in Brazil

“Forests in exhaustion” – An ECA guide for the perplexed

Forests in exhaustion - An ECA guide for the perplexed

Of all the topics under discussion at Cancún, perhaps the oddest is a proposal from Brazil to include something called “forests in exhaustion” in the clean development mechanism. In short, it is a subsidy to the plantations industry either to re-establish plantations or to clear forests and establish new plantations.

Despite the obvious flaws in the idea, it remains on the agenda to be discussed by the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) during the UN climate negotiations in Cancún. Exactly a year ago, REDD-Monitor commented on the proposal to include “Forests in Exhaustion” in the CDM. Without wanting to overdo the Groundhog Day metaphor, I have a strong sense of déjà vu.

This year, the Ecosystems Climate Alliance has produced a detailed guide to Forests in Exhaustion. The summary is below, and the 8-page report “Forests in Exhaustion: An ECA Guide for the Perplexed” can be downloaded here (pdf file 5 MB). Needless to say, the problems are much the same as they were a year ago, and two years ago, and three years ago…

“FORESTS IN EXHAUSTION” An ECA Guide for the Perplexed

What is happening in Cancun?

At the upcoming climate change talks in Cancun, Mexico, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) will consider a controversial proposal from Brazil to amend the Clean Development Mechanism to include “Forests in Exhaustion”.

Brazil’s proposal seeks to allow Parties to the Kyoto Protocol to claim CDM credits for re-establishing a commercial plantation on degraded land; that is, land that has been repeatedly planted and harvested to the point that it has lost its capacity to regenerate naturally.

The CDM Executive Board assessed the implications of this proposal and reported to the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December 2009. SBSTA was then requested to assess the implications of the proposal, with its findings expected to be discussed in Cancun.

What are “Forests in Exhaustion”?

Forests are considered “exhausted” when:

a) The land was forested in 1990 but is now no longer forested; or

b) The land is still forested today but is expected not to regenerate naturally within five years after the next logging cycle.

What is the justification for this proposal?

The rationale for Brazil’s proposal is that once a tree plantation becomes “exhausted” it is no longer commercially viable to re-plant, resulting instead in the land being abandoned and becoming deforested.

What are the problems?

The “forests in exhaustion” more than address Brazil’s instead creates loopholes subsidies for industrial tree inappropriate locations.

In particular the proposal creates a number of perverse incentives. In particular, the “Forests in Exhaustion” proposal:

  • Subsidises unsustainable practices within the plantation industry.

    The “forests in exhaustion” proposal implicitly acknowledges the unsustainable practices of industrial tree plantations, namely the harvest and re-planting cycle which causes severe degradation of ground water and soil nutrients leading to deforestation.

    Instead of subsidizing the regeneration of that land to natural forest, or converting it to another more appropriate land use, the proposal instead seeks to provide subsidies to the forest plantation company to continue the monoculture tree plantations even though it is explicitly recognized that to do so is not sustainable or otherwise commercially viable.

  • Provides an incentive to convert natural forests to plantations.

    The definition of “forests in exhaustion” used by Brazil extends the proposal beyond tree plantations to potentially include secondary natural forests that have been degraded through logging, peat land drainage, and/or forest management.

    The proposal allows a forestry company to log an area of natural forest until it can be considered “exhausted”, at which time the company may obtain CDM credits for clearing the remainder of the forest land and converting it to a plantation. This creates the perverse outcome whereby logging companies are incentivised to destructively log natural forests until they become eligible
    for CDM credits to then convert those forests to plantations.

  • Undermines implementation of the REDD+ mechanism.

    The “forests in exhaustion” proposal could undermine REDD+ efforts to support developing countries to regenerate degraded forests or restore drained peat soils. This is because there is no clear difference between an “exhausted forest” and an extremely “degraded forest”. As a result, a developing country may elect to claim CDM credits for establishing a plantation on degraded forest land, instead of seeking REDD+ funding for regenerating that land to natural forest.

The “forests in exhaustion” proposal would subsidise unsustainable practices within the plantation industry. PHOTO: © Global Witnes

About the Ecosystems Climate Alliance

The Ecosystems Climate Alliance (ECA) is an alliance of NGOs committed to keeping natural terrestrial ecosystems intact and their carbon out of the atmosphere.

We work to ensure this is done in a way which is equitable, transparent, consistent with the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, and which takes place alongside deep and urgent cuts in fossil fuel emissions. We advocate a range of policies which will avoid degrading terrestrial carbon stores, protect ecosystems and biodiversity, and restore their carbon carrying capacity and ecological function, as essential components of greenhouse gas mitigation and adaptation to climate change. This must be supported by robust monitoring, fair and effective governance, proper enforcement and action to curb the demand for forest and agricultural products.

ECA partners

Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)
Global Witness
Humane Society International
Rainforest Foundation Norway
The Rainforest Foundation UK
Wetlands International
The Wilderness Society
Rainforest Action Network
Australian Orangutan Project

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  1. Presumably, any plantation qualifying for CDM support as being ‘in exhaustion’ would, by definition, be ineligible for FSC certification, and therefore ineligible for financial support from agencies such as the World Bank?