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Climate Justice Now!
| CARBON PROJECT Q & A: India -- a Taste of the Future (fifth in a series) |

India: A Taste of the Future

Extracted from research by Emily Caruso, Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy, Yakshi Shramik, Adivasi Sangathan, the Centre for Science and Environment and others


If countries in
Latin America pioneered carbon projects, one of the countries that has attracted the greatest longer-term interest among Northern carbon traders and investors is India.

The interest is reciprocated by many in India’s government. Three of the first dozen or so CDM projects to be registered – an HFC-231 destruction project, a small hydropower project, and a biomass project – are located in India. The country is currently is second only to Brazil in volume of CDM credits in the pipeline, although China, Mexico, Argentina and Chile are also prominent.

As elsewhere, most of the money would go to end-of-pipe projects that destroy non-carbon-dioxide greenhouse gases. According to the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, some 77 per cent of Indian CDM credits currently in the pipeline would be derived from projects which destroy HFCs, which are extremely powerful greenhouse gases used in refrigeration, air conditioning, and industrial processes (Ritu Gupta, Shams Kazi and Julian Cheatle, “Carbon Rush”, Down to Earth, Centre for Science and Environment, 15 November 2005). Inevitably, social activists are raising questions about whether such projects provide “any credible sustainable development” to local communities.

-- Q. Why shouldn’t such projects be beneficial to local communities?

First, because HFCs are so bad for the climate, projects that destroy them can generate huge numbers of lucrative credits merely by bolting a bit of extra machinery onto an existing industrial plant. As a result, there are no knock-on social benefits other than providing income for the machinery manufacturer and some experience for a few technicians. Second, such projects don’t help society become less dependent on fossil fuels. They don’t advance renewable energy sources, and they don’t help societies organize themselves in ways that require less coal, oil or gas. Third, by ensuring that the market for credits from carbon projects is dominated by large industrial firms, they make it that much more difficult for renewable energy or efficiency projects to get a foothold.

-- Q. But don’t such projects also provide perverse incentives for governments not to do anything about pollution except through the carbon market? After all, if I were a government trying to help the industries in my country get masses of carbon credits from destroying a little bit of HFCs, I would hesitate to pass laws to clean up HFCs. After all, such laws wouldn’t make industry any money. In fact, they would cost industry money. Instead, why not just allow the pollution to go on until someone comes along offering money if it is cleaned up?

That’s a question that’s understandably going through the minds of government officials in many Southern countries. As a result, it’s not clear whether the CDM market is actually a force for less pollution or not.

-- Q. But at least such projects don’t do any harm to local people, right?

That’s a matter of opinion. If the industry getting the credits is hurting local people, local people may well disagree with the project. Near Gujarat Flourochemicals Limited, one of India’s first projects to be registered with the CDM, villagers complain of air pollution’s effects on their crops, especially during the rainy season, and believe the plant’s “solar oxidation pond” adds to local water pollution. Of course, theirs are not the only voices. D. K. Sachdeva, a vice president of the company, insists locals’ claims were politically motivated. “As we are the only factory in this area, people make allegations to make money,” he asserted.

Meanwhile, villagers near another factory hoping to benefit from CDM credits, Rajasthan’s SRF Flourochemicals, believe that their aquifers are being depleted and their groundwater polluted, leading to allergies, rashes, crop failures, and a lack of safe drinking water.

-- Q. What about smaller projects – the ones that don’t generate so many credits? Are there any local objections to them?

Some of the many biomass carbon projects planned for India are also rousing local concerns. One example is the 20-megawatt RK Powergen Private Limited generating plant at Hiriyur in Chitradurga district of Karnataka, which is currently preparing a Project Design Document for application to the CDM. According to M. Tepaswami, a 65-year-old resident of nearby Babboor village, RK Powergen is responsible for serious deforestation. “First, the plant cut the trees of our area and now they are destroying the forests of Chikmangalur, Shimoga, Mysore and other places. They pay Rs 550 per tonne of wood, which they source using contractors. The contractors, in turn, source wood from all over the state.” Another villager claimed that “poor people find it difficult to get wood for cooking and other purposes.” Jobs promised by the firm, Tepaswami complains, were in the end given to outsiders. Employees at the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation meanwhile claim that its “equipment is adversely affected due to the factory’s pollution”, while local villagers complain of reduced crop yields and plunging groundwater levels.

