California split over carbon trading plan for tropical forests (Reuters)

QUITO, ECUADOR – (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Indigenous leaders from tropical forest nations have urged Californian regulators to reject a proposed international carbon trading scheme, arguing it would violate forest peoples’ rights.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is due to decide in April whether to adopt the California Tropical Forest Standard (TFS), a controversial plan focused on protecting large forested areas through the use of carbon credits.

At a November meeting in Sacramento, the board heard hours of testimony from more than 80 climate scientists, indigenous representatives and activists, both for and against the proposal. A decision was postponed until this spring.

The TFS would resemble existing carbon market mechanisms, allowing companies to offset their planet-warming emissions by paying to keep forests – which absorb and store carbon – standing abroad rather than reducing emissions at home.

Supporters believe protecting tropical forests is essential to limit climate change, since deforestation and forest degradation account for about 17 percent of emissions worldwide.

But the TFS has many critics, particularly among scientists and indigenous communities familiar with the failings of programs like REDD+, a donor-backed effort launched by the United Nations to curb emissions from deforestation.

“We think it’s a big lie that the governments say they are going to save the forest,” said Daniel Santi, an indigenous Kichwa leader from Ecuador.

“The real people who have been conserving, protecting and fighting (for forests) have been indigenous people,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at an indigenous assembly outside Puyo, capital of the Amazon province of Pastaza, in December.

Santi said Ecuador’s indigenous communities were already seeing repercussions from the TFS, similar to those experienced with REDD+.

After creating the Pastaza Ecological Area of Sustainable Development in 2017, local officials wrote to CARB in support of the TFS.

The Pastaza reserve covers more than 2.5 million hectares (6.2 million acres) of rainforest – about 90 percent of the province – a perfect size for the TFS, which would concentrate on large-scale forest areas.

Indigenous organizations have denounced the project, saying the seven indigenous nationalities that live in Pastaza were never consulted.

They must now adhere to provincial conservation regulations, which include limitations on hunting and cutting down trees for community use, harming their way of life, said Santi.

Meanwhile, Ecuador’s government continues to promote extraction activities in at least three oil blocks inside the protected area, which have been opposed by most indigenous communities living there.

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