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12 Replies to 12 Lies about Industrial Tree Plantations: New edition of a WRM briefing paper

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On the occasion of September 21st, 2022, the International Day of Struggle Against Monoculture Tree Plantations, WRM launched the briefing “12 Replies to 12 Lies about Industrial Tree Plantations”.

On the occasion of September 21st, 2022, the International Day of Struggle Against Monoculture Tree Plantations, WRM launched the briefing “12 Replies to 12 Lies about Industrial Tree Plantations”.

This briefing was originally published in 1999, under the title “Ten Replies to Ten Lies”. At the time, monoculture tree plantations of eucalyptus, acacia, pine and rubber were expanding in many countries. In this context, WRM identified the need for a simple tool to provide community activists and grassroots organisations with information that could counter the most misleading statements that companies were using to promote these industrial tree plantations.

Since then, the plantation companies have continued to refine their response to critiques of plantations and the plantation model expressed by communities, activists and organisations. Perhaps predictably, instead of addressing the critiques, companies have come up with more lies. This, together with the current renewed push for industrial tree plantations in many countries, motivated WRM to publish a new edition of the 1999 briefing.

WRM’s Campaign Against Monoculture Tree Plantations

The briefing published in 1999 was made in the context of a WRM campaign, launched in 1998, against monoculture tree plantation. As part of this campaign, several tools were produced and activities carried out to support communities in their struggles against monoculture tree plantations. The campaign continues until today.

Why does the tree plantations issue play such a key role in WRM´s work for so long?

One reason is that promoting monoculture tree plantations has been a key ingredient of the main international policies elaborated in the past 30-40 years to address deforestation – in spite of the fact that such plantations are a cause of deforestation. Promoting industrial tree plantations was, for example, one of the pillars of the Tropical Forestry Action Plan, launched in 1985 by the United Nation´s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in partnership with the World Bank and other institutions. The REDD+ mechanism, in its turn, when it was launched in 2007, stated that, among other things, it was about “increasing forest carbon stocks”, opening the door for promoting large-scale tree plantations as REDD+ projects.

Deliberately confusing plantations with “forests” – while the only similarity between both is the presence of trees – is one more reason for WRM to give a central role to the tree plantations issue in its work. Until today, industrial tree plantations of often exotic species, even genetically engineered trees, are considered “forest” by FAO, the main UN agency dealing with forest issues. It is probably also the main lie that plantation companies have spread around and benefited from.

One more reason for WRM´s focus on tree plantations is the fact that the global South has become the main area targeted for expansion of industrial tree monoculture plantations over the past 30-40 years. The main reason is that in the global South companies find the most favourable conditions to make profits. Among these are cheap and fertile lands, cheap labor and a climate that favors trees, in particular eucalyptus, growing very fast.

Besides, in the global South in particular, the “plantation model” has a long history that goes back to the colonial era. During that era, European powers stole lands of communities to set up profitable export-oriented plantations, based on slave labor, of different monoculture crops. Although liberation struggles formally ended the colonial era, the “plantation model” survived. Corporations claim that nowadays plantations have ´modernized´ their working conditions, that they are “socially responsible” and “sustainable” and have their practices “certified”. However, the main characteristics of the “plantation model” remain unchanged, for example, labor exploitation, the grabbing of huge expanses of community lands and forests and the destruction and contamination of community livelihoods. The neo-colonial plantations of today continue to reflect and strengthen mainly Northern capitalist interests. They also continue oppressing indigenous and black communities and in particular women in the global South, maintaining and strengthening racism and patriarchy.

New Lies Spread by Plantation Companies

Plantation companies continue to use most of the lies they used in 1999, including calling tree plantations ‘planted forests’; claiming that industrial tree plantations are set up on degraded lands; that plantations improve the environment and counteract climate change; that they protect native forests and contribute to job creation and local economies.

In addition, there are a number of new lies. For example, that by substituting fossil fuels, plantations can contribute to a so-called “bio-economy”. They promote planting trees for electricity generation and alternative fuel through “biomass” or “biofuel” plantations”, or producing products for mass consumption such as plastics, textiles or medicines. It is an attempt to counter the critique that tree plantations contribute to the destruction of forests and other biomes, and thus further worsen climate change.

How can industrial plantations and all of their negative impacts be the basis for a “bio-economy” that claims to respect life and nature? Putting the plantation companies’ plan into practice would involve planting entire countries in the global South with eucalyptus trees. Probably the main motivation of the plantation company owners is another: a tremendous new business opportunity.

