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TUESDAY, JUNE 09, 2009

Forest Hit Job

Check out this fascinating post about organized crime, carbon offsets and smuggling illegally cut forest from Earth Island Journal's EnvironmentaList. Call it a case of fact following fiction. Moviegoers may remember that the plot of the latest James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, pivoted on a scheme by a global crime cartel to use a fake eco-organization as a front for buying up the world’s precious resources and then re-selling them at exorbitant prices. Just a case of Hollywood storytelling, you say? Well, in a similar real life case, Reuters reports that officials at Interpol, the world’s largest international police agency, are warning that organized crime syndicates may be eyeing carbon offsets as a way to commit fraud and smuggle illegally cut forest products. Government negotiators seeking to create an international agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol have proposed a plan known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). Each year, about 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by deforestation — an amount roughly equivalent to the emissions of the US or China. Preserving forest ecosystems will help absorb all the carbon emitted by industry. Under REDD, heavily forested countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, or Congo could place a monetary value on the amount of carbon they save by not cutting down their trees. They could sell those carbon credits to big polluters looking to offset their emissions. Environmental organizations have cautioned that turning trees into carbon credits won’t really reduce industrial emissions, and that it could hinder the overall effort to address climate change by devaluing the cost of polluting. “You’d have rich countries basically paying the poorer countries in the world to reduce emissions for them,” Greenpeace climate campaigner Paul Wynn told AFP recently. Friends of the Earth warns in a recent report that “the simple fact that forests are becoming an increasingly valuable commodity means that they are more likely to be wrested away from local people.” Wrested away, for example, by Mafioso strongmen. Peter Younger, an environmental crimes specialist at Interpol, says that with any valuable commodity, there comes a chance for fraud. “If you are going to trade any commodity on the open market, you are creating a profit and loss situation,” Younger told Reuters. “There will be fraudulent trading of carbon credits.” Younger says that the fraud could consist of claiming credits for forests that do not exist or were taken in land grabs. “Absolutely, organized crime we will involved,” he says. “It starts with bribery or intimidation of officials that can impede your business. If there are Indigenous people involved, there’s threats and violence against those people. There’s forged documents.” According to Interpol’s Younger, organized crime groups are already using the networks they set up for smuggling children, women, drugs, and firearms for the illegal trade of forest products and wildlife. There is also evidence that revenue from wood smuggling has funded armed conflicts. Dealing with the situation will take more than your typical public interest group lobbying, letter-writing, and protest tactics. “You say you want to strike up partnerships to address illegal logging — who with?” Young wonders. “Consider law enforcement efforts and not just relying on NGOs and other nice people to do it for you.”

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