By Chris Lang
The Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor is an extremely biodiverse area of forest in the eastern part of Madagascar. It is one of the largest remaining areas of rainforest in the country. The Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor was designated as a national park in 2015.
In 2007, Conservation International started a REDD project in the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor, with support from the World Bank. Conservation International paints the project as a success on its website:
Together with the government, nonprofits and local communities, our work is helping to keep the forest healthy for the nearly 325,000 people who call the area home and the millions more who depend on it.
But academic research carried out in the project area found that the project is not compensating the poorest of the poor – those who are most affected by the restrictions on forest use.
In 2016, sapphires were discovered inside the project area. The result was a sapphire rush, with tens of thousands of people moving into the National Park and clearing the forest.
The Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor REDD project has appeared three times on REDD-Monitor:
“Lots of mines in the forest”
Recently, Hayley Dixon, a journalist with the Telegraph reported from Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor:
The Telegraph is one of the first media organisations ever to have gained access to illegal mining sites in eastern Madagascar and found that, despite carbon credits being sold on the basis that forest is being protected, there has been an increase in deforestation in recent years.
Dixon writes that a forestry official is posted in Antsevabe, the nearest village to the sapphire mine, along with a soldier armed with an AK-47.
“There are lots of mines in the forest,” the forestry official tells Dixon. “There are a number of gold mines, and the sapphire mine has about 1,000 people working there.”
Dixon interviewed people in the sapphire mining area. One family moved to the area four years ago. Asma, the mother of the family, tells Dixon that,
“There is no conservation here at the mine. I don’t know about a project, but some of the people are bad. They chop down and burn the trees so that they can grow crops and build houses. And there are the lemurs right at the edge of the trees.”
“The economic viabilities of carbon offsetting are ridiculous”
Dixon spoke to Barry Ferguson, a researcher and activist who has worked in Madagascar for more than 20 years. After visiting the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009, and listening to a Conservation International side event about REDD in Madagascar Ferguson noted that,
No mention was made of the hundreds of thousands of Malagasy people whose customary farmlands and forests have been subsumed into new protected areas since 2003, nor of the restrictions which international NGO designed conservation policy has imposed (or tried to impose) on rural Malagasy whose livelihoods depend on the forest or on clearing new land from forest for subsistence agriculture.
Ferguson tells the Telegraph that,
“The demonisation of artisanal mining is the worst thing that can happen to the people of Madagascar. They have resources and they need to use them.
“The economic viabilities of carbon offsetting are ridiculous. It is not £1.50 to offset the carbon for your flight – it is more like £150.”
In a response to the Telegraph article, Conservation International states that it “agrees on the need to increase carbon prices”. But in a 2017 statement about the sapphire mining, Conservation International was keen to demonise artisanal mining:
Much like other illegal activity elsewhere in the world, like the poaching of wildlife, this mining activity does not benefit the people Madagascar. They are only left with the destruction and depletion of their natural resources.
“Significant areas of rainforest had been cleared”
The Telegraph hired McKenzie Intelligence Services to analyse the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor using NASA and European Space Agency satellite images. McKenzie Intelligence Services found “significant areas of rainforest that had been cleared”. Much of the deforestation started near rivers. As a result of the cleared forests along the banks, the rivers are discoloured by “sediment, soil and other contaminants” in the water.
The Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor project is now part of a larger programme called Atiala Atsinananan, under the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. The Telegraph reports the World Bank as saying that “all its projects adhere to ‘rigorous requirements’ and account for net reductions over an entire area after taking into account emission increases in parts of the project”.
Of course the World Bank’s “rigorous requirements” cannot deal with the structural problems of REDD: additionality; invented baselines; monitoring, reporting and verification; permanence; leakage; double-counting; and avoiding harm to the communities on the receiving end of REDD.
In its response to the Telegraph article, Conservation International’s Agustin Silvani writes that,
in a country with few economic alternatives, it still pays to destroy the forest, and this is where carbon credit programs come in. These programs offer a way to flip the economic script: Polluters in developed countries buy and trade credits, with the revenue going to landowners and smallholders in developing countries as an incentive to leave their forests standing. Ultimately, market forces would discourage carbon pollution as prices for these credits rose over time, while forests would absorb more climate-warming carbon from the atmosphere.
But as Julia Jones, a professor of conservation science at Bangor University, and her colleagues revealed in their research in the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor, the money from carbon credits is not going to the farmers in the forest who need it the most.
Jones tells the Telegraph that,
“The world needs to recognise the genuine cost. If you want to achieve a reduction in carbon emission by deforestation, it can’t be done on the cheap. The money has to get to the ones who are holding the axes – they are the ones who choose whether a tree gets chopped down or not.”
Part of the problem is that a small army of consultants is needed to write the 100-plus-page reports to get the carbon project certified. More consultants are needed to measure the carbon. Still more are needed to determine that the trees are still standing. The money that goes to these consultants does not go to people living in the project area.
Conservation International ignores the need to leave fossil fuels in the ground
We agree with calls to establish a properly regulated market for carbon credits. Until that happens, the best thing to do is to buy only high-quality, independently certified voluntary offsets that reduce deforestation, benefit biodiversity and generate livelihoods for local people.
Humanity is running short on time to bend the carbon curve. We need every tool at our disposal.
But that completely fails to even consider the fact that carbon offsetting guarantees the continued burning of fossil fuels.
When someone flies and buys carbon credits to “offset” their greenhouse gas emissions, the one thing that definitely happens is that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases enter the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels.
Some of that CO2 will remain in the atmosphere for a very long time. That means that to genuinely “offset” emissions, trees would have to remain standing for hundreds of years. There is absolutely no way of guaranteeing that this will happen.
As the climate crisis intensifies the problem only gets worse. Forests are increasingly at risk of going up in smoke. Tropical forests have already tipped from being a carbon sink to being a carbon source.
The Telegraph spoke to Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist. He points out the fundamental problem of REDD as a carbon offsetting mechanism:
“It’s bad enough that big carbon emitters like airliners are using offsetting as a license to pollute, but they often encourage their customers to join in the greenwash too.
“Passengers are given the impression that, by coughing up a few quid, they can magic away the planet-heating gases from their flights. But what customers aren’t told is that this market is an unregulated wild west and there’s little evidence that offsetting schemes generally work.
“The best and safest way to reduce carbon emissions remains not to produce them in the first place.”
PHOTO Credit: Mining in Tananarive, inside the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor, Paul Grover/The Telegraph.