in Norway

REDD is “no silver bullet”, admits Ola Elvestuen Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment

Last month saw the Oslo Tropical Forest Forum 2018, 10 years after REDD was included in the Bali Road Map, at the UN climate negotiations in December 2007. “The goal of the forum is to celebrate results and identify remaining challenges,” according to the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation’s website about the event.

This post takes a look the opening speech given by Ola Elvestuen, Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment, at the Oslo Tropical Forest Forum.

Elvestuen started with the bad news:

Today, I’d like to reflect on where we are and where we need to go, ten years after REDD+ was launched in Bali. And I think bad news first. Despite significant progress, we are not on track.

Instead of forests slowing climate change, forest destruction is still driving climate change. Data from Global Forest Watch show a loss of tree cover equivalent to the area of France, Germany, and the UK combined in the last decade.

This is a crisis of existential proportions. We either deal with it, or leave for future generations a planet in ecological collapse.

Elvestuen then moves swiftly on to the “good news”, without attempting to analyse why REDD has failed to reduce deforestation.

“The good news are twofold,” Elvestuen tells us.

“First, the case for action is stronger than ever. No one questions the benefits of halting and reversing deforestation for sustainable development. Nor the disastrous consequences of inaction…. The longer we wait the less attractive our options will be.”

Which is a bit like waiting for two or three hours while your house burns out of control, before ringing for the fire brigade, and announcing the good news that it is now beyond doubt that the house really is burning down.

Deforestation free supply chains

“We must fundamentally transform the world’s food system over the next decade,” Elvestuen says. “The deforestation free supply chain movement must succeed and go global.” Later in his speech, he describes the 2014 New York Declaration on Forests (which Norway paid for) as a “breakthrough”.

Elvestuen acknowledges that “ending deforestation from soy, palm oil, beef, and paper by 2020 will be extremely challenging”.

That’s a bit of an understatement.

A January 2018 report about zero deforestation supply chains produced for the Prince of Wales’ International Sustainability Unit describes the review of progress (or lack of it) as “sobering”.

The report concludes that,

Despite a rapid increase in pledges and government efforts to reduce deforestation, no clear evidence exists that the various initiatives are having their intended impacts. At least 10 million hectares of tropical forest continue to be lost and degraded every year, with commercial agriculture responsible for well over half of this loss, and new deforestation fronts and hotspots opening all the time.

Regulations, enforcement, and incentives

Elvestuen’s second piece of good news is that, “We know what it will take. Stopping deforestation primarily comes down to public policies. It’s about regulations, enforcement, and incentives.”

At least Elevstuen isn’t telling us that stopping deforestation will be quick and cheap, as Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg announced in 2007 at the launch of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative.

Elevstuen gives two examples of regulations on land tenure from Peru, and Indonesia. In Peru, he argues, large areas of land have no formal status, “neither protected, nor set aside for production. It belongs to no one.” He praises Peru’s goal of reducing by half the area of uncategorised forest.

Indonesia has the opposite problem, of overlapping concessions. “Sorting through these issues is about putting the country ahead of special interests,” Elevstuen says.

Elevstuen doesn’t mention the Democratic Republic of Congo in his speech. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, given the current state of turmoil in DRC’s REDD programme, and the fact that the government of the country has abandoned any pretence of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Elevstuen talks about Brazil as an example of successful enforcement of forest regulations. “Brazil’s dramatic cuts in deforestation in the Amazon was in large part due to enforcement,” he says. Meanwhile, he says, Indonesia has stepped up enforcement of its peat and logging moratorium.

“Allow the finance sector to engage”

Elevstuen’s third “bucket of reforms” is “about the money”. He explains that few agricultural subsidies are intended to cause deforestation, “But too often they do so as a side effect.”

He argues for “a global push to minimise deforestation from agricultural subsidy schemes”.

He encourages companies involved in the soy, palm oil, beef, and paper industries to stop making excuses for not stopping deforestation. We need transparency and accountability, not new targets and timelines, he says. Companies should “work with their suppliers to kick out the systematic deforesters and disclose who they buy from”. Forest countries should contribute to this transparency, by releasing concession maps and ownership data.

Once all the data is out there, NGOs can target the worst offenders and praise the best companies.

Then we can leave it to the market:

“Access to objective and standardised data will finally allow the finance sector to engage. Banks, investors, and asset managers, can go much further in managing material risks from deforestation. Through investor engagement, through divestments from the worst offenders, and by progressively shifting investments to companies that manage risks well.

Norway and REDD

Elevstuen has the following to say about Norway’s ongoing support of REDD:

“Germany, Norway, and the UK pledged US$12 billion to REDD+ between 2015 and 2020. And we are delivering on that pledge. That’s far from enough. Ten years ago, REDD+ was thought to mobilise tens of billions through carbon markets. That didn’t happen.

“The original idea of REDD+ had flaws. It implied a trade off between protection and development. REDD+ would compensate for foregone income. This downplayed the local and national benefits of action and vastly overstated the costs.

“You don’t reduce global deforestation by compensating for the most profitable alternative use of land, hectare by hectare, year by year, for eternity. Some local forest carbon projects still operate by this flawed logic.

“What REDD+ can do is support a national transition to efficient and fair land use by paying countries and states for reduced emissions. No silver bullet, but a fundamental part of the solution.

“Norway’s strategy has evolved since 2008. We gradually broadened our strategy as circumstances changed. We will continue to reward ambitious forest countries showing political will and results. Paying for reduced emissions remains a core part of our strategy. International payments provide a political incentive as well as a financial one.

“A few hundred million dollars will never convince tropical forest countries to do something against their will. It is remarkable how often commentators seem to believe that. A billion dollars is a lot of money, but not relative to the profits from soy and beef.

“We only pay for a small share of Brazil’s results. But we recognise them and their commitment to act. Since 2008, we have transferred more than US$1.1 billion dollars to the Amazon Fund, a Fund solely designed by Brazil.

“Our payments have supported 96 indigenous territories on an area larger than Germany, helped protect 100 national parks, strengthened Brazil’s environmental police, and registered private properties on an area the size of France.

“And we will continue to partner with countries with strong ambitions and a willingness to commit and help them go further. Today, after this session, Germany and Norway will sign a results-based REDD+ partnership with Ecuador.”

Elvestuen admits that REDD is “no silver bullet”.

But he insists that it is “a fundamental part of the solution.” The only evidence that Elvestuen gives for this is the tired tale of Brazil as a REDD success story.

Of course, he does not mention that in the seven years before Norway started its REDD payments to Brazil, the country had reduced deforestation from 28,000 square kilometres per year to about 7,000. And in the seven years since Norway started REDD payments, Brazil’s deforestation has remained stubbornly at more or less the same level. In recent years it has increased.

Having acknowledged at the beginning of his speech that ten years of REDD has failed to reduce deforestation, Elvestuen announces that Norway will continue to finance REDD.

And of course, Elvestuen makes no mention of Norway’s granting of oil and gas exploration licences in the Arctic.


PHOTO Credit: Ola Elvestuen at the Oslo Tropical Forest Forum 2018, by Mats Bakken.

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