Earlier this month, the Heinrich Böll Foundation published a report written by Jutta Kill that looks at two early forest carbon offset projects in Brazil. The report is critical and documents the ongoing consequences of the projects for communities living in the area of the projects.
The two case studies in the report are the Guaraqueçaba Climate Action Project in Paraná, and the Monte Pascoal-Pau Brasil Ecological Corridor project in Bahia.
Steve Zwick, the Managing Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace, left a comment on Heinrich Böll Foundation’s website about the report. His comment, which he points out represents his views and not necessarily those of Forest Trends or Ecosystem Marketplace, is a scathing attack of the report and of the Heinrich Böll Foundation for publishing the report. Here’s how it starts:
Really? Are these what pass for “case studies” in today’s Heinrich Böll Foundation? How can an organization named for a man who so eloquently exposed the evils of tabloid journalism publish a piece more worthy of his fictional villain Werner Tötges than of Böll himself?
In a response to Zwick, Dr Dawid Bartelt, the Director of Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Brazil Office, defends the report, describing it as “Jutta Kill’s excellent case study report”.
In his comment, Zwick writes that there are “more than 400 successful REDD projects”, that are “protecting forested areas larger than the entire land mass of Malaysia”.
Larry Lohmann of the Cornerhouse picks up on these claims by Zwick in a comment following Bartelt’s response. Lohmann starts with a challenge to Zwick’s use of the word “successful”:
By definition, all REDD projects, by lumping together emissions from fossil fuels with biotic emissions, discourage the project of keeping fossil fuels in the ground – the sine qua non of effective climate action. From the technical perspective of climate change mitigation, therefore, none of Zwick’s 400 REDD projects, without exception, could ever be made to be “successful”.
I thought it might be worth asking Zwick a few questions about his claim that there are “more than 400 successful REDD projects”. My email is below, followed by Zwick’s two responses (posted in full and unedited).
Zwick acknowledges that he should have written “400 forest carbon projects, most of which are REDD.” We still don’t know how Zwick defines a “successful” REDD project, except that “hundreds of REDD projects exist around the world” and “combined, they dwarf all other efforts to conserve forests in the developing world”.
In his second email, Zwick provides a link to the Forest Carbon Portal, which includes a map of forest carbon projects and some details about each project. I counted about 160 projects in the Global South (not all of which are REDD projects). Incidentally, the Ulu Masen project in Indonesia is included in that number. It’s described as “operational” on the Forest Carbon Portal. Zwick, meanwhile, describes this project as a “failed” REDD project “that started but never issued credits”.
From: Chris Lang
Date: 27 January 2015 at 12:22
Subject: REDD projects
To: Steve Zwick
I recently read your comment on the Heinrich Böll Foundation website about the HBF report “REDD in Brazil – Two case studies on early forest carbon offset projects”.
In your comment, you write that there are “more than 400 successful REDD projects” that are “protecting forested areas larger than the entire land mass of Malaysia”.
I would be grateful if you could answer the following questions about these statements:
1. What is your source for the statement that there are “more than 400 successful REDD projects”?
2. Please provide a list of these “more than 400 successful REDD projects”. Please include details of the project developers, the country, and the area of each project.
3. How do you define “successful” in this context?
4. How do you define REDD in this context? Does your definition include forest carbon and land-use projects that are not necessarily “REDD” projects?
5. In your comment you give the most recent State of Forest Carbon Markets Report as the source for your statement that these REDD projects are “protecting forested areas larger than the entire land mass of Malaysia”.
A similar statement appears in a recent article on Ecosystem Marketplace (although the author does not claim that the “more than 400 REDD projects” are “successful”):
“More than 400 REDD projects around the world are currently protecting a forested area larger than the entire land mass of Malaysia, according to the latest Ecosystem Marketplace State of Forest Carbon Markets Report.”
But the State of the Forest Carbon Markets Report states that “Avoided deforestation projects now cover almost 20 million hectares, about the size of the forest area of Malaysia.”
Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you. Please consider your response to be on the record.
From: Steve Zwick
Date: 28 January 2015 at 06:46
Subject: RE: REDD projects
To: Chris Lang
You’re right – I should have said “400 forest carbon projects, most of which are REDD.” If I were writing a formal response instead of just commenting on a blog while rushing off to lunch, I’d have chosen the words more carefully.
My point is that hundreds of REDD projects exist around the world, and they have a pattern of success – meaning that, combined, they dwarf all other efforts to conserve forests in the developing world. I’m sure some are “better” than others, and I strongly believe that there’s tremendous value in analyzing them to learn what works, what doesn’t, and why. But instead of trying to harvest these projects for their valuable lessons, the Heinrich Böll Stiftung launched another Benghazi-like witch hunt that cherry-picks a few pilots, ignores the many things they got right, trumps up the things they got wrong, and then tries to paint an entire sector with those issues – issues which have generally been seen as learning opportunities for those who came later.
You know as well as I do that this isn’t a serious quest for understanding. It’s part of an effort to undermine REDD, for reasons that have more to do with ideology than rationality.
How do we know this? Because their methods are the same ones used by climate-science deniers, anti-vaccine campaigners, and ideologues of all stripes: they cherry-pick, they toss off red herrings, and they just make stuff up.
As a result, instead of a rational analysis of projects listed in, say, the Verified Carbon Standard’s data base, they either attack phantom projects that never even got close to coming into existence, or failed projects that started but never issued credits or pilot projects like the ones the Böll Stiftung pilloried.
When they have dug into verified projects, they’ve resorted to out-and-out lie-based smear campaigns instead of trying to really figure out what worked and what didn’t.
At least Brazil’s Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) comes clean about its motives when it openly states that it believes that Indigenous People should have no contact with the market economy. Perhaps the Böll Stiftung has a similar motive. I don’t know – but I’d wish they’d come clean as well.
I agree REDD is not a panacea – but it’s succeeding where old-school conservation efforts have failed, and it’s bringing both funding and transparency to the forests. Even the internal debates among the Paiter-Surui have been brought into the public eye by REDD (and, of course, CIMI has then gone and tried to blame REDD for those debates, which is simply wrong).
From: Steve Zwick
Date: 28 January 2015 at 18:57
Subject: You’d asked about a list
To: Chris Lang
You’d asked about a list in last night’s mail, and I don’t think I answered that. I don’t know offhand if such a list exists, and I actually doubt it, because the report is based on a survey designed to uncover trends rather than an inventory. I can check into it if you want, but in the meantime I can point you towards the Forest Carbon Portal, which does have an inventory.
I’m a firm believer in standards that provide verification and validation, but I also know that the latest survey identified more projects being developed according to “self-generated” standards. I don’t know enough about the quality of these projects to call them all “successful”, so I’ll post a comment to roll that back a bit. What I do know is that those projects I’ve done a deep dive into have, in fact, stood up under scrutiny, and the “critiques” have proven to be hatchet jobs.
I know that I get prickly when I find people distorting the results of legitimate projects instead of engaging in legitimate examination – because we all need to know what works and what doesn’t.
There are legitimate critiques of project-based REDD – chief among them the fact that projects alone can’t save the planet. But then, nothing alone is going to save the planet.
I’m leery of talking to you too much, because I don’t really know what you’re up to – and I think this witch-hunt mentality among “critics” has created a bunker mentality among “proponents”. I don’t want to be in the position of always defending REDD, because it’s far from perfect – but then, so is the world, and I will do what I can to keep the record straight.