Theater of Cruelty

Poor people have only nature

- The best environmental assistance is to give local people statutory control over the natural resources they live by, says the head of the Regnskogfondet, Lars Løvold.


Man-made environmental damage is increasing. The shedding of water, food, forest, fish and wildlife has fatal consequences for millions of people. According to the UN, this and extreme weather creates 8500 environmental refugees per day. In Storting Report 35, 2003-2004, the current government troika went to the brink for the environment to be a key element of Norwegian aid. This was also confirmed in the Soria Moria Declaration. But how do former opposition parties wake up in the baron's bed?

- How has the new government convinced so far?

- At a seminar on putting the environment first, on the challenges of Norwegian development assistance to achieve the UN's millennium goals to halve poverty, the recent Minister for Development Aid Erik Solheim spoke about the new development assistance policy. In general terms, he held the environmental flag high. But he did not mention the natural resources and the poor. Of the world's 1,2 million extremely poor, 70 percent depend on the natural resources to survive. The world will not be able to achieve the UN's Millennium Development Goals of halving the number of poor people without an environmental effort. Solheim talked a lot about how our valuable oil experiences could be exported to poor countries, so they could get more in return for their oil. There is a lot of good in that, for example for a country like Angola, but very few of Norway's development partners have oil. Solheim and representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs tended to say that since we are good at fish and oil, we should specialize in it.

- What's wrong with that?

- We will not primarily transfer our expertise to poor countries, but work with the people there for increased democracy and control over natural resources, and ensure the poor in rural areas real decision-making authority. Through 15-16 years of work, the Rainforest Fund has learned that the best environmental protection is to give the local population a statutory right to manage nature as they have always done. We have seen this clearly in Brazil, where we have worked the longest. Large areas of the Amazon have become Native American territory, and today they are the best-preserved areas in the earth's largest rainforest.

- What did Solheim say about the environment?

- Solheim was unclear on that point. Perhaps it was because the action plan for development assistance is still in its infancy. But we missed hearing that he wanted to secure the natural resources of the world's poorest. Large and powerful companies plunder the valuable timber of the rainforest. They remove the forest to plant pastures and plantations with soy or oil palms. Millions of people are losing their livelihoods.

- Did you confront Solheim with that?

- He had little time for questions, because he had to move on to the next meeting. But the tone seemed open, so we look forward to dialogue when the government's wheat bread days are over, Løvold smiles.

- Because it is a failure to sacrifice a river or a forest for jobs and short-term financial gain. The winnings end up in the pockets of outsiders. The poor end up with reduced access to food, water, building materials and medicinal plants.

- What is the reason for your continued trust in the government?

- Former Minister for Development Aid Hilde Frafjord Johnson downgraded the environment in the new development report. But with support from, among others, SV, the Labor Party and the Center Party, the environmental organizations gained an understanding that the environment is vital for the world's poorest. They only live on natural resources, they have no money. Following an order from the Storting, the environment was introduced as one of five main points in future development policy. It was also stated in the Soria Moria Declaration that Norway will become a leader in the environment in development assistance.

- Why did the Rainforest Fund send out a press release on 23 November stating that there was doubt about the government's willingness to enforce guidelines against the use of rainforest timber?

- The government has also said in the Soria Moria declaration that they will consider the possibility of a temporary import ban on rainforest timber. But the state-owned Entra Eiendom used African mahogany from Ghana when they modernized a building for the Borgarting Court of Appeal. It is pure rainforest timber, and there is no guarantee that it has been properly felled. This was an indisputable violation of the previous government's guidelines. The Liberal Party asked newly-appointed Minister of Trade and Industry Odd Eriksen about this, but Eriksen answered shamefully foggy. He could only refer to the previous government's ban on public buildings using rainforest timber that does not have documentation of being properly felled. He should have said that this must go away. Or that if it happens again, the builder must sting.

- How did the previous government enforce this?

- Former Minister of the Environment Børge Brende and the previous government were crystal clear on these guidelines. Former Minister of Modernization Morten Meyer removed Statsbygg's rainforest veneer at the National Museum at Tullinløkka. This was an important signal to all contractors in Norway. It was expensive, but the industry learns when it stings.

- Norway has actually come a long way in relation to most European countries when it comes to removing rainforest timber from the market. This is due to our timber campaigns. Most countries are aware that the rainforest is disappearing at an insane pace, and that we cannot live with it. Here, Norway can become a pioneering country.

- What concrete consequences does the felling of the rainforest have?

- It affects both locally and globally. The rainforest has the richest ecosystems on earth. More than half of all terrestrial plants, animals, insects and the like live on these six percent of the earth's area. Rainforest grazing destroys the planet's biological diversity and is one of today's biggest environmental problems, especially in poor countries.

For generations, hundreds of millions of people have lived in these rainforests. Their culture, society and daily bread are completely dependent on this natural basis. In countries like Ghana, there has been a lot of predation. Attempts at sound and sustainable logging have stalled on widespread corruption. This was the background of the Soria Moria declaration to investigate an import ban on rainforest timber, because the control of proper logging is torpedoed by corrupt forces. It obviously affects the locals in the rainforest countries.

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