Seeing Through the Haze:How NGOs Work the Forests
As they do every year, Greenpeace and nongovernmental organizations like “Eyes on the Forest,” which is supported by the WWF and other western environmental groups, have squarely blamed the plantation industry for the seasonal fires in Sumatra.
This generates sympathy for the anti-forestry campaign NGOs have been waging in Indonesia for many years, which pits economic development against the environment.
But this perspective is simplistic and wrong.
Simplistic, because the causes of fire and haze are complex, involving numerous factors — as clearly stated by the region-wide inquiry into the 1997 fires undertaken by Asean and the Asian Development Bank.
Wrong, because NGOs have implied that Indonesia’s largest forestry companies are poorer managers of the environment than other forest users.
The Asean inquiry stated clearly that one of the chief causes of the fires was economic: impoverished forest communities using traditional techniques — like fire — to clear land or mark territory.
Since then, Indonesia’s larger forestry operators have instituted no-burn policies. We can safely assume that illegal loggers and forest communities have not.
The NGO perspective ignores the key question: why do poor communities clear land? It is because they are poor. Good environmental management requires money; the volumes of environmental aid flowing into developing countries are a clear indication of this.
The solution, then, would be to focus on economic growth for the forest and agricultural sectors, leading to better management and less haze, right?
Wrong, according to NGO thinking. The proposals being floated by WWF and Greenpeace at the climate talks in Germany this week would hinder economic growth in Indonesia and the developing world, as new research by World Growth shows.
In Bonn, Greenpeace and WWF launched the “NGO Climate Change Treaty.” Not unexpectedly, it proposed that all countries should adopt binding commitments to reduce emissions. The strategy to achieve that was more revealing.
Their plan is to have developed countries auction emission permits to the tune of $160 billion. This would be given to a UN committee which would disburse it to developing countries annually for five years .
Roughly $40 billion would go to developing countries which agreed to stop converting forest land for other uses, like food production and commercial crops.
But no money would be given to developing countries unless the UN Committee, which should include NGOs, according to Greenpeace and WWF, approved their reduction plans.
This is plainly ridiculous. How many developing countries would willingly agree to limit successful business sectors which produce jobs, taxes, prosperity and food security, and instead increase dependence on environmental aid grants, turning their workers into welfare dependents funded by the industrialized world?
The anti-private sector anti-business bias is palpable in the writings and policies of western environmental groups. In industrialized economies businesses are simply targets. Consider the campaigns against McDonald’s, ExxonMobil, Shell, Citibank and Kimberley Clark, to name a few.
There is patent cynicism among NGOs about which companies are tackled. WWF made clear a few years ago that big corporations were targets. And it can play rough. Indonesia’s Asian Pulp and Paper has been a target ever since the WWF decided unilaterally to abrogate an agreement to cooperate. It pressured the Forest Stewardship Council to deny the company certification of sources of timber despite independent certification that the company complied.
While companies like APP are just seen by the NGOs as vehicles to advance their environmental goals, (in WWF’s case, it is to stop the conversion of forest land to important, productive purposes) they are much more important to developing countries.
These companies are the leading agents in the private sector for economic development. They hire large numbers of workers and generate markets for small business.
If the global treaty that WWF and Greenpeace are promoting becomes a reality, the result in developing countries would be increased poverty, as well as a worse environment. An obvious lesson in recent years is that countries cannot protect their environments unless they have the wealth to do so.
Alan Oxley is the chairman of the US-based World Growth, a nonprofit NGO. The research referred to is “Forestry and the Poor: How Forestry Can Reduce Poverty,” which is available at www.worldgrowth.org.
Issued by: Jakarta Globe
Author: Alan Oxley
Issue date: August 14, 2009
Link to Article: Origin of text