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Inclusion of forestry in carbon markets will create massive “hot air” credit surplus, says renowned expert

Inclusion of forestry in carbon markets will create massive hot air credit surplus, says renowned expert

In a new paper published today, Alain Karsenty of CIRAD – the Paris-based International Centre for Cooperation on Agroforestry Research and Development – says that forestry credits could create a huge surplus of carbon allowances by allowing ‘non-additional’ credits into the market.

The paper, published in the current edition of the International Forestry Review says that it will be impossible in practice to determine whether carbon credits generated through ‘avoided deforestation’ programmes would have occurred anyway, or whether the effects of any given programme to halt deforestation might simply have displaced deforestation elsewhere. Karsenty concludes that there is a strong danger that carbon markets would be swamped by “hot air” credits generated by the forestry sector.

Karsenty is one of the leading international experts on forestry in the Congo Basin region, and his work has informed many of the programmes of agencies such as the World Bank, for whom he has often been employed as a consultant. As a proponent of industrial-scale timber extraction, his work has not always found favour with the environmental lobby.

However, green groups are likely to now agree with his analysis on the dangers of forest carbon trading. In his paper, Karsenty argues that, due to the huge number of uncertain variables in any given country that affect the rate of deforestation, it would be meaningless to try and assess whether any policies designed to reduce deforestation had been effective or not, and therefore whether they should be rewarded with ‘avoided deforestation credits’. Karsenty says that trying to establish the impact of REDD measures following the establishment of an agreed ‘baseline’ deforestation rate for any given country would

“essentially force experts to disentangle an embedded array of factors, isolating what can be the net impact of policies and measures effectively taken by the authorities to tackle deforestation (i.e. stringent law enforcement, removal of agricultural subsidies, etc.) and external factors such as (involuntary) changes in market prices for agricultural commodities, drought episodes causing forest fires (as well as abnormally high rainfalls).”

Karsenty’s paper once again serves to underline several of the key flaws in the arguments of proponents of forest carbon trading, and which have so far rightly convinced international climate negotiators that forests should be kept out of carbon markets. He concludes that,

“Markets instruments are very effective tools for achieving specific goals, such as improving efficiency of economic agents, but they will probably be unable to change the socio-political context underlying tropical deforestation.”

In keeping with the growing opinion of environmental organisations and decision-makers, such as the European Commission, Karsenty argues in favour of a public fund for REDD, saying that, “An international Fund aiming to support policies and measures needed to tackle deforestation and degradation would be a more appropriate tool”. In particular, Karsenty says,

“Structural measures targeting land tenure systems, agricultural organisation and practices, along with good governance, should be supported as providing long term collective benefits with respect to forest cover but also livelihoods, even though the short term impact on avoided deforestation might not be straightforward and easily quantified

.”

The paper ‘The architecture of proposed REDD schemes after Bali: facing critical choices’ is available here.

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