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Obstacles on the UK’s “Road to Copenhagen”

On 26 June 2009, the UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and Energy and Climate Secretary, Ed Miliband, visited London Zoo to launch “The Road to Copenhagen“, a report outlining the UK’s vision of the climate deal to be agreed in Copenhagen in December 2009.

The report claims to be setting “ambitious” goals: “The UK believes that the over-riding goal of the Copenhagen agreement is to limit climate change to an increase in global average temperature of 2°C. This means the deal needs to establish a credible trajectory for reducing global emissions by at least 50% on 1990 levels by 2050.” But as George Monbiot points out in The Guardian, “a global cut of 50% offers only a faint-to-non-existent chance of meeting their ultimate objective: preventing more than two degrees of warming.” The 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that to have a high chance of limiting climate change to 2°C requires global cuts of 85% by 2050.

In addition to the weak targets, the report recommends “using the carbon market to support emissions reductions”. This includes trading the carbon stored in forests. In his speech launching the report, Gordon Brown said,

I believe there is a particular need for innovation in forestry. In time, as the Eliasch report I commissioned last year showed, forestry credits can and I believe should be brought into the carbon market, under appropriate conditions of monitoring, control and governance.
But in the meantime we cannot afford to delay in providing public finance, or deforestation will simply have proceeded too far. So we are working with both donor and rainforest country partners to see whether a mechanism such as forest-backed bonds could be established to bring significant early finance into sustainable forest management.

This sounds remarkably similar to the “emergency package” proposed by The Princes Rainforest Trust.

Three days after Brown suggested bringing forestry credits into the carbon market, the UK Environmental Audit Committee, produced a report titled “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation: No hope without forests“, which recommends keeping forests out of the carbon markets:

At this stage we believe that forest credits should not be permitted in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. The Government must look at alternative sources of funding, including the hypothecation of EU ETS revenues. A forest payment mechanism will fail to protect rainforests, and hasten the global extinction crisis, unless effective safeguards exist to prevent primary forests from being converted to plantations. Protection of biodiversity and local communities should be a precondition of a country being eligible for forest payments; robust environmental safeguards need to be built into any international agreement on deforestation.

The UK’s plans for forestry and climate are outlined in a five-page section (pages 51-55) of the “Road to Copenhagen” report. REDD-Monitor received an anonymous critique on the forestry section of the report. The critique (available here) makes the following comments about the UK government’s proposals:

  • proposed approaches to “financing forestry” rest squarely on the inclusion of REDD in carbon markets, without any analysis of the risks involved in trading forest offsets;
  • estimates of the cost of REDD are based the Eliasch Review’s figures, which assumes global carbon trading. The focus is on the mechanism for raising funds, rather than an analysis of how much is actually needed to undertake necessary activities (policies, measures, etc);
  • “sustainable forest management” is referred to uncritically, without defining what this term means and without discussing the impact of logging on the carbon stored in forests;
  • rather than addressing the drivers of deforestation by suggesting that demand be reduced (as recommended by the UK Environmental Audit Committee), the report recommends increasing the demand for “sustainable” timber;
  • communities appear to be an afterthought. While the report states that the concerns of indigenous peoples and local communities should be taken into account, there is no mention of their rights.

The critique concludes with the following comment:

The UK’s Road to Copenhagen lays out some important markers about the obstacles that remain to getting REDD right. Now the challenge will be to chart a course that addresses those obstacles head on and does not simply circumvent them on a fast track to the carbon market.


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  1. I want to focus on the last point raised on the role and impact REDD may have on communities, indigenous or otherwise.

    It is inconceivable to imagine how REDD can be successful in the absence of strong community stewardship. At some point, permanence and leakage issues will ensue if communities are not integral participants/beneficiaries in REDD carbon stewardship. Some would argue that communities must be drivers of REDD programming and carbon marketing period if that marketplace is to function, period.

    One great challenge is that communities are arguably, far from REDD-ready in those developing countries where REDD will be first on line. Furthermore, there has been more social capital built up amongst the indigenous peoples of Amazonia and elsewhere in Latin America, then comparably in central, west and east/southern Africa.From an advocacy and negotiation position, the former is clearly better placed to articulate a vision for its role in REDD than most counterpart situations in Africa certainly. There perhaps,the opportunity for indigenous peoples to successfully negotiate feasible agreements with both government and REDD carbon buyers is likely beter than in many African or Asian countries.