Again, predictably, project managers deny the allegations. “If there is deforestation,” said plant manager Amit Gupta, “then local people are to be blamed because they are supplying the wood to us” (Gupta, Kazi, Cheatle in Down to Earth [see above]). But such disputes may be a sign of things to come.

-- Q. What about plantation projects and other forestry “sink” projects? Are they also running into trouble?

Currently, no legal framework to deal with CDM carbon forestry exists, so proposals for such projects are on hold. But carbon forestry is definitely on the cards for India. The World Bank and forestry and private sector interests are studying, experimenting with and promoting a number of ideas. A National Environment Policy Draft circulated by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in 2004 confirms a new, “liberalized” environmental policy that promotes carbon trading and other environmental services trades. The move toward carbon forestry also chimes with a grandiose existing plan on the part of the MoEF to bring, by 2020, 30 million hectares of “degraded” forest and other lands under industrial tree and cash crop plantations, in collaboration with the private sector.

Among the scores of CDM and other carbon projects being contemplated for India are forestry projects in Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh states. Here, an organization called Community Forestry International (CFI) has been surveying opportunities for using trees to soak up carbon. CFI helps “policy makers, development agencies, NGOs, and professional foresters create the legal instruments, human resource capacities, and negotiation processes and methods to support resident resource managers” in stabilizing and regenerating forests. Its work in Madhya Pradesh has been supported by the US Agency for International Development and the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. CFI’s work in Andhra Pradesh, meanwhile, has been financed by the Climate Change and Energy Division of Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

CFI suggests that, in India, the CDM would be a viable income-generating activity for rural indigenous communities. But there are strong reasons to doubt this.

-- Q. Why?

In India, as everywhere else, it’s not abstract theory, but rather the institutional structure into which CDM would fit, that provides the key clues both to its likely social outcome and to its likely climatic outcome.

Take, for example, a CDM scheme investigated by CFI that would be sited in Harda district, Madhya Pradesh state. Here CFI sees CDM’s role as providing financial support for an institution called Joint Forest Management (JFM).

-- Q. What’s that?

Joint Forest Management (JFM) is supposed to provide a system for forest protection and sustainable use through the establishment of Village Forest Protection Committees (VFPCs), through which government and development aid funds are channelled for ‘forest management’ and village-level development works. Formalised by state governments and largely funded by the World Bank, Joint Forest Management (JFM) was designed partly to ensure that forest-dependent people gain some benefit from protecting the forests. It’s already implemented in every region of India. Long before carbon trading was ever conceived of, JFM had become an institution used and contested by village elites, NGOs, foresters, state officials, environmentalists and development agencies alike in various attempts to transform commercial and conservation spaces and structures of forest rights for their respective advantages (see K. Sivaramakrishnan, “'Modern Forestry: Trees and Development Spaces in West Bengal”, in Laura Rival, (ed.), The Social Life of Trees: Anthropological Perspectives on Tree Symbolism, Oxford: Berg, pp. 273-96).

-- Q. So there should be a lot of evidence already for whether it works or not.

Yes, but there’s not much agreement about what that evidence means, or for whom JFM works and in what way. CFI sees the JFM programme as having improved the standard of living in Adivasi villages, as well as their relationship with the Forest Department. It also found that JFM had helped regenerate forests in Rahetgaon Forest Range, resulting in higher income for Village Forest Protection Committees, although admitting that in Handia Forest Range, social conflicts had resulted in decreased JFM-related investment by the Forest Department and less positive outcomes. CFI thinks that for JFM to expand its role on India’s forest land would be “both desirable and necessary” (see Mark Poffenberger, N. H. Ravindranath, D. N. Pandey et al., Communities and Climate Change: The Clean Development Mechanism and Village-based Forest Restoration in Central India, Community Forestry International and Indian Institute of Forest Management, Santa Barbara, 2001, p. 71, available at http://www.communityforestryinternational.org/publications/research_reports/harda_report_with_maps.pdf).

