in Equatorial Guinea, Papua New Guinea

Forests, corruption and cars: Why REDD has to be about more than carbon

In a side event at the UN climate negotiations in Bonn, Patrick Alley of Global Witness highlighted the dangers of REDD – as well as the potential opportunities.

“Going beyond carbon: good governance, biodiversity conservation and demand-side management in REDD,” was presented by the Ecosystems Climate Alliance, which was formed in Poznan in December 2008.

Alley illustrated his talk with a slide of the Bugatti Veyron, a car that consumes more fuel per kilometre than any other production car on the planet, with a top speed of 407 kilometres an hour. That’s the length of a football pitch every second. At this speed, you could cross Equatorial Guinea in 25 minutes. Except, of course, that you couldn’t because the roads needed to drive a car like this don’t exist in Equatorial Guinea. For once, Jeremy Clarkson is right when he describes it as “a triumph for lunacy over common sense”. Something similar could be said about the idea of pouring billions of dollars a year for REDD into some of the most corrupt governments in the world.

Here is a transcript of Alley’s presentation. A video of the full side event is available on UNFCCC’s website.

My name is Patrick Alley, I’m the director and co-founder of a London-based NGO, Global Witness and we look at the links between the exploitation of natural resources and the funding of conflict and corruption.
REDD has brought a new dimension to the UNFCCC. Not just the opportunity to mitigate climate change and to preserve the world’s forests, but also a baptism of fire to most of the parties and many other people here who don’t really know about forests and haven’t peered into the Pandora’s box of the world’s forests. The rather incongruous slide I’m showing here is of a Bugatti Veyron motor car. There are 35 of them in existence. They cost one million euros each. Three of them are owned by a guy called Teodoro Obiang, the Minister of Forests of Equatorial Guinea.
That might just give a little introduction to what we’re talking about here. His salary is 4,000 dollars a month. I don’t have the photo of his 35 million dollar Malibu beach residence here.
To the UNFCCC, the forests are really just neat receptacles of carbon, easily identified from a satelite. But on the ground they are storehouses of some of the richest biodiversity on earth and they provide homes and livelihoods to literally billions of people. And forests have been ravaged over the last few decades by one of the most corrupt industries on this planet. That, in collaboration with some of the most corrupt, inept or simply vulnerable governments have depleted an incredible resource with most of the wealth ending up in bank accounts in Singapore, Switzerland, the US and Europe.
The economic potential of forests has been lauded as a major development option, again for decades, by the international donor community, but in fact they have delivered very little. Virtually every intervention by the international donor community into the forests sector over the past few decades costing hundreds of millions of dollars has essentially been to patch up the holes in enforcement to stop the haemorrhaging of illegal timber and corruptly looted revenues. And these interventions have ranged from certification, chain of custody systems, governance, capacity building, law enforcement and there has been precious little success in that litany. And on top of this, we have the increasing threats of conversion to plantations and agricultural encroachment.
Now REDD offers a real potential to rescue the forests. I always say it’s the biggest opportunity campaigners have had on forest issue, certainly since I’ve been in this business, for over 15 years. For one thing, forests are already high on the political agenda, somewhere they have not been for most of the past few decades. And REDD of course promises the money to actually put rhetoric into action. But REDD could also be disastrous, if a bad REDD is reached. One the things that my organisation focusses on is the resource curse whereby some of the richest countries in the world are beset by corruption, poverty and conflict.
And with REDD, who knows what the figures will be, 35 billion, 45 billion dollars a year, into some of the most vulnerable countries on earth. There’s a lot of risk there. Interpol said, earlier this week, “Organised crime syndicates are eyeing the nascent forest carbon credit industry as a potentially lucrative new opportunity for fraud.” Something we’ve been looking at for a while but it’s already up there on the police map.


In her presentation, Ros Reeve of Global Witness reinforced the potential dangers of REDD. She showed this slide of the estimated proportion of illegal timber exports from REDD candidate countries in 2007. Way out in the lead is Papua New Guinea, where an estimated 90 per cent of timber exported is illegal. PNG is, of course, one of the main promoters of REDD.

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  1. This is a critical issue in that behaviours learned and developed over a long period of time will be very hard to modify. However, the world needs REDD – so perhaps the governence and post REDD CC sale on-ground monitoring processes need rigor – and an “industry” standard of rules?

  2. Thanks Luke – if you look closely there’s a link to the Reuters article about organised crime and REDD in the final paragraph of Patrick Alley’s presentation. Here’s the article in full:

    Forest-CO2 Scheme Will Draw Organised Crime: Interpol

    Date: 01-Jun-09
    Country: INDONESIA
    Author: Sunanda Creagh

    NUSA DUA – Organised crime syndicates are eyeing the nascent forest carbon credit industry as a potentially lucrative new opportunity for fraud, an Interpol environmental crime official said on Friday.

    Peter Younger, an environmental crimes specialist at the world’s largest international police agency, was referring to a UN-backed scheme called reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation.

    REDD aims to unlock potentially billions of dollars for developing countries that conserve and restore their forests. In return, they would earn carbon credits that can be sold for profit to developed nations that need to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

    “If you are going to trade any commodity on the open market, you are creating a profit and loss situation. There will be fraudulent trading of carbon credits,” he told Reuters in an interview at a forestry conference in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian island of Bali.

    “In future, if you are running a factory and you desperately need credits to offset your emissions, there will be someone who can make that happen for you. Absolutely, organised crime will be involved.”

    Younger called on governments, multi-lateral bodies and NGOs to involve law enforcement agencies more in the development of REDD policies and in the fight against illegal logging and deforestation, which are responsible for about 20 percent of mankind’s greenhouse gas emissions.

    “It struck me, as I sit here at this conference, as ironic that I am the only policeman here. You say you want to strike up partnerships to address illegal logging — who with?” he said. “Consider resourcing law enforcement efforts and not just relying on NGOs and other nice people to do it for you.”


    Forests soak up vast amount of carbon dioxide and REDD aims to reward governments and local communities for every tonne of CO2 locked up by a forest over decades, equating to a potentially very large flow of cash globally for forest credits.

    Local communities are supposed to earn a share of REDD credit sales to pay for better health, education and alternative livelihoods that entice them to protect rather than cut down surrounding forests.

    But revenue-sharing measures have yet to be fully worked out and will differ for each country. Some NGOs fear central and provincial governments might demand control of the money, with very little filtering down to local communities.

    Fraud could include claiming credits for forests that do not exist or were not protected or by land grabs, Younger said.

    “It starts with bribery or intimidation of officials that can impede your business. Then if there are indigenous people involved, there’s threats and violence against those people. There’s forged documents,” he added. Younger said illegal logging was a significant and growing problem and that the same networks that are used to smuggle wood could also be used to traffic women and children, drugs, firearms and wildlife. There was evidence to suggest revenue from wood smuggling was funding armed conflict, he said.

    Younger, who also specialises in wildlife smuggling, said the illegal trade of caviar, orchids, tropical fish and ivory was also flourishing.

    “In illegal logging for instance, there are companies that may have a lawful side of the business and this is the dirty laundry on the side,” he said.

    Better trans-national sharing of flora and fauna crime data and better resourcing of policing was needed to address the problem, he said.

    (Editing by David Fogarty)

    © Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved