During COP27 in November 2022, it was announced by the President of the Gabonese Republic, Ali Bongo Ondimba, and the President of the French Republic, Emmanual Macron, that the One Forest Summit would take place in Gabon on March 1-2 this last week.
This is the sixth summit organised by One Planet Summit, a global annual event that was first launched in Paris in 2017, borne from a sense of urgency to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
Aiming to foster international cooperation through inter-professional coalitions, the summit works to develop innovative solutions to accelerate the speed at which the Paris Agreement goals can be met.
“Our duty is a duty to act … The environment needs to be put back at the heart of the economy.” – Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic
The event has had a successful annual run so far, accumulating 45 coalitions, with more than 140 countries directly involved, generating or strengthening environmentally-focused initiatives and campaigns.
Damage Control in Disguise
However, the summit has been accused of being over-ambitious, using virtue-signalling tactics to distract from its participants’ complicity in the same environmental destruction they profess to want to prevent.
LIVE from #OnePlanetSummit in Paris:
Bla bla nature
Bla bla important
Bla bla ambitious
Bla bla green investments
Bla bla great opportunity
Bla bla green growth
Bla bla net zero
Bla bla step up our game
Bla bla hope
Bla bla bla…*
*locking in decades of further destruction https://t.co/veGb4T7kmr
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) January 11, 2021
A prominent example of these tactics is the 30×30 pledge that represents global efforts to conserve 30% of nature by 2030.
This pledge is often a nucleus of discussion in these environmental summits – for example, it formed a crucial yet controversial part of the historic closing agreement from the UN’s biodiversity conference, COP15, late last year – yet has an insidious undercurrent. Not only is this target based on dubious scientific evidence, but it threatens the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
According to Survival International, 30×30 would constitute “the biggest land grab in history,” with as many as 300 million people being displaced, branding the pledge and the Global North’s preference for “nature-based solutions” as “the new green colonial rule.”
It is therefore of particular significance that this summit, co-organised by Macron, took place in Gabon which belongs to the Congo basin, known as the “the Lungs of Africa.”
#OneForestSummit, the new One Planet Summit to advance our collective ambition regarding the #preservation & #sustainable management of tropical #forests! See you in Libreville, Gabon, on 1-2 March 🌳 pic.twitter.com/xHeWxRmHrc
— One Planet Summit (@oneplanetsummit) February 21, 2023
A former colony of France, Gabon gained independence in 1960, but with a heavy post-colonial residue. This included an abundant deployment of French armed forces whose presence in Gabon helped maintain the now disparaged term “Françafrique,” securing continued French economic benefits from its former colony via political influence.
Leading up to this month’s summit and following, Macron sought to distance France from its post-colonial interference in Africa, using the summit (a part of his four-nation tour) as an opportunity to create a fresh dynamic. Committing to withdrawing French troops he assures: “The age of Francafrique is well over.”
But is it? Daniela Gabor compares Macron’s entourage accompanying him to Gabon to the Christian missionaries of the colonial period. However, this time they are armed not with a bible but with a “derisking-as-development paradigm” poised to furnish the coffers of the Global North under the guise of sustainable, equitable outcomes.
Gabon is correctly praised by the summit, being hailed as a “pioneer” in its voluntary commitment to practise sustainable economic models of forestry, as well as protecting its forests’ biodiversity. In discussions between ministers, business leaders and civil society leaders, this praise was carried through and applied to the forests’ potential benefit to the voluntary carbon market.
“The transformation of wood in-country I think is very important and something that also needs to be supported from outside of Gabon. But also [I think it is important that] the value of the standing forest in terms of biodiversity, in terms of the carbon of the forest actually is rewarded.” – Kim Carstensen, Executive Director of the General Forest Stewardship Council
This speaks positively to the financial concerns raised at COP15 in Montreal in December last year, when the Democratic Republic of the Congo raised a last minute objection to a biodiversity deal on account of the country’s economic restraints.
Congolese Minister of the Environment Eve Bazaïba criticised the economic inequity of the pressured dynamic between the Global North and South in environmental matters, saying: “We need oxygen, we also need bread.”
At the One Forest Summit, Gabon’s concerns surrounding economic sustainability were centred, with objectives focused on “concrete solutions” that will provide large forest countries to derive “economic benefits” from more sustainable policies.
However, these “solutions,” as above, are largely tied to the voluntary carbon market which may meet Gabon’s needs economically, but offer at best, stagnation and at worst, regression environmentally.
Related Articles: Indigenous Peoples: Defending an Environment for All | The Voluntary Carbon Market: Unregulated and Useless? | ‘Phantom’ Carbon Offsets Found to Have No Climate Benefit | Are Major Corporations Doing Enough To Tackle Their Carbon Footprint? | The Mass Extinction Crisis: Can the Private Sector Help Solve It?
A recent investigation found that more than 90% of rainforest carbon offsets by Verra, the leading certifier, were worthless, generating distrust in the voluntary carbon market as a viable source of sustainability.
Not only are these “phantom credits” harmful to the environment, but also to its Indigenous communities who are evicted from their native homes in the name of “sustainability.”
Overall, this market, so prominently showcased at the summit, fosters a greenwashing culture of disengagement from the environmental issues at stake, absolving the buyer of any responsibility for the harm they cause with their carbon footprint and once again, placing the sole responsibility of sustainability on the Global South.
Indigenous Erasure and Environmental Gatekeeping
Green colonialism also cast a shadow over Indigenous communities at the summit who were given insubstantial representation, with only lip service paid to the invaluable role of Indigenous communities in conservation.
Gideon Sanago, Climate Coordinator of the non-profit, PINGO’s Forum Tanzania, reported that Indigenous leaders present at the summit were snubbed from important events and discussions, stating:
“We are the custodians of the forest and biodiversity. We should be a part and parcel of the whole discussion around the forest.”
Second day of the #OneForestSummit. @EmmanuelMacron arrived today but the meetings he is attending are closed to NGOs. Indigenous are not represented at the summit, but as custodians of the forest, they should have had a central role at the talks. Action from Day 2👇 pic.twitter.com/Z1lasdRWqD
— Mighty Earth 🌍 (@StandMighty) March 2, 2023
With Indigenous expertise and authority in environmental sustainability severely undervalued and aggressively undermined on a global scale, the summit co-signed this atrocity by partaking in Indigenous washing.
Summits and meetings like these are crucial points of intersectional contact that ought not to be wasted on disingenuous self-flagellation and objectives founded on denial and deflection.
They should be opportunities for countries to gain insight into diverse, international perspectives, to self-reflect and develop a more open and responsive dialogue with an inclusive range of experts.
This may be facilitated by environmental summits adopting the One Health approach, integrating traditional and modern approaches to achieve a unified vision for the future of the environment. This way, one-dimensional objectives that lack consequential foresight (such as 30×30) may be avoided.
A common refrain uttered by the moderators throughout the live streams was “we are running out of time.” Yes, indeed we are – which is why summits such as One Planet need to rethink their approach in order to unlock their full potential.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Aerial view of forest. Featured Photo Credit: Pok Rie/Unsplash