By Chris Lang
REDD did not appear from nowhere. Behind the idea are people and institutions who have promoted REDD in different ways over the past decades. Understanding REDD means understanding the players involved and their motivations for promoting a scheme to generate carbon credits from tropical forests instead of finding ways to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
Earlier this year, I wrote a report about REDD for the German NGO Stiftung Asienhaus. The report takes a look at some of the people behind REDD and at REDD projects in Indonesia, Cambodia, and Papua New Guinea, as a way of critically examining the promise of REDD as a means to mitigate climate change.
The purpose of this post is to introduce the report and take a quick look at the current state of REDD. It will be the first in a mini-series of posts looking at the people and organisations behind REDD.
REDD is dead
In an April 2016 paper in Conservation Biology Robert Fletcher (Wageningen University), Wolfram Dressler (University of Melbourne), Bram Büscher (Wageningen University), and Zachary R. Anderson (University of Toronto) wrote,
“Increasingly, one hears furtive whispers in the halls of conservation: ‘REDD+ is dead; it’s time to cut our losses and move on.’”
Carbon trading is not paying for REDD. The average price of REDD credits on the voluntary market has fallen steadily. In 2015, the average price fell to a new low of US$3.3.
Supply of REDD credits massively exceeds the demand for them.
Writing in 2014, Ecosystem Marketplace’s Steve Zwick admitted that the economic case for REDD just didn’t stand up:
“REDD didn’t create an incentive to save forests, because anyone who responded to purely economic incentives would opt for palm oil. What REDD did create was a financing mechanism that might make it possible for people who wanted to save the forest to do so.”
REDD the undead
REDD survives in its current zombie-like state thanks to the support of multilateral organisations like the World Bank, UNFCCC, UN-REDD, and bilateral support from the governments, particularly Norway, Germany and the UK.
While REDD was included in the UNFCCC’s Paris Agreement, the text states only that countries are “encouraged to take action to implement and support” REDD.
No commitments were made on financing REDD in the Paris text.
But the Paris Agreement did introduce a new carbon trading mechanism hidden behind the euphemism “voluntary cooperation” between countries. REDD may or may not be part of this carbon trading mechanism.
The REDDheads report notes that,
The most serious problem with including REDD in a carbon trading mechanism is that it will generate very large numbers of carbon credits. The buyers of these carbon credits will use them to continue greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere.
Leaving fossil fuels in the ground is the only way to prevent them from being burned and further contributing to climate change. Yet keeping fossil fuels in the ground is not on the agenda at the UN climate meetings. The words “fossil fuels” do not appear anywhere in the Paris Agreement.
Will the aviation industry save REDD?
At a side event to the UN climate negotiations in Paris, Kevin Conrad, the man who introduced REDD to the UNFCCC, presented his latest vision of REDD: an offset mechanism to allow the aviation industry to continue polluting while claiming to be addressing its greenhouse gas emissions.
Over the past 10 days in Montreal, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the UN aviation body, held its triennial assembly. One item on the agenda was to thrash out an agreement on a global market-based mechanism, aimed at offsetting the aviation sector’s continued emissions.
ICAO agreed on a scheme to offset emissions on a voluntary basis. No criteria have yet been set for whether REDD credits will be eligible. Meanwhile, a series of organisations such as Ecosystem Marketplace, Forest Trends, EDF, the Nature Conservancy, Climate Advisers and the Center for Global Development are promoting using REDD to offset the aviation industry’s ever increasing emissions. Some of them are directly supported by the Norwegian government.
Like REDD, this crazy proposal to offset the emissions of the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases only survives because of the well-funded hard work put in by these organisations. Combined of course with the fact that the aviation industry prefers offsets to admitting that we urgently need to reduce how much we fly.
This REDD-Monitor mini-series, “REDDheads“, will look into the people who dreamed up REDD, and the people and organisations that continue to keep REDD undead.
PHOTO Credit: Military bunker in community forest area, next to the Dangrek escarpment, Oddar Meanchey province, Cambodia (March 2012), by Shalmali Guttal, Focus on the Global South.