Another lie that companies spread is that conflicts with communities around land, pollution of water, working conditions, etc., can be solved by “certification” of plantations. The FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), for example, awards a label to a company if it demonstrates that it is engaged in “sustainable management” of its plantations. The FSC label has been a success for companies. Many of them have received the label, even when documents showed that their land titles were illegal or that the company was embroiled in conflicts with local communities.  That FSC does not fulfil its promises has to do with the fact it does not question the main characteristics of the ´plantation model´: its large-scale, the planting of trees in monoculture, the grabbing of fertile community lands, as well as of the water in the area.

Following a United Nations Initiative, several companies now also claim that they are committed to the empowerment of women in the workplace, marketplace and community. Corporate gender policies have come up in response to the critiques and struggles of women against the plantation model. The fact that plantation companies have set up such policies is also a response to the committed struggles of women against industrial tree plantations in particular.

But the supposed ´equal´ employment opportunities that companies offer to women hide the common practice that companies take advantage of hiring women particularly for dangerous and poorly paid tasks, if they believe that women carry them out more efficiently. Examples include the very precise work performed in tree nurseries and the application of agrotoxins. Besides, companies destroy the lands women depend on to maintain their traditional knowledge and practices. Companies tend to further reinforce patriarchal structures when they seek and rely on the mainly male-dominated processes of the community approval to use community lands for plantations.

Wherever women stand up, companies have used strategies to break their resistance by intimidating and criminalizing them. Companies usually ignore the fact that their plantations are connected with an increase in sexual violence and harassment of women, one of the most silenced yet perverse impacts of the “plantation model”.

On the African continent where investors hope to make most money in future with plantations, consultants spread the lie that African countries should follow the success story of tree plantations in Brazil and Uruguay.  If the measure of success is the wealth of company owners in these countries, those plantations have certainly been a success. The main owner of the biggest Brazilian plantation company is among the richest families in the country. But plantation companies in Brazil have stolen lands from indigenous peoples, black and other communities, and provoked more impoverishment and racism against these communities. In Uruguay, due to a major exodus of rural dwellers, plantations can expand relatively easily. Currently, just 5 per cent of the population lives in rural areas.

Another lie plantation companies spread around is that plantations are financially a very healthy business and thus deserve support. But the main reason tree plantations are profitable for company owners and shareholders is that public and private banks and institutions award generous financial subsidies and incentives to the plantation companies. In reality, most of them are heavily indebted.
The approach companies use to still gain access to fresh funding involves converting part of their debt into so-called ‘bonds’. This approach is usually available only to companies, not to ordinary people. A bond is nothing more than a document worth a certain amount of debt. The company can sell it to receive additional funding. This is an attractive deal for buyers, because the company will pay back the money invested after an agreed upon number of years, plus an additional amount—the interest rate.

“Green bonds” is a new name used by plantation companies to refer to the same bonds as before. Plantation companies call them “green” because they claim their business is “green” and that they significantly contribute to reducing climate change and conserving the environment.

A last, but very important lie is that peasant farmers can benefit from tree plantations. The strategy to involve peasant farmers in the plantations business is a reaction to the widespread resistance of communities around the world to large-scale tree plantations. To avoid evicting peasant farmers to get access to the plan, companies have increasingly been promoting “smallholder” or “outgrower” schemes. Under such schemes, farmers sign a contract with a company to plant trees on their land. Companies promise a good income to those planting trees, and that peasant farmers can continue planting their food crops.

In reality, most of the benefits go to the company, while most of the risks and costs are the farmers’ problem. While companies and governments claim it will improve farmers’ livelihoods and income, it actually does the opposite.

In summary, what all the 12 lies presented in the new WRM briefing paper have in common is that they all seek to hide the damaging nature of the “plantation model” that is at the root of the conflicts, impacts and oppressions that come along with the promotion of industrial tree plantations. Struggling against plantations therefore is in essence the struggle against patriarchy, neo-colonialism, racism and capitalism and all their different forms of oppression.

The full version of the new briefing paper “12 Replies to 12 Lies about Industrial Tree Plantations” is available here. It’s also available in SpanishFrench and Portuguese.

Original Source: World Rainforest Movement 

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NGO WORK

Statement- Uganda: Seven Environmental activists brutally arrested, charged and released on police bail for protesting against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project

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On 27 May 2024, seven environmental human rights defenders were brutally arrested by armed police in Kampala, Uganda and charged by the Jinja Road police for unlawful assembly. This was reported by the Stop the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (StopEACOP) campaign on 29 May 2024.

The seven human rights defenders were peacefully protesting against the intended financing of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP) by the Chinese government. According to the environmental human rights defenders, EACOP has caused severe human rights violations, poses significant environmental risks, and will contribute to the climate crisis. The EACOP is a project led by Total, spanning 1,443km from Kabaale, Hoima district in Uganda to the Chongoleani Peninsula near Tanga Port in Tanzania. It aims to transport oil from Uganda’s Lake Albert oilfields to global markets via the port of Tanga.

