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If you’ve been following our recent news, you’ll know that we’ve had ELAW Fellows visiting from Mexico, Panama, Ukraine, Estonia, Hungary, Ghana, and Liberia with us over the past couple of weeks. The ELAW office is quieting down, and I’m taking this opportunity to (finally) write about the amazing visit of these young, inspiring attorneys. And, for those of you who could not attend, I will highlight presentations they gave at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC).
These advocates were here to work with the ELAW team on issues directly related to their work at home protecting communities. They also learned ways to be more involved and contribute to the ELAW network. And, of course, we couldn’t bring environmental advocates to Oregon and not show off some of our natural wonders, like the coast.
This year’s PIELC was Thursday, March 3 – Sunday, March 6 and it was a hit! The theme was Turning the Tides: Creating a Clean and Green Future. Our gratitude and congratulations go out to the student group, Land Air Water (LAW) that helps organize this amazing annual conference. Each year, ELAW times it so that our visiting Fellows are able to attend and present their work at PIELC. One theme that resonated through each Fellow’s presentation this year was how closely they work with local communities who are deeply affected by environmental abuses.
On Thursday, Lovesta Brehun, who works with Green Advocates in Liberia, kicked off the conference with the first panel, Challenging Firestone Liberia’s Environmental Abuses, describing the practices of one of the world’s largest latex rubber processing facilities along the Farmington River, discharging poorly treated effluent, and emitting toxic pollutants. Green Advocates represents the interests of the public and are demanding that Firestone clean up its act!
On Friday afternoon, Lovesta shared another panel, Ghana and Liberia Forestry and Mining, with Rockson Akugre, an attorney with the Center for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) in Ghana, as well as local lawyer Dan Kruse of Cascadia Wildlands. Dan traveled to Liberia to work with Lovesta and Green Advocates as a part of an ELAW exchange program, and together they shared information about the logging that threatens family land and livelihoods in much of Liberia. Lovesta spoke passionately about her country, whose people are still struggling to overcome decades of civil war. She detailed examples of how multinational corporations are exploiting people as they attempt to get back on their feet.
Rockson spoke of the extractive industries in Ghana, particularly gold and copper mining companies, and the need for strong enforcement of environmental laws. He described how multinational corporations often promise jobs and an improved economy to local communities, but the reality is much different. Rockson has visited villages near the mines and they are some of the poorest and most disadvantaged communities in Ghana.
Friday evening, ELAW hosted a reception in honor of our ELAW Fellows. It was a chance for ELAW supporters, past and present ELAW employees and volunteers, and other PIELC participants to connect. Bern introduced our visitors and announced ELAW’s 20-year anniversary!! Everyone enjoyed wine donated by Benton-Lane Winery in Monroe, Oregon and beer provided by Oakshire Brewery here in Eugene.
On Saturday morning, Olena Kravchenko, Executive Director of Environment-People-Law (EPL) in Ukraine, shared a panel with members of the Eugene-based group, Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides. During the panel, Pesticide Pollution is a Danger for Life, she described how EPL has worked with the government to oversee and ensure tons of leaking pesticide dumps were cleaned up, and the dangerous chemicals shipped to Hamburg for proper disposal. Members of the audience were impressed to learn how Olena’s group gained the confidence of the local community by being present every step of the way to hold the government accountable and ensure the cleanup was safe.
At the same time, Pedro Leon, an attorney at Instituto de Derecho Ambiental (IDEA) in Mexico, and Tania Arosemana, an attorney at El Centro de Incidencia Ambiental (CIAM) in Panama, discussed the complications of extractive industries in their home countries. Seats filled, people lined themselves along walls and sat on stairs to attend the panel, Latin America: Impacts of Mining and other Natural Resource Extraction. Pedro focused on one of IDEA’s current projects: ensuring indigenous communities have a voice and maintain control of their traditional lands when threatened by rock/gravel extraction from a local riverbed.
Tania spoke fervently of green washing used by companies to convince community members of commitment to education and community well-being. CIAM is demanding a moratorium on mining in Panama. They believe that Panama needs to enact stronger regulations and demonstrate more oversight before large-scale mining is allowed in Panama.
The last of the ELAW panels took place first thing Sunday morning. Kart, the founder and Executive Director of Estonian Environmental Law Center (EELC) and Szilvia, an attorney with Environmental Management and Law Association (EMLA) gave a presentation entitled Environmental Impact Assessments in Estonia and Hungary, providing examples of how their organizations are working to make the approval process for proposed projects that threaten the communities and the environment transparent. Kart discussed her work with a local community affected by the noise from crushing and blasting at a nearby limestone quarry. Szilvia’s organization worked with a local community, re-routing a major road expansion away from their town and around a protected green space.
After the closing keynote address, we agreed that the perfect way to wind down after a very busy conference was to venture out to a local winery. We had lunch on an overlook, where we could admire the gorgeous scenery and taste Oregon’s famous Pinot Noir. It only took about one glass each before we were all ready to call it a day. We were looking forward to another field trip the next day.
On Monday, we accompanied our Fellows to Oregon’s coast. We could not have asked for better weather – the sun was shining and visibility was great. Sea lions swam near the shore, and a gray whale was just visible in the distance. Before returning home, we went for a walk on the beach at low tide – Tania even took off her shoes to play in the surf!
Now that our recent Fellows have returned home, we will continue to work across the internet, but nothing can replace face-to-face meetings. Not only is time spent in each other’s company productive and efficient, it is when we learn the most about on another and our reasons for doing what we do. We find motivation and encouragement in the stories of people around the world, whose work we can relate to, as they face unique challenges and struggle against the odds protecting the environment and human rights.
If you’d like more information about how you can help support ELAW’s Fellows Program, visit our website.