On the other hand, many indigenous (or Adivasi) community members, activists and NGOs see JFM as a system which further entrenches Forest Department control over Adivasi lands and forest management, although the practices of different village committees vary. Mass Tribal Organisations, forest-related NGOs and academics have published evidence that JFM Village Forest Protection Committees (VFPCs), composed of community members, function principally as a local, village-level branch and extensions of state forest authority. Communities interviewed in Harda in 2004 said that VFPC chairmen and committee members have become to a large extent “the Forest Department’s men”.

-- Q. What’s wrong with that?

These local JFM bodies are accused of imposing unjust and unwanted policies on their own communities, of undermining traditional management systems and of marginalising traditional and formal self-governing local village authorities. In one Madhya Pradesh case, forest authorities and the police shot dead villagers opposing JFM and VFPC policies, in an echo of hostilities between the Forest Department and various classes of other forest users that go back a century.

According to many Mass Tribal Organisations, communities and activists, JFM was effectively imposed on them without appropriate consultation during project identification, planning and implementation, and has resulted in the marginalisation, displacement and violation of the customary and traditional rights of the Adivasis in the state.14 Contrary to MoEF circulars issued in the 1990s regarding regularisation of lands cultivated by Adivasis and settlement of land disputes, many state governments implemented JFM programmes on disputed lands. JFM has been implicated in involuntary resettlement of forest “encroachers”, resulting in many Adivasis losing land and access to essential forest goods.

Current problems with JFM in Madhya Pradesh, according to many local people and activists, include:

* Conflicts within communities as a result of economic disparities between VFPC members and non-members.

* Conflicts between Adivasi groups and other communities generated by the imposition of VFPC boundaries without reference to customary village boundaries.

* Curtailment of nistar rights (customary rights to local natural goods).

* Conflicts over bans on grazing in the forest and on collecting timber for individual household use.

* Indiscriminate fining.

According to some Harda activists, JFM has opened deeper rifts within and between Adivasi villages and between different Adivasi groups, and has engendered conflict between communities and the Forest Department. Although funding for the local JFM scheme is now exhausted, VFPCs are still in place in many villages, recouping salaries from the interest remaining in their JFM accounts and from fines imposed on members of their own and neighbouring communities. Communities interviewed also claim that VFPC financial dealings are not transparent. In July 2004, non-VFPC villagers in Harda reported that they would like to see funding for VFPCs stopped and, ultimately, the committees disbanded; and would also like to see forest management returned to them and their rights to their traditional lands and resources restored.15

That’s not to say there are not other stories about JFM and the forest protection committees, which are institutions whose meaning and functions are competed over among many conflicting groups inside and outside villages. It is merely to emphasize that, in the words of University of Washington anthropologist K. Sivaramarkishnan, “when environmental protection is to be accomplished through the exclusion of certain people from the use of a resource, it will follow existing patterns of power and stratification in society.”

-- Q. So maybe these embattled Village Forest Protection Committees are not the ideal bodies to carry out CDM carbon projects.

That would be an understatement. CFI’s proposal that, in order to reduce transaction costs, a federation of VFPCs ought to be created in the Handia range to carry out a pilot carbon offset project is also questionable. Equally dubious is CFI’s suggestion that the Forest Department should adjudicate cases of conflict there, a statement that many people in the communities interviewed would find unacceptable.

-- Q. If there are all these problems, why didn’t the CFI studies detect them?

Much of the data used in the CFI studies came from the Forest Department and possibly discussions with VFPC members rather than from independent field work with communities and non-VFPC community members. Significantly, both MoEF and the Madya Pradesh forest department were supporting agencies for the CFI study.

-- Q. But it seems there could be an even more fundamental problem. If JFM projects are going forward anyway, even without the CDM, they’re not saving carbon over and above what would have been saved anyway. So how could they generate credits?

That’s not clear. JFM has been implemented in Madhya Pradesh since 1991 and so hardly qualifies as a new project.

