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Manufacturing consent on carbon trading

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In September 2011, the 64th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference took place in Bonn, Germany. About 1,500 people from 70 countries turned up. On the third day of the meeting, a remarkable thing happened. Not a single participant at the conference put up their hand to disagree with a declaration which promotes REDD as a carbon trading mechanism.

DPI, by the way, stands for Department of Public Information. Every year since 1946, UN DPI has held an NGO conference. Speakers at this year’s conference included Vandana Shiva of Navdanya International, Daniel Mittler of Greenpeace International, Achim Steiner of UNEP, Victoria Tauli Corpuz of Tebtebba and many others. Some of these speakers may be in favour of carbon trading, others are not.

The presentations are available here. In her speech, Vandana Shiva talked about two important principles that “have been used by every local community across the world: the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle.” She talked of the derailing of the World Trade Organisation in 1999 and the slogan “Our world is not for sale”. Which sounds a lot like the slogans that opponents of carbon trading use.

She talked about the economic crisis and the US$16 trillion bailout. She asked, “Can you imagine what US$16 trillion would have done for the earth and the poor people of this planet, if spent in an appropriate way?”

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz spoke on the topic of “sustainable consumption”. She explained that,

“Many indigenous peoples can claim they are the practitioners of sustainable consumption and production and I can say that from my own perspective and experience. I am an Igorot, indigenous peoples from the Philippines. In my community, in my culture, we have very strict customary laws that define how we relate with everybody and of course with the environment.”

She mentioned several of these laws, including what she called the golden rule: “Don’t do to others what you don’t like others to do to you.” This presumably prohibits carbon trading. Just as Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines do not want their air to be polluted, communities living near polluting power plants in California or Glasgow do not want the companies running these plants to be allowed to continue polluting by buying carbon credits.

The UN DPI/NGO Conference declaration (pdf file 147.4 KB) is an outline of “sustainable development goals discussed and identified as key objectives” at the conference, according to the NGO blog of the conference. Delegates got a copy of the draft in their conference bags when they arrived at the meeting.

On the third day of the conference, Felix Dodds of the Stakeholder Forum and chair of this year’s conference asked the meeting to approve the declaration. It took him 49 seconds:

“We’re, I think, very pleased with the quality of the document we have prepared for you over the last two days and I’m going to ask the meeting to show by a show of hands those people who would like to make their support for this being a chair’s text that I should hand on to the German government and the UN. For those people show, by show of hands in favour of me handing this over as your chair to the government. Thank you very much. Is there anyone against? Is there anyone asleep? Thank you, the chair is very happy.”

No one raised their hand to object to a single word in the declaration text. In an email distributing the document, Dodds states that, “The Declaration was accepted unanimously by the 1500 NGOs and other stakeholders present.” The only possible explanation is that when Dodds asked the meeting to support the document, many of those present had not read the text. That’s perfectly understandable, considering that they were busy attending a conference, which in addition to the speakers, featured a series of side events, workshops and exhibits. No doubt that didn’t leave much time to read a long draft declaration written in a mind-numbing UN style.

    UPDATE – 28 October 2011: Neth Daño, who attended the conference in Bonn points out in a comment to this post that the “Conference Declaration” was not actually agreed by everyone present:

    The title of the Bonn Declaration clearly states that it is a “Chair’s Text” under the responsibility of the Conference Chair, Felix Dodds. That was explicitly stated at the final session of the conference, and there was no plenary discussion at all on its content since it was impossible to reach any consensus among the participants in view of the diversity of positions on issues.

    Felix Dodds has confirmed that it is in fact a Chair’s Text (and therefore not a Declaration “accepted unanimously by the 1500 NGOs and other stakeholders present,” as he misleadingly wrote in his email circulating the document).

The German government will present the conference declaration in the UN General Assembly in November 2011. “You have a great opportunity with the declaration,” Dodds said in his presentation. “You have an opportunity through that declaration to suggest to the Rio+20 process what you think are the critical issues that summit should address.”

