in DR Congo, Norway

Norway’s latest forest and climate shambles: the Central African Forest Initiative

In September 2015, Norway and a handful of European countries launched the Central African Forest Initiative. CAFI is aimed at reducing emissions from deforestation in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gabon, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, the Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo.

In April 2016, the Democratic Republic of Congo signed a US$200 million deal with CAFI.

But CAFI is already falling apart, as this anonymous contribution clearly shows. It is posted here in full and unedited:

Norway’s latest forest and climate shambles: the Central African Forest Initiative

The revelations by Greenpeace this week that DR Congo’s Minister for Environment, Robert Bopolo, had been issuing entirely illegal logging concessions must have come as a huge embarrassment to Norway’s Minister for Climate, Vidar Helgesen. Only last August, Helgesen had rushed to Kinshasa following Greenpeace revelations that Bopolo’s predecessor, Bienvenu Liyota, had similarly been awarding illegal concessions during 2015, in his case to two Chinese companies.

These logging permits – the issuing of which contravene a legally-binding national moratorium on new logging concessions – threatened to punch a hole in the credibility of Norway’s planned donation of nearly $200 million to supposedly ‘protect’ DRC’s forests. Unfortunately, shortly after posing for the cameras alongside minister Helgesen in August last year, the Congolese minister himself then issued two huge and illegal logging permits, this time to two of President Kabila’s political cronies.

Bopolo has himself now been replaced in the political manoeuvring for power that has swept Kinshasa, and which sets the scene for a new era of kleptocracy to accompany Kabila’s likely tilt for permanent presidency. But the problems with this latest of Norway’s big bilateral ‘REDD’ agreements have not gone away with Minister Bopolo.

Norway signed its Letter of Intent with the DRC government in April 2016. In order to circumvent a political blockage on direct relations with DRC, and to try to make it appear that its new REDD programme was actually a multilateral initiative supported by other governments, the Norwegian government had in the months leading up to the signing of the agreement formed a grouping call the ‘Central African Forest Initiative’, CAFI. This body includes the governments of several European countries, the EU and UNDP on its board – though, apart from $3m from France, only Norway has committed any money to CAFI’s fund. Other governments were surprised when Norway suddenly signed the agreement with DRC on behalf of CAFI, before the Board members had fully approved it, and they reportedly remain very much ‘sleeping partners’, with Norway leading all the key decisions.

The agreement with DRC commits to the allocation of “at least $200 million” from 2016-2020 to support the implementation of DRC’s so-called ‘REDD+ Investment Plan’. This plan, which had been cooked up over several years between a small coterie of multinational agencies and influential advisors in the DRC ministry, is highly controversial (CAFI’s website claims, dishonestly, that the Plan is the result of years of consultation and participation). Setting out a vision for the expenditure of up to a billion dollars across various economic sectors, the plan is notable for laying the blame for deforestation mostly on small-scale subsistence farmers, exonerating large-scale logging companies from any culpability in causing forest damage or destruction, being almost completely non-committal on issues of peoples’ rights and land tenure, and including numerous vaguely described ‘REDD+ Integrated Programmes’ – only one of which has even reached the stage of a concrete, yet still highly implausible, proposal (see below). The Plan was the subject of intense and detailed criticism by a number of international NGOs including the Rainforest Foundation Norway, Global Witness and Greenpeace, but the Norwegian government’s International Forests and Climate Initiative, NICFI, chose to ignore most of these concerns, and then later pledged to support the plan.

Following the sudden announcement of the Norway-DRC agreement, amidst growing certainty that the President of DRC would breach the country’s constitution and refuse to step down and hold elections by the end of 2016, criticism of the CAFI programme continued to grow. International NGOs pointed out that NICFI seemed to have highly inadequate safeguards to deal with the bad and deteriorating governance of DRC’s forests – highlighted by the fact that the DRC government had allocated the first three of the illegal concessions only months before the Norway agreement was signed. The ability of NGOs to properly observe and monitor the implementation of CAFI’s programmes, or to hold the government to account, was called sharply into question when in July 2016 the DRC government arrested and peremptorily deported two Global Witness staff, even though they had not committed any crime.

As yet, despite the severity of the logging moratorium breaches dating back to 2015, not a single person in DRC has been arrested or faced sanctions. To date, CAFI appears to have done little or nothing to find out exactly how DRC’s responsible ministers – and presumably some senior officials – seem to be able to illegally slate huge areas of forest for logging, with apparent impunity, thus critically threatening forest conservation measures. But the repetition of such illegalities also after the LoI was signed, as revealed this week, shows that CAFI’s programmes are gravely at risk.

