Back in May 2008, in an article titled, “What Would It Cost to Save Nature?”, German magazine Der Spiegel announced the dawning of “A new age of conservation”.
For the first time, a value is being assigned to forests, plants and coral reefs, a value that makes them worthy of protection. It is nothing short of a paradigm shift in the environmental movement.
One of the examples given in the Spiegel article is saving the Congo rainforest:
The World Bank already plans to incorporate the entire Congo basin into its Forest Carbon Partnership program. The Washington-based organization wants to enter the emissions trading market with the CO2 stored by the Congo rainforest. Because deforestation in tropical regions is responsible for about 20 percent of climate change, protecting the forest is synonymous with protecting the climate – and the world community is increasingly willing to pay a lot of money to make that happen.
In common with many other REDD optimists, the Spiegel article overestimated 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).
In December 2016, DRC’s Emissions Reduction Program Documents were “provisionally” included in the the Carbon Fund of the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.
Standoff with international donors
This week, ten years after the Spiegel article, Climate Home News has an excellent overview of the shambles that is the REDD programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo:
A major forest protection scheme in the Democratic Republic of Congo is in turmoil, amid a standoff between the country’s environment ministry and international donors.
Amy Ambatobe, DRC’s Environment Minister, has developed a habit of handing out logging concessions, in breach of the country’s 2002 moratorium on new logging concessions. In February 2018, he awarded three logging concessions to Chinese companies, covering a total area of 6,500 square kilometres.
Then, in March 2018, he wrote to the Prime Minister starting a process to allocate 14 more logging concessions.
On 9 May 2018, Ambatobe passed a Ministerial Decree governing the registration of REDD investments in DRC. The decree is an update of the 2012 decree laying down the procedure for the approval of REDD + projects.
The new decree was passed without civil society’s consent. The Ministry of Environment held two consultations on the decree, but the text of the approved decree has nothing to do with the text discussed during the consultations, a civil society representative in Kinshasa told Enviro News.
Amongst other things, the new decree:
- gives the state exclusive ownership of forest carbon;
- allows only large investment organisations to register REDD projects, effectively excluding community forests from REDD;
- addresses “benefit sharing” in terms of how benefits will be distributed within the government;
- weakens the definition of a REDD project and the definition of an emissions reduction; and
- weakens the requirements for external evaluation.
Meanwhile, DRC’s President Joseph Kabila has handed out three oil exploration concessions covering a vast area, including most of Mai Ndombe province – the site of the World Bank’s proposed REDD programme.
In March 2018, the Central Africa Forest Initiative froze all payments to CAFI projects in DRC. In a statement, CAFI notes that issuing the three logging concessions to Chinese companies “is in direct breach of the 2002 moratorium and the partnership principles outlined in the CAFI Letter of Intent”.
But the problems are not limited to the DRC government side. CAFI is in favour of lifting the 2002 moratorium on new logging concessions. As Simon Counsell, Executive Director of the Rainforest Foundation UK, points out,
“The lifting of the logging moratorium in DRC would drive a coach and horses through the country’s apparent commitments to reducing its carbon emissions from deforestation and degradation. Carbon emissions from forests are likely to soar, and the international community must look closely at whether funding REDD programmes is now viable.”
World Bank also faces criticism
The World Bank’s programme for REDD in the Democratic Republic of Congo also faces serious criticism. In the past 12 months a series of critiques has been published:
- June 2017: An analysis by the Congolese civil society platform Groupe de Travail Climat REDD (GTCR) and international NGOs of the draft benefit sharing plan found that it lacks “even the most basic information such as on what the objectives and scope of the benefits are, who gets rewarded, why, under what conditions, for how long, and in what proportions”.
- August 2017: Rainforest Foundation UK carried out an analysis of the Safeguards Framework for the Mai Ndombe REDD project. Rainforest Foundation UK concluded that, the safeguards are,
deficient in a number of ways including that they do not function as a coherent whole, lack clarity over how safeguards will be enforced and monitored and put forward no credible plan for addressing chronically weak institutional capacity
- March 2018: the Rights and Resources Initiative put out a report that found that REDD in DRC fails to uphold indigenous peoples’ rights and is fuelling land conflicts.
Andy White, RRI’s coordinator comments that,
“Our findings show that the DRC is not yet ready for REDD+ investment. The evidence from other countries shows that REDD+ and similar payment schemes will work only if governments recognise and support community land rights.”