At the October 20-22, 2008 meeting of the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) in Washington DC, the facility’s board approved funding for an additional ten countries to develop plans for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD).
This newest round of approvals, which included Cameroon and the Republic of Congo among others from Africa, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region, brings the total number of countries that have access to the Bank’s fund to 25 – ten of them in Africa. But while the governments of forested countries scramble to get at this fresh pot of REDD funds, many outstanding questions remain about who decides who gets the money, how the decisions are made, what the funds will pay for, and who stands to gain.
Few object to the notion of public funding for “REDD-readiness” activities; indeed, most agree that focusing on improving forest governance, strengthening the land tenure regimes, legal, technical and regulatory frameworks that need to be in place in order for lasting forest protection to be possible, is precisely what must be done first, before any financial mechanism for REDD can operate effectively. However, many are concerned about the World Bank’s control of the FCPF, given the institution’s poor track record in the forest sector, its catalytic role in the expansion of the carbon market, and the extent to which the fund is dominated by narrow government, logging industry and conservationist interests.
What is the FCPF?
The World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) is a two-tiered fund, comprised of a “Readiness Mechanism”, which provides eligible governments with public grants to support policy and institutional reforms aimed at preparing the country to implement REDD, and a “Carbon Finance Fund”, which will link “REDDy” countries with payments for the purchase of their avoided greenhouse gas emissions. Formally launched in Bali last year at the 13th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the FCPF aims to kick-start countries’ efforts to “combat tropical deforestation and climate change” by helping them to acquire the technical, regulatory and policy tools necessary to keep forests standing and to document and eventually sell the emissions savings from doing so.
The FCPF’s orientation toward the carbon market leaves little doubt about the fund’s origins; despite being about forest protection, the FCPF is clearly a product of the Bank’s carbon finance unit, not its forestry or environment departments.
Even before its formal launch, the FCPF came under criticism from civil society organizations concerned about its design and objectives, as well as the lack of transparency or accountability in operation and governance structures. Many of the concerns raised by NGOs and indigenous peoples last year have been borne out in recent months. In particular, the lack of transparency and limited participation of forest-dependent communities, either in the preparation of countries’ applications for funds or in their review and approval, has meant that outsiders have heavily influenced country proposals, and that local communities’ rights and interests have been prejudiced.
Since it began operating in June of this year, the facility has attracted applications from more than 40 countries, although it originally set out only to accommodate 20. However, on the basis of new financial commitments from several donor countries at the October meeting, the size of the FCPF “Readiness Mechanism” was increased from $100m to $150m. Japan doubled its contribution from $5m to $10m, Norway increased its participation by an additional $1 million, and Switzerland committed approximately $800,000. It is not yet known who will cover the remainder of the Fund’s projected $50m growth. The expanded Readiness Mechanism will enable the FCPF to accommodate 30 participant countries, and will increase the average size of the so-called “readiness grant” from $2m to $3.6m.
Another key decision taken at the October meeting in Washington was the creation of a $1m “Capacity Building Program” for forest-dependent indigenous peoples and other forest dwellers. The ‘small grants’ program, which will provide up to $200,000 each year for five years, is supposed to support indigenous peoples’ engagement in the facility. While the dedicated support for indigenous peoples’ participation in the readiness process is welcome, it is not known precisely how the money will be distributed or whether it guarantees that indigenous peoples will have any greater decision-making role in the operations and oversight of the facility.
Empty evaluation: What good are criteria if they are not applied?
In order to access funds from the FCPF, a government must submit a concept paper, called a Readiness Plan Idea Note (R-PIN) outlining how it views the challenges of deforestation and degradation in the country and how it intends to go about addressing them. Although these documents are only initial overviews of governments’ perceptions of the drivers of deforestation and degradation and principal elements of any approach to addressing it, they may strongly influence the orientation of future REDD plans and offer a glimpse into whose interests are served.
In a welcome move, the Bank has subjected each of the R-PINs to an external expert review. But despite receiving on average low marks and critical (in some cases damning) comments from the external reviewers , several countries’ R-PIN proposals to the FCPF were nevertheless approved. Of particular concern is the fact that these countries have been given the green light to proceed with the development of a strategy to avoid or reduce deforestation and degradation despite the lack of consultation with local peoples or, in the most extreme cases, even with the relevant government authorities.
Perhaps the starkest example of this disregard for the quality of the government plans is the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). With regard to consultation and ownership of the R-PIN, the external review notes that: “Apparently no consultations were carried out with other stakeholders of the civil society and the private sector. If so, ownership of the R-PIN is probably low,” and that, “The proposal does not answer the question on whether participatory stakeholder consultation processes were employed in the design of the current strategy to address deforestation and forest degradation, and if so what kind.”
While REDD “raises major issues about land ownership, resource use rights, rights to revenues from them, and taxation thereof,” reviewers noted that “such cross-sectoral issues are not mentioned” in the R-PIN. Furthermore, “The text does not contain a discussion of the main issues related to forest law enforcement and governance.” With regard to indigenous peoples, of whom there are some 300,000 living in Congo’s forests, the DRC R-PIN provides “no data”, nor does it discuss their role in REDD processes. Furthermore, “no answers are given to questions about the monitoring of benefits from REDD implementation to biodiversity conservation or to rural livelihoods.”
Despite these serious shortcomings, the R-PIN for DR Congo has nevertheless been approved.