But there are plenty of other problems with CFI’s carbon sequestration claims as well. For example, CFI doesn’t take into account the changes in numbers of people and in community and family composition to be expected over the project’s 20-25 year lifetime. CFI’s estimates of fuelwood carried out by communities in the Rahetgaon range are also inaccurate. CFI believes every family uses two head loads of fuelwood per week, but recent interviewees suggested that a more realistic figure would be 18-22, especially during the winter and the monsoon season. CFI also makes the questionable assumption that local communities would relinquish their forest-harvesting activities for the sake of very little monetary income from carbon sales, and that income flowing to VFPCs would be transparently distributed.

In order to assess how much carbon would be saved, CFI compared vegetation in forest plots at different stages of growth and subject to different kinds of pressure from humans. Yet while the total area of forest to be considered is 142,535 ha, the total number of 50m x 50m plots assessed was 39, representing a total study area of only 9.75 ha. That may be an adequate sample in biological terms. But it’s hardly enough to assess the range of social influences on carbon storage in different places.

-- Q. Have any prospective carbon forestry projects been looked at in other parts of India?

Many. To take just one more nearby example, in Adilabad, Andhra Pradesh state, CFI saw possibilities of sequestering carbon by reforesting and afforesting nonforest or “degraded” forest lands whose carbon content has been depleted by a large and growing human and cattle population, uncontrolled grazing of cattle in forests and ‘encroachment’ on and conversion of forest lands for podu (swidden) cultivation.

The best option, CFI felt, would be to regenerate teak and mixed deciduous forests. Clonal eucalyptus plantations would, it thought, accumulate carbon faster, and would have other commercial uses such as timber and pulp, as well as incremental returns for any interested investor, but would cost more to establish and maintain, and would be sure to be condemned by Adivasi communities and activists as a new form of colonialism.

-- Q. So who would carry out these regeneration projects?

Here CFI came to a different conclusion than in Madhya Pradesh. In Andhra Pradesh, it decided, the best agencies for taking on forest regeneration would be Women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs).

-- Q. Which are what?

SHGs were set up by the state-level Inter-Tribal Development Agency during the 1990s as a mechanism for improving the finances of households through micro-credit schemes and capacity-building, as well as linking households with financial institutions and government authorities. CFI says that they’re much more dynamic, accountable and transparent than other local institutions, such as Forest Protection Committees (known as Vana Samrakshana Samithi or VSS in Andhra Pradesh), which are viewed as inefficient, untransparent, untrustworthy, and troubled in their relationship with the Forest Department.

-- Q. Sounds perfect.

Except that it’s hard to see how the virtues of the Women’s Self-Help Groups could work for the carbon economy. For one thing, CFI states that only if the SHGs come together in a federation would carbon offset forestry projects be financially viable, given the high transaction costs involved in preparing and carrying them out. Yet it does not explain how such a federation could come about among rural communities, nor how SHGs could become involved in CDM projects and link themselves to the carbon market. Nor does it mention that SHGs currently work in relative isolation from the Panchayat Raj institutions (the ultimate village-level formal self-governing authority in rural India), the Forest Department and local Forest Protection Committees.

In addition, the income families would receive from carbon – 150 rupees per month for protecting 1.5 ha of forest, according to CFI – is less than they get from other forms of forest use. While CFI estimates the total cost of a 2000-hectare CDM project covering 20 villages in Adilabad as US$270,000, it is difficult to imagine how such small areas of forest regeneration could provide enough carbon to provide reasonable and usable benefits to the communities. Moreover, few Adivasi communities have exclusive rights to the extensive area of 250 ha of “degraded” land envisaged by CFI. If instituted near Adivasi communities, CDM projects would likely eat up land elsewhere, including Forest Department land. And if podu lands are excluded from CDM use, the potential for reforestation would be reduced to 10 per cent of the total forest area.

-- Q. Well, assuming there are some problems with these preliminary ideas about how carbon projects might be implemented in the Indian countryside, surely there’s nothing to worry about yet. After all, these are only a few studies done by a single organization. We’ll have to learn as we go along.

The problem is that the mere fact that studies like CFI’s are being carried out already gives legitimacy to the idea of using carbon offsets in the South, as well as other ‘flexible mechanisms’, to tackle climate change.

