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Introducing another World Bank forest boondoggle: Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes

Yesterday, at COP19 in Warsaw, Norway, the UK, and the USA launched yet another initiative to protect forests and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Called the “BioCarbon Fund Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes”, this will be a public-private partnership housed in the World Bank.

In a press release, the UK government announced that Norway will provide “up to” US$135 million, the UK US$120 million, and the USA US$25 million. But none of this is new money. Instead it is recycled from existing climate aid budgets.

Reactions to the announcement vary. Josefina Brana-Varela, Policy Director of WWF’s global Forest and Climate Programme, describes the initiative as,

“a great example of nations coming together to address climate change in ways that benefit people and nature, but more needs to be done. WWF’s expectation is that nations fulfill their promise of $100bn per year from both public and private sources by 2020. The announcement, though, sends an important and strong signal that some key nations are willing to work together to both fund and implement Redd+.”

Asad Rehman, head of International Climate, Friends of the Earth EWNI, told The Guardian,

“This money is the clearest choice in favour of dirty energy we’ve seen so far in Warsaw. Rather than investing in the transition to renewable energy at home and abroad, these countries are investing in establishing the conditions for discredited and ineffective ‘forest carbon credits’. We face a planetary emergency – the solution is not in continuing business at usual at home and generating false ‘credits’ from forestry, it is making the shift to clean energy technologies, while also protecting forests and forest dependent communities through improved forest governance and protecting rights to land and resources.”

John Kerry, US secretary of state, spoke via a video link at the launch of the ISFL. He talked about his “deep, personal connection with our forests” and told us that “Forests sustain us, literally, in every way.” At one point, he managed to fit three howlers into two sentences:

“Each year we lose some 13 million square [sic] hectares of forests globally. That’s an area about the size of Costa Rica [sic] or Greece every year. Greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation now account for nearly one-third [sic] of the global total…”

A hectare is a measure of area, which may be square, but could also be any other shape. The area of Costa Rica is considerably smaller than Greece, at just over 5 million hectares. Kerry presumably meant Nicaragua, which has an area about the same as that of Greece. And Kerry’s figure of one-third of greenhouse gas emissions coming from deforestation is a gross exaggeration.

The one-third figure is, like the mix up over Costa Rica and Nicaragua, a silly mistake. In the UK government’s press release, Rachel Kyte, Vice President for Sustainable Development at the World Bank said that “agriculture and land use change continue to produce up to 30 per cent of global greenhouse gases”.

I think it’s safe to call this Rachel Kyte’s pet project. Kyte wrote about “Landscape Approaches to Sustainable Development” in June 2012. She was at the Agriculture and Rural Development Day that took place during Rio+20 and wrote that,

[W]e need to be coming to “Landscape Days” – where we have the foresters in the room with the farmer and with the fishers and with the producers and with everybody in the research community.

She had a receptive audience. Two days later, the CIFOR Forest News Blog quoted then-CIFOR Director, Francis Seymour, who was also at the Agriculture and Rural Development Day, as saying that,

“The landscape approach is a way that we can improve agricultural productivity and rural livelihoods while also addressing threats to forests, water and biodiversity.”

CIFOR has organised a series of Forest Days that took place during the UN climate negotiations. The first was in Bali during COP13 in 2007.

In December 2012, Peter Holmgren, who had taken over as CIFOR’s Director three months earlier, announced that the 6th Forest Day, in Doha, would be the last. A few days later, Holmgren wrote a blog titled, “Landscapes for sustainable development”, echoing Kyte’s from six months earlier.

This year, Forest Day was merged with the Agriculture Landscapes and Livelihoods Day as a “Global Landscapes Forum”.

“We are wasting precious time as a result of a disjointed, discombobulated dance,” Kyte told the 1,200 people who turned up to the GLF. “Landscapes are not just an important part of the solution. They are the solution,” Holmgren said. “We must put our hope in landscapes. Fragmentation is our enemy and a recipe for disaster.”

