As "the landowners of British Columbia," First Nations are entitled to profits from the potential sale of carbon credits, a First Nations Summit leader says.
"If there is going to be a recognition of carbon credits as a trading commodity, then we believe that those credits should belong to us, right?" Dave Porter told The Tyee. "Clear and simple."
The international drive to lower greenhouse gas emissions has created a multi-billion-dollar global market for carbon credits. Although carbon trading schemes are at a very early stage in Canada, the provincial government is looking at ways of selling credits.
For example, because forests absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, polluters might be able to offset their emissions by paying for reforestation in B.C.
It's not clear at this point, however, how such a system would work or who should get the cash.
Carbon credits: 'New money'
First Nations believe that "in many areas the carbon credits should be recognized as an extension of First Nations jurisdiction and land ownership," said Porter, one of three members of the First Nations Summit Task Group, the political executive of the First Nations Summit.
"If you ask the question, 'How does the carbon credit accrue? Who does it accrue to?' it accrues to the landowner, doesn't it?" said Porter. "And so we're the landowners.
"And so it would follow by extension of that ownership that if there's an economic benefit to be derived from the utilization of that land and its resources, then the resources should flow to us."
Porter said that the government has always argued against sharing existing revenues with First Nations because that would leave less money to pay for services such as schools and transit for non-aboriginal British Columbians.
Carbon credits, however, represent "new money," Porter said. "This is the new economy. These are dollars that could possibly flow from other parts of the globe into British Columbia."
Face to face with Premier Campbell
Porter told The Tyee that he set out this claim to carbon credit revenues at a recent meeting with Premier Gordon Campbell and the cabinet committee for climate action.
He said he also argued that First Nations must play a role in designing the carbon credit system.
"We're saying to the government . . . if they're going to set some sort of public exchange in place in which to sanction or regulate that kind of trading activity, we want to be involved in the design of that process.
"We don't want to find out that government has moved ahead and set something up that doesn't work and doesn't reflect our interests."
While there was some discussion of the First Nations' position among the politicians, Porter said, he is still waiting for a formal response from the premier.
He said he has tried to arrange a meeting with Environment Minister Barry Penner.
Emissions law: 'We want to be at the table'
Porter said he was surprised to learn that the government plans to introduce legislation in the next few weeks that will set targets for reducing emissions in B.C.
First Nations were not consulted on this legislation, he said.
"In keeping with the new relationship that the premier has endorsed and helped forge collectively with us, we have said very clearly we want to be at the table in every area of discussion," Porter said.
"If this is going to be a collaborative effort, then there has to be total sharing of information. We may have some good ideas about legislation, who knows? And they won't know that unless they ask us."
Natives will 'feel the brunt'
First Nations deserve to be consulted because they are experiencing the effects of climate change first hand, Porter said.
"We more than anybody in this province are going to feel the brunt of climate change. Because that's where we live. We live out on the oceans, we live out along the rivers and the lakes, and we populate northern British Columbia, rural British Columbia."
Everybody, including the government, is trying to figure out what a war against climate change will look like, Porter said.
"I think it's one of those situations where the premier made a very bold statement. You know, climate change -- we're going to take it on, we're going to lead the country.
"The question is, Now what do we do?"
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