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REDD is an “anti-solution” says Rising Tide North America

Rising Tide North America‘s new report, “Hoodwinked in the Hothouse”, provides a survey of bogus climate change solutions.

The report covers a wide range of false solutions including “Clean Coal”, nuclear power, agrofuels, geoengineering and carbon offsets. There is also a section titled: “Seeing REDD: The World Bank’s Anti-Solutions”, written by AlterEco, Transnational Institute and Rising Tide North America. Focussing on the World Bank, the report notes that “The Bank’s record of failed forest conservation projects is worse than its efforts at green development.” It also concisely sums up the problem with carbon credits as a way of paying for forest conservation: “the more trees a country or company saves or pays to save, the more it earns the right to pollute.”

The full report can be downloaded here (pdf file 2.9 MB) and the section on REDD is extracted below.

Seeing REDD: The World Bank’s anti-solutions

By AlterEco, the Transnational Institute, and Rising Tide North America

Tragically, the World Bank is a central agent for delivering “green” development within the UN’s climate treaties. The Bank, a powerful and deeply undemocratic international institution, has a long and controversial history of assisting large corporations in “developing” poor countries.

The Bank manages the massive Prototype Carbon Fund (PCF), a corporate and government investment pool that claims to “pioneer the market for project-based greenhouse gas emission reductions while promoting sustainable development,” making the Bank a kingmaker within the offset market.

Despite the stated goal of the PCF, less than a quarter of its offset projects are linked to development and a mere 6% of funds are set aside to promote sustainable development. More than 80% of the funds released have gone to heavily polluting industries in the oil, gas, cement, iron and steel production and industrial gases sectors. Communities living in the wake of these projects have been devastated by their environmental and health impacts.

Will the UN help us?

Activists from Climate Justice Now! described the atmosphere during the 2008 UN climate meetings in Poland: “Private investors are circling like vultures, swooping in on every opportunity for creating new profits. Business and corporate lobbyists expanded their influence and monopolized conference space at Poznan. At least 1,500 industry lobbyists were present either as observers or as members of government delegations.”

The UN process on climate has been blighted and continually sidetracked by an all-encompassing focus on the inner working of carbon markets. This approach was introduced when the United States, under Al Gore’s tenure as lead negotiator, stated it would not ratify the Kyoto protocol without a central role for carbon markets within the plan. More then ten years after weakening the protocol, the US has still declined to sign on.

The Bank’s latest scheme, called “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation” (REDD) is part of the “Bali Roadmap” established by the UN in 2007, and is slated to be a key component of any post-Kyoto climate treaty. This new plan offers a means for rich countries to avoid responsibility for over-consumption and evade emissions cuts by buying offsets.

The logic underpinning REDD is fairly simple: at present, the short-term economic gains from deforestation outweigh the long-term benefits of forest conservation. The Bank argues that investing up to $10 billion globally per year into saving forests will change the economic balance in favor of conservation. This money would be paid in the form of carbon credits–the more trees a country or company saves or pays to save, the more it earns the right to pollute.

The Bank’s record of failed forest conservation projects is worse than its efforts at green development. During the 1980s, human rights activists and environmentalists worldwide campaigned against the Bank’s funding of logging projects, mega-dams and road building programs. Recently, in massive logging and agrofuels projects in the volatile Democratic Republic of Congo, in Indonesia, and in the Amazon Basin, the Bank has been harshly criticized for funding environmental destruction and encouraging social unrest.

Given the Bank’s past record, there are other reasons to be concerned as well. In many tropical countries, governments have attempted to legally define remaining forests as leaseable state lands, so that indigenous peoples who have lived in forests for millennia are being evicted from their homes. With the World Bank and their corporate partners’ interests in protecting lucrative forest carbon “reservoirs,” the risks to forest-dwelling people will surely grow.

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  1. It has not been agreed ANYWHERE that REDD will be used in an offset mechanism!!! If a REDD reduction is earned against a robust historical reference level, it should be counted as a real emission reduction, not an offset.

  2. Thanks for this comment. I agree that there is so far no agreement that REDD will be used in an offset mechanism. However, given the World Bank’s fondness for carbon trading it is more than likely that the Bank will at some point trade the carbon stored in its FCPF projects.

    There are several examples of existing forestry projects which trade the forest carbon or are planning to do so. Examples include Ulu Masen in Indonesia, Juma in Brazil and Noel Kempff in Bolivia.