How to explain CIFOR’s enthusiasm for “landscapes”? In March 2012, REDD-Monitor interviewed Seymour. In a wide-ranging interview, she didn’t mention the word “landscape” once. When I asked her about the Forest Days she didn’t hint that a change might be in the pipeline.

There are 59 posts on CIFOR’s Forest News Blog that are filed under “landscapes”. Obviously this is a subject that CIFOR considers to be important. But only two of the posts were written before June 2012 and Kyte’s announcement that “we need to be coming to ‘Landscape Days'”.

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  1. CIFOR having their, err, ‘evidence-based’ policy dictated for them by the ideologues in the World Bank is nothing particularly new…But why on Earth is the UK government supporting this nonsense with UK taxpayer’s money, when resources are short for so many other things?

    If Minister Ed Davey wants to show what a big, umm, wad of cash he’s got to splash about, why doesn’t he just put half of it aside for something genuinely useful, take half of the remaining half and put it straight into the bank accounts of the overpaid World Bank staff in Washington (because that’s where it will end up anyway) and take the other remaining quarter out into the street, set fire to it and watch it go up into smoke (ditto)?

  2. How I read the Norwegian minister’s quote on this new biocarbon fund (em… betting system) for sustainable forest landscapes – with my edited-in comments in brackets:

    “This initiative is needed in order to demonstrate REDD+ results (increasing traders profits) that are large scale taking a cross-sectorial approach and allowing for different social, political and administrative circumstances (an infinite plethora of financial bamboozled derivatives). In addition, we believe that a combination of public and private initiatives can produce exiting results (further options for a non-transparent complex portfolio where insider dealers can bet on our ever dwindling life giving resources.)”

    I’m now off to practice tap dancing to try and stay sane – thanks Chris

  3. The definition of landscape as above differs in a significant and dangerous way from that of the European Landscape Convention (ratified by the UK). Using landscape as a term to merely integrate only those stakeholders with financial stake risks destroying ‘landscape’ as the correct term in fully involving people and communities in site specific planning. Missing this vital element twists the word to an extent where it becomes a malfeasant term and actually further disenfranchises those that any particular landscape belongs to and to whom the landscape belongs.

  4. Those were some funny howlers from Kerry. Isn’t it interesting that, in response to something concerning forests, Friends of The Earth is still banging on about dirty energy. These are two separate problems and that is exactly what FoE, Greenpeace and perhaps REDD Monitor, don’t seem to realise at all. Just as Dan Nepstad from IPAM said, do they realise the damage that this blanket anti-REDD policy could have?

    There are concrete examples of REDD working (i.e. preserving forests, successfully carrying out community development) on the ground, although it still has a long way to go.

  5. @David S. (#4) – I think Asad Rehman’s comment about REDD is clear enough, but I’ll spell it out anyway. This was a UNFCCC meeting, which are supposed to address climate change. To address climate change we need to massively reduce emissions from fossil fuels.

    REDD does nothing whatsoever to reduce emissions from fossil fuels. Instead, by creating forest carbon credits, it helps locks in dirty technology and allows industry to continue polluting.

    I agree with you that these are two separate problems – we need to reduce emissions from fossil fuels and reduce deforestation. REDD as a carbon trading mechanism mixes up the two by creating forest carbon credits thus allowing continued emissions of fossil fuels.

    As you know, Greenpeace responded to Nepstad’s criticism.

  6. I would dispute the point that REDD promotes the continued proliferation of fossil fuels. That is exactly the relevant point that I would FoE and Greenpeace to convince me of because they take it as a given. Firstly if Greenpeace etc succeed in bringing down REDD, there will still be an ample supply of carbon credits from wind power which dominated the market with 30% next to REDD’s 10% in 2012 (See: State of the Voluntary Carbon Market 2012, p.iv). Currently there is an oversupply of credits (more suppliers than buyers) in the carbon market generally so their point crumbles.
    Secondly, if (or rather when) REDD doesn’t disappear, they will eventually realise that this global compliance market (i.e. legal obligation to purchase credits), which people have been campaigning against since 2007 or earlier, does not exist. It is a voluntary market or a regional market which will continue to develop exist (i.e. California buying REDD credits from Chiapas).
    So, convince me, if you succeed in bringing down REDD tomorrow, will fossil fuels just suddenly disappear?

