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Gangster Squad, the FCPF and the Carbon Fund

Gangster Squad is a film set in Los Angeles in the late 1940s. The Police Chief decides to set up a special unit to fight gangster Mickey Cohen. The six members of the police vigilante “Gangster Squad” carry guns but no badges.

I watched the film a week before I took part in an NGO meeting in August, about the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.

I didn’t enjoy the film much. Rolling Stone describes it as “a greatest-hits collection done by a lousy cover band”. Which seems about right.

So what has Gangster Squad got to do with the World Bank’s forest carbon trading plans? Obviously, I’m not suggesting that we should take up arms to combat the World Bank and its forest carbon plans.

Here’s my presentation from the meeting (which you can download here):

Before setting out to get Cohen, the Gangster Squad does some shooting practice. Everyone, except for two of them, shoots at the targets. When he’s asked to join in, Officer Kennard throws a tin can in the air and shoots it full of holes.

Officer Ramirez tries to do the same, but misses. “Don’t shoot where it is, son. Shoot where it’s gonna be,” Kennard tells him.

I think we should apply the same thinking to the World Bank’s forest carbon programme. We know where the FCPF and the Carbon Fund are, but what we need to know is where they are going.

Four questions help us to think about this:

From the beginning, the World Bank has been clear about its motivations for setting up the FCPF. When the FCPF was launched in Bali in 2007, the Bank’s press release included this statement from Benoit Bosquet, (now ex-)coordinator of the FCPF:

The World Bank has 15 carbon funds or facilities, five of which are aimed at “Building the Next Generation of Carbon Markets”:

The pro-carbon market argument is that it is the only way to raise the money needed to finance REDD. The figures quoted for the cost of REDD come from the 2009 Eliasch Review:

At the most recent meeting of the Carbon Fund, participants announced that they would not pay more than US$5 for REDD credits. Obviously, at that price a carbon market does not tip “the economic balance in favor of conserving forests”.

The Bank’s aim has tipped towards creating a forest carbon market and away from conserving forests:

The World Bank’s role in the FCPF is in itself a problem. The current process of dismantling safeguards will only make things worse, giving a “green light for the destruction of forests”, as Stephanie Fried of the Ulu Foundation puts it.

The second problem with the FCPF is that it is a carbon trading mechanism. Any reduced emissions in the forests will be traded against continued fossil fuel pollution somewhere else.

In 1994, as part of the 50 years is enough campaign, I was part of a group of people who occupied the World Bank’s office in London:

The Bank argues that things have changed since then and lessons have been learned from its mistakes. Needless to say, fundamental problems remain, as Bruce Rich’s book “Foreclosing the Future” makes clear.

Here’s Benoit Bosquet again. This time speaking at the Indigenous Peoples Global Summit on Climate Change, in Alaska in 2009:

Navin Rai told a story to the more than 400 indigenous people at the meeting in Alaska about a dam in Laos that the Bank funded. Rai is the Lead Social Development Specialist and Coordinator for Indigenous Peoples at the World Bank:

Perhaps wisely, Rai didn’t mention the name of the dam: Nam Theun 2:

“The birth of a discipline: Producing authoritative green knowledge, World Bank-style”, is a brilliant paper that explores how the World Bank shifted to “environmentally sustainable development” during the 1990s. The focus of the paper is the Nam Theun 2 dam and how World Bank produced “green knowledge” about the project, and the way this knowledge becomes authoritative, or dominant. The paper was written in 2001 by Michael Goldman, who is now a Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota.

Goldman writes about how the Bank hired a consultant, Barbara Franklin, to evaluate the public consultations on the Nam Theun 2 project. After one of the meetings that Franklin attended, some of the villagers living downstream of the dam site, thought that they had been consulted about a project to build a village well, not a massive dam project:

Goldman notes that,

[T]he Bank’s form of environmental knowledge production has rapidly become hegemonic, disarming and absorbing many of its critics and expanding its terrain of influence. It has successfully cultivated its own champions in the burgeoning borrowing-country and transnational professional classes to do ‘environmentalism’ World Bank-style.

Although this was written six years before the launch of the FCPF, Goldman’s paper is just as relevant today in helping us understand the Bank’s work on REDD and carbon markets.

At the Kyoto climate meeting in 1997, the US negotiating team first drove down the emissions targets, then insisted on including carbon trading in the deal. This is the result:

Dieter Helm, Professor of Energy Policy at Oxford University, confirms that the Kyoto Protocol has failed to reduce emissions:

Meanwhile, the price of carbon has crashed on the EU Emissions Trading System:

As Michael Grubb, an Economics Professor at the University of Cambridge, points out, proponents of carbon markets have some irrational expectations of what these markets will achieve:

Hadi Daryanto, secretary-general of Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry, tells us what this means in Indonesia. Of course, what Daryanto describes here is only made worse by the Carbon Fund’s announcement that participants would not pay more than US$5 per REDD credit:

Steve Zwick is the Managing Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace. He’s in favour of REDD and carbon markets. I found this statement of his fascinating. It’s from a profile of Todd Lemons, the head of Infinite Earth, which is the company that runs the Rimba Raya REDD project in Indonesia. It’s an admission that REDD has not made trees worth more standing than cut down:

My presentation ended with a quotation from Michel Foucault. It’s from a debate he had with Noam Chomsky in 1971. It reads like a manifesto for a campaign against the World Bank’s promotion of REDD as a carbon trading mechanism:


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  1. Evidence please that FCPF is demantling safeguard processes? As far as I can see no other entity or process has more complex and demanding safeguards mechanism.
    REDD+ Learning Session 22: Making Sense of the FCPF Carbon Fund’s Methodological Framework

    So either these mechanisms are an evil scheme to be only paper safeguards, but not real – but here I do not see your evidence – or you would have to layout why you think this demanding safeguard process is still not adequate.
    Bring on facts related to the topic you write about, not mere anecdotes on past decades and unfounded accusations.