in Brazil, Indonesia, Norway

“In the field of international climate policy and collaboration, REDD+ is a success” says Per Fredrik Pharo, Director of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative

In March 2014, I wrote an opinion piece for the magazine Development Today. I asked whether Norway’s REDD deals are reducing deforestation. The article has triggered a small discussion.

Rainforest Foundation Norway and the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) responded in Development Today, and now the Director of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative, Per Fredrik Pharo, has written a response. It is reproduced here in full with permission from Development Today.

Blunt about efforts to save the rainforest

By Per Fredrik Pharo, Director of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative

Published in Development Today, DT 4-5/2014 19 May 2014

Norway’s efforts to preserve the rainforests can make a difference by giving advocates of forest protection a better chance in national debates. Per Fredrik Pharo responds to Chris Lang.

On March 6, Development Today published an article where environmental activist and writer Chris Lang questions the relevance of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative. (See DT 2/14) He also doubts the effect of efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in tropical forest countries, internationally known as REDD+.

A recent independent evaluation describes the impact of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative as follows: “A game changer in forest protection, climate change mitigation and sustainable development efforts … Norway has created the political space needed to improve forest governance”.

The decision to fight deforestation is by its nature a national one, and not an easy one. It involves strong national antagonisms between groups who want to preserve the forest, and groups who want to convert it for agricultural purposes. A positive trend may soon be reversed, as the battle is continuous and the groups’ relative power varies over time. In that context, the world’s willingness to pay for reduction in deforestation rates may prove to be important.

In the field of international climate policy and collaboration, REDD+ is a success. In Brazil and Indonesia major breakthroughs have been achieved. Around 50 tropical forest countries are preparing to implement REDD+. Major investment programs are being implemented in key countries. Key private sector entities are working hard to establish deforestation free supply chains.

Brazil has had great success in reducing deforestation by more than 70 per cent since 2004. Brazil’s efforts to reduce deforestation were initiated several years before Norway promised to contribute up to USD 1 billion as payment for reduced emissions from deforestation in the Amazon. Brazil deserves the honor for the achievement. But consider what could have happened if Brazil had not received any international financial support, after delivering what is probably the largest single reduction in greenhouse gas emissions the world has seen in recent years. The forces that want large-scale conversion of the Amazon for agricultural purposes would have had a better hand; those wanting to protect it would be weakened.

When it comes to Indonesia, the climate and forest agenda has undergone a paradigm shift in recent years. As in Brazil, that shift should be credited to governmental leadership. However, Indonesia sought Norwegian partnership in this process, and Norway responded. CIFOR’s former director, Frances Seymour described the partnership as a major breakthrough for forest governance in Indonesia. The evaluation mentioned above arrives at the same conclusion.

Since 2010, rainforest protection has been high on the political agenda. A moratorium on new concessions for conversion of natural forests for agricultural purposes has been established. Reviews of the existing concessions in the forestry sector have started. Important land tenure reform is underway. Groups that were previously excluded from Indonesia’s forest management have been involved in a very different way. Indonesia is also taking important steps towards an end to impunity.

Forest monitoring and transparency in the forest sector has also taken big steps forward. Chris Lang applauds the “One map” initiative as a sign of progress in Indonesia. The One map initiative was initiated and carried out by the REDD+ task force (now the REDD+ Agency), which was established as the President’s tool to implement his climate and forest agenda. Then the author ridicules that the only money reaching Indonesia under the deal with Norway is for a capacity building project under UNDP. However, the UNDP fund was set up as a tool for the same task force, and has been key to its ability to drive President Yudhoyono’s climate and forest agenda forward.

Importantly, the sum of these developments in Indonesia have been instrumental in convincing a series of large private sector players that the time has come to commit to and transparently implement deforestation free supply chains. This, too, is part of a vicious cycle potentially turning virtuous.

