By Chris Lang, 3rd April 2013

During the World Social Forum, a group of African organisations and individuals took part in the launch of a “No REDD in Africa Network”. Given the problems with the REDD mechanism, REDD-Monitor welcomes critical debate about REDD, but could REDD really cause genocide, as the press release about the launch of the No REDD Network claims?

First some background about the World Social Forum, followed by the genocide claims. The press release about the “No REDD in Africa Network” is available below in English and French (and Spanish here). The aim of this post is not to undermine this new Network in any way, rather to ask what evidence there is that REDD could cause genocide.

The World Social Forum took place in Tunis from 26-30 March 2013. About 50,000 people took part this year in what is the biggest international gathering of social movement organisations. The first WSF took place in Brazil in 2001, and it’s an alternative to the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland.

Issues discussed during the WSF this year included strategies for overthrowing the Syrian government (not everyone agreed – a rally also took place in support of President Bashar al-Assad), whether Libya was better off without Muammar Gaddafi, the “Arab Spring”, gender and the role of women, Palestine liberation, and criticism of capitalism and imperialism. Also discussed were climate change, with REDD forming part of the debate.

Pablo Solón, Executive Director of Focus on the Global South wrote a piece before the WSF started in which he argues that “There is no single answer, no single campaign nor single approach,” to address the climate crisis. Instead, a series of actions that are necessary, including leaving fossil fuels in the ground, supporting “small, local, peasant and indigenous community farming”, promoting local consumption and production of goods, stopping extractive industries, increasing public transport, and promoting peace and “dismantling the military and war industry and infrastructure”.

Solón has no time for REDD or the “green economy”:

We need to end the arrogance of man that he can control nature and solve the climate crisis with techno-fixes. Carbon markets, the monetary valuing of nature, “REDD”, “Green economy”, GMOs, agro-fuels, synthetic biology, nuclear projects, geo-engineering are all false solutions because they reinforce the misguided belief that humans can control nature through technology. It is also based on the false premise that the capitalist system and free market can solve the climate crisis that it has created by putting a price and commodifying the functions of nature. Instead of recognizing the limits of man and markets, they encourage suicidal technologies and promote new speculative derivative markets on nature.

In a similar tone, a Declaration produced at the WSF and released on 29 March 2013, states:

We denounce “green economy” and refuse false solutions to the climate crisis such as biofuels, genetically modified organisms and mechanisms of the carbon market like REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), which ensnare impoverished peoples with false promises of progress while privatizing and commodifying the forests and territories where these peoples have been living for thousands of years.

Also on 29 March 2013, a group of Africans from Nigeria, South Africa, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Mozambique, Tunisia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Tanzania took part in the launch of a “No REDD in Africa Network”. In a press release posted on Environmental Rights Action’s website, Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International, says that the Network aims “to defend the continent from carbon colonialism”.

Tom Goldtooth, director of US-based Indigenous Environmental Network, was also in Tunis. He spoke to journalist Jordan Flaherty, explaining that IEN is taking part in the WSG in Tunis,

seeking to raise awareness about REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), a United Nations program promoted as an environmental protection strategy that Goldtooth calls “genocidal” because it promotes solutions like carbon trading that he says will lead to mass deaths of poor people due to environmental catastrophe brought about by climate change.

This isn’t the first time that Goldtooth has described REDD as genocidal (herehere and here, for example). And in the press release about the No REDD in Africa Network Goldtooth states:

“We know REDD could cause genocide and we are delighted that the Africans are taking a stand to stop what could be the biggest land grab of all time.”

I’ve met Tom Goldtooth twice, first in Durban in 2004 during the meeting that established the Durban Group for Climate Justice and again during COP 14 in Poznan (where I interviewed him). I have a huge amount of respect for Goldtooth and IEN‘s work.

Genocide is a very serious accusation. It is also a very specific one. Before 1944, the term did not exist. It was created by a Polish lawyer called Raphael Lemkin, from the Greek word for race or tribe (geno-), and the Latin word for killing (-cide). In 1948, the United Nations approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which defines genocide as follows:

genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Does this definition apply to REDD? Potentially, it does. REDD could involve a vast area of land (theoretically covering the area of forest land – including large areas of agricultural land – in the global south). The rights to the use of that land could be taken away from Indigenous Peoples who depend on their forests for their livelihoods. Destroying livelihoods on this scale could conform to the parts (a), (b), and (c) of the definition of genocide, above.

Several problematic REDD projects have started up in Africa, such as Olam International’s venture in the Republic of Congo or Ecosystem Restoration Associates’ projectin the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are problems of carbon cowboyscarbon trading fraud and corruption in several African countries.

REDD proponents may respond that there are safeguards in place to protect Indigenous Peoples’ rights. But as the evictions that took place to establish the New Forests Company’s tree planting project in Uganda illustrate, safeguards can easily be ignored. This project is not a REDD project. Neither is the Laikipia National Park project in Kenya, run by the African Wildlife Foundation and The Nature Conservancy. But in both cases the similarities with REDD projects are obvious.

REDD-Monitor looks forward to hearing your views. Could REDD cause genocide?