On 27 May 2024, seven environmental human rights defenders were brutally arrested by armed police in Kampala and charged by the Jinja Road police for unlawful assembly. The seven environmental activists were sitting outside the Chinese Embassy in Kampala in an attempt to present a letter of protest to the Chinese Ambassador expressing their complaints and demanding that his government refrain from funding an unfavourable project for them. Due to their arrest occuring before they had any chance of interacting with embassy representatives, their letter was not delivered. The peaceful protesters were violently rounded up by the police, who subsequently packed them in a vehicle and brought them to the Jinja Road police. The seven activists were released on police bail and were due to report back to the Jinja Road police station. On 18 May 2024, following several banks and insurance companies’ withdrawal from EACOP, Civil Society Organizations supporting energy just transition, climate and environmental conservatism, and land justice addressed the media and urged the Chinese President to rescind his interest in funding the project.

Local organizations have been denouncing that, in order to stifle complaints, silence protesters, and maintain pressure on those who defend climate, environment, and land rights, Ugandan authorities have turned to attacking and criminalising environmentalists, climate activists, and defenders of land rights. Uganda has recorded the most number of cases of violations against these human rights defenders, with 18 incidents documented in Africa, according to the Business and Human Rights Resource Center’s 2023 in their report titled People power under pressure: Human rights defenders & business in 2023. The majority of these attacks seem to center around the EACOP and the environmental human rights defenders campaigning against the project, which the State regards as a significant infrastructure initiative.

Front Line Defenders expresses its concern for the safety and security of the seven environmental human rights defenders and strongly condemns the recent instances of intimidation, criminalization and police harassment they have been subjected to, as it believes are an act of reprisal for their peaceful and legitimate work in defence of environmental and land rights in Uganda.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Uganda to take the necessary measures to guarantee the security and protection of environmental human rights defenders during peaceful protests. The organisation also demands that the brutal arrest of these seven human rights defenders be condemned. Front Line Defenders calls Ugandan authorities to guarantee that all environmental and land human rights defenders, including human rights organisations working on environmental rights, are able to carry out their legitimate activities and operate freely without fear of police harassment.

Source: Frontline Defenders

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NGO WORK

TotalEnergies African legacy: 100 years of environmental destruction.

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TotalEnergies, the French petro giant company with a legacy of destruction on the continent, this year celebrates 100 years. To be clear, that is 100 years of profit, environmental destruction and damage to people’s lives.

The company’s damage is widespread, extensive and well-documented.

In 1956, TotalEnergies entered Africa, exploiting natural resources as it went along. In chasing down oil and gas, it has wreaked havoc on communities, land, and the environment.

A 2022 study by the Climate Accountability Institute found the total emissions attributed to the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline totals 379 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, making TotalEnergies a key contributor to Africa’s carbon footprint.

As Charity Migwi, a senior campaigner at Oil Change International, a research, communication, and advocacy organisation, notes, the company has its hands on various projects on the continent.

The project noted above will have about 460km of pipeline in the freshwater basin of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, which directly supports the livelihoods of more than 40 million people in the region. On top of this, there are plans to extract oil from the fields in Uganda as well as the company’s prominent role in the Mozambique LNG Project, which is a major cause of carbon emissions

Closer to home, TotalEnergies has been given the go-ahead to explore for oil and gas off the south-west coast of South Africa, which sparked protests. As the company held its annual general meeting in Paris, France, protests by affected communities, civil society and activists in both countries took place.

Environmental justice group The Green Connection’s community mobilisation officer, Warren Blouw, said in a press release: “TotalEnergies and other oil and gas companies must consider the livelihoods of small-scale fishers, whose economic wellbeing is jeopardised by offshore oil and gas exploration. We must unite to protect Africa and its resources from those who only seek profit, at the cost of regular South Africans.”

Zinhle Mthiyane, of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, said: “We are protesting to protect the environment and prevent ocean pollution. Drilling for oil and gas in South African waters could degrade the environment, threatening livelihoods and cultural practices.”

One of those affected by TotalEnergies and its hunt for fossil fuels is Sifiso Ntsunguzi, a small-scale fisher from Port St Johns, on the Eastern Cape coast. Ntsunguzi made the trip to France to protest.

“We are in Paris to support the court case against TotalEnergies’ oil and gas projects. As a small-scale fisher and member of a coastal community, I do not support the exploration of oil and gas in the ocean. We use the ocean for cultural practices and as a means to sustain our livelihood. We are against exploration of gas and oil, as it may risk degradation of the environment and marine ecosystems, our livelihood and our health. I come from a fishing community and have become a fisher myself,” he said.

