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New report exposes Australia’s REDD offsets scam

New report exposes Australia's REDD offsets scam. PHOTO: Jakarta Post

The Australian government is one of the most enthusiastic promoters of using market mechanisms to finance REDD. The reason? Australia wants REDD to create a loophole in any climate deal large enough to allow emissions to continue in Australia. A new report by Friends of the Earth Australia and Aid/Watch exposes the flaws in the Australian government’s REDD plans.

The report, “What a Scam! Australia’s REDD offsets for Copenhagen,” which is endorsed by WALHI and Serikat Petani Indonesia, concludes that “The Australian REDD offset model breaches Australia’s international obligations, and is a scam: it is not aimed at reducing deforestation, but at creating a source of cheap credits for increased emissions in Australia.”

Download the report here (pdf file, 1.9 MB).

Earlier this year, the Australian and Indonesian Governments made a submission to the UNFCCC which proposed that the UN should recognise carbon credits from REDD. The proposal was based on an Australian Government funded project in Kalimantan, Indonesia, which the Australian Government claims is “the first large-scale REDD demonstration activity”. Australian negotiators are using the project and proposal to argue for forest carbon to be included in REDD. But, as FoE Australia and Aid/Watch point out, indigenous rights are not guaranteed under Australia’s proposals, making them in breach of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that Australia signed in April 2009.

The report notes that the dominant view in the UN negotiations has been “in favour of a market based offset scheme” and the authors use the term “REDD” to mean “REDD offsets”:

The first and most important reason why REDD should be opposed is that, like all offsets, it does not reduce global emissions, and as such cannot solve the climate crisis. Maintaining carbon sinks does not treat the cause of climate crisis, and enables continued and indeed increased emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.
[ . . . ]
REDD is a charter for the dispossession of peoples who today have stewardship over forests. REDD jeopardizes the sovereign rights of these peoples as it commodifies forest emissions, and directly imposes globalised commercial power structures on local social relations. It thus empowers speculative and financial elites against the very peoples that historically have conserved forests.

Australia’s proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) Bill is supposed to reduce Australian emissions somewhere between five and 25 per cent against 2000 emissions by 2020. If all countries in the North adopted such weak targets, we would stand very little chance of avoiding runaway climate change. But the CPRS sets no limit on overseas offsets, meaning that Australia won’t actually need to reduce its emissions at all.

Australia is looking forward to becoming an “offsets trading hub”, according to the CPRS White Paper which discussed Australia’s “significant competitive advantages as a potential hub for emissions trading and related financial services in our region”. If passed by the Australian Senate, the CPRS and associated legislation would recognise “Non-Kyoto international emissions units”, for example carbon credits issued under the law of a foreign country. This would include REDD credits, meaning that offsets generated from projects under the Australian International Forest Carbon Initiative would be counted towards Australia’s emissions targets – even without an international agreement on REDD.

Under the International Forest Carbon Initiative(IFCI), A$200 million will be taken from Australia’s aid budget between 2007 and 2012. Australia’s Minister for Climate Change and Water, Penny Wong, has declined to answer questions about this money. One thing is clear though: The IFCI is not “aid”. A 2009 factsheet produced by the Department of Climate Change explains that the IFCI allows Australia to take “a lead role in the negotiations under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol on how incentives for REDD can be built in a post-2012 global climate change agreement”. Inevitably, “market-based approaches to REDD” are part of Australia’s “lead role”.

In June 2009, the Prime Minister of Australia and President of Indonesia signed the “Indonesia-Australia Forest Carbon Partnership”, which aims “to help both Indonesia and Australia engage in emerging international markets for forest carbon emissions reductions”. While the Partnership has much to say on carbon trading it says nothing about local people’s rights.

The Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership is an Australian-funded project covering about 100,000 hectares of degraded peatland swamp forest in Central Kalimantan. The site is a small part of President Suharto’s failed Mega Rice Project that saw the clearing of more than one million hectares of peat forest. Initially, the Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership will work on avoiding the deforestation of 50,000 hectares of peat swamp forest and on rehabilitating a further 50,000 hectares.

