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Corruption and REDD: “It is highly unlikely that we will find a country where forms of corruption linked to REDD+ are non-existent”

Corruption and REDD

“REDD+ is being promoted and funded in countries where corruption has been, or continues to be, a pivotal factor in the political economy of forest use.” This statement is from a recent briefing by the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre at the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Norway.

It’s something that REDD-Monitor pointed out in December 2008, with a compilation of the ratings from 10 governance indices for 21 countries large areas of rainforest (more than 95% of the world’s rainforests are in these countries). The risks involved in financing REDD in almost all of these countries are immense.

The U4 briefing, “Corruption and REDD+: Identifying risks amid complexity“, was written by one person, André Standing, but it reads as if it were written by two people who could not agree on whether corruption is a massive risk for REDD that needs urgent and immediate action, or whether corruption is just one of many technical issues that can be addressed in the course of implementing REDD.

The briefing argues that the risks of corruption in REDD are beginning to be taken seriously, and that the REDD safeguards agreed in Cancun go some way to addressing corruption risk. U4 also points out Interpol, together with the UNEP and the Norwegian government has established a new Law Enforcement Assistance for Forests (LEAF) project.

But then U4 provides two examples from Indonesia to highlight the problem of corruption in the forestry sector:

  • During the 1990s, US$600 million was stolen from Indonesia’s reforestation fund.
  • Deforestation tends to increase in the run up to regional and local elections, as concessions are handed out for political party financing and to buy votes. “The allocation of forestland has been integral to the formation and consolidation of political power,” notes the U4 report.

U4 notes that corruption is just one of the key drivers of deforestation, along with “the expansion of agriculture, population growth, national logging policies, the growth of mining, [and] poorly designed aid projects”. Corruption may even limit deforestation, by “perturbing investments or creating inefficiencies in logging operations”.

There are two aspects to corruption and REDD, U4 argues. First REDD will not work unless corruption is reduced or eliminated. Second, REDD creates new incentives for corruption. U4 divides these into three themes:

  1. Land grabbing and tenure rights: REDD could increase the value of land, increasing incentives for political and business elites to grab forest land.
  2. Fraud and conflicts of interest in REDD+ monitoring, reporting and evaluation: REDD generates incentives for fraudulent measuring and reporting of areas reforested, avoided deforestation and good forest stewardship. U4 notes the problem of conflicts of interest: “Verification is intended to be independent, but there are examples where third party verifiers in carbon markets and forest certification schemes have been found to lack integrity and independence.”
  3. Embezzlement and elite capture of REDD+ revenues: REDD revenue streams are vulnerable to theft, via embezzlement, creative accounting and unfair contracts that rip off local communities.

Nevertheless, U4 argues that “REDD+ could have a positive impact on forest governance”, through greater focus on land tenure and could help secure better land rights for communities. REDD is generating scientific data on forest management and use “which may have a general positive impact on forest governance”. And multi-stakeholder participation in forest management “could also have an anti-corruption spin-off”. This paragraph in U4’s report includes the word “may” or “could” or “potential” in every sentence except the last, which points out that civil society involvement in REDD is actually pretty limited.

André Standing doesn’t resolve his internal discussion in the briefing. But while U4’s briefing is determined to give a “nuanced” view of corruption and REDD, there are clear warning signs in the report:

“It is highly unlikely that we will find a country where forms of corruption linked to REDD+ are non-existent…”

“Part of the problem is that corruption may exist in remote locations, and victims may not articulate issues as ‘corruption’. Though transparency is important, it is well established that simply increasing information flows is a tenuous route to addressing corruption.”

“In most REDD+ implementing countries citizens do not have a legal right to information, so responding to corruption will require that fundamental political, environmental and economic rights are justiciable, including for the most vulnerable.”

“Donors supporting REDD+ face difficulties in mitigating or responding to corruption. A strictly zero-tolerance approach is infeasible given that some forms of corruption will be evident in all countries.”

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Corruption and REDD
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