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Copenhagen forest-saving plans to create 'carbon refugees'

Treehugger scheme may mean 'humanitarian crisis'

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Climate-change reduction measures to be debated at the imminent Copenhagen UN climate conference could cause a "humanitarian crisis" and create huge numbers of starving, homeless "carbon refugees" in poor nations, according to an Earth-sciences prof in Leeds.

The measures which concern Dr Simon Lewis - of the Earth and Biosphere Institute at Leeds uni - are known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), intended to preserve forests around the world.

"Without careful planning REDD stands to create large numbers of 'carbon refugees' as governments curb financially unrewarding deforesting activities such as those of small-scale agriculturalist and fuel-wood harvesters who mostly pay no taxes on the products they produce," says the doc.

"Forest dwellers could be excluded from their means of subsistence to preserve carbon."

According to Lewis, there are 350 million people living in or dependent on tropical forests worldwide. He argues that if the proposed REDD carbon credits are to be paid, at least 50 per cent of the money should go to the forest dwellers themselves and their property/land rights should be guaranteed.

Whether that's politically realistic in all the countries he's talking about remains to be seen.

Dr Lewis makes his arguments in an article, Carbon emissions: the poorest forest dwellers could suffer, published yesterday in the heavyweight boffinry mag Nature (subscription required). ®

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