A local grassroots group, ARPAG (the People’s Peat Management Alliance), calls for a general rejection of REDD offset schemes in the peatlands of Central Kalimantan. ARPAG opposes offsets because they “keep the practice of ‘business as usual’ and, even worse, sustain dirty and destructive industries”.

“ARPAG reject all form of foreign aid to save peatland that generate from carbon trading or foreign loans under the scheme of REDD or any other scheme. The ‘aid’ will only bring severe impact to people and peatland resources and will undermine people’s sovereignty over resources.”

The NGO Down to Earth points out that since Indonesian Forestry Law fails to protect the rights of indigenous communities:

“in reality, Australia’s funding for REDD means support for the continuation of an unjust forest management regime which has systematically marginalised forest communities and violated their rights to land and resources.”

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, there’s more. While Australia is engineering the REDD policy framework so that it can use Indonesia’s “avoided deforestation” to offset its own emissions, Australia has opted to exclude emissions from forests from its national emissions accounting under the Kyoto Protocol. Australia does so because wildfires release vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Meanwhile, Australia wants to include “harvested wood products” as stores of carbon.

Under Australia’s proposals, then, Australia’s forests can burn down, be logged and converted to industrial tree plantations. Meanwhile, Australian aid money is used to “protect” and “rehabilitate” areas of forest overseas to generate the carbon credits to allow Australia to continue burning coal. Climate justice, anyone?

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  1. Isn’t this a shamefully one-sided report which, even with the facts being accurate, fails to consider the upside of the agreement? Methodologies used for the project will and do take into account community effects and require net community benefits.

    Every time the claim is made that Australian industry will not need to reduce their emissions, it is done so assuming these industries will blithely accept carbon costs without trying to reduce their emissions and avoid any kind of penalty. This is, in my opinion, unlikely. All participants in the CPRS will seek to minimise their exposure to a carbon price and will always seek to use efficiency measures where the cost of doing so is less than the carbon emissions cost penalty.

    We also have to acknowledge that the reason we need REDD is because these forests are being degraded which does increase global emissions. The first and fundamental criteria for REDD is that the land MUST be under threat and would, if not for REDD, be deforested and/or degraded.

    To reiterate a much used phrase – because it is important to do so – perfect is the enemy of good enough. REDD is, today, a good enough start.

  2. @Stephen – thanks for your comment. What’s missing from your comment is the fact that carbon trading delays meaningful action on climate change. That’s the whole point of it. Instead of reducing emissions, industry can write a cheque (or get the government to write the cheque for it) and buy carbon credits.

    The perfect may well be the enemy of the good, but that doesn’t make what the Australian government is proposing good. The bad remains the bad regardless of what we think of the perfect.

    We need to massively reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels and we need to do so quickly. We also need to stop deforestation. Carbon trading allows industry to postpone changes (or simply not carry out any changes at all). Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of waiting for industry to decide that the price of carbon is too high (which it won’t be if forest carbon is included in the carbon markets – if anything forest carbon will flood the market and reduce the price of carbon) before it decides to take any action.

    “Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in 2008 were nearly 40% higher than those in 1990. Even if global emission rates are stabilized at present-day levels, just 20 more years of emissions would give a 25% probability that warming exceeds 2°C, even with zero emissions after 2030. Every year of delayed action increases the chances of exceeding 2°C warming.
    [ . . . ]
    Several vulnerable elements in the climate system (e.g. continental ice-sheets, Amazon rainforest, West African monsoon and others) could be pushed towards abrupt or irreversible change if warming continues in a business-as-usual way throughout this century.
    [ . . . ]
    If global warming is to be limited to a maximum of 2 °C above pre-industrial values, global emissions need to peak between 2015 and 2020 and then decline rapidly.”

    This comes from a recently released report, The Copenhagen Diagnosis, 2009: Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science”. Given this situation, why on earth would anyone want to promote a scheme that delays the reduction of emissions from burning fossil fuels? Carbon offsets are not going to prevent runaway climate change.

    Here’s how Professor Nicolas Gruber, Professor for Environmental Physics, ETH Zürich, one of the authors of the Copenhagen Diagnosis report puts it: “The climate system does not provide us with a silver bullet. There is no escape but to start reducing greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.”

  3. The world cannot get under the 2 degree target unless the world stops deforestation. That is what several reports say. If we are to avoid dangerous climate change the world must stop. We have to do both. And REDD offsets can do it. There are many studies that show they will not flood the market.

