REDD+ in Paris: numerous announcements, little news
Without the Coalition of Rainforest Nations and its co-founder Kevin Conrad (a former member of the Papua New Guinea delegation, currently Panama) the term “REDD” (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) probably would not have been a factor in the UN climate negotiations. But since the 13th UN Climate Change Conference in Bali in 2007, the coalition has been pushing relentlessly to have the reduction of deforestation enshrined in the UN climate agreement as a contribution to climate protection and to finance it through the sale of carbon credits. The latter demand in particular has been controversial from the outset.
On the face of it, the coalition would appear to have achieved its goal in December 2015, as the Paris agreement specifically refers to REDD (Article 5.2). At the same time, however, the voices calling REDD+ over and done with are multiplying. In early February 2016, the REDD Monitor online portal posted an article titled “REDD is dead. What’s next?” (details on the passages in the climate agreement related to forests can be found here). The pessimistic outlook is caused by the lack of perspective for international trade in REDD+ carbon credits of the kind that the private sector and international conservation organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International and the WWF have been advocating for years. While the Paris agreement permits such trading in principle, it stipulates that the sale of carbon credits (now known as “internationally transferred mitigation outcomes”) requires the consent of the country in which a carbon credit project is located. This restriction dampened the enthusiasm of the private sector for the agreed international trade mechanism. Problems in the implementation of REDD+ are also becoming increasingly apparent (see the comprehensive REDD+ on the Ground study by the renowned CIFOR research center, as well as REDD: A Collection of Conflicts, Contradictions and Lies, a collection of 24 controversial REDD+ initiatives published by the World Rainforest Movement): even after almost ten years of “REDD+ Readiness”, there is no evidence that REDD+ is an effective instrument against large-scale forest destruction.
Norway, Germany and the UK recycle previous funding pledges
Despite the growing criticism, industrialized countries continue to finance the establishment of institutions and mechanisms to implement REDD+ on a comparatively large scale. In a joint statement in Paris, the governments of Germany, Norway and the UK reiterated their pledge to provide a total of US$1 billion a year, or US$5 billion from 2015 to 2020, to tropical forest countries, as they had already announced in the run-up to the 2014 climate conference in Lima. The condition for the funding: the countries must show that emissions from deforestation had in fact declined. To date, none of the countries funded by Germany, Norway and the UK have shown a credible link between reduced deforestation and REDD+ measures. In Brazil, for example, deforestation declined due to measures taken prior to the introduction of REDD+, while official figures for the past two years show that the rate of deforestation has actually accelerated slightly. That is not exactly a promising indicator for the success of REDD+.
Following their 2014 announcement of support for REDD+ initiatives in Peru and Ecuador, donors Norway, Germany and the UK presented a REDD+ memorandum of understanding with Colombia in Paris in 2015. The country is set to receive up to US$100 million within the framework of the KfW REDD Early Movers program if it can provide evidence for reduced emissions from deforestation. Furthermore, the Carbon Fund of the World Bank Forest Carbon Partnership Facility will receive an additional US$339 million to support “circa five new large-scale emissions reductions programs”. Norway additionally announced its continued support for Brazil’s Amazon Fund (approx. US$110 million annually).
Whether the funding of extensive measures to “prepare” for REDD+ will in fact lead to a demonstrable, long-term reduction of deforestation remains uncertain, however. Past experience with REDD+ has shown that the instrument is poorly suited to address the real causes of large-scale forest destruction (see www.redd-monitor.org). Hardly any of the existing REDD+ projects or programs have provided credible evidence of having contributed to a reduction of deforestation.
Food corporations as possible purchasers of REDD+ carbon credits?
In Paris, a trend that has been observed since the adoption of the New York Declaration on Forests in September 2014 continued: an increasing number of global food corporations have been announcing voluntary commitments to prevent further deforestation for the manufacturing of their products by 2020. While bold headlines proclaim “zero deforestation”, the pledges prove deceptive on closer inspection. Rather than a categorical zero, the food giants want to ensure zero net deforestation for their products. Danone, Unilever, Monsanto, M&S, Cargill and other members of the Global Consumer Goods Forum have issued such zero-net declarations. “Net zero” is not zero, however: The corporations will continue to clear forests and threaten the livelihoods of smallholders for their products – the difference being that they will now be doing so under the green guise of “ zero net deforestation”. They intend to achieve zero net by purchasing REDD+ credits, among other things, as Danone explained when stating its goal of achieving zero net carbon emissions across the full cycle of its production systems.
Planting trees is not forest conservation
Announcements on the periphery of the Paris conference also included the multi-billion African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100). According to this plan, the World Bank (Africa Climate Business Plan), donor countries such as Germany and private investment funds will provide more than US$1 billion to plant trees on 100 million hectares of land in ten African countries . The objective here is to fight climate change and create new jobs. Previously, such tree planting initiatives in Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Brazil, India and elsewhere have mainly been a source of conflict.
The sobering conclusion remains that the climate summit in Paris is more likely to harm than benefit forests and the people inhabiting them, particularly if people in African countries lose access to the 100 million hectares of land earmarked for plantations to be created with the financial support of industrialized countries and private investment funds.