AS prospects for agreement at Copenhagen in December on common global targets to reduce emissions fade, pressure is being mounted against developing countries to reduce emissions and restrict forestry.
From a distance, it looks like a campaign coordinated among environmental NGOs, aid donors and the World Bank is unfolding with the aim of pressuring tropical forest economies to commit at Copenhagen to cease conversion of forest land to other uses.
Generously-funded assistance from foundations and donors has materialised in the last year with offers to prepare low carbon emission plans for tropical forest developing countries, from Guyana to Congo to Indonesia.
Even consultancy firm McKinsey is offering pro bono assistance in applying the McKinsey “Carbon cost abatement curve”.
Much of the work World Growth has seen is based on assessments which do not meet standards of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for assessing forestry baselines and which, if applied, would result in significant reductions in economic growth for poorer developing countries.
Indonesia has become a special target, as was apparently agreed at a meeting of global NGOs held earlier in the year to plan for Copenhagen.
Indonesia has been tagged as the world’s third biggest emitter, all on the strength of very recent and weakly-based claims about the long-term impacts of emissions from peat lands in Indonesia.
Until peat was recently “discovered” as a major source of emissions, Indonesia was rated by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as the 15th largest emitter.
Environmental groups in Europe and the US have launched new action against forestry businesses in Indonesia. If they succeed, they are likely to harm the poor as they have in the past.
The two campaigns – one by the US-based Rainforest Action Network (RAN), and the other by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) – have picked two soft targets: the US fashion and luxury goods industry and children’s book publishing in Germany.
RAN’s action has gained significant media attention over the past month.
The strategy is to pressure fashion and luxury goods companies to stop buying paper bags from a US-based supplier, Pak2000, because of its ties to Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), which is based in Indonesia.
The campaign launch coincided with both fashion week in New York and the recent climate change talks in Bangkok.
RAN has singled out APP this time, but it has campaigned for a long time to pressure companies worldwide to buy products only from paper or wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a group established by WWF to set sustainability standards for forestry.
In the US, it has pressured Home Depot and Weyerhauser to go along and a few years ago it launched a “Don’t buy SFI” campaign.
The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) was a similar standard to encourage environmentally-friendly forestry which was developed by the forest industry in the US.
SFI is now aligned with the globally-reputable programme for the endorsement of forest certification (PEFC) standard, against which FSC also campaigns.
In similar vein, RAN has also begun to campaign against banks that have clients with non-FSC forestry operations in Canada.
RAN’s track record towards the poor in developing countries has been appalling and stretches a long way back.
In 1993, a Malaysian newspaper, the New Straits Times, reported that RAN founder Randall Hayes fabricated claims he witnessed physical abuse and “cultural genocide” of the Penan people in Borneo by forestry companies.
He reportedly stated this was for fundraising.
The claims in the fashion report are as egregious. They exaggerate grossly the share of land conversion by plantations in Sumatra and wrongly blame the forest industry for most deforestation.
Yet forestry companies are major employers and support large local communities.
If the RAN campaign succeeds, those hurt first will be the poor, again.
Meanwhile, WWF Germany has released a report which appeals to parents not to buy children’s books made in China.
The claim is that this will save tropical forests.
WWF claims to have detected tropical fibre in children’s books. It would be strange if it had not.
High quality paper needs hardwood and most tropical timber is hardwood.
WWF says that China imports 25% of its pulp from Indonesia and that illegal logging is widespread in Indonesia.
Therefore, German children should not read books printed in China.
This report borders on propaganda.
According to the global forestry research body, the council to improve food-borne outbreak response (CIFOR), China’s paper making fibre contains only 14% of imported wood pulp.
By WWF’s owns statistics, only one quarter of that is from Indonesia.
So, on average, Chinese paper fibre contains at most 3.5% Indonesian fiber.
Most of that will be provided by Indonesia’s two pulp and paper giants, APP and APRIL, one of which WWF approves, the other it does not.
But according to the market and forest experts, both produce legal product, mostly from plantations.
It is also widely acknowledged that illegal logging in Indonesia is undertaken by smallholders, not the large companies.
If any illegal product has seeped into the chains of the large companies, it would be minute. It would seem, then, that the claims are bogus.
WWF also makes much of the migration of publishing in Germany to Asia and the steady increase in imports of children’s books (and it could have said almost everything else) from China.
Is there something automatically wrong with product from China?
Is the problem that it is cheap?
Parents would not think so.
This is not the first time an environmental NGO has sought to link forestry with disreputable products and China.
Greenpeace was criticised in the Malaysian media earlier in the year for expressing anti-Asian sentiment about the forest industry in the South Pacific, referring to Asian-owned forest businesses as “robber barons” and the Chinese industry as “sweatshops”.
It began its anti-forestry campaign in the mid-90s in the South Pacific banging the anti-Asian drum.
There are regular outbreaks of anti-Asia rioting in the South Pacific.
Some may find the WWF report equally unsavory.
The cover features a cartoon with a little girl and teddy bear wielding chain saws in the forest and scaring the animals. This would alarm any child. – WorldGrowth