No one knows how it will end – whether Indonesia will copy Brazil’s success – or whether the struggle against deforestation will lose momentum. What we do know is that significant progress has been made, reforms that seemed impossible a few years back are now underway, and that Norway has been Indonesia’s most important external partner in this work.

Large, emerging economies with more than 200 million inhabitants, such as Brazil and Indonesia, obviously do not make their land use decisions as a result of Norway’s financial support. But the Norwegian contributions can make a difference at the margin, giving the advocates of protecting the forest a better chance in the national debates.

DT 4-5/2014 May 19, 2014
© Copyright Development Today AS


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  1. Interesting how, according to Mr Pharo’s account, Norway’s support for REDD has achieved many things, with the very notable exception of actually saving any forests.

    The only country where any on-the-ground improvements have been made is Brazil, but as Mr Pharo rightly notes, these changes started happening even before Norway’s money arrived. The consensus is that the Brazilian government achieved its successes without drawing on any of the Norwegian money at all.

    The “independent evaluation” of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative which Mr Pharo refers to is widely known to have been a complete whitewash – in which all the counter-information (such as about the dismal failures in Guyana and Tanzania, the complete waste of NICFI money in the Congo Basin Forest Fund and the World Bank FCPF etc) was simply completely ignored.

    Most importantly, what is not being addressed is whether $2.8 billion being spent on supposed REDD programmes is the most effective way to “make a difference at the margin, giving the advocates of protecting the forest a better chance in the national debates”. This could have been achieved more effectively and at a fraction of the cost if the support had been given directly to those ‘advocates’, cutting out all the astonishingly high transaction costs incurred by useless government agencies and corrupt politicians, multilateral banks, consultants, ‘think tanks’, carbon accountants and various other REDD parasites.

  2. Well REDD Monitor is right and wrong again, the fact is: Norway is not actually using any of the funds to support a specific REDD project – that I can see so why is this article really up? and why is Per Fredrik Pharo making this statement? Maybe Norway did some capacity building which is simply paying peoples salaries, for people to talk about REDD and brainstorm how to roll it out, even though there are already many projects rolled out and complete in most rainforest countries.

    Yes the support Norway has given to governments has been a 90% waste, especially in Brazil. I conducted a third party independent review of each of 18 different programs the Brazilian Amazon Fund supported, a total of about R$533 million.

    Most of these funds went to fund government agencies operational expenses. One even went to a building construction in Brasilia, a place that is not even in the Amazon basin. I think the Brazilian government should have built this Building without Norway’s help.

    The conclusion is, Norway’s government is one of the largest tax payers in Brazil and brings NO additionality to programs to protect the Amazon in Brazil. What I infer from additionality is that if the budget for the Para state environmental agency (SEMA) is R$100 million per year, then the Amazon Fund will give them R$35 million for the “Cadastro Ambiental Rural (CAR)” program. Thus the budget is not increased to R$135 million to help enhance this program. The budget actually might go up to R$110 million and the state government will simply shift R$25 million from SEMA to other government activities. What does the CAR program actually get? Nothing!, the reason why is because most of these funds go into the general pool of funds of the agency. The report on progress that goes back to BNDES and the Amazon fund is the same events that would have otherwise happen with the CAR program.

    Based on our analysis of each program, 90% of the funds are wasted on giving money to a government, 10% goes toward indirect preservation. Some of the programs for on the ground capacity building were analyzed as the best opportunity of corruption as it pushes out millions into the hands of local government which probably does not have the capacity themselves for capacity building.

    The conclusion of the analysis was the (1) funds have been wasted and have had nearly no additionality. (2) Norway should give funds to REDD projects that are not on indigenous lands, to protect privately owned property, as this land is the only land with high risk for deforestation due to the constitutional right of land owners to be allowed to deforest their land (3) Norway should give funds in exchange for turning all the private property land in the state of Amazonas into a “federal reserve areas”. These funds should be used to buy out landowner.