In a region fraught with historical disputes over land, the payments may do more to sow conflict between indigenous groups than address the region’s deep poverty.14 Castro says Otros Mundos opposes “including nature, or the functions of nature, in a market logic,” and carbon markets of all forms.15 As Peter Rosset of the international peasant organization Via Campesina puts it, they resist REDD+ as one project “in the avalanche of bad policies”: Green Economy and rural development projects that pose threats to rural livelihoods such as

System Change, Not Climate Change: Grassroots Solutions for Climate Justice
Alternatives to REDD+ can address climate change and deforestation. For instance, Chiapas state policies should penalize corporations that extract and burn fossil fuels, rather than giving more and more land concessions to mining companies.18 The U.S. and other global North governments should require emissions reductions without carbon offsetting to achieve real reductions in carbon emissions and other pollution. To find climate change policies which truly have social development benefits, Rosset refers to the Via Campe sina slogan, “Small farmers cool the planet.” Policies for small-scale, ecological agricultural reduce the significant carbon emissions of industrial agriculture and improve rural livelihoods. On an international scale, the Cochabamba summit in Bolivia in 2010 created an alternative framework for climate agreements, based in the work of social movements and some governments.19 Programs based in local knowledge and capabilities can improve socio-economic conditions as well as the climate. Via Campesina outlined their platform in advance of Rio+20: Our goal is to bring back another way of relating to nature and other people. This is also our duty, and our right and so we will continue fighting and calling on others to continue fighting tirelessly for the construction of food sovereignty, for comprehensive agrarian reform and the restoration of indigenous territories, for ending the violence of capital and restoring peasant and indigenous systems of production based on agroecology.20 Otros Mundos, Via Campesina and other groups in Chiapas are educating rural communities about the complexities of REDD+ and carbon markets and helping them navigate the web of Green Economy projects. Networks such as Friends of the Earth, of which Otros Mundos is a member, and Via Campesina share local experiences with REDD+ and Green Economy projects across borders, to alert their allies to implications of the programs. The impacts of REDD+ are also felt in the


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global North — carbon offsetting allows dirty industries in the U.S., disproportionately located in communities of color, to continue polluting — and this creates opportunities for cross-border organizing.21 Environmental justice groups in California, whose members endure the pollution that REDD+ credits could offset, have joined indigenous peoples from Mexico and Brazil to stop REDD+.22 Sharing information and strategies

of resistance in the climate justice movement can overcome top-down false solutions to climate change. Transnational organizing between social movements in the global South and North can create solutions that protect local and global commons and affirm human rights. Transnational coalitions inform people of the dangers of false solutions and globalize the struggle for a just climate future.

Martha Pskowski studies political economy and ecology at Hampshire College and is the Political Research

Fellow at PopDev. She coordinates the Black Sheep Journal of student progressive writing at, and is active in climate justice and community development projects in Western Massachusetts. Her undergraduate thesis is on the forest carbon program REDD+ and the resistance of social movements in Chiapas, Mexico.

1. UN-REDD, “About the UN-REDD Programme,” 2. Chris Lang, “Kari Oca II Declaration: Indigenous Peoples at Rio+20 Reject the Green Economy and REDD,” REDD-Monitor, (June 20, 2012), 3. David Reed (ed.), Structural Adjustment and the Environment (Westview Press: Boulder, 1992). 4. Kathleen McAfee, “Selling nature to save it? Biodiversity and green developmentalism,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, Vol.17, No. 2 (1999), 133-154. 5. Dave Levitan, “World Bank: We hate climate change. Now who wants more coal?” Grist (December 5, 2012), world-bank-we-hate-climate-change-now-who-wants-more-coal/. 6. Tamra Gilbertson and Oscar Reyes, “Carbon Trading: How it works and why it fails,” Critical Currents, No. 7, (2009), cc7/cc7_web.pdf. 7. Gustavo Castro. Personal interview, (January 15, 2013). 8. James Fairhead, Melissa Leach and Ian Scoones, “Green grabbing: a new appropriation of nature?” Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 39, No. 2, (2012), 237-261. 9. John Vidal, “Ugandan farmer: ‘My land gave me everything. Now I am one of the poorest’,” The Guardian, (September 22, 2011); Fairhead, Leach and Scoones, ibid; and Oaxaca Entrelineas, “Desalojo de indígenas zapotecos que protestan contra empresa eólica española, viola constitución de México,” (February 4, 2013), 10. Kathleen McAfee, “The Contradictory Logic of Global Ecosystem Services Markets,” Development and Change, Vol. 43, No. 1, (2012), 105-131. 11. Gustavo Castro, “¿Cómo va REDD+ en Chiapas?” Otros Mundos, Chiapas, A.C. El Escaramujo, Vol. 6, No. 24, (July 3, 2012), 12. Global Justice Ecology Project, “Action Alert and Video: Amador Hernandez, Chiapas- Starved of Medical Services for REDD+,” Climate Connections (July 26, 2011), action-alert-and-video-amador-hernandez-chiapas-%E2%80%93-starved-of-medical-services-for-redd/. 13. Joanna Cabello and Tamra Gilbertson, “A colonial mechanism to enclose lands: A critical review of two REDD+ focused special issues,” Ephemera, Vol. 12, Nos. 1-2, (2012), 162-180. 14. Peter Rosset, Personal interview, (January 14, 2013). 15. Gustavo Castro, ibid. 16. Peter Rosset, ibid. 17. Gustavo Castro, ibid. 18. Gustavo Castro, ibid. 19. Peter Rosset, ibid. 20. La Via Campesina, “The people of the world confront the advance of capitalism: Rio+20 and beyond,” Climate Connections, (June 7, 2012), 21. Michael Ash and T. Robert Fetter, “Who Lives on the Wrong Side of the Environmental Tracks? Evidence from the EPA’s Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators Model”, Political Economy Research Institute, No. 50, (2002) papers/working_papers_1-50/WP50.pdf. 22. Becca Connors, “California Groups urge Governor to reject international forest carbon credits,” Friends of the Earth, (July 11, 2012),


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