The declaration makes several references to REDD. The first is part of the “institutional framework for sustainable development”, the second two are part of the “sustainable development goals” or SDGs (the numbers refer to the line numbers in the declaration):

310 We call upon governments to ensure that Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) is implemented with regard to development decisions, and other decisions such as REDD+, that impact indigenous peoples, indigenous groups and tribal and local communities.
479 SDG – CLIMATE SUSTAINABILITY: By 2050, governments should have reached clear pathways towards climate sustainability that regulates the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees C. Emissions of greenhouse gases should be reduced to 25% of 1990 levels by 2020, 40% by 2030, 60% by 2040 and 80% by 2050. Carbon taxes and tariffs should be in place to provide incentives for low-carbon development and manufacturing, finance GHG emissions reduction projects, REDD+ and other offset mechanisms, and green infrastructure solutions to help vulnerable communities adapt to climate change.
534 SDG – HEALTHY FORESTS: By 2020, all remaining frontier forests are protected from conversion and degradation, consistent with the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity adopted at COP10, with a well-resourced and equably [sic] governed REDD+ mechanism in place, which respects the rights and knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities and other environmental and governance safeguards, to reward developing countries for protection and sustainable management of their forests, not only for carbon capture and storage but for their wider ecological services. A policy of no net loss of forestland, globally and nationally, is also achieved by 2020.
At that time, all new forest areas cleared will be offset by ecologically sound restoration of forests in nearby areas. Restoration of over 150 million hectares of cleared or degraded forest landscapes is achieved by 2020, with the creation of millions of new jobs and enhanced livelihoods, improved security and adaptation to climate change.
Reduce deforestation emissions by key corporations and their supply chains committing to avoid the purchase of products that cause deforestation, such as soy or cattle from deforested lands in the Brazilian Amazon, palm oil from deforested agricultural land in Indonesia, or illegal wood and wood products throughout the world.
Additionally, for stakeholders everywhere to undertake and/or participate in large-scale, environmentally and socially responsible reforestation efforts.
[ . . . ]
At Rio+20, we call on governments to pledge concrete and systematic support and promotion of multi-stakeholder managed forest certification systems, in all parts of the world, with particular emphasis on tropical rainforests.

If you’re still awake after reading that, congratulations. The first statement is a reasonably straightforward demand for free, prior and informed consent. Except that without a reference to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, this runs the risk of FPIC becoming a rushed process carried out by governments and corporations in order to tick the FPIC box.

The second statement on REDD describes it as an offset mechanism, a carbon trading mechanism. While this accurately reflects the way REDD is developing, it is surprising (to say the least) that none of the NGOs present objected to this acceptance of a trade in forest carbon.

(The sentence at the start of this statement is ridiculous. Requesting that “governments should have reached clear pathways towards climate sustainability”, by 2050 makes no sense whatsoever. If, by 2050, we have not found a way of leaving fossil fuels in the ground, there is a very high probability that the climate will have dramatically changed. This talk by Kevin Anderson of the Tyndale Centre clearly explains why: Climate Change: going beyond dangerous. “Things are getting worse, and they are getting worse at an incredibly fast rate,” Anderson says early on in his presentation. “We are accelerating towards a cliff that we know is there.”)

The third statement is perhaps even more problematic. Protecting frontier forests is mixed with REDD, which the declaration has already stated will be a carbon trading mechanism. The carbon stored in these forests is apparently to be offset against continued pollution elsewhere.

But the declaration does not envisage that deforestation will be stopped by 2020. Only that “no net loss of forestland” will take place. Forest can be cleared as long as other areas are planted with trees. Of course, the declaration insists that this has to be “ecologically sound restoration of forests”. But in its definition of “forests”, the UN does not differentiate between industrial tree plantations and native forests. There is no mention of the UN’s disastrous definition in the conference declaration.

The statement ends with the call for governments to support forest certification. The “gold standard” of forest certification is the Forest Stewardship Council. Yet FSC has certified vast areas of monoculture tree plantations. FSC also certifies industrial logging in primary forests.