    GTZ is setting up a project in Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu, where it “will work with Fiji authorities to increase stakeholders’ knowledge of carbon market processes and strengthen institutional capacity with the aim of creating an enabling environment for REDD mechanisms”.

    Conservation International’s Ben Vitale says that CI has “around 25” forest carbon projects and that there are more than 100 such projects worldwide. CI is very much in favour of carbon trading, through its Conservation and Community Carbon Fund, which “will establish the first major private sector mechanism for forest carbon projects to ensure sustainability beyond initial grants”.

    Yesterday, Point Carbon reported that the American Carbon Registry (which is run by Winrock International), released a set of requirements for the quantification, monitoring and reporting of emissions reductions from forest carbon projects. It did so in anticipation of “strong US demand for offset credits from forest carbon projects”.

  3. Much of the promise of REDD lies in the potential co-benefits, in particular biodiversity conservation in tropical forests (and potentially for local forest-dependent people, though this will very much depend on local and national governance systems), if implemented the right way. There has for a long time been insufficient funding for tropical forest conservation, and REDD brings new possibilities in this area. For this reason alone it would have to be a welcome new mechanism, regardless of whether the mechanism is eventually implemented through carbon-trading, or fund-based, or a combination of both (which is most likely).

    I think there is nothing inherently wrong with forest carbon trading (being fully aware of the limits that offsets could have in actually reducing global carbon emissions). The devil, as always, is in the details of implementation.

  4. REDD has the potential to add carbon to the atmosphere, drive indigenous peoples off their land, destroy more rainforest, and increase corruption in undemocratic countries and international institutions.
    REDD has the potential to remove carbon from the atmosphere, strengthen the land rights of indigenous peoples, protect at risk ecosystems, strengthen democracy, and help repair international institutions.
    For better or for worse we live in a time of great change. REDD, or something very similar, is very likely.

    “WWF President Carter Roberts was among the leaders who formerly opposed REDD. But at an event on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Roberts and the president of Guyana described REDD payments as vital for addressing climate change.

    “There is no way Copenhagen is going to exclude REDD,” Roberts said.”

    If Roberts is correct, and REDD is going to happen, does that mean that it becomes increasingly important to fix it rather than just oppose it? Should people concerned about land rights of indigenous peoples, about protecting species diversity, about really reducing carbon concentrate on demanding that REDD be measured by those standards? Are the tactics for fixing it different than the tactics for opposing it?

  5. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, or REDD, is a vital part of saving the world. The carbon values alone amount to almost 19% of the total global excess emissions. Then there are the community and biodiversity outcomes associated with REDD.

    Of course REDD projects need to be done properly, in line with proper standards such as proposed by the VCS and CCBA.

    My company, Carbon Planet is very optimistic about REDD and has just launched a website which starts to detail the many advantages REDD projects have in terms of their benefits to the people, the regions involved and the planet as a whole.

    Just because a few projects were handled poorly in the past is no reason to damn all REDD projects. To date there have not been any formally accredited REDD projects brought to market so to say REDD is an “anti-solution” is pure hype.

    Dave Sag
    Founder and Executive Director
    Carbon Planet Limted

  6. Thanks for the comments.

    It’s worth looking at the REDD section of Carbon Planet’s website. It includes this definition of REDD: “REDD is a carbon market mechanism created to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries.” Further evidence that while at the UN level there is no agreement that REDD will be an offset mechanism, several organisations (public and private) are going ahead anyway with trading in forest carbon.

    Karin makes a good point about “the limits that offsets could have in actually reducing global carbon emissions”. As soon as the carbon stored in forests is traded, the benefits for the climate are at best zero. If climate change continues, the forests will die off or burn down anyway, in which case the carbon stored will be released. Recent studies show that between 20-40% of the Amazon rainforest would die off even with a 2°C rise in global temperatures. We can’t just focus on the forests and forget about reducing emissions. To save the forests we have to stop runaway climate change.

    Thanks Dave for your comment. I’m delighted to hear that you are optimistic about REDD, but not surprised, since your company stands to benefit from the trade in forest carbon. Incidentally, following your line of argument could just as well lead to the opposite conclusion: To date there have not been any formally accredited REDD projects brought to market so to say REDD is a “solution” is pure hype. But seriously, if the carbon stored in forests is traded that will provide a massive loophole for industry to continue polluting. How is that of benefit to the planet as a whole?

