in Panama

A recipe for burning the planet. Cooked up by Kevin Conrad and the aviation industry, with a little help from the UN

Burning the planetFor the past 10 years, Kevin Conrad has been working to push a carbon trading mechanism called REDD through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Last year, he turned his attention to the massively polluting aviation sector as a source of finance for REDD.

It’s a marriage made in hell. The aviation sector is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gases. And it plans to get much bigger. The possibilities of reducing aviation emissions through technological changes or new fuels are remote, speculative, and largely a distraction from the urgent need to reduce the amount we fly.

But no industry wants to promote its own demise. And REDD offsets provide the perfect green figleaf for the aviation indsutry to appear to do something about its emissions, while continuing to expand, and continuing to pollute in ever larger amounts.

Aviation and forests

In December 2015, at COP21 in Paris, an organisation called the Shift Project (which has several corporate sponsors, including EDF, Vinci Autoroutes, Saint Gobain, and Vicat) arranged a side event with the title, “Can the aviation sector finance the protection of forests?”.

Here’s the panel of speakers:

  • Kevin Conrad: Executive Director, Coalition for Rainforest Nations
  • Per Pharo: Director of Norways International Climate and Forest Initiative
  • Lionel Guérin: Chairman and chief executive officer of HOP! Air France, chairman of the board of directors HOP!
  • Michael Gill: Executive Director of Air Transport Action Group
  • Jane Hupe: Deputy director environment at ICAO’s Air Transport Bureau

You can watch the side event in full here (if you value your sanity I strongly recommend not doing so – and do not, no matter how tempted you may be, listen to the rap at the end):

Today we’re just going to look at Kevin Conrad’s presentation, the first speaker at the meeting. Brice Lalond, Special Advisor on sustainable development to the UN Global Compact, moderated the side event. Here’s how he introduced the event and the first speaker, Kevin Conrad:

LalondThis meeting here is a premiere, it’s the first time. We’re trying to have a sort of an agreement, or at least a meeting between two major players of climate change, of the problem on one side and of the solution on the other.

Two major players. One is the forest, as you know the forest is a very important asset in fighting climate change. And we have the aviation industry, which is not covered by the climate accords, but is nevertheless willing to compensate to diminish its footprint, perhaps to compensate.

And both represent a lot, the forests something like between 10 and 20% of emissions when you cut the forest and you cut the trees, aviation something between 2 and 3% of the emissions. So these two major players I would say, agreed to meet and are going to discuss.

We are having an initiative which actually is coming from the forest side. The forest side, we have here with us Mr. Kevin Conrad. Kevin Conrad is working with the Coalition of the Rainforest Nations. The Coalition of the Rainforest Nations is an important actor in the climate negotiations, Mr. Kevin Conrad here introduced in 2005, in Montreal in the negotiations, the idea that if you stop deforestation you contribute a lot to combatting climate change.

That was called REDD. Reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation. So Kevin, I understand you have a proposal to make to the aviation industry. So I suppose the best thing to do would be to give you the floor. What do you have to say to the aviation industry?

Brice Lalond seems like a nice chap. He used to be a green politician in France. But in his current role, he personifies the depths to which the United Nations has sunk in its obsequious grovelling to corporations.

Before the Earth Summit in 1992, the United Nations Centre on Transnational Corporations recommended that businesses should be internationally regulated.

But instead of following up on these recommendations, the UN opened the door to the corporate-run Business Council for Sustainable Development, which developed into the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. And the UN slammed the door shut on regulating corporations. In 1993, the UNCTC was closed down.

In 2000, the UN set up its “Global Compact”, which allows corporate members to use the UN logo. But there are no binding commitments and no external assessment of what corporate members are up to. Self-regulation, in other words.

Brice Lalond, the UN Global Compact’s Special Advisor on Sustainable Development, is facilitating the aviation industry’s use of REDD credits to offset its emissions. In doing so, he and the UN are ignoring the fact that the industry plans to increase these emissions massively over the next few decades.

