Last year, four academics published a paper in Conservation Biology, with the title, “Questioning REDD+ and the future of market-based conservation”. The paper starts with this memorable line, “Increasingly, one hears furtive whispers in the halls of conservation: ‘REDD+ is dead; it’s time to cut our losses and move on.’”
The paper was written by Robert Fletcher (Wageningen University), Wolfram Dressler (University of Melbourne), Bram Büscher (Wageningen University), and Zachary R. Anderson (University of Toronto). REDD-Monitor summarised the paper here.
In April 2017, scientists linked to CIFOR published a response in Conservation Biology. Rather than questioning REDD, they are learning from REDD. The CIFOR scientists’ paper also starts with a memorable line:
Although REDD+ is approaching its 10th anniversary, major impacts in terms of reduced forest loss are hard to document.
REDD is “troubled”, but not dead
The authors agree with Fletcher et al. that REDD “has been hyped in some circles”, creating “unrealistic expectations among policy makers and forest dwellers alike”. But they argue that REDD is evolving, and the critique misunderstands the concept of payment for environmental services.
The CIFOR scientists, Arild Angelsen (Norwegian University of Life Sciences), Maria Brockhaus (University of Helsinki), Louis Verchot (International Center for Tropical Agriculture), Amy E. Duchelle, Anne Larson, Christopher Martius, William D. Sunderlin, Grace Wong, and Sven Wunder (CIFOR), argue that there are four reasons that REDD has failed to reduce deforestation:
- REDD+ has not yet been implemented at the scale needed to make a difference,
- REDD+ has evolved from the initial PES vision to a modified version of previous and largely ineffective conservation efforts,
- REDD+ has been blocked by powerful actors interested in maintaining the status quo, and
- REDD+ is conceptually flawed in its design as a PES and MBI [market based instrument] scheme.
They accuse Fletcher et al. of not addressing the first three problems. “We believe,” the CIFOR scientists write, “that REDD+, although troubled, is not dead.”
It’s all a bit like Monty Python’s parrot sketch. To paraphrase John Cleese,
REDD is no more. It has ceased to be. It’s expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late REDD. It’s a stiff. Bereft of life it rests in peace. If you hadn’t nailed it to the perch it would be pushing up the daisies. It’s rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-REDD.
Oh, actually, REDD is dead
CIFOR’s scientists point out that REDD as a carbon trading mechanism is indeed dead. “A global carbon market has not materialized and is unlikely to emerge,” they write.
REDD funding instead comes from results-based aid. Examples are Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative, Germany’s REDD Early Movers, and the Green Climate Fund, which CIFOR’s scientists expect “to increasingly finance REDD+”.
Several countries have included REDD in their nationally determined contributions. Then there’s the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force. And REDD projects that sell carbon credits on the voluntary carbon market.
CIFOR’s scientists write that, “As practiced today, REDD+ cannot be considered a generic MBI [market based instrument].” They agree with Fletcher et al. that more attention should be paid to the political economy of deforestation.
No it’s not. REDD is “people-oriented conservation”
REDD, according to CIFOR’s scientists, “has been informed extensively by people-oriented conservation”:
Discourses on REDD+ stress the need for direct payments to forest users based on both effectiveness (creating pecuniary incentives) and equity (compensating those who shoulder the conservation costs).
CIFOR’s scientists list some of the ways that REDD “promotes equitable outcomes”: benefit sharing; free, prior and informed consent; multi-stakeholder forums; land tenure reform: governance reforms; and granting indigenous communities control over their territories.
But as Angelsen et al. well know there are REDD projects that didn’t carry out free, prior and informed consent, that increased inequity, that didn’t successfully share the benefits, that didn’t reform governance, and that didn’t grant anyone control over their territories.
Market-based REDD: The rise of the undead?
It’s probably fair to say that both sides of this debate agree that REDD as a market based mechanism has failed. For Fletcher et al. this means that REDD is dead, another conservation fad that has gone out of fashion.
But according to Angelsen et al., REDD is anything and everything other than a market based mechanism. They argue that command-and-control tools have contained business-as-usual forest destroying interests. And they argue that “REDD+ has certainly contributed” to these command-and-control tools. CIFOR’s scientists put on their Norwegian-funded, rose-coloured glasses and see a new mythical REDD rising from the ashes of the old REDD.
The irony is that REDD as a carbon market mechanism could soon be revived from its current zombie-like state. If the aviation industry’s crazy plans to offset its ever increasing pollution go ahead, it will buy 2.5 billion carbon credits over a 15 year period from 2021. The World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility is in talks with the International Civil Aviation Organisation about using REDD to supply these credits.
In addition to the World Bank, Kevin Conrad, the Norwegian government, and several US-based BINGOs are very keen to see the aviation sector buy REDD credits. None of them seem to care that offsetting emissions from flying (as opposed to reducing emissions from flying) would blow a massive hole in the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting global warming to 2°C.