GFC stands with our LAC members and frontline communities – UN member states must immediately end the financing of false solutions
Photo credit: Annie Spratt
GFC regularly contributes to United Nations processes on issues like forests, biodiversity, climate change and gender in order to bring the priorities and perspectives of our member groups to international policy-making spaces. This month, the United Nations Environment Programme invited submissions for the First Regional Consultations on nature-based solutions (NbS) for the Latin America and the Caribbean. NbS has been used in very questionable ways to promote market-based approaches to the climate and biodiversity crises, such as carbon offsetting, approaches that use the same capitalist logic that caused the crises in the first place. Here is our submission to that consultation process.
Submission for the First Regional Consultations on nature-based solutions
Latin America and the Caribbean
Global Forest Coalition (GFC)
The Global Forest Coalition (GFC), an NGO of over 120 member organizations of Indigenous Peoples and local communities worldwide, would like to express our gratitude to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and co-chairs for the opportunity to make submissions during the First Regional Consultation on nature-based solutions (NbS).
GFC, along with our members, joins the member states and stakeholders expressing their concerns on the impacts of nature-based solutions (NbS) on Indigenous peoples, local communities, women in all their diversities, youth, and Afro-descendants. Resolution 5/5 recognizes “the need for analysis of the effects of nature-based solutions…, acknowledging that they do not replace the need for rapid, deep and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.” Despite this resolution, nature-based solutions continue to be a concept used to falsely brand highly contentious and even blatantly harmful practices as environmentally-friendly or “green.”
Our organization, and its Latin American and Caribbean members, stand with the communities that are at the frontlines and demand that UN member states immediately end the financing of false solutions and their support via multilateral, bilateral, and private donors. Financial flows must support genuine, gender-just, and rights-based solutions capable of tackling the root causes of the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and the depletion of water sources. They must end their support of practices that intensify the exclusion of indigenous populations, generate conflicts of interest, and aggravate the financialization of nature.
Policymakers and a few high-profile conservation NGOs have been trying to present planting trees such as eucalyptus, acacia, and pines as ‘forest restoration’. But monoculture plantations are not forests – plantations are much poorer at storing carbon than natural forests. The regular harvesting and clearing of plantations also releases stored CO2 back into the atmosphere.
In contrast, natural forests continue to sequester carbon for many decades. Monoculture plantations lock in community lands, destroy livelihoods, lower the water table, and harm biodiversity. Studies carried out in communities that have experienced tree plantation projects over the past decades have documented significant negative social, environmental, and economic impacts. Research also shows that these impacts tend to affect women more severely – one major reason for this is that land rights tend to shift from women to men when land becomes commercially attractive through, for instance, plantations and offset projects.
In Colombia, REDD+ is a highly controversial scheme that has facilitated dispossession, resource extraction, and the violation of fundamental rights. Censat Agua Viva’s case study, published in a GFC report, points out that questions have also been raised about the share of profits that go to communities on the ground. Another major concern around Colombia’s REDD+ initiatives is the lack of information available to the communities that are being adversely impacted by these projects, such as the Indigenous Peoples in the region.
Visits to territories where REDD+ projects are implemented in the country have revealed that even in regions with projects that lie within the framework of the regulated market, the funds do not reach the majority of community members – instead, they are handed to male leaders who use them solely for their personal benefit. It is also significant to note that REDD+ contracts are nearly impossible to access, even for local community members, worsening the lack of information about the projects. When some of these contracts are tracked down, we find that they have usually been signed by men, leaving aside the needs, participatory roles, and leadership of women, as well as the ways of life of the community.
The Selva de Matavén Unified Indigenous Reserve, the largest REDD+ project in Colombia covering over 1.5 million hectares, and many other similar environmentally questionable projects, are REDD+ carbon offset initiatives that permit and promote the continuation of climate change-inducing activities. Glencore’s open-pit coal mines in the Colombian Caribbean, the world’s largest of its kind, are another example of this. Glencore’s record of violence and human rights violations is well known, and the mines have devastated Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities in the department of La Guajira, who are now experiencing deadly water shortages, among other deprivations.
Glencore claims “carbon neutrality” through the purchase of carbon credits from REDD+, allowing it to expand its geographical borders and to continue contributing to the increase of emissions, as well as to the harmful socio-ecological effects at the local level. This particular case is illustrative of a trend of polluting companies across Colombia.
Another example of public money being used to de-risk private sector finance for plantations is the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the UN Climate Change Convention’s financing mechanism. This initiative has provided approximately $102 million to four projects in Paraguay to date, which includes signing a highly-controversial $25 million equity agreement with a Germany-based private equity investment firm in 2020, the Arbaro Fund, to support its plans to invest in 75,000 hectares of new tree plantations across seven target countries in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. The Arbaro Fund had already mobilized development finance from European Investment Bank and FinnFund (where Finnish State is a majority stakeholder).
In Brazil, Quilombola  women continue to resist eucalyptus plantations, while dealing with conflicts with Suzano, the world’s largest pulp producer. In Espíritu Santo, the company has several pulp factories and owns thousands of hectares of eucalyptus plantations and other plantation areas, where aggressive pesticides that have significant impacts on the environment and local communities are used. A case study by GFC member FASE shows that the company, which claims to be “carbon neutral” through its “credit generation projects,” has intimidated around 12,000 families that inhabited Sapê do Norte (a region comprising the municipalities of São Mateus and Conceição da Barra), and also deceived them with the promise of better living conditions. They have invaded the rich Atlantic Forest ecosystem and destroyed houses, farmlands, and forests in the process.
Black women have been the most impacted, in part because those who were expelled from their lands had to survive in the urban outskirts, often in deplorable living and working conditions. Those who managed to stay back had to endure the loss of biodiversity and forests, community school closings, the deterioration of health conditions including fibroid tumors due to the exposure to glyphosate, and impacts on their livelihoods and agroecology practices. Many of the supporters of nature-based solutions include industries, such as Suzano, which are responsible for much of the destruction of the ecological, political, and social terrain of the planet.
Latin America is a complex territory, historically impacted by extractivism and colonialism, which demands climate solutions that are not based on market-based schemes, but on mitigation mechanisms built by the communities, which include women as political subjects in resistance to any form of domination. False solutions must be discarded not only because they are linked to highly questionable “greenwashing” practices that induce the violation of land rights, self-determination, health, free, prior and informed consultation (FPIC), cultural traditions, and customs, among other rights, but also because they significantly undermine efforts to reach the 1.5ºC target.
Climate finance and fiscal policy must adopt non-market approaches, including under Article 6.8 of the Paris Agreement. Public money should be redirected to fund real solutions – ecosystem-based approaches, just transition, climate resilience of frontline communities, conservation, protection of land and forests, and reforestation – and provide direct funding access to Indigenous Peoples, women from frontlines communities, and local communities. Their land rights must be secured, as must their rights to resources, their territories, and their right to govern.
 Quilombolas are residents of quilombo settlements, communities with local governments that were first established by escaped slaves in Brazil fleeing from the cruelty of Portuguese colonization. In other countries of the Americas, they are known as palenques and cumbes.