YouTube video

California has endorsed the Tropical Forest Standard, a global plan linking forest preservation to carbon offset credits. It is opposed by environmental justice groups and Indigenous people.

Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR: Welcome to The  Real News. I’m Jaisal Noor.

A global climate deal took a major step forward last week, but it didn’t happen at the UN. The California Air Resources Board voted seven to four on a plan to extend the state’s cap and trade program to the world’s forest. Called the Tropical Forest Standard, the plan purports to be a market-based solution to help deforestation, particularly in the Amazon region. The measure was backed by corporate-funded green groups and even some leaders of Indigenous tribes in Brazil and beyond.

But is this just a form of carbon colonialism? Environmental justice advocates say these offsets won’t lower greenhouse gas emissions and could even lead to human rights abuses. They also questioned how California will oversee a plan that extends across the globe.

Joining us to discuss this is The Real News Climate Crisis Bureau reporter Steve Horn. His recent piece is titled As Indigenous People Protest, California Approves Global Cap and Trade Plan. Thanks for joining us, Steve.

STEVE HORN: Good to be here. Thanks for having me.

JAISAL NOOR: So Steve, we sent you to cover this conference, this major event that happened. It’s sort of happening while on the other spectrum, the UN–where the U.S. wasn’t very involved in it; Trump made a surprise visit. But here, the U.S. sort of… At least the state of California is sort of taking a leading role in this. Explain exactly what the Tropical Forest Standard is and what role California would play in it.

STEVE HORN: Yes. The Tropical Forest Standard is basically a decade in the making, and it originated under the Schwarzenegger administration. It was then called the REDD Offset Working Group. And it was underneath the banner of the Governor’s Climate and Forest Task Force, which is 38 different sub-national governments, which is kind of why it’s not part of the UN process and its own process. Because it’s not national, it’s state level like California.

In the United States, there’s two members: California and Illinois. And then throughout the world it’s mostly in South America and the Amazon region and also in Southeast Asia and Indonesia; some places in Africa, I believe. And basically this was… I would kind of call it a form of California exceptionalism, which it often plays on climate change. And I don’t mean that in a good way. I mean that in California often points to itself as this “global leader” on climate change, so we should claim the mantle of everything that is good and virtuous on climate change and it should push forward solutions like these.

So for example, California was the first state to adopt a statewide cap and trade initiative. What this program is it extends that policy into the global arena, basically, as it pertains to forest. The way I described it in the article is that it essentially uses forests–or tropical forests–as collateral to kind of put down investment. Preserve those forests and then you offset that with pollution in other areas. So California is one of the biggest oil drilling states in the country, for example. And you can, through this kind of program, potentially offset the emissions from that oil drilling through this new global offset scheme.

By the way, I should explain. What the Air Resources Board did is not exactly the law of the land yet. It’s an endorsement of the general procedure. And so, it basically says that if another country enters into it–or a sub-national government–California endorses that particular scheme, or maybe California will enter into some sort of agreement. So it was the key first step.

JAISAL NOOR: So Steve actually was in Cancun for the UN summit there in 2010 when this REDD protocol was adopted. And REDD stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. And even then, there was Indigenous communities, frontline communities opposing REDD, saying it puts their communities at risk and it’s not a real sustainable solution to the issue of climate change. So I wanted to ask you: This plan didn’t even pass the last time it was heard on the Air Resources Board. What’s different this time?

STEVE HORN: So in the past year it’s not super clear what changed within the plan, at least to me and to the many of the critics of the plan. And this was actually critiqued by one of the Air Resources Board members, Diane Takvorian, who’s a leader of an environmental justice group here in San Diego and also an Air Resources Board member.

DIANE TAKVORIAN: We are all sharing the same goal of preserving the tropical forest. But I have to say that this version of the Tropical Forest Standard, in my view, has virtually no significant revisions and I’m deeply disappointed about that. To the standard from the fundamental framework that you presented in November, it was the clear sentiment of members of this board that a different, more expansive approach be taken. And in my view, that didn’t happen.

STEVE HORN: So basically what she was alluding to was the fact that over the past year there was a “stakeholder process” that was created in the aftermath of that hearing last year which drew a lot of opposition that kind of came in the last month, basically the last couple of months of the Brown administration. And the person who was then in charge of the Joint Committee on Climate Change Policies–which is an assembly and a Senate committee that was created to oversee the state’s cap and trade program–assemblyman Eduardo Garcia is his name.

