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Guest Post: REDD+ fails the world’s forests and climate

Wally Menne is a South African environmental campaigner and a member of the Timberwatch Coalition. Since the mid-1990s, Timberwatch has exposed and monitored the environmental and social impacts of industrial tree plantations.

In this guest post, written as a response to an intervention by the Accra Caucus during a recent UN workshop on REDD finance in Bonn, Menne highlights two of REDD’s blind spots: fossil fuels and over-consumption.

REDD+ fails the world’s forests and climate

By Wally Menne, Durban, August 2013
I suspect that at the present rate, we will all be old (or dead) long before any meaningful solutions are found for the challenges facing REDD+ as it is presently conceptualised. However, it is my belief that the problems that are blocking the development of a workable policy to prevent forest loss and deterioration are already well known, but have been deliberately ignored.

First, I believe that REDD+ fails to address the need for polluting industrialised nations to compensate developing countries for ecological damage caused by historical and ongoing overexploitation and consumption of fossil fuels. Instead countries such as Norway and Germany have used their economic advantage to support the establishment of schemes like the CDM, and of course REDD+, that have distracted attention from finding more effective ways to actually reduce global emissions.

Second, it should be clear that in order to reach a global agreement that might realistically hope to reduce emissions, logically it should include doing something about the profligate consumption of manufactured goods, as well as the expansion of motorised transportation, that are directly responsible for rising greenhouse gas emissions as well as for accelerating the irreversible loss of forests, grasslands and other natural carbon sinks. REDD+ theory fails to make the connection between rapidly increasing global consumption and diminishing finite resources.

Instead, governments appear to believe that a convoluted system of trading with market-based ‘offsets’ and ‘credits’ will miraculously save the climate. Southern governments have been convinced that this will work, and that they would benefit from investments into ‘sustainable’ CDM projects; whilst Northern governments appear to have considered the UNFCCC carbon trading circus as a convenient excuse for continuing with business as usual.

In much the same way as REDD+ projects merely displace logging to other areas, relocating their polluting industries to obliging countries in the South also increases the transportation emissions from both raw materials and finished goods.

I believe these contradictions still plague the climate negotiations, and in particular the REDD+ debate, draining the energy of negotiators and observers alike, while hope for saving the climate recedes. The belief that piecemeal forest safeguards and plantation certification will somehow redeem REDD+ will only prolong the Earth’s suffering. These measures will more likely encourage the destruction and replacement of forests with alien tree monocultures, but on the ‘bright side’, keep financial institutions and carbon consultants in work, making money out of Nature’s misfortune.

Undoubtedly there is an urgent need to preserve natural habitat including forests, together with the biodiversity that helps make ecosystems function. Protecting Indigenous Peoples’ role as Earth-keepers is a crucial part of this. However real and lasting preservation of the natural world will only be possible if a collective commitment is made by governments to immediately reduce the consumption of industrial commodities, in order to slow further encroachment on and destruction of natural areas. Overall energy consumption should also be stabilised; at a point that will prevent the need to expand fossil fuel extraction and combustion.

To achieve these changes will require voluntarily ending artificial fossil-fuel subsidies and cheap finance, so as to reduce energy addiction. This should also stop the habitat-destruction that has justified the establishment of heavily protected conservation areas, and the mindless tourism that usually follows. Such protected areas can undermine local communities by giving privileged access to their resources to outsiders. This can also lead to increased migration to city-slums as a result of local community conflicts over limited land, food, fuel and water.

Though the world’s governments may fail to face up to this challenge, and continue their lemming-like rush to self destruction through procrastination, I believe we (as NGOs) should also take some blame for having legitimised the UNFCCC process through our willing co-option (co-operation and participation).

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  1. The Stockholm Environmental Institute has an interesting initiative looking at the impact of UK consumption on biodiversity:

    The model can be used to explore the impacts of over 200 agricultural products (and many other products of non-agricultural systems, e.g. mining, forestry and fisheries), and can break down consumption impacts resulting from demand from specific product groups.

    “For example, we found that the amount of soybeans required to meet UK demand for goods and services – processed food, meat, leather, etc. – requires about 1,270,000 ha of crop land,” says Elena Dawkins, an SEI research associate and co-author of the model. “To produce that domestically, we would need about 20% of the UK’s total crop land.”

  2. Many thanks for the post, which I think makes a lot of sense.

    One issue that interests me is the ‘coherence’ shown by some development agencies in promoting REDD+ in certain countries while simultaneously investing/encouraging the same countries to vastly expand mining for oil/gas and other extractives. This is quite evident in East and Southern Africa (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique). Is anyone working/writing on this?


  3. @Andre Standing (#3) – Good point. I agree – unless we address climate change, the forests are likely to go up in smoke.

    Rainforest Foundation Norway and the Environmental Investigation Agency have done quite a bit of work on Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global and its various investments – here are a couple of posts:

    Doublethink: Norway’s Pension Fund to stop investing oil profits in climate change and deforestation

    Norway and deforestation: “Offering its little finger to help, while using its fist to destroy”

    And this post also addresses this issue:

    Why is COP18 talking about REDD, but not about leaving fossil fuels in the ground?