    In Africa, there could likely develop a dependency relationship between various intermediaries speaking (if not negotiating) on behalf of local communities vis a vis carbon buyers. Intermediaries are most likely to become the major conservation and development organizations. They can correctly argue that they have been working on development and capacity building with communities for two decades in many instances.

    Yet, if one looks at the track record based on information readily available in the pblic domain of development benefits that have accrued over the past 20 years in and around protected areas in Africa particularly, it is difficult to objectively discern with any kind of quantitiative indicators how social capital has been built in communities impacted by conservaiton and development projects. What this means is that the past 20 years of lessons learned/legacy from conservation and development in Africa cannot really serve as a model for addressing the challenge that REDD readiness demands. It can surely signal what to avoid far more easily than what to pursue in terms of the gamut of REDD relevant skills required in building community technical and institutional capacities.

    In my opinion, for REDD programming to be successful, communities will need to demonstrate the following two attributes:

    1. demonstrate ability to aggregate at scales to enable advocacy, negotiation, and oversight to optimally ensue in REDD activities they are involved in or impacted by.
    2. possess the analytical and decision making skills to assess tradeoffs, and to enable decisions made on behalf of “the community” to be grounded and representative (versus the position of a single elite).

    The challenge will be, in my opinion, for key REDD stakeholders – intergovernmental agencies, private sector intermediaries, potential major REDD purchasers of community carbon, NGOs – to be realistic about what community capacities MUST be strengthened in order for REDD to work sustainably. This probably rquires abandoning myths that would have it that all of this capacity building has been done welkl by major NGOs, and it is really only an issue of providing the means to major international and national NGOs to get on with the work.

    Arguably, a strategic plan for community capacity building has never been a priority of donors, governmnets or major international NGOs. For REDD to work sustainably, communities will need to acquire and plot analytical, decision making, and management capacities they have rarely if ever needed to demonstrate in the past to meet the terms rquired of 40-50 year REDD agreement terms. Thus, this capacity building will not boil down to simplistic applications of participatory rural appraisal or rapid rural appraisal, coupled with participatory maping. While all these tols are necessary and good in nthemselves, they do not enable communities to assess the apropriateness and feasability of potential REDD pathways that will enable their full and necessary engagement to be assured. On this level, communities must be able to assess their options so as to identify what they wish to invest in from their perspective. Their are tolkits that have been developed to do this.

  2. Excellent comment, Michael.

    The interesting thing is that where indigenous and local communities have, as you put it, more ‘social capital’ (such as in Latin America), they have all more or less rejected REDD, particularly if it is to be based on carbon trading mechanisms, as this website has shown.

    And you are clearly right to point out that decades of conservation programmes in Africa and other parts of the world have signally failed to develop any local social capital. For this reason, if for no other, I think the big conservationist organisations responsible for these projects are completely unqualified to act as ‘intermediaries’ for REDD programmes.

    So I find it very worrying that the big US conservation groups in particular are clearly positioning themselves (such as through the so-called ‘Avoided Deforestation Partners’ initiative) to become THE major intermediaries for what could be a flood of REDD money coming out of the US if the Waxman-Markey bill is adopted in anything like its current form. The astounding thing about this is that they seem to have taken no notice whatsoever of the many statements and pronouncements coming out of tropical countries from indigenous peoples and civil society stating concern about precisely the kind of REDD that the big US NGOs are actively promoting.

    If this is anything to go by, REDD will not usher in new possibilities for community empowerment and enrichment: it will more likely usher in a new wave of potent green imperialism.


  3. To follow up Robin…

    Based on the pronouncements emanating from Latin America particularly, yes there clearly appears to be unease with REDD. I would hypothesize that these indigenous peoples’ pronouncements perhaps correlate with years of networking and capacity building in advocacy that indigenous peoples’ community groups have benefited from with northern NGOs. African indigenous peoples groups (and here I refer only to groups working with diverse Pygmy and San/Bushmen peoples to stick with the sense of “indigenous” peoples in Africa…) have not enjoyed a similar experience.

    I have recently noticed that in regards to aquaculture and the push for an aquaculture stewardship council modeled on the Marine Stewardship Council, there have also been rumblings from NGOs/community groups based in south and souteast ASia as well. So the capability to make voices heard is not a Latin American phenomenon only, for sure. Here, human rights issues are also being raised for the first time by local groups in conservation settings.