He was tasked with overseeing the stakeholder committee at the meeting this past week. He said that particular committee met three times. One time, he met with opponents, one time he met with proponents, and one time he sat them all in the same room. And basically it is that stakeholder process that the state is citing, these three meetings that they say informed this next iteration of the process. It’s not super clear what substantive things came from that. I think it’s more of a box that they check, the thing that they said that they did to alleviate some of the concerns. Although all of the same exact concerns that were raised the first time were raised the second time. So to me it still remains unclear what substantively changed from 2018 to 2019 on the Tropical Forest Standard.

JAISAL NOOR: And can you talk a little more about how this vote played out and a little bit more about what kind of explanations the members made when they voted? And then, what has the governor said about this plan?

STEVE HORN: Yeah. Well, I think that actually being in the room was a pretty fascinating experience. You know, one side of the room the opponents were wearing red shirts that were against the deal. The side that the favored the Tropical Forest Standard, which is mostly led by groups like Environmental Defense Fund and other large–as you said–corporate funded environmental organizations, they’re wearing green shirts.

And yeah. It was to me, I think,  one of the most fascinating elements of it. And actually I think a little bit troubling is that the Air Resources Board seem to have kind of stacked the meetings so that all of the anti-comments came first, or that the ones that were opposed to Tropical Forest Standard and then literally maybe the last three hours of the meeting just featured pro-Tropical Forest Standard comment after pro-Tropical Forest Standard comment, kind of as if it was like a fireworks show and that was the grand finale. And the Air Resources Board kind of had its mind–the members had their minds made up of how they going to vote already. And that was kind of made clear to me, just to go back to like this whole process.

At the very beginning of the meeting, Mary Nichols, who’s the chairwoman of the Air Resources Board, she kind of made a comment like, “Oh well, you know, we’ve kind of heard all these arguments. We already know what everyone’s going to say. And so that’s why we’re going to cut off the speaker list within the next 10 minutes. You can add your name to it after that.” And she was just kind of very dismissive throughout the meeting of a lot of these concerns. There was a lot of anger about that on the side of people who were opposed to Tropical Forest Standard.

JAISAL NOOR: Finally, what does this signal about how the governor and the state of California will handle climate policy in the state going forward? What do you think is the story?

STEVE HORN: Well to me, this signals that there is no end in sight to the state’s cap and trade program, which was extended in 2017 by Eduardo Garcia through a bill that he authored. Which again points to the fact that’s kind of troubling, that he was the liaison on all this. He actually supports cap and trade, so he was not at all a neutral arbiter in overseeing this process. But yeah. So that that bill extended to 2030.

To me, this shows obviously the Air Resources Board is within the California EPA, and that’s the Newsom administration’s purview. This shows that cap and trade will be the policy of the state going forward despite the fact that that’s not a policy that environmental justice advocates support. And it shows that he feels so strongly in this particular program that he thinks that it should extend beyond California’s borders across the globe.

JAISAL NOOR: All right. Steve Horn, thank you so much for being there and reporting on this firsthand and then also sharing your experiences. Your recent piece is titled As Indigenous Peoples Protest, California Approves Global Cap and Trade Plan. Thank you so much for joining us.

STEVE HORN: Good to be here. Thanks for having me.

JAISAL NOOR: And thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Steve Horn is a San Diego-based climate reporter and producer. He was also a reporter on a part-time basis for The Coast News—covering Escondido, San Marcos, and the San Diego North County region—from mid-2018 until early 2020.

Also a freelance investigative reporter, his work has appeared in The Guardian, Al Jazeera America, The Intercept, Vice News, Wisconsin Watch, and other publications. He worked from 2011-2018 for the climate news website, a publication which investigates climate change disinformation and the fossil fuel industry influence campaigns.

His stories and research have received citation in a U.S. Senate report and mention in outlets such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, Bloomberg Businessweek, Mexico’s La Jornada, and The Colbert Report.

In his free time, Steve is a competitive distance runner, with a personal best time in the marathon of 2:43:04 and a 4:43 mile. He also has served on the film screening committee for the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis and serves on the screening committee for the San Diego International Film Festival.