Dan Nepstad is Director of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM). For decades he has studied land use, forest, fire and climate, focussing on the Amazon. He is dedicated to saving the Amazon rainforest. So why on earth is he accusing Greenpeace of threatening climate change mitigation and tropical forests?
Earlier this week, Greenpeace put out a report that criticised the Governors’ Climate and Forest (GCF) Task Force because of its “fixation with creating a new set of offsets for California’s industrial polluters”. Nepstad describes the GCF as “one of the bright spots in REDD today”. In a response to the Greenpeace report, published on mongabay.com, Nepstad describes Greenpeace’s report as “puzzling” and states that,
“Greenpeace’s new report, Outsourcing Hot Air, could help to slow — or reverse — the progress of tropical states and provinces around the world in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).”
Roman Czebiniak, Greenpeace Senior Policy Advisor on Climate and Forests, responded by noting that Nepstad,
“fails to point out that the subnational REDD offsets the GCF advocates for would by definition, result in no additional climate mitigation since they would merely allow industrial emitters to continue polluting in California.”
This is an important discussion. Both sides are passionate about protecting the Amazon. Where they differ is whether REDD should be an offset mechanism. Nepstad believes that carbon credits are a way (perhaps the only way) of raising the funding needed to protect forests. Greenpeace rejects subnational carbon offsets as a “false solution” that is “at best a distraction, and at worst counterproductive”.
These differences come, I think, from the different nature of the institutions involved. Greenpeace campaigns on a series of issues: protecting ancient forests, promoting renewable energy, against the coal industry, and against oil drilling in the arctic. IPAM is a research and policy organisation working in the Amazon.
Five years ago, Rhett A. Butler interviewed Nepstad on mongabay.com. Nepstad had recently co-authored a policy paper on avoided deforestation, published in Science. His enthusiasm is clear. “It’s amazing how cheap it could be to fight climate change by reducing deforestation,” and adds that it’s a “very low-hanging fruit”. He agrees when Butler asks him whether he sees carbon finance as one of the best ways to preserve rainforests like the Amazon. Unfortunately, Butler didn’t ask him for his opinion about the continued greenhouse gas emissions in the North that REDD offsets would allow.
As Greenpeace’s Czebiniak points out “catastrophic climate change itself poses an existential threat to the tropical forests”. Nepstad, of course, is fully aware of this. In an interview with CIFOR in 2011, Nepstad explains that,
“In our own modelling efforts we think that by 2030, probably about 50-60% of the forest of the Amazon will be either cleared, or damaged by drought, or damaged by fire, or damaged by logging. And that’s pretty close, and it has huge implications for climate change, because there would be about 20 billion tons of carbon that would go into the atmosphere under that scenario which is about two years of global emissions.”
Nepstad is a member of the REDD Offset Working Group which is due to produce a report “this summer” on options for REDD offsets in California’s cap and trade system. Funded by the Climate and Land Use Alliance, the members of the Working Group include pro-carbon trading representatives from The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International and Environmental Defense Fund.
But the REDD Offset Working Group does not include representatives from organisations such as the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment or Communities for a Better Environment, that represent low income and people of colour communities living in the shadow of California’s polluting industry (such as Chevron’s refinery in Richmond, California, left). They are campaigning to get Chevron to stop polluting. REDD offsets that allow industry to continue polluting would undermine their campaign and would undermine real action to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels.