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CIFOR’s Peter Holmgren on REDD: “It’s disappeared”

Peter Holmgren is Director General of the Centre for International Forestry Research. In January 2017, he was invited to give a keynote presentation at the International Society of Tropical Foresters conference at Yale University. During his presentation, Holmgren announced that REDD has disappeared.

Holmgren works through a list of six “Selected problem-oriented framings that can be problematic”. REDD comes under the fifth framing: “Silver bullet short-term approaches”.

“Anyone remember REDD?” Holmgren asks.

“It’s disappeared. It’s still there negotiation wise, and in some, shall we say, long running programmes from governments etc. But, you know, it was a good idea. Didn’t work. We need to think differently.”

I disagree with Holmgren when he says that REDD was a good idea. But thinking differently is certainly a good idea.

Holmgren mentions the most recent silver bullet short-term approach: “Zero deforestation”. “What does it mean?” he asks. “Nobody knows”, he says in answer to his own question.

Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies has made Holmgren’s presentation available on its YouTube account, starting at 53:18. Here’s the bit where he talks about REDD:

Chris Meyer is a senior manager at Environmental Defense Fund. He is also the Northern Civil Society Organisations observer and Civil Society Organisations observer to the Executive Board of the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. Predictably, Meyer disagrees with Holmgren.

Meyer writes on EDF’s website that far from having disappeared, “REDD+ is steadily advancing in countries and states around the world”.

Meyer gives a series of examples as evidence that REDD is “advancing”. But none of these examples involve REDD actually reducing deforestation.

Meyer’s first three points involve countries submitting documents about REDD to the UNFCCC. Brazil, has, Meyer writes, “taken the lead” by submitting four documents to the UNFCCC: a national REDD+ strategy, a forest reference level, information on safeguards, and a national forest monitoring system.

Of course, Meyer doesn’t mention that deforestation in Brazil is increasing. Or that Norway’s US$1 billion REDD deal with Brazil had practically no impact on rates of deforestation in Brazil. Or that a new bill would open up more than one million hectares of forest in conservation areas to the mining industry.

Meyer’s next point is that in 2016, the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility approved REDD programmes from Chile, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mexico. Meyer adds that, “these programs will begin generating emissions reductions this year,” and that the “World Bank plans to sign purchase agreements with some of the programs by the end of 2017”.

Of course, Meyer doesn’t mention the recent scandal of a series of illegal logging concessions being awarded in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Or anything about the difficulties and risks associated with implementing REDD in a country like DRC. Or the recent fires in Chile.

Meyer’s other points are about funding for REDD, from the Green Climate Fund and from the governments of Germany, Norway, and the UK (the GNU countries). This is all future funding, which may or may not reduce deforestation.

After 10 years of REDD, then, Meyer cannot point to a single example of REDD having reduced deforestation. Meyer’s pointing to future funding as evidence of REDD “progress” is a spectacularly weak argument. Particularly given Norway’s record of handing over billions without any identifiable reductions in deforestation. Meyer’s argument amounts to little more than a confirmation that Holmgren is correct when he says that REDD has disappeared.

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