in Norway, USA

Guest Post: The “New York Declaration” on forests – a smokescreen for Norway’s oil industry?

Earlier this week, REDD-Monitor wrote about a project called “Creating demand for REDD+”. The three-year project is funded to the tune of US$5 million by Norway and is run by two Washington-based think tanks, the Center for Global Development and Climate Advisers.

REDD-Monitor subsequently received the following anonymous contribution. It is posted here in full:

The “New York Declaration” on forests – a smokescreen for Norway’s oil industry?

Many governments, NGOs large corporations and other agencies have been contacted in recent weeks by Charles McNeill, Senior Policy Advisor at the UN Development Programme, asking them if they would sign on to a “high-level declaration” on the protection of forests, which is to be launched in two weeks’ time at the UN Climate Summit in New York. The draft declaration pledges, among other things, to “collectively committing to halving the loss of natural forests globally by 2020” and “supporting the private sector goal of eliminating deforestation” from products such as palm oil and soya, also by 2020. According to McNeill, this apparently worthy-sounding initiative has come about through the efforts of a “number of countries and companies, with guidance from several NGOs and indigenous peoples groups”, who, he says, are seeking a “shared vision” for heads of government, business CEOs, NGO leaders and indigenous peoples to endorse at the Summit.

What is not explained in McNeill’s solicitation is that this so-called New York Declaration actually originates from a US think tank which is under contract from the Norwegian government to “create demand” for REDD and to promote the concept of a global scheme for forest protection to offset the burning of oil and other fossil fuels. As the New York Times revealed this week, Washington DC-based Center for Global Development (CGD) has a three-year, $5m contract with the Norwegian government to promote REDD+, including to “convene experts and thought leaders” and to “mobilize high-level elites to engage in the [REDD] policy process”. The aim of all this lobbying and public relations is to “contribute to a major increase in finance for REDD” and specifically a “sharp shift towards results-based finance for REDD+”. “Results-based financing” is a euphemistic term which effectively means purchasing carbon credits from projects which claim to have reduced carbon emissions from deforestation, which can then be used to offset continued industrial pollution elsewhere.

This has caused consternation in some DC circles, especially as the CGD appears not to have complied with US rules requiring registration of agencies acting as lobbyists on behalf of foreign governments. However, the Norwegian government’s contract is not only with CGD, but also with Climate Advisers, another DC-based think tank that specializes in “cost-effective strategies to strengthen climate action and improve lives.” And it is Climate Advisers who prepared the New York Declaration on forests which is now being circulated at high political levels for sign-on. A dozen governments have already put their name to the declaration, including those of the UK, Germany, Indonesia and Peru, as well as of course Norway itself.

It is surely no coincidence that the Declaration would serve precisely the purpose which the Norwegian government is paying CGD and Climate Advisers, its author, to achieve. Signatories pledge to “agree in 2015 to reduce emissions from deforestation … as part of the post-2020 global climate agreement” and to “reward countries and jurisdictions that, by taking action, reduce forest emissions – particularly through public policies to scale-up payments for verified emissions reductions and private sector sourcing of commodities”. In other words, the Declaration is encouraging governments to include forestry offsets in a future global carbon market, and to put public money now into buying carbon credits from REDD+ programs, exactly as Norway’s contract with CGD and Climate Advisers stipulates. It is widely known that the government of Norway has been very active in trying to persuade other governments along this route for several years, even though this is a highly controversial, uncertain and potentially very expensive means of attempting to tackle deforestation or reverse climate change, and has been increasingly challenged by experts.

As the New York Times astutely noted in relation to the CGD controversy, any scheme to allow global trading of forest carbon offset credits, such as being promoted in the Declaration, would benefit Norway as “Slowing deforestation could buy more time for Norway’s oil companies to continue selling fossil fuels on the global market…”

It is perhaps unsurprising that Norway has been so active in promoting REDD+ offsets for fossil fuels as a major component in any new climate agreement – and is recruiting the likes of CGD and Climate Advisers to do its bidding in Washington and New York – when oil and gas accounts for over half of export revenues and nearly a third of the earnings which the Norwegian government relies on to support the country’s globally top-of-the-league living standards and social security. However, it does raise very serious questions about how much influence Norway is exerting in climate policy – especially regarding REDD+, how it is going about this, and what interests actually lay behind its strategy. It is particularly striking that, perhaps unwittingly, the offices of UNDP – which is supposed to act to the benefit of the world’s poorest – might, by promoting the New York Declaration on forests, actually be doing the bidding of the Norwegian oil industry and supporting the continued well-being of the world’s most cosseted people.

Some of the signatories to the Declaration might be looking with fresh eyes at what they have signed up to…


Full Disclosure: REDD-Monitor has received funding from Rainforest Foundation Norway, which in turn receives money from the Norwegian government. Click here for all of REDD-Monitor’s funding sources.

Leave a Reply

  1. Thanks for posting this anonymous contribution.

    It makes a lot of sense. Honestly though, does Norway really think developing countries like Indonesia only need a few more sticks and palm leaves to patch up the houses where they live in? Whats a billion dollars when export revenues from palm oil,timber and coal bring in way more than that?