  7. Dave

    I see on the Carbon Planet website that “ethical distribution” of climate funding (from forest carbon trading) is described as one of the ‘benefits’ of REDD. Can you please describe how you see this happening (i.e, how money gets from the international carbon buyers and sellers to the various people that need to be paid to stop deforesting) and have there been any successful examples of this anywhere that this has actually happened that you can point us to?



  8. Hap – another example of “REDD as an offset mechanism” is the Vanuatu Carbon Credits Project. Here’s how the project is described in the R-PIN for Vanuatu (pdf file 1.5MB):

    The Vanuatu Carbon Credits Project (VCCP) was initiated by Dr Sean Weaver (Carbon Partnership Ltd and Victoria University of Wellington) following a request in May 2006 by the UNFCCC SBSTA Chair and negotiating Parties for demonstration activities to inform intergovernmental policy development on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries.

    Among consultants on the International Technical Advisory Team is Robert O’Sullivan, Executive Director of Climate Focus North America, a firm that specialises in carbon trading.

    So, you’re right when you say that “It has not been agreed ANYWHERE that REDD will be used in an offset mechanism!!!” But it seems that there’s a very cosy relationship between the carbon traders and the negotiators at the UNFCCC, apparently including the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).

  9. Chris – This is a note of clarification relating to the Vanuatu Carbon Credits Project (VCCP). I initiated the Vanuatu Carbon Credits project as a forest conservationist seeking to provide a means to enable rural forest owners in Vanuatu gain the benefits of economic development without logging their forests. I am not a carbon trader. You can check out my website: and see that I do a range of things to facilitate action to address climate change, principally in the forest sector.

    The goal of the VCCP has always been to help build national capability in climate change mitigation, and includes (but is not restricted to) the use of carbon markets as a means of financing sustainable development in the forest and energy sectors using compliance and/or voluntary carbon market instruments where appropriate.

    I have been working closely with the Vanuatu government to help ensure that the country is protected from any type of carbon trading activity that would be damaging to the local economy or local communities. We are building up the DNA infrastructures, assisting with building a national forest carbon monitoring program, and facilitating a government owned and government led program to identify priorities for climate change action in the mitigation and adaptation space.

    I have also put considerable work into fund raising for Vanuatu at the World Bank and the EC for climate change adaptation and mitigation and in 2008 helped to secure 5.3 million euro in funding for the implementation of mostly adaptation activities (funded by the EC and the GEF).

    Your description of Robert O’Sullivan as a carbon trader seemed somewhat pejorative. Robert is a carbon finance lawyer and has been helping with providing policy and legal advice to the Vanuatu government in the carbon trading area to help ensure that any national program is robust from a legal and carbon property rights point of view.

    Robert and I (and others) have acted as technical advisors to the Vanuatu delegation the UNFCCC during UNFCCC REDD policy development. One of the things we did in Cairns in 2007 was to strongly promote the need for the UNFCCC REDD policy framework to 1. take sufficient accout of the needs of countries with low historical deforestation baselines (e.g. Vanuatu, Congo Basin), and 2. to include forest degredation in the UNFCCC REDD language. We did this at a time when many countries were trying to keep degradation out of the instrument. You will notice that countries with low historical deforestation baselines are accommodated in the position of the Coalition of Rainforest Nations, and “degradation” is now a core component of the UNFCCC REDD language.

    In my 20 years experience in working on the social and economic dimensions of forest conservation I have gained a clear understanding of the need to deliver tangible social and economic benefits to rural forest owners in developing countries as a core component of a strategy to protect forests. One of the challenges is how to finance a non-deforestation development pathway for these forest owners.

    Carbon markets is one financing mechanism that is potentially capable of providing financial support to help address the opportunity costs of forest conservation. There are other options too, including conventional grant finance, and payment for ecosystem services. In terms of the latter I have been promoting Direct Barter as a non-carbon financing option to accommodate large scale transactions between a host country or community and buyer country or large philanthropic or corporate. Direct Barter was included in one of Vanuatu’s submissions to the UNFCCC (2007). If you read that submission (available on the UNFCCC website) you will see the rationale behind it (informed by Integrated Conservation and Development Project (ICDP) principles but just on a larger scale).

