By Chris Lang
REDD was launched at the UNFCCC level during COP11 in Montreal. Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica presented an 11-page proposal for REDD. That was back in 2005. This week, Global Forest Coalition launched a briefing that looks at the past 15 years of REDD, and asks whether REDD has been worth the money.
REDD has so far cost at least US$20 billion in public finance. Yet deforestation rates remain stubbornly high, particularly in the countries that have received the most REDD finance.
Global Forest Coalition’s briefing highlights four “shaky foundations that underpin REDD+”:
1. Valuing carbon over life encourages tree plantations and emissions trading
By focussing on the carbon stored in trees, REDD reduces forests to carbon sinks rather than complex ecosystems. Simplifying a forest’s value to the amount of carbon stored means that governments can ask for exact amounts of financial compensation, and allows them to sell carbon credits.
So far, carbon offset markets have raised little money for REDD because most companies are not required to reduce their emissions significantly. The price of carbon credits has remained low. Global Forest Coaltion points out that this could change when the aviation industry’s carbon offsetting scheme kicks off.
Global Forest Coalition argues that “REDD+ prioritizes fast-growing trees over all other elements of a complex forest ecosystem.”
In fact, one of the big problems with the scheme is that it uses a definition of forests that includes monoculture tree plantations, where vast areas are covered by a single fast-growing tree species. Although on paper plantations can store carbon relatively rapidly, they provide none of the benefits that real forests provide.
2. Calculating how much carbon is stored through forest conservation is difficult and expensive
Calculating the amount of carbon stored in a forest is “exceptionally difficult, and the suggestion that REDD+ projects can accurately and easily report, verify and monitor forest carbon stocks is simply false”, Global Forest Coalition notes.
It’s also expensive, and results in money that could have gone to Indigenous Peoples, local communities and women who protect forests, being diverted to consultants and expert carbon counters.
3. Trees don’t grow on money
REDD assumes that forests cannot be conserved without money. There is no clear relationship between forest finance and forest conservation, Global Forest Coalition notes and countries that have received large amounts of forest conservation funding still have high deforestation rates.
Global Forest Coalition writes,
[S]ome countries and numerous Indigenous Peoples organizations, local communities and women’s rights groups with very limited financial resources have successfully conserved their forests for generations.
4. No clear benefits for Indigenous Peoples, local communities or women
Global Forest Coalition writes that,
Communities around the world have pointed out that mere forest protection without respecting and protecting the rights of Indigenous and other forest-dependent peoples represents a direct threat to their way of life. REDD+ makes it attractive for outsiders like companies, state agencies or big conservation groups to ignore the customary rights of Indigenous Peoples, local communities and women over forests, impose strict
conservation measures over land they claim to be theirs and subsequently ask for payments for those conservation results. Over the last decade there have been numerous reports that REDD+ projects have resulted in land seizures, murders of environmental defenders, violent evictions and forced displacement, violations of Indigenous Peoples’ rights, militarization, loss of livelihoods and biodiversity and the desecration of sacred sites.
The need for alternatives to REDD+
Global Forest Coalition’s briefing concludes with a look at alternatives to the financialisation and commodification of forests as a result of REDD’s focus on the carbon stored in trees. Tackling the real drivers of forest destruction requires the following, Global Forest Coalition argues:
- a restructuring of global trade and finance regimes;
- ending the over-consumption and unsustainable production of commodities such as meat, dairy, wood and palm oil (that between them are responsible for most of the deforestation that takes place);
- moratoriums on oil extraction and large infrastructure projects in forests; and
- curbs on forest logging, large-scale bioenergy generation and the replacement of forests by commercial tree plantations.
In addition, Global Forest Coalition writes, the global approach to forest conservation needs to become bottom-up, rights-based, and must respect and protect the political power and governance rights of forest communities. Indigenous Peoples’ rights, traditional knowledge and practices should be at the heart of conservation efforts. And the rights and vital role that women play in forest conservation must be recognised, as well as the disproportionate burden of impacts that they shoulder.