Emissions from aviation are anticipated to grow by 7.8 billion tonnes between 2020 and 2040. Here’s a graph produced by Annie Petsonk at Environmental Defense Fund using ICAO data (click on the image to go to the source, with more explanation of the graph):


Petsonk explains that the dotted red line on the graph shows, “the kinds of reductions that will be needed if the sector is to bring emissions down to the dashed red arrow, along the lines of the Paris Climate Agreement”. The 7.8 billion tonnes emissions gap does not include these reductions.

So here’s Kevin Conrad. After telling us he grew up “deep in the jungles of Papua New Guinea”, that he “didn’t consistently wear shoes” until he was 16, and that forests are a very real part of who he is, Conrad had this to say:

ConradTen years ago, while I was in graduate school, I decided to write a thesis, naively, on how we could value forests for their ecosystem services, rather than just for the land underneath them. So the key concept was can we value forests more alive than dead. I thought that this was such a simple concept that it would take me about two years for the world to understand how to do it. Ten years later, I’m still here in Paris trying to negotiate the rules.

But here’s the reason I’m at this meeting today. If we’re successful here in Paris, for the first time, we have a global agreement on how to incentivise developing countries to save their forests in a sustainable manner and supporting sustainable livelihoods.

However, it’s gonna cost money.

Let’s interrupt Conrad here for a moment. In his thesis, Conrad assumed a price of US$25 per tonne of carbon to make standing timber an “income-earning asset”. The World Bank’s Carbon Fund has said that it will not pay more than US$5 per REDD credit. ICAO could buy an awful lot of REDD credits – at the expense to the climate of massive amounts of continued greenhouse gas emissions – but Conrad doesn’t mention any prices.

ConradSo we have several governments that have exhibited outstanding leadership. Norway, number one on the list, and we have my friend Per. We have the UK. Germany has stepped up. The United States to a lesser extent. The point, however, it’s not enough.

So how is it we can bring in other sectors? Forests are the only sector now in the UNFCCC that have a global agreement. What else can we do?

We, as forested countries, have now met in Panama and agreed to propose to the airline industry that it’s time for forests and aviation to partner and collectively reduce emissions.

Aviation is about 2% of global emissions. They have an ambitious plan based on their projected growth, the green area there is a combination both of implementing renewables and also bringing in issues like forests.

Forests on the other hand is a significant source of emissions, between 10 to 20% based on how you measure degradation of forests.

The IPCC’s most recent report states that forestry and other land use accounts for 11 (±6)% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. On planet Conrad, the figure is 15 (±5)%, depending on how the measurements are taken.

ConradThe REDD-plus mechanism has solved many of the issues that have blocked finance going into conservation of forests. When we started, our goal was two-part. Can we reduce the risk of investing in forests, and can we lower the cost of reducing emissions from deforestion? The only way to do that is globally and at scale.

We believe that we should also engage globally and at scale with the aviation industry.

The REDD methodology that will be approved finally here in Paris is low cost, at scale, it has the atmospheric integrity that is required. We’ve completed all of the international ruleset, we have clear and transparent results, and its already supported by the World Bank, the United Nations system, reducing the risk for other actors to get involved. It’s national at scale.

So, the reason I’m here today is, can a partnership between the forests and aviation help bridge the gap that we see re the INDCs? Right now we’re at about a 3.5 degree trajectory, can we have a partnership that brings us closer to 2?

Conrad is being disingenuous here. He knows that the INDCs are within the UNFCCC. And that the aviation sector is outside the UNFCCC. A REDD carbon offset deal with the aviation sector would do precisely nothing to improve the INDCs. If, say, Indonesia decided to sell REDD credits to the aviation industry, it would then have fewer REDD credits available to meet its targets in its INDC.

ConradI’ve outlined some steps as to how we can get that done, I don’t want to bore you with that, we can talk about it offline.