    When talking about offsetting in the voluntary carbon market context (which is where REDD transactions will be occurring prior to a compliance instrument coming on stream) the buyers are usually carbon neutrality aspirants (usually in developed countries) who are voluntarily entering a program to measure and reduce their emissions and then buy units for emissions they have not managed to eliminate in-house. This voluntary activity on behalf of buyers creates a potential opportunity for rural people in developing countries to gain some economic benefit from their stewardship of natural forests through carbon revenues as an alternative to timber revenues. Many rural communities in developing countries in my experience have few development options to choose from and deforestation will often be an attractive path to take.

    At a time in history when the amount of grant finance available for forest protection is not growing, I welcome the challenge of finding private sector entities who are willing to voluntarily help fill this financing gap – so long as the quality assurance checks and balances are sufficiently robust.

    As for a compliance mechanism, I am not alone in wanting to see robust quality assurance frameworks built into the REDD sector, and I see these developing in the techical and policy tracks of the REDD negotiations.
    Best wishes

  10. Thanks Sean. You’re right that Robert O’Sullivan is not a carbon trader, but I find it interesting that you describe this a “somewhat pejorative” description.

    Climate Focus describe themselves as follows: “Climate Focus is an advisory company committed to the development of projects and policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and generate carbon credits. We help project developers, investors, buyers of carbon credits and policy makers succeed in the challenging and continuously evolving carbon market.”

    Climate Focus is helping others to trade carbon. I think it’s reasonable to say that they are in favour of carbon trading. You explain in your comment why you are also in favour of carbon trading.

    Given that the words “carbon credits” are including in the project title, it seems likely that carbon trading (in the voluntary markets) will form an important part of the Vanuatu Carbon Credits Project. The comment about the SBSTA Chair concerns me, because no decision has yet been made about how REDD will be financed. Did the SBSTA Chair specifically ask for demonstration REDD projects which would include the creation of carbon credits?

  11. Hi Chris,
    The language you have been using in these blogs appear to signal an opposition to carbon trading as a matter of principle. This has the implication that those that trade carbon and those that are involved in the quality assurance aspects of carbon finance are (in principle) unwholesome in some way. I do not share this view, and as I mentioned in my previous comment I do consider carbon finance as a valuable tool in the financing tool box for rainforest protection in developing countries. Here’s why:

    Carbon Trading

    In your earlier blog above (March 20th) concerning the limits that offsets could have in actually reducing global carbon emissions, you say “As soon as the carbon stored in forests is traded, the benefits for the climate are at best zero.” I see it in a different way: As mentioned in my previous comment (June 10) the buyers of voluntary carbon units from REDD projects are commonly those who are voluntarily undertaking a carbon emissions reduction program and then voluntarily buying carbon units to offset the emissions they were unable to eliminate in-house. So, they are voluntarily reducing their own emissions (good for the climate system), and they are then financing voluntary emissions reductions or sink removals elsewhere (good for the climate system). They finance emissions reductions or sink removals elsewhere by purchasing voluntary carbon units. If the carbon units did not pass an additionality test then there would be no benefit to the climate system arising from the transaction. If they do pass an additionality test then this tells us that the emission reduction they are financing would not have occurred without their financial support.

    Furthermore, carbon neutrality buyers in the voluntary market are buying and then retiring their units (rather than on-selling the carbon commodity). In other words they are buying a climate friendly outcome that we would not have without that transaction (i.e. it had to pass an additionality test to be legitimate). For this reason I am not convinced by your statement that “As soon as the carbon stored in forests is traded, the benefits for the climate are at best zero.”

    Furthermore, in a compliance cap-and-trade instrument (which may include REDD in the Post-2012 situation at the UNFCCC) the end game is meeting the quantitative target of the cap (an emission reduction target that is below business-as-usual emissions for the management period). This is where there is a benefit for the climate system even when carbon trading is in the mix. The trading of carbon units (some of them are offsets – others are allocations) is simply an instrument to enable the community (who have a collective binding target) to meet that target at least cost to the economy.

    The key in compliance trading is to ensure that there is a robust cap. If the cap is not very different from business-as-usual then there is little or no benefit to the climate system, and the carbon price will be so low that points of obligation will have more incentive to simply buy units rather than undertake emission reductions in-house. It is therefore, very important to advocate strongly for a robust cap to be taken on by UNFCCC negotiators at Copenhagen in December 2009.