Perhaps the Norwegian government doesn’t care, or has such an interest in CAFI’s programmes appearing to succeed that it will continue throwing money at DRC regardless. In Guyana – where Norway also released money through its REDD agreement in a febrile political environment – it was common knowledge that the government under President Bharrat Jagdeo, favourite of both NICFI and Britain’s Prince Charles, had for years colluded with the country’s biggest logger, Bai Shan Lin, to allow illegal concessions to remain open and flagrantly in breach of investment laws, even as Guyana was taking Norway’s money for supposedly protecting its forests. Instead of recruiting auditors which would have spotted such egregious inconsistencies, Norway commissioned independent monitoring agencies that would tell the story they wanted. A newly published paper from the leading analyst of Guyana’s forest policy, Dr Janette Bulkan of the University of British Colombia, describes how Norway and Guyana had common cause to use supposedly ‘independent’ audits of their REDD agreement to make it appear successful: “Both governments have a vested interest in positive audit reports and appear to have used their power accordingly to reward or dismiss auditors… The progressive watering down of the compliance indicators makes such weakly monitored REDD+ schemes ineffective as one mechanism for slowing global warming.”

Norway continued to provide funds to Guyana even when deforestation was increasing, not decreasing. Favouring appearances over real substance, it did nothing to insist on better governance – indeed it allowed the president’s office to break the terms of its agreement with Norway by dipping into the REDD funds on the eve of hotly disputed elections (which Jagdeo anyway lost). As REDD-Monitor has revealed, Norway has been attempting to use its REDD funds to promote debt-inducing, rainforest-damaging development in Guyana, which the current government neither wants nor supports.

This kind of pattern could easily be repeated in DRC. Under the DRC LoI, three-fifths of Norway’s money ($120m) would be disbursed before March 2018, and without any specific ‘milestones’ having to have been achieved. As well as the risks that Norwegian public money will be misused and fuel corruption, it also appears as if Norway is knowingly supporting projects that could have grave impacts on DRC’s forests. One of these, to be implemented by the French cooperation agency, AFD, would effectively provide a subsidy to large-scale loggers, help to legitimise their damaging activities, and probably see the country’s overarching Forest Code being revised to further advantage logging companies.

Other projects already approved by CAFI include ‘pre-financing’ for the highly controversial Mai Ndombe ‘integrated REDD programme’. If it passes World Bank due diligence this year, this massive project covering around 12 million hectares of DRC’s forests would eventually be able to sell up to $50 million worth of carbon credits to the World Bank’s Carbon Fund. The project has caused serious concerns about its likely impact on the two million who live in the area and are highly dependent on access to the forest for their meagre livelihoods. Although the Carbon Fund is supposed to be a strictly ‘payment for performance’ mechanism, it has clearly dawned on Norway and other investors that no carbon credits are likely to be produced and available for sale from Mai Ndombe unless they themselves pay for measures that will actually create the emissions’ reductions in the first place. Norway is much the biggest investor in the Carbon Fund, and has a major interest in large-scale ‘jurisdictional REDD’ programmes appearing to succeed in generating ‘trade-quality’ carbon credits (the Carbon Fund is being considered as a source of cheap carbon credits to offset the emissions from the global air travel industry). Hence Norway now investing $30 million in the Mai Ndombe project through CAFI, even though none of the concerns about lack of consultation, lack of measures to secure land tenure, and lack of plausible alternative livelihoods for local people, have been addressed.

Despite calls from NGOs during 2016 that CAFI’s funding to DRC should be halted, now reiterated in the wake of the latest illegalities, Norway has already released $44 million for projects, including for the Mai Ndombe project, which have been ‘approved’ by a committee consisting mostly of DRC government officials.

Perhaps most shockingly, the process for approving and financing CAFI’s first batch of projects – and for quickly moving towards the next ones, which would include the AFD proposal – has been carried out in clear breach of the Letter of Intent. This states as two of its ‘general principles’ that “Respect of rights and aspirations of all stakeholders, including local communities and indigenous peoples will be taken into consideration at the start of the planning phase and during implementation” and that there will be “Respect of principles of consultation, participation and transparency in the processes of design and implementation of interventions from the National REDD+ Framework Strategy and Investment Plan, with due regard to UN‐REDD/FCPF Stakeholder engagement guidelines”. In fact, apart from two civil society representatives on the national REDD fund committee, who have often had woefully inadequate time to properly assess project proposals and discuss them with colleagues, there has been almost no consultation whatsoever about any of the projects before they have been approved, let alone in their design stage. To date, none of the project documents has even been made publicly available.

There appears to have been no attempt at all by Norway to ensure that its supposed requirements for transparency and participation from the very earliest stages of project development – as is very clearly spelled out in the UN-REDD Guidelines – have been complied with. It seems that, as has been noted in other countries such as Guyana, the process of delivering the REDD programmes is driven almost entirely by Norway’s grant disbursement schedule. NGO concerns have been dismissed, corners cut, warning signs ignored. Lessons from cases such as Guyana have either not been learned, or perhaps even cynically used to better inform the Norwegian government how to avoid negative public perceptions, rather than ensuring that NICFI’s programmes are actually effective.

Overall, NICFI’s programmes, which have involved expenditure of more than $3 billion, appear to have escaped any serious scrutiny from the Norwegian Parliament. The Norway-DRC agreement has had none whatsoever. Norway’s decision-makers may find out too late that their executive is knowingly taking huge risks and making serious errors.


PHOTO Credit: Former DRC Forest Minister Robert Bopolo Mbongeza, Norwegian Climate Minister Vidar Helgesen, and DRC Finance Minister Henri Yav Mulang (from left to right) in Kinshasa, 23 August 2016.

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