Nor are CFI’s studies the only ones claiming that Joint Forest Management provides a sound basis for carbon forestry projects. International research institutions such as the Centre for International Forestry, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research and various academics have done the same. The World Bank, too, funds JFM, is heavily involved in the global carbon market, and is currently seeking to increase funding of forestry projects in India – not a reassuring sign.

-- Q. Still, what you’ve been talking about are problems with JFM, not with carbon offset trading as such.

Whether or not JFM is involved, some Indian activists fear that by creating a market for carbon, CDM projects will engender change in the relationship between Adivasis and their lands and forests. Access and ownership rights are likely to be transformed into benefit-sharing and stakeholder-type relationships. Adivasi communities may lose their capacity to sustain food security, livelihoods, and fundamental social, cultural and spiritual ties.

Long before JFM came along, Indian government agencies, Indian government agencies were referring to much of the livelihood land base of many indigenous and forest-dependent peoples as unowned or unused “wasteland” or “degraded land”. They still do. International financial institutions, northern governments and even international research institutions use similar language in their documents. In Andhra Pradesh, the state government, currently promoting Pongamia plantations, proposes establishing up to three million hectares of new plantations on so-called “common land” (or “waste land”) throughout the state.

CDM afforestation projects can be established on lands that have not been forested for 50 years, and reforestation projects on lands that have not been forested for 15 years. Such projects could have serious consequences for Adivasi peoples practicing swidden cultivation on government forest land or in “forest villages”. CDM projects would also have an incentive to seek repression of any Adivasi livelihood activities that they displace that could result in increased releases of carbon elsewhere, since such releases would have to be debited from project carbon accounts. Cattle grazing, fuelwood cutting and clearing of new areas for swidden cultivation could all fall into this category.

Also, while CDM plantations are one cause of concern among indigenous communities, forest conservation projects are also on the horizon. Although conservation schemes are not yet eligible for CDM, conservation financiers and the World Bank and Global Environment Fund are increasingly promoting the idea of protected areas as an additional source of carbon credits. Indigenous peoples will clearly be in for a fight should carbon sequestration and protected area projects come together on their territories.

In order to avoid conflict, in addition, any CDM project proponent will need to clarify who owns the land, the project and the carbon. This immediately militates against Adivasi peoples, since in India, the government claims formal ownership and control over indigenous lands and resources. In this and other ways, it is unclear how CDM projects could do anything but further entrench discrimination against Adivasi communities by government authorities and rural elites.

-- Q. But isn’t it true that in international law and best practice, indigenous land and resource rights must be respected in all development projects? Isn’t free, prior and informed consent starting to be a universal requirement for such schemes?

That’s the theory. The reality is different. CDM has so far shown no sign of doing anything but going along with prevailing practice.


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Will Carbon Forestry Exclude People from Their Land? Some Cautionary Voices

Joint Forest Management and Community Forest Management are being used as tools to exclude the Adivasis from their survival sources, and are compelling them to slip into poverty and migrate in search of work. Instead of . . . recognising Adivasi rights to the forest, the government is seeking their eviction through all possible means.”

--Local activist

“Government figures show that there are about 5 crores (50 million) hectares of ‘waste land’ in India, land which . . . now lies open to exploitation through carbon forestry schemes. What the central government does not say is that most of this ‘waste land’ belongs to Adivasis and other forest dependent communities, who will be the first to lose out from the development of such schemes.”

--Madhya Pradesh activist

“If large protected areas or plantations are managed for long-term carbon sequestration and storage, local people may lose access to other products such as fibre or food. . . . governments and companies are best placed to benefit from such schemes. . . . the frequently weak organization (or high transaction costs of improving organization) of the rural poor and landless will reduce their access to the carbon offset market, particularly given the many complex requirements of carbon offset interventions. Other barriers to the involvement of rural people centre on their prevailing small-scale and complex land use practices, without clear tenure systems.”

--Stephen Bass (Rural Livelihoods and Carbon Management, IIED, London, 2000)


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From a forthcoming issue of Development Dialogue. For more information: larrylohmann@gn.apc.org.


by: ProfMKD @ 2:20 PM

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