German climate finance / Implementation of climate finance / REDD+

DEval synthesis study confirms: REDD has not been able to meet expectations

Protestors in the Brazilian city Xapuri in December 2019 on the 30th anniversary of the murder of the rubber tapper Chico Mendes against REDD and the impacts of REDD programmes in Acre. Photo: Michael Schmidlehner

In October 2020, the German Institute for Development Evaluation (DEval) published the results of a synthesis study on REDD. This approach – whose acronym stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation – has dominated international forest policy for the past 15 years. The study “Germany’s Contribution to the Forest and Climate Protection Programme REDD+” examined the effectiveness of REDD measures funded by the German government between 2008 and 2018.

For the past several years, the website has been calling for more information to be made available to an interested public on the content, objectives and effectiveness of REDD measures supported by Germany as one of the program’s largest international donors. Research carried out for the website in 2015 showed that beyond general project descriptions, little information about the funded measures was publicly available. The DEval study now takes stock of the German government’s REDD funding.

The sobering result of the DEval study: REDD has failed to meet its original goal of reducing emissions from deforestation quickly and cheaply. The high expectations placed in the approach, which was often praised as innovative, remain as yet unfulfilled. According to the study’s authors, this finding is consistent with the experiences of other donors.

Results-based payments were supposed to provide a financial incentive for those who cause deforestation to reduce forest loss and the associated emissions. Critics of REDD were quick to point out that deforestation is a complex and dynamic process in which financial considerations are only one component among many that determine whether forests are preserved or destroyed. As an approach that relies exclusively on financial incentives, REDD ignores this political economy of deforestation. This is also confirmed by the DEval synthesis study. The institute’s press release (in German) notes that results-based payments from REDD are in many cases not a sufficiently large incentive to effectively counteract local and international drivers of deforestation. What stands out when reading the study?

Executive summary does not adequately reflect the findings of the full study

The German-language executive summary of the synthesis study in particular strongly emphasizes the alleged achievements of REDD measures undertaken to date. At the same time, key findings of the full study that reveal the extent of REDD’s failure are missing in the summary. For example, the full study states that the shift in the basic assumptions of REDD could also be described as a “downward adjustment of expectations”. This allows for the construction of seemingly positive effects in the context of the instrument’s limited appeal, while diluting the broader goal of stopping deforestation. The executive summary does not mention this adjustment of the basic assumptions and objectives of REDD. Another example is that the experiences with and lessons learned from REDD+ have not yet led to increased confidence in the instrument, nor to a significant increase in secured funding. This finding also goes unmentioned in the summary.

Selection of the examined REDD initiatives only partially comprehensible

33 REDD measures that were funded by the German government between 2008 and 2018 were selected for the DEval study. While the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) is mentioned several times in the general section of the study, it is not among the initiatives examined in more detail. This is a surprising decision. While the implementation of measures is the responsibility of the FCPF secretariat, the German government is represented in the initiative’s governing bodies and is one of the FCPF’s largest donors, providing funding of around 384 million euros (2009-2018). Does this not result in a stronger influence on implementation than, for example, the REDD Early Movers Program in the Brazilian state of Acre, where the use of the results-based payments is largely at the discretion of the government there and the level of funding is lower by an order of magnitude? In addition, the FCPF is particularly subject to criticism not only by NGOs for its methodological shortcomings and a lack of transparency in implementation, not least of measures that are intended to prepare countries for the results-based payment phase of REDD. The failure of the original objective of REDD could have been demonstrated even more clearly by including the experiences from the FCPF and documented with numerous examples.

In the case of the German government’s REDD Early Movers Program, which is administered by KfW, the effusively positive assessment of the initiative is striking. The synthesis study assesses the achievements of REDD Early Movers in Acre as consistently positive, despite the rapid increase of deforestation there during the period of REDD funding. However, the DEval study only looked at the first phase in which REDD measures were funded in Acre. There are also no references to critical publications, such as a report published by several non-governmental organizations, REDD Early Movers. Ergebnisbasierte Zahlungen ohne klimarelevante Ergebnisse?, as well as the reports REDD+, O Mercado de Carbono e a Cooperação Califórnia-Acre-Chiapas and O ganha-ganha por trás das queimadas da Amazônia. Quanto valem a preservação e as falsas soluções do capitalismo “verde”, e quem compensa as compensações? by the Brazilian organization Amigos da Terra Brasil.

Commissioning choice for the study a surprise

Perspectives Climate Research gGmbH – closely connected to the company Perspectives Climate Group – was commissioned with the study. According to its own website, Perspectives Climate Group made a name for itself with the implementation