    My own opinion about the capability of big conservation NGOs to serve as intermediaries for/in partnership with communities in negotiating REDD agreements is consistent with your position. There is little in the track record available though public domain sources to my knowledge, to objectively indicate that big conservation NGOs have a proven legacy in delivering development benefits to communities. At least this is true in Africa, the region I know best.

    But as the legacy of integrated conservation and development projects arguably leads onlookers to wonder, why would big conservation organizations now be able to help communities realize benefits from REDD given the dearth of tangible development results generated to date? Do big conservation organizations employ methodologies that enable communities to collaborate constructively in analyzing conservation and development options, enabling them to take decisions at scales that are truly REDD relevant? Are they committed to governance arrangements where communities drive the negotiation, monitoring and management of REDD benefits process so that REDD would be “local stakeholder driven” (and thus increase the probability for sustainability, based on the axiom that demand-driven programs lead to better results and impacts…), or must revenue flows be funneled through these NGOs for donor/investor commitments for REDD-readiness programing to accrue?

    I am not in the slightest privy to the so-called ‘Avoided Deforestation Partners’ initiative, beyond that I have understood that this was evolving. I would not bet against the major conservation NGOs succeeding in, as you put it, becoming “THE major intermediaries for what could be a flood of REDD money coming out of the US if the Waxman-Markey bill is adopted in anything like its current form.” When it comes to results from advocacy on Capitol Hill, big conservation organizations have proven themselves second to none over the past 20 years, looking even cursorily at their financial statements and phenomenal organizational growth. Here foundation support, and of course membership donations for some, has also been key to their success.

    For REDD to work there will need to be a number of institutional/social capital building issues that are comprehensively addressed across REDD-potential landscapes. To my knowledge, this type of capacity building has never been a strong suit of big conservation NGOs over the years, all PR declarations withstanding. I say this not only because social scientists are a rarity on conservation staffs. It has to do with organizational philosphy and orientation, and methods on the ground, as conservation is seen primarily as an exercise to be driven by conservation biologists, GIS techies, and Development officers (fundraisers. Others might argue, myself included, that conservation really is primarily a social and political endeavor at the end of the day, as it is people who do or do not behave in ways that support the integrity and sustainability of biological systems. Incentives and technical/institutional capabilities, supported by policies, are what realy fundamentally matter.

    Nor are these social issues particularly amenable to one-off rapid consultation modes (e.g. the classic socieconomic/anthropological surveys that many conservation organizations revert to, to address the gamut of social issues that inevitably arise).

    For social capital to be built in REDD programming, a long-term strategic plan is needed for communities in REDD-potential landscapes if they are to be “positioned” to participate coherently. This goes far beyond awareness raising, environmental education, socioeconomic surveys, “consultation”, etc that big conservation NGOs are methodologicaly grounded in.

    Yet in the absence of community empowerment that results from a very diffrent type of capability building, how exactly is REDD to achieve its sustainability objectives regarding permanence and leakage, not to mention poverty aleviation?

    So sure, it is quite understandable that the more aware and politicized of indigenous groups are wary about REDD. On the other hand, communities and local NGOs in Africa (and why not include Papua New Guinea, areas of Indonesia, and elsewhere in Asia as well) are so marginalized that they may accept short-term incentives through REDD mechanisms to participate. This will help launch massive programs and fund transfers. But at the end of the day, will there be disappointment in communities and local jurisdictions because understandings were not clear from the outset, representative decisions were not reached in the name of “communities”, and in short, the deep sense of FPIC was never achieved.

    So perhaps time will prove you right in your speculation for the future Robin. I hope not. But to avoid it, big conservation organizations, the donors that back them, and investors to REDD will need to understand the realities and risks of potential governance arrangements, land/carbon tenure constraints etc that will challenge REDD programming. Will they atempt to understand and then act accordingly? Or will they fall back on the standards as they have been vaguely drafted for what constitutes acceptable stakeholder mobilization and participation methods, FPIC?

    And while FPIC nominally is fantastic in principle, actually demonstrating that the standard has been achieved is extraordinarily challenging in remote forest areas where women and minority participation in public fora remains highly constrained.

    To succeed, won’t REDD need to face this with a credible and comprehensive response? To date, I too do not yet see it.