Caught REDD+ handed in Paris

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

It’s been 30 years since the UN’s Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion launched the Trop­i­cal Forestry Ac­tion Plan, the first global in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal ini­tia­tive to halt for­est loss. Since then, de­for­esta­tion has con­tin­ued un­abated, and the lat­est in­ter­na­tional ef­fort to stop it – an ini­tia­tive known as Re­duc­ing Emis­sions from De­for­esta­tion and For­est Degra­da­tion (REDD+) – looks no more likely to be ef­fec­tive. Far from pro­tect­ing the world’s forests, the most no­table out­come of th­ese two agree­ments has been, iron­i­cally, the pro­duc­tion of reams of ex­pen­sive con­sul­tancy re­ports.

REDD+ was cre­ated as part of the UN Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change, and the agree­ment gov­ern­ing its im­ple­men­ta­tion is ex­pected to be fi­nalised dur­ing the UN Con­fer­ence on Cli­mate Change in Paris. But if world lead­ers are se­ri­ous about halt­ing for­est loss, they should in­stead aban­don REDD+ and re­place it with a mech­a­nism that ad­dresses the un­der­ly­ing driv­ers of largescale de­for­esta­tion. The flaws in REDD+ are ev­i­dent in how it ap­proaches the prob­lem it is meant to solve. The ma­jor­ity of its projects treat for­est peo­ples and peas­ant farm­ers as the main agents of de­for­esta­tion. REDD project de­vel­op­ers seem to be es­pe­cially fond of projects that fo­cus on re­strict­ing tra­di­tional farming, even as they shy away from ef­forts to tackle the true causes of de­for­esta­tion: the ex­pan­sion of in­dus­trial agri­cul­ture, mas­sive in­fra­struc­ture projects, largescale log­ging, and out-of-con­trol consumption.

Th­ese short­com­ings are ex­em­pli­fied in the So­cio Bosque Pro­gramme, a REDD+ ini­tia­tive in Ecuador, in which ef­forts to con­trol for­est com­mu­ni­ties and peas­ant farming over­look the far larger po­ten­tial dam­age caused by in­dus­trial ac­tiv­ity. Un­der the pro­gramme, for­est-de­pen­dent com­mu­ni­ties sign five-year agree­ments with the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment, agree­ing to re­strict for­est use in re­turn for small cash pay­ments. At the same time, the pro­gramme’s doc­u­men­ta­tion ex­plic­itly nul­li­fies the agree­ment if the area un­der its ju­ris­dic­tion be­comes slated for oil ex­ploita­tion or min­ing. To­day, peas­ant farm­ers are be­ing barred from forests as part of the fight against cli­mate change; tomorrow, the same forests could be up­rooted in or­der to al­low com­pa­nies to ex­tract the fos­sil fu­els that are the un­der­ly­ing cause of the prob­lem. There is a dis­turb­ing ra­tio­nale for this my­opic fo­cus on peas­ants and for­est peo­ple and for the promi­nence of this ap­proach on the agen­das of in­ter­na­tional agen­cies and cli­mate ne­go­tia­tors. REDD+, it turns out, has less to do with stop­ping for­est loss than with al­low­ing in­dus­tri­alised coun­tries to con­tinue to pol­lute.

The ap­proach un­der­ly­ing the ini­tia­tive is part of a broader ef­fort to cre­ate a mar­ket for emis­sion cred­its, which would al­low pol­luters to con­tinue re­leas­ing green­house gases if they can pro­duce a cer­tifi­cate attest­ing that they have con­trib­uted to­ward pre­vent­ing a sim­i­lar amount of emis­sions else­where. The forests be­ing pro­tected by REDD+ are im­por­tant pro­duc­ers of th­ese trad­able cer­tifi­cates to pol­lute, known as car­bon cred­its. And REDD im­ple­men­ta­tion through ex­per­i­men­tal projects pro­vides ad­vo­cates of this ap­proach a solid foun­da­tion on which to ad­vance their agenda.

For in­dus­tri­alised coun­tries, car­bon cred­its have proved to be an easy way to meet their in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ments un­der agree­ments like the Ky­oto Pro­to­col. If REDD cred­its are ap­proved in Paris, coun­tries and com­pa­nies could pay peas­ant farm­ers in Ecuador or else­where to pro­tect trees that pro­grammes like REDD+ claim they oth­er­wise would have chopped down – thereby avoid­ing the need to make dif­fi­cult struc­tural changes to cut emis­sions at home. Un­der the rules gov­ern­ing th­ese trans­ac­tions, the fact that no emis­sions were ac­tu­ally cut does not mat­ter; what is im­por­tant is that the trad­able per­mis­sion to pol­lute has been ob­tained.

Un­for­tu­nately, few of those meet­ing in Paris have in­cen­tives to ques­tion this ap­proach. For gov­ern­ments, pro­grammes like REDD+ of­fer an op­por­tu­nity to avoid po­lit­i­cally costly changes. And for in­ter­na­tional con­ser­va­tion groups like The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy, Con­ser­va­tion In­ter­na­tional, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety, the pro­gramme pro­vides ac­cess to in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment and phil­an­thropic fund­ing.

The big­gest ben­e­fi­cia­ries, of course, are the cor­po­ra­tions whose hunger for land is driv­ing most of the large-scale de­for­esta­tion. In ad­di­tion to al­low­ing them to con­tinue cut­ting down trees as long as they can pro­duce the nec­es­sary car­bon cred­its, REDD+ ef­fec­tively shifts the blame for for­est loss away from their ac­tions and onto com­mu­ni­ties that have the great­est stake in forests’ long-term health. If the cli­mate ne­go­tia­tors meet­ing in Paris are truly in­ter­ested in halt­ing for­est loss and bring­ing cli­mate change un­der con­trol, they should pull the plug on REDD+ and ad­dress the un­der­ly­ing causes of th­ese prob­lems. Rather than at­tempt­ing to con­trol the lives and ac­tions of for­est peo­ples and peas­ant farm­ers, the ef­fort in Paris should fo­cus on end­ing large-scale de­for­esta­tion and leav­ing fos­sil fu­els in the ground.

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