In another press release, environmental justice group Bloom wrote that TotalEnergies has been well aware of its climate harms as far back as the 1970s, yet the company still goes ahead with its oil and gas initiatives.

Initially, its strategy was to deny climate change, wrote Bloom. Now that it can no longer do so, it has changed tact and resorts to greenwashing, described by the United Nations as follows: “By misleading the public to believe that a company or other entity is doing more to protect the environment than it is, greenwashing promotes false solutions to the climate crisis that distract from and delay concrete and credible action.”

Total Energies portrays itself as a serious player in the renewable energy space and constantly punts its renewable efforts while going full steam ahead with its fossil fuel projects.

For example, it said of its project in the Northern Cape: “TotalEnergies and its partners are launching construction of a major hybrid renewables project in South Africa, comprising a 216 megawatt solar plant and a 500 MWh battery storage system to manage the intermittency of solar production.”

Bloom explained that chasing renewables is profitable but nowhere near as profitable as oil and gas, and it in no way negates the harmful search for and use of fossil fuels. For this reason Bloom and two other climate justice groups took TotalEnergies to court.

This case also hopes to halt the expansion of fossil fuel extraction. As The Guardian reports: “A criminal case has been filed against the CEO and directors of the French oil company TotalEnergies, alleging its fossil fuel exploitation has contributed to the deaths of victims of climate-fuelled extreme weather disasters. The case was filed in Paris by eight people harmed by extreme weather, and three NGOs.”

Joyce Kimutai, a climate scientist at the University Of Cape Town, said: “The fossil fuel industry will continue to undermine science, they will continue to expand their businesses,

they will continue to cause suffering to the people as long as they know that the law can’t hold them accountable.”

Whether the case will yield anything remains to be seen, but the important thing is people are standing up and fighting the harmful practices of these fossil fuel companies. International bodies like the UN climate change conferences yield very little results. It is up to us, the people on the ground, to unite for the good of our planet.

Source: mg.co.za

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NGO WORK

Incredible WIN! European Union withdraws from Energy Charter Treaty

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The Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) is an international agreement originally created with a focus on growing fossil fuel energy cooperation after the Cold War. Today, the Treaty is a major obstacle to effective climate action because it protects fossil fuel investments. By including investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), the Energy Charter Treaty allows fossil fuel corporations to sue States that act to protect our climate when that action could impact a company’s profits.

Today, we celebrate because the European Council overwhelmingly adopted the EU’s proposal to exit the controversial Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), an outdated international investment agreement that protects and promotes fossil fuel investments.

CIEL and other organizations across Europe have worked tirelessly to educate European decision-makers about the dangers of the Energy Charter Treaty. Together, we proved how the treaty prevents effective climate action and is fundamentally incompatible with EU law.

This pivotal vote follows up an EU Commission’s proposal for the EU and European Atomic Energy Community to exit the Energy Charter Treaty.

The Commission found the ECT incompatible with the EU’s laws, investment policy and law, and energy and climate goals. Its proposal broke months of deadlock by offering EU countries the option to remain in the treaty while allowing other countries to exit. The European Parliament also adopted a resolution in April 2024 calling on the EU to withdraw from the ECT.

Today’s vote proves that people power can win critical victories!

Join us in celebrating this victory for the people, the environment, and the climate!

Demonstrators wear masks with the EU leaders under a sword that reads Energy Charter Treaty.

Why does this matter?

Fossil fuel investors have used the Energy Charter Treaty to sue States when they take climate action, claiming a right to compensation for alleged loss of investments. If they are serious about climate action, States must disentangle themselves from investor protections that allow fossil fuel companies to sue them in private courts when States act in the public interest to phase out fossil fuels. States could be squeezed from both sides: sued by communities for their climate inaction with ever greater frequency, and sued by investors when they do act to phase out the fossil fuel drivers of the climate crisis and accelerate the energy transition.

CIEL has worked for a long time to dismantle ISDS and ensure that the perspectives of communities inform ongoing arbitration.

A demonstrator holds a sign that reads 'Exit the Energy Charter Treaty'

Policymakers in Europe, and beyond, now have a duty to end their dependency on fossil fuels, exit the ISDS system that allows industry to sue States for enacting public interest policies, and accelerate the clean energy transition.

This win in Europe is a milestone in the fight against investor state dispute settlements. Now, we are leveraging this momentum for other States and clearing the way for effective climate action around the world.

Today we celebrate this victory with you. Tomorrow we will continue working to uproot the fossil economy driving the climate crisis, and the trade and investment deals that stand in the way of a renewable energy future.

Source: ciel.org

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