  4. Australia’s carbon scam has been going on for some time, as Fred Pearce points out in a recent article in The Guardian. Australia “got lucky” in 1997 in Kyoto, he writes. Here’s what he wrote in New Scientist in January 1998:

    “Australia, which threatened not to accept any limit on its emissions, was made an offer too good to refuse. First came a licence to increase its emissions by 8%. Then, in the final hours, it won an amendment that allows it to benefit massively from past deforestation… Up to 30% of its CO2 emissions in 1990, the baseline date for the targets, were from deforestation. But far from being penalised for this, Australia won the right to count any improvement from this position as a carbon credit. It just has to make sure it doesn’t cut down quite as many.”

    @Fiona Ryan – Thanks for this comment. In order to get below the 2 degree target we have to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels and reduce or stop emissions from forests. The problem with offsets is that they do not reduce emissions. Please see this response to another offsets apologist. You may be correct that REDD offset credits may not flood the market. But who really knows? Markets are not very predictable. When the price of carbon is cheap companies buy credits for future expansions of polluting operations. The price of carbon fell as a result of the global economic crisis. Emissions fell. When the economy recovers, companies will simply start up the machinery again.


    The price of carbon is currently too cheap to make a difference:

    “The International Energy Agency has warned that the price of carbon credits will have to more than double from the levels they now trade at in Europe to make high-tech solutions to climate change economically attractive.

    Deutsche Bank pointed out recently that

    “Emissions trading has done little to encourage investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency . . . according to analysis by Deutsche Bank’s Asset Management (DeAM) division.”

  5. Perhaps throwing most people off their lands is what this is all about.
    Read UN Agenda 21 where mention is made that by 2030 the aim is for a world population below 1 Billion.
    By-the-way it also mentions the need for a scare campaign to get the masses to accept the UN as the world governance head.
    Then as mentioned in an African UN pamphlet carbon was the chosen vehicle.
    Put an end to this scam – that is what it is – now.
    The aim is apparently to stop all development on this planet so that the future is a perfect totalitarian state.
    Meanwhile Strong continues with his carbon exchange, Al gore rants on, the planet continues to cool, antarctic ice continues to grow, and sea levels remain virtually the same.

  6. @HiLo (#5) – Thanks for this comment.

    UN Agenda 21 is a 351 page document, with a small font size. If I had nothing to do next week, I’d take up your offer of reading it. As it is, I did a search for “2030” and found nothing. I searched “billion” and found this (page 23):

    “The world’s population is expected to exceed 8 billion by the year 2020.”

    And this (page 125):

    “By the year 2025, 83 per cent of the expected global population of 8.5 billion will be living in developing countries.”

    But nothing about reducing population to one billion by 2030. Could you please give the page number where Agenda 21 mentions aiming for a world population of less than one billion by 2030?

    And the page number for the scare campaign?

    Please provide a reference (and link) to the African UN pamphlet about carbon.

    The version of Agenda 21 that I’ve got states that governments should strive to “improve their economic structures and improve the standard of living of their populations through sustained economic development.” I wonder where you get the idea that the aim is to stop all development?

    Please provide peer reviewed sources for your claims that, “the planet continues to cool, antarctic ice continues to grow, and sea levels remain virtually the same.” Thanks.

    EDIT (3 October 2011): Sea levels did fall in 2010, by 6 mm. This is not proof that global warming is not happening, but that the climate is changing. It’s explained on Climate Progress – “NASA: It Rained So Hard the Oceans Fell“.

  7. Another “green” scam!
    Centralised economic systems cannot solve their own problems let alone
    the dire ecological damage done by overpopulation,cheap polluting energy
    wasteful luxurious lifestyles and sheer criminals running government and private corporations. Probably nothing can avoid a Titanic overshoot in population and resource depletion because of system inertia but where in the world is there a Government aiming at conversion of the people to

    And to bring it home to Australia why are we sending money to SE Asia to
    prop up shonky corporations there while deterring wise conservation in our own forests, private and public. Any forest can be managed to conserve ecological values and still allow careful use and harvesting
    but our Governments lack the will to reward those who conserve and to penalise the destroyers