ELAW Office Manager
I’ve followed the UN climate negotiations for four years with particular attention to an emissions mitigation policy framework called “REDD” (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation). Below are my thoughts on one of the most controversial aspects of REDD — transparency of bilateral financial arrangements to reduce deforestation in developing countries such as Indonesia.
I have chosen Indonesia, the country where I have lived and worked for almost four years (I am originally from Chile). Living here has been one of the most fascinating episodes of my life. This southeast Asian country is a first-class case study. Indonesia is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and holds the second highest deforestation rate after Brazil. Additionally, it is the largest economy in southeast Asia and a member of the G-20. Finally, and most significantly, Indonesia has become a REDD policy “laboratory” where several pilot projects, schemes, strategies and new regulations are being tested.
What happens with REDD in Indonesia will have enormous repercussions in many less-developed countries with ambitions to implement REDD policies and projects.
Like it or not, we need to understand REDD. For much of the developed world, REDD is being viewed as a cheap and quick mechanism to reduce global GHG emissions. At present, developed nations and regions (e.g. U.S., Canada, Australia and EU) are facing severe economic and political roadblocks to implementing concrete emissions reduction targets through domestic legislation. Therefore, the only choice they have left is to support, by means of short-term commitments, emerging nations to reduce their GHG emissions.
This explains why Norway, Japan, Canada, U.S., U.K., France and Australia pledged $3.5 billion in short-term funding for REDD at the UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen last year. A lot of money is flowing to developing countries, such as Indonesia, and major international environmental organizations to implement REDD projects.
In my opinion, it is difficult to see REDD becoming part of a binding agreement under UN Climate Change Framework during the upcoming meeting in Cancun. Rather, I see REDD becoming a mitigation tool in overseas development assistance projects or implemented through bilateral initiatives negotiated between developing and developed countries.
My prediction is that REDD will rapidly move forward over the next three to four years with encouragement from developed nations and developing countries that view REDD as a faster vehicle to control deforestation and GHGs, as well as a source of economic incentives to tackle illegal logging and forest fires. REDD will particularly be embraced by countries experiencing systematic troubles with forest governance and management, including Brazil, Indonesia, Sudan, Zambia, Congo, Myanmar, Zimbabwe and Guyana, among many others.
With all this attention being focused on REDD, there has not yet been any global consensus on how REDD is to be financed over the long-term and what arrangements will be needed to make the mechanism operational. For the moment, REDD is being financed in an ad-hoc manner through seed funds set up by developed nations and though private sector voluntary carbon markets.
For example, Indonesia and Norway signed a letter of intent in May 2010 in which the government of Norway pledged the sum of US$1 billion in funds in exchange for Indonesia’s commitment to cut emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
The letter of intent is expected to be transformed into a legally binding bilateral agreement by the end of this year. If the main goal of the agreement is to pay for “reduced emissions results,” that include concrete reforms in policy and laws, enhanced technical assistance, increased enforcement, reduction of forest crimes, effective implemented institutional frameworks and capacity building, so far small progress has been made since the signing of the LoI.
Now, after the proposed binding agreement is signed, Norway must provide initial funds to the government of Indonesia according to a schedule of payments provided by a third-party financial institution or “trustee.” The details of this arrangement are still under negotiation and relate to the REDD Trust Fund. The REDD funds are subject to the Indonesian Climate Change Trust Fund (ICCTF). The ICCTF aims to facilitate overseas development assistance and financial support for different climate change programs and activities. Furthermore, not only Norway, but the U.K., U.S., Australia and the Netherlands have committed funds to the ICCTF. The U.K. alone has allocated 10 million pounds to the Fund.
Despite this significant investment, there is very little transparency as to how these funds have been or will be spent.
Recent negotiations between the two countries in Jakarta failed to reach an agreement on a financial scheme, with Indonesia’s Government insisting that it wants the funds to be managed by a local bank, which has created uncertainty about the level of international scrutiny, transparency and governance that will be given to the operational financial arm of REDD in Indonesia.
Moreover, aware of its role as G-20 member and “climate change hotspot”, the government of Indonesia appears a bit reluctant to be subject to any international or foreign financial supervision and has passed legislation that allows an “interim” international agency to temporarily provide oversight assistance until a national entity takes over ICCTF.
In exchange for substantial economic support, Indonesia is obliged to stop issuing new licenses to exploit remaining peatland and natural forest areas. Yet Indonesia’s forest ministry appears to be debating within itself whether REDD is a valid path forward. Some officials are pro-REDD, while others apparently would prefer to continue promoting development of the palm oil and logging industries. The president of Indonesia has given a clear sign favoring the palm oil industry — the agreement with Norway exempts forestry development concessions issued before January 2011. These concessions will not be subject to the two-year moratorium on exploiting peat and natural forests.
It is worth noting that initial funds already provided by developed countries to Indonesia to begin implementing REDD have never been subject to solid disclosure and scrutiny by the public. In fact, it has been difficult to determine where the REDD funds have gone, and whether there have been measurable outcomes or concrete GHG emission reduction obligations. Quite simply, there is no independent assessment and monitoring of the agreements in either the donor or receiving countries.
It is very difficult to figure out why some developed countries (such as Norway) are so anxious to give away funds to developing countries, without first requesting firm reduced deforestation and mitigation goals in those countries that have received funds to tackle those issues. In my view, instead of blaming developing countries for accepting those funds offered without concrete results, members of the public in the donor countries should demand from their own governments that there be transparent accounting, monitoring, and reporting of outcomes.
The current agreement between Norway and Indonesia demonstrates that without open debate and transparent accounting of these agreements, it will be difficult to assess whether progress is being made to reduce GHG emissions, promote fair and non-corrupt forest governance, stop illegal logging, and protect local communities.
Environmental Policy Consultant