The recently concluded Copenhagen climate summit was viewed by many participants as a failure for its inability to yield sizable reductions in carbon emissions. But for those concerned with the welfare of the world’s poor, particularly many of those living in tropical climates, the summit’s failure was in fact its greatest triumph. An effort by wealthy Western country activists to limit the economic growth potential of the developing world was roundly defeated.
The effort to cap poor country growth includes an initiative called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing countries (REDD). Crafted by the World Bank in conjunction with policymakers from several rich countries, REDD’s stated objective is to "avoid deforestation." But it is more accurate to say that it is an attack on palm oil producers and those who benefit from the industry’s jobs and products.
It is not surprising that some of the European and North American countries that are major manufacturers of competing vegetable oil are enthusiastic proponents of REDD. After all, Europe and North America long ago cleared away their forests to make room for industrial agriculture and manufacturing, including vegetable oil production. In so doing they paved the way for sustained economic growth for their people. Regulations such as REDD impose no direct cost burden on rich countries.
The demands imposed by REDD are unfair and unnecessary. They are unfair because they make it impossible to do what rich nations have done – harness domestic natural endowments in pursuit of economic growth.
They are unnecessary because they ignore the reality of natural resource harvesting in much of the developing world today. In Malaysia, for example, policymakers and industry teamed up to set aside half the country’s forest lands for protection. Fifty-five per cent of the country was pledged (at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and again at the Copenhagen meeting ) as permanent forest reserve. Adding plantation agricultural land, total forest coverage in Malaysia is greater than 70 per cent, more than any developed economy. In Malaysia, oil palm planting is only permitted in areas set aside for agricultural development and not on permanent forest reserve land.
We learned from other nations’ mistakes, and we are being careful stewards of our land. We do not need those countries that abused their own land endowments telling us how to manage our resources.
The world will never be able to meet its goal of sustainable development for all if it insists on binding the economic potential of the developing world.
Yet it seems the wealthy donors, the World Bank, the UK and the US had made up their mind even before they got to Copenhagen. They had already acted to limit aid to improve forest management only to developing countries which had committed to no longer convert any natural forest to activities critical to economic growth and to provide a sorely needed boost to agricultural productivity.
As predicted in my previous blog article, developing countries will not agree to any cheap tradeoff scheme to stop deforestation and development as proposed by the UK NGOs and their goverment. It was rightly so when the Chinese negotiators dismissed the UK proposal on behalf of the developing countries and went on to negotiate the accord with the USA. The economic power of the Chinese was truely displayed in the exclusive group undertaking the accord negotiation.
The week before Copenhagen, The Economist, ran a cover story “How to Feed the World.” It dramatically illustrated an emerging crisis because of neglect of the need to increase production of agriculture to meet global demands for food.
The next summit, in Mexico City, will present an opportunity to reverse these anti-development positions and chart a new way forward, one that embraces developing world economic growth and a healthy environment for all.