And the author is?
Several of the R-PINs submitted by developing governments were heavily influenced, if not directly written, by conservation NGOs, like WWF, avidly pro-carbon market groups like Woods Hole Research Center, and consultants like Foret Ressources Management (FRM), whose principal clients include the industrial logging companies Groupe Rougier, Danzer and SODEFOR, among others. For example, in the annex to the R-PIN for the DRC, author FRM left no doubt about its designs on future REDD contracts. As the external review of DR Congo’s R-PIN explained, “Annex 1 on the monitoring of carbon stocks is a detailed methodological overview of what needs to be done in the field to estimate standing stocks of carbon, using well-tried forest measurement techniques…The Annex makes it clear that the firm that wrote it, FRM, wishes to be involved in the next steps.”
Observers at the recent FCPF meeting in Washington noted that regional alliances and colonialist interests remain strong. The French government was pushing for African countries to be approved – little wonder, when French consultancies like FRM have written the African countries’ R-PINs and when French logging companies, with the support of consultants like FRM, may well cash in on REDD-payments under schemes that recognize “sustainable forest management” as carbon conservation.
In the case of the DRC R-PIN, there appeared to be little effort made to mask the lack of country ownership. The first line of the external reviewers’ assessment of the R-PIN stated that: “The proposal has a strong sense of having been the work of outsiders, rather than properly owned by its stakeholders.” As one reviewer noted: “It is this reviewer’s opinion that an urgent issue is [for the government of the DRC] to take real control of the process and the thinking behind it. This R-PIN submission shares 87 identical paragraphs with that of another central African country reviewed by this reviewer. Another 47 paragraphs are specific to DRC.”
Joelle Chassard, Head of the World Bank’s Carbon Finance Unit, said at the recent Rights and REDD conference in Norway that the FCPF process would be “country-driven”. However, the Bank’s consultation with indigenous peoples has revealed widespread concern about the Bank’s plans.
Two Central African countries left the October meeting in Washington empty-handed after their applications for support to get “ready” for REDD were rejected. The committee in charge of approvals for the fund deemed the R-PINs of both the Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea too weak to support. According to one source who was at the meetings, a representative of the French development agency, AFD, reportedly remarked upon hearing the news of Equatorial Guinea’s rejection: “We screwed up on the E.G. R-PIN — we should have written that one better,” laying bare their heavy hand in the proposal’s authorship.
So much for ‘country ownership’. . . .
Insufficient participation by indigenous peoples and other civil society organizations
Whilst northern conservation groups, consultancies and ‘aid’ agencies are closely involved in the preparation of the plans for the FCPF, there has virtually no participation by forest peoples. Although there is one indigenous representative on the decision-making body of the facility, the Participants’ Committee – a seat gained only after vocal civil society protest in the fall of last year – this individual has no voting power. Similarly, the single NGO observer seat on the Committee has to date been occupied by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), although it was not chosen to do so through any open, formal civil society selection process. WWF’s role has come under question for a variety of reasons, not least of which is concern about its lack of independence after WWF staff served on the delegations of at least one Central African country in recent UNFCCC negotiations and played a central role in drafting several of the R-PINs under review by the FCPF.
Although the weaknesses of other R-PINs may not be as glaring as those of DRC, there are systematic concerns about who is driving the “readiness” planning processes and what influence local populations have. For example, the external reviewers of the Guyana R-PIN remarked: “The consultation process doesn’t include indigenous peoples and they own the forested areas in Guyana,” and in the case of Gabon, they noted that the weakest part of the proposal was its almost singular focus on programs led by international conservation NGOs, such as Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), to the neglect of developing national plans for addressing social issues related to rural livelihoods.
The principal authors of Gabon’s R-PIN are from SYLVAFRICA (a timber industry consulting firm), and the individuals and institutions listed as having been consulted on the development of the document include WWF, African Wildlife Foundation, WCS, and the French Embassy. There is no mention of any local civil society organizations.
As troubling as the poor quality of the R-PINs may be, the FCPF’s seeming disregard for criteria on public consultation and attention to issues of forest governance will be of far greater concern when it comes to the approval of participant countries’ actual plans to implement REDD mechanisms (R-PLANs).
Transparency, or ‘smoke and mirrors’?
The FCPF’s failure to make even the most basic documents publicly available before decisions are taken severely curtails any meaningful civil society involvement or influence in the process. Draft R-PINs are not disclosed before they are reviewed by the FCPF Participant Committee, and even those that were approved in October have not been publicly posted on the website (as of November 8, 2008). This is all beginning to indicate that the early and widespread fears about World Bank involvement in REDD funding were well justified.
If the World Bank and FCPF donors are serious about engaging civil society organizations and indigenous peoples in the development of strategies to combat tropical deforestation and climate change, then they should start by making the process transparent. Until then, the FCPF is likely to remain a vehicle by which consulting firms like FRM get “ready” to cash in on forest-climate contracts. And whilst the Bank is surely helping to open up the prospect of forest carbon trading, whether any of this will ever do anything to protect the world’s forests or help mitigate climate change, is anybody’s guess . . .
For more information on the FCPF, see here.
World Bank’s press release on the October 2008 FCPF meeting, here.
NGO observer statement from the October 20, 2008 open session of the FCPF meeting
NGO observer report from October 21-22, 2008 meeting of the FCPF Participants Committee.