But the goal is simple. As the ICAO sets up its market based mechanism, how is it that the REDD countries can create a market based mechanism of themselves, keep the two separate but have them engaged directly.

And with that I’m going to close and allow the industry experts to detail that.

I don’t want to steal your thunder, but Brice, you said that one is a problem and one is a solution. She says that the airline industry is a solution. I say we’re both solutions. Thank you.

Conrad, then, wants to allow the aviation industry, the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases on the planet, to continue to expand its polluting operations as planned. And he calls that a solution to climate change. It’s not. It’s a recipe to burn the planet.

Here are four previous posts on REDD-Monitor illustrating the crucial importance of reducing emissions from burning fossil fuels and the danger of offsetting the carbon stored in forests against continued emissions from fossil fuels:


Leave a Reply

  1. I disagree with you Chris. To me it really is irrelevant where the money for REDD+ originates (NGOS, governments, aviation, energy, cement or other sectors). The real problem is that increasingly fewer of us are reducing our fossil fuel use. Why shouldn’t we all have a carbon cap that we must live within? Why shouldn’t we all need to report our fossil-fuel usage? Many in our midst are looking for commerce to pay for REDD+, when the truth is that WE all are the users, producers and consumers of fossil-fuel-based products, and we can also choose not to use them, if we are serious enough. If we simply put the cost of REDD+ on business and don’t all simultaneously reduce our own personal fossil fuel use (e.g. fly less, drive less, use less energy, consume fewer fossil-fuel-connected products, become more efficient, convert our energy producing infrastructure to renewables, etc), then REDD+ and other mitigation schemes aren’t going to register a serious impact, and we are going to fail.

  2. @Peter Schlesinger – Thanks for this. I’m not sure I understand why you disagree with me, so I’ll try to explain my position again.

    The biggest problem with Kevin Conrad’s proposed deal with the aviation industry is that it’s a carbon trading mechanism. That means for every REDD credit that the aviation industry buys, it will emit one tonne of CO2e.

    At the best (assuming no leakage, perfect additionality, no forest fires, no illegal logging, no sudden increases in agriculture commodity prices, and no surprises of any sort in forest politics for at least the next 100 years or so) any reductions in emissions from deforestation would be traded away against continued emissions from ever-increasing flying. If deforestation continues after the REDD credits are traded, the result will be double the emissions.

    You ask “Why shouldn’t we all have a carbon cap that we must live within?” ICAO operates outside the UNFCCC. It is not covered by the Paris Agreement. Which means that the aviation industry doesn’t even have to apply the voluntary, pathetically weak cap in the Paris Agreement.

    An alternative to trying to cap 7.4 billion people, could be to regulate the few thousand corporations involved in digging fossil fuels out of the ground. (For example, along the lines of Oliver Tickell’s proposal in his book Kyoto2 – you can read George Monbiot’s article about the book here.)

    I agree with you, by the way, that we all have to reduce our emissions. I’ve only flown once in the past three years and don’t own a car. I’ve been vegan for about ten months.

  3. Well, I took your advice and skipped to the rap at the end of the video (yes, this was how I read your advice…). It is unbelievably bad. Not so-bad-that-it’s-good but rather depressingly-bad. I guess this is what the rich white boys do when they get together. Oh brother. Depressing, but also adequate, considering how weak the presentation was. It is astonishing to see how the major economic policies being implemented in this neoliberal world are designed by people who don’t have a clue about what they are doing. This presentation was a good example of that.

  4. I see Chris as one of those self obsessed people who are so jealous of people like Kevin because he himself cannot set a legacy. I am sorry Chris but your little article is nothing but a screaming facade.

  5. @Aviation PNG – Thanks for this. My concern with Kevin Conrad’s proposal to offset aviation emissions is that it will not address climate change – it will instead make it worse. Nothing to do with anyone’s legacy.

    If we do not address climate change, the forests are going to go up in smoke – which of course is already happening.