in Norway, UK

REDD myth no. 4: REDD will be quick and cheap

In December 2007, Norway’s then-prime minister Jens Stoltenberg launched Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI). Stoltenberg announced that Norway would be handing out more than US$500 million a year “to prevent deforestation in developing countries”. Stoltenberg was convinced that stopping deforestation would be quick and cheap.

In his speech at the UN climate negotiations (COP 13) in Bali, Stoltenberg said,

Through effective measures against deforestation we can achieve large cuts in greenhouse gas emissions – quickly and at low cost. The technology is well known and has been available for thousands of years. Everybody knows how not to cut down a tree.

Save the rainforest – save the climate!

The idea behind NICFI came from two men called Lars: Lars Løvold, then-director of Rainforest Foundation Norway; and Lars Haltbrekken, then-chairman of the Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature (Friends of the Earth Norway).

On 27 September 2007, Lars and Lars sent a letter to Stoltenberg and other politicians. Only one-and-a-half pages long, the letter was headlined, “Not too late: Save the rainforest – save the climate!” .

Lars and Lars suggested that Norway allocate US$1 billion (6 billion NOK) each year for five years to protect rainforests as a way of addressing climate change. Lars and Lars argued that US$1 billion amounted to 10% of the funding needed to stop deforestation globally. The idea was that 10 rich countries could contribute the same amount. And deforestation would be stopped.

Their letter ends as follows:

Norway’s annual contribution to this work should be 6 billion NOK – equivalent to 10 percent of the estimated cost of halting deforestation in the world. This constitutes only 1,300 NOK per year per capita in Norway, but can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 700 million tons per year. Norway will become more than 10 times climate-neutral. If Norway manages to get the ten to fifteen richest countries in the world to give as much as Norway, we will have eliminated 20 percent of the world’s emissions.

Lars and Lars push another REDD myth in their letter by overestimating the proportion of total greenhouse gas emissions accounted for by deforestation. In fact the figure is 11% (according to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, p. 869).

Carbon offsetting?

To promote their letter, Lars and Lars flew Márcio Santilli from the Brazilian organisation Instituto Socioambiental to meet Norwegian politicians.

Santilli was an interesting choice to lobby Norwegian politicians in support of Lars and Lars’ proposal. While Lars and Lars argue that REDD should not be a carbon offsetting mechanism, Santilli is in favour of carbon trading.

In 2005, Santilli was lead author of an “Editorial Essay” in Climate Change titled, “Tropical Deforestation and the Kyoto Protocol”. The paper concluded with the argument that,

The future of the Kyoto Protocol is indeterminate, but the contribution of tropical deforestation to global climate change is not. There is still time for scientists and policy makers to seize what is surely among the greatest opportunities for the global environment today – international carbon emissions trading for the protection of tropical forests – before the gains of the Kyoto Protocol go up in smoke.

It seems Stoltenberg listened more to Santilli than he did to Lars and Lars. “We have to create a global system of carbon trading and CO2 taxes,” Stoltenberg said in his speech in Bali.

REDD is “not a quick fix”

In 2009, Christian Pilegaard Hansen, Jens Friis Lund, and Thorsten Treue wrote a paper titled, “Neither fast, nor easy: the prospect of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) in Ghana”, published in the International Forestry Review.

In their conclusion, Hansen, Lund, and Treue write the following:

The paper challenges the common narrative of REDD as being a fast and comparatively easy way to reduce CO2 emissions. It demonstrates that deforestation and forest degradation in Ghana is driven by a complex set of underlying causes, some of which are within the forestry sector, while others lie outside. The paper argues that, realistically, REDD measures will address primarily those within the forestry sector. Our further analysis of these causes, through the lens of political economy, suggests that they reflect a de facto prioritisation of economic growth over forest conservation, while at the same time serving interests of particular groups, notably the political and administrative elite. We argue that the prospect of future REDD payments is unlikely to drive reforms in the short run, primarily because reforms would inevitably reduce the discretionary power of elite groups over forest resources, and hence run against their interests.

The authors note that the Ghana case is not unique and “REDD is likely to be neither fast, nor easy in many developing countries”.

In a 2010 report for the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, Göran Eklöf wrote that, it is “naïve and dangerous to think that [reducing deforestation] will be quick or easy”. Eklöf added that,

“The assumption that it would be quick or easy to reduce deforestation cannot have any other foundation than ignorance.”

But REDD proponents tend to be reluctant to admit that reducing deforestation is in fact a lot more complicated than they optimistically believed in 2007.

One of Lars and Lars’ main sources was the 2006 Stern Report. A key message of the Stern Report is that, “Curbing deforestation is a highly cost-effective way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and has the potential to offer significant reductions fairly quickly.”

I wrote to Sir Nicholas Stern several times in 2012 to ask whether he has reconsidered his optimistic views about REDD as a carbon trading mechanism. I’m still waiting for Stern’s response.

Recently, however, Morten Nordskag, former Policy Director of Forest Investment and Multilateral Cooperation at Norway’s Ministry of Climate and Environment, admitted that REDD will be neither quick nor cheap:

“All of us thought that this could be easily done, and very quickly. And now we have gained lessons learned that it is not a quick fix to ask countries to do a wholesale change of their land use and forest policies because it’s so embedded in their economic development policies.”

Nordskag’s comment appears in a video produced to celebrate 10 years of the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. Nordskag’s is the only remotely critical comment in the video, despite the fact that 10 years after its launch, the FCPF has failed to prevent a single ton of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

As a post last year on REDD-Monitor notes, the FCPF “has proven to be a staggeringly ineffective way to reduce deforestation, with astronomical administrative costs and nothing to show in the way of prevented deforestation”.

This is the fourth in an occasional series of REDD myths on REDD-Monitor.

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