But none of the 1,500 people in the meeting objected to any of this – or any of the other statements in the more than 9,000-word declaration. The only possible explanation is that they had not read it. Funnily enough, Stakeholder Forum, the organisation that Felix Dodds works for, claims to be “working to advance sustainable development and promote democracy at a global level”. Dodds, as chair of the meeting, should quietly tear up the document and recycle the paper, as his contribution to sustainable development.

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  1. Dear Chris

    The conference was indeed a very important one and had in attendance NGOs from around the world. The preparatory committee is made up of NGOs and was co-chaired by me and someone from the UN DPI.

    The conference declaration was put together by an experts group of some fo the best people in the NGO sustainable development world (60% from developing countries).

    It was written in the form of a UN document as it has been tabled in the UNGA, and submitted to the UN for the zero draft for Rio+20. In addition elements will go into the UNV UN GA debate in December. If it had been written for an NGO audience of course it would have been written differently. You produce the relevant type of deocument for the audience you are interested in influencing.

    The numbering isnt in the document submitted it was to enable people to amend the document easily.

    It has already been used as a basis for NGO input into all the regional meetings for Rio+20 .

    The declaration had extensive contribtions from NGOs prior and during the event so allowing the output to reflect even those who could not attend.

    This was the 3 or 4th draft so people had time to input.Over 100 NGOs submitted amendments.

    If you watch the videos you will see comments from the floor and from some very high profile people endorsing the declaration as a chairs text.

    My role was to accept the work of the conference and play it back to the plennary as a chairs text which i did as you explained.

    Its a shame you or colleagues didnt attend to put your views which would have been taken on board.

    Warm regards

    felix dodds
    Chair of the 64th UN DPI NGO Conference

  2. Thank you very much Mr Lang for bringing this to our attention. This does indeed look very much the ‘manufacture of consent’ – and the sad thing is that the likes of Felix Dodds and the Stakeholder Forum should think that this is going to do anything to help avert planetary catastrophe. If REDD is treated as an offset, then it will not work, and the forests and the planet are doomed.

    Forests will also be doomed if certification schemes such as the Forest Stewardship Council are not recognised for the scandalous greenwashing public deception that they really are. Some of the text smacks very much of standard Greenpeace policy on these issues. Whether UN DPI should be soliciting the views of organisations such as this that are complicit in this mass public deception is highly questionable.

  3. Dear R Webster

    Not everythign is a conspiracy. The meetings was open to all NGOs and promoted very very widely. No view that was put foreard in the meeting was not included in the final document so really its the responsibility of NGOs that have particular views to attend and not snipe after the event.

    This was clearly promoted as a major contribution to Rio so its a shame that some of the people who hold your views didnt attend to put them forward into the document, Or even to email them in which they could do.

    This process was very transparent and open. I wasnt in the draft group as ‘chair’ of the conference i accepted the imput of the NGOs there.

    warm regards

  4. Dear Mr Dodds,
    The way you presented the declaration was only seemingly transparent.
    Too bad that you have no affinity whatsoever with the real interest of this planet, which is not financial profit for a limited group but survival by regaining her balance through restriction of human influence on nature.
    When things really go wrong, money will not be able to save mankind.
    Edward Standard

  5. Thanks to REDD-Monitor for bringing this issue to people’s attention.

    Coming from a Southern NGO with minimal resources, it seems rather unfair of Mr Dodds to say “its a shame that some of the people who hold your views didnt attend to put them forward into the document, Or even to email them in which they could do”.

    I am only aware of a single e-mail sent by Mr Dodds on 22nd August to the CBD Alliance listserve saying “If you aren’t coming to the Rio+20 UN DPI COnfernce 3-5th of September in bonn (2500 pre-registrations ) then do amend the zero draft declaration at there is a forest goal there for rio”

    In view of the above I believe it would be fair to request that the declaration should revert to a draft document subject to possible endorsement by those NGOs that would want to be associated with it.

    This would give any organisations present at the DPI conference that may have missed the references to REDD offsets, certification etc. the option not to support the declaration in its present form.

    An alternative option would be to re-open the declaration for comments and amendments, for a further period, perhaps till the end of November.