  7. It would be great to get Asad Rehman or someone from FoE involved in the discussion. Maybe you could email him, or shall I?

  8. @David S. (#6) – So, to summarise your argument: REDD is a voluntary carbon trading mechanism. It’s only 10% of the voluntary market. There are too many carbon credits and too little demand. So, we should all stop worrying.

    I wonder why anyone even bothered to talk about REDD in Warsaw?

    Ecosystem Marketplace, in its review of 2013, notes that:

    This year began with an underappreciated tailwind from the 2012 climate talks in Doha, which provided a clear set of forest-carbon issues for UN negotiators to work through in 2013. The result was a series of productive meetings that culminated with agreement on sticky issues that had long been hindering the creation of financing mechanisms that Reduce greenhouse gas Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

    At the same time, private-sector conservationists were securing endangered rainforest at an unprecedented rate – in part because they thought the UNFCCC would be further along now than it is.

    So, according to Ecosystem Marketplace, REDD is developing as a voluntary market in anticipation of a compliance market.

    Obviously, fossil fuels will not disappear if REDD disappears. On the other hand, REDD will not reduce fossil fuel use. The bigger a REDD compliance market is, the more it will allow fossil fuel use to continue.

  9. Chris, that is an interesting point about the progress of REDD at Warsaw and perhaps some of the headway we have seen, for example, in my view, the World Bank’s FCPF, are thanks to this kind of progress. To me it is fantastic to be finally making some headway and countries like Costa Rica can benefit from the fund and pump it straight into forest. Yours and FoE’s stance is against this.
    And yes, you can certainly say that the relative amounts of REDD transactions on the voluntary vs compliance market has remained consistently 4 -25 times greater on the voluntary market since 2008 (State of the Forest Carbon Markets 2009 and 2012) .

    So the picture that emerges is the compliance markets prefer other sources of carbon credits, such as wind. In this sense Asad’s argument misses the point. Why does the compliance market prefer them? Not because of short supply but because of issues such as permanence and leakage, which should be addressed and quantified by any decent REDD project.

    So, what’s so wrong with the voluntary market? Let’s imagine the Body Shop or Greenpeace wants to neutralise their unavoidable emissions from, say, electricity or supply chain of some product which even they cannot remove. These are the kind of companies I have seen buying in the carbon markets. They could neutralize this on the voluntary market, they could neutralise their emissions while investing in a CAREFULLY CHOSEN, quality REDD+ project, and go carbon neutral while investing in gravely endangered forest and wildlife as well as supporting communities. But hold on, they would never do that, would they!

    So Greenpeace, FoE and your blanket “ban” on REDD has lacked any nuance whatsoever, it is a confused offshoot of a campaign against dirty energy. And as I have pointed out above that campaign against energy needs to focus elsewhere to A) be effective, and B) not undermine efforts to preserve critically endangered forest.

  10. @David S. There are no nuances implied by the organisations you mention – if there are any “nuances” they will be embedded in the creative financial offsetting that allows the carbon polluters to continue with their pollution. Here is a simple analogy, but no nuance, using REDD to deal with fossil fuel use is like giving repeat offenders a longer hail Mary prayer necklace!

  11. “So, what’s so wrong with the voluntary market?”
    VCU prices range from $0.20 to $100 and the way these credits are issued makes it easy for scammers and money launders. Compliance market is open market and prices can be checked easily. In my opinion, all voluntary credits should be issued at the base price of $1 with good projects more credits and lesser one less credits but with flat base price at $1. This way it will limit the scope for scams and money laundering as buyers would know the base price of all VCU is $1, if they want to buy at higher price then it is up to them.

    As for issue carbon credit the main idea is to finance green initiatives through the private sector otherwise govt would have to provide funding for them. Lot of good technologies for reducing carbon credits have initially found funding through selling carbon credit otherwise they wouldn’t have progressed at all. But right now carbon market is flood with scams, which is such a shame, all that money could have gotten to finance something good.