    Without a robust cap (compliance) and without a strong community driver for responsible corporate citizenship (voluntary) then carbon trading has little or no direct benefit to the atmosphere (apart from the price of carbon influencing some investment decisions). But with both of these (robust cap and robust community demand for climate responsibility) we do get gains for the climate system.
    For more easy to understand information on how emissions trading works you can consult a guidebook that I co-authored with Murray Ward called “Leader’s Guide to Emissions Trading and Carbon Markets” available here:

    Burning Forests

    I agree that if climate change continues without constraint many forests will probably burn down. This is one of the big reasons to try as best we can to constrain climate change by using every tool in the tool box. One of those tools is to slow down (constrain) the rate of deforestation emissions which account for about 20% of the emissions problem. Protecting forests not only protects large carbon reservoirs, but also protects a wide range of climate-related ecosystem services provided by forests , one of which is to alter latent heat flux in a way that cools the land surface. Our choice is either:

    a. to contribute to unconstrained climate change by abandoning forests to a possible climate change fate by allowing them to be logged and burnt in the near term because we are ideologically opposed to forest conservation as a climate change mitigation exercise or we are ideologically opposed to market instruments designed to keep them standing up.


    b. we contribute to constraining climate change by working as hard as we can to protect what is left of world forests as a biogenic carbon reservoir (that sometimes also acts as a carbon sink) and that also helps to keep the land surface cool, not to mention the many other ecosystem services that they provide for human well-being as described in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

    If we choose the latter path we need to make sure that this does not happen at the expense of local people in forest regions, and this is why we need to build and refine methodologies that are capable of providing for the development goals of indigenous peoples (as they define them) in such a way that we also keep these forests standing. In my experience, if one works with such people and asks them what they want in terms of development and property rights, you will often find that you can develop a forest protection solution that meets their needs.
    So, in my view yes – some rainforests may burn down, but we will increase the chances of them burning down if we fail to use the opportunities that we currently have to keep them standing up. If we let them be logged and burned we are willfully turning our forest policies into a positive feedback in the climate system (escalating the problem). If on the other hand we put significant efforts into protecting them, then our forest policies become a negative feedback in the climate system (reducing the problem).

    Vanuatu Carbon Credits Project

    The “Vanuatu Carbon Credits Project” was the original term used for an effort to respond to the request of the SBSTA Chair in 2006 for pilot activities in REDD that would help to inform UNFCCC policy development. The SBSTA Chair was reiterating the views of several negotiating parties at that time. Our original intention in Vanuatu was to test different voluntary carbon financing options (as pilot projects) to enable a process of evaluation to occur.

    Pilot projects are commonly designed to test the effectiveness of a concept in practice, and provide an opportunity to evaluate, modify, or reject a model or methodology.

    Part of our pilot activities included undertaking socio-geographical research with rural forest owners in an effort to build the basis of a socio-economic good practice guidance for REDD and A/R in Vanuatu – focusing on participatory methodologies common to integrated conservation and development project (ICDP) types.

    No actual projects for carbon markets have been developed as yet in Vanuatu because it became clear that quality assurance infrastructures were first needed at the national level. This included DNA infrastructures and procedures, national forest carbon monitoring and project-scale carbon monitoring capability, together with a government-led exercise in priority setting.

    In other words, an exercise in REDD readiness became the focus of this program. Such readiness will enable Vanuatu to participate more actively in any future compliance instrument arising in the REDD space (whether fund or market based).

    Furthermore, the VCCP is also exploring options and opportunities for a national climate change mitigation effort in a more general sense. This includes the exploration of opportunities for climate change mitigation in other sectors (e.g. energy) and cross sectoral synergies (e.g. forest-energy synergies). These mitigation efforts include looking at carbon market opportunities to help finance an up-scaling of renewable energy through the CDM.

    As such, a more accurate title for this program is perhaps the “Vanuatu Climate Change Mitigation Program” or indeed a precursor to the “Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions” (NAMA) program. Perhaps it will develop this title in due course.

    As to your question concerning the request by the SBSTA Chair in 2006 – my recollection is that it was a request for pilot projects (or demonstration activities) that would assist in the negotiating process. I do not recall this being prescriptive in any way (i.e. did not promote or discount the option to test carbon market instruments). But if a market option was to be considered as a compliance instrument for REDD in the Post-2012 agreement, I would think that carbon market case studies would be useful to have at an informed negotiating table.