    Wally Menne
    Timberwatch Coalition

  6. I attended the UN DPI/NGO Conference in Bonn, and have this to say on the nature of the document that came out from the conference, as I shared it earlier in the CJN list serve:

    The title of the Bonn Declaration clearly states that it is a “Chair’s Text” under the responsibility of the Conference Chair, Felix Dodds. That was explicitly stated at the final session of the conference, and there was no plenary discussion at all on its content since it was impossible to reach any consensus among the participants in view of the diversity of positions on issues. Felix did announce in that session that he did not intend to open up detailed discussions on the document since it’s his text as the conference Chair.

    Any claim or statement that it is a “consensus document” is a gross mis-representation of the agreement in that conference. The document was unanimously accepted as a “Chair’s Text” at the final plenary session, but that acceptance does not make it a “consensus document” which presupposes thorough discussions on every point and explicit agreement on the positions therein among the participants – none of that happened in Bonn. Some of us were invited to join a “panel of experts” that discussed the substance of specific sections (i.e., green economy, IFSD, SDGs) of the document in the course of the conference, but there was definitely no opportunity to agree on the coherence and consistency of the positions presented in the document.

    The zero draft of the declaration that was circulated to the participants before the conference was put together by a drafting group comprised of the vice-chairs of the conference, while the “experts’ group” was brought in during the conference to work on the draft as it evolved after the drafting group has integrated the written inputs from the participants in those two days. It is clear from the process that the neither the drafting group nor the “experts’ group” had the mandate nor consent from the participants to agree on a “consensus document” since they are not representing the participants and were only invited to contribute on their individual capacities.



  7. Thank you very much for that explanation, Neth.

    So doesn’t that mean that, if the German government presents this to the UN General Assembly in November 2011, then it should be presented as a document by Mr Felix Dodds, rather than a document “unanimously accepted by 1500 NGOs and other stakeholders”?

    Felix – will you be making it clear to the German government that that is how it should be described?

  8. Dear all
    Neth is 200% right. The german government has presented the document as it is on the UN DPI web site to the UNGA which clearly says Chairs text.

    I am more than happy …in fact would insist on making it clear what type of document was produced at any discussion i am at. If you do come across it being presented in any other way please do come back to me so i can make it clear.

    As the idea of a chairs text is well known then it is clear what it is.

    I would like to say that i do wish people would check before attaching someone. It does us no credit as a movement.

    This information was available and the videos watchable on the UN DPI web site so that it would be transparent.

    The outreach was on so many list servers that we hoped we got to everyone more than once or twice. It was on the front page on the – the UN web site forr rio+20 in the month before the event as a key meeting so we did what we could to keep people abreast of the event.

    Happy to chat offline if anyone wants to discuss anythign further

    warmest regards

  9. @Neth Daño (#6) – Thanks for this clarification. I’ve updated the post to include a reference to your comment in the post.

  10. @Felix Dodds (#8) – You ask us to let you know if anyone comes across your Chair’s Text being presented in any other way than as a Chair’s Text. I’d like to start with the comment that came immediately after you had asked for acceptance from the meeting for the text as a Chair’s Text. The next person to speak was Kiyo Akasak the Under-Secretar-General for Communications and Public Information at the UN. Here’s what he said:

    “Thank you Felix. We welcome this consensus document and look forward to further discussion on how to implement this declaration.”

  11. One thing is how this document is being presented, which has now been clarified by Felix Dodds. Another thing is what it tells you about the people producing it. I don’t mean to imply any kind of conspiracy, just to point out that anybody expecting the description of REDD as an offset mechanism to be something that would even vaguely resemble consensus among a broad, international group of NGOs, must have an exceptionally poor understanding of the positions of the NGOs they supposedly represent. It is a fact that the broadest international coalition of NGOs in the climate field, Climate Action Network International, has not been able to reach a consensus position on REDD finance for the last four years or so, due to the strong differences in position across the NGO community. On this background, including a statement on REDD as an offset mechanism in a document that should be an attempt to summarize common ground (a chair’s text) is just plain stupid. It is not really relevant whether or not any groups made specific submissions on their position to the process in question, this ought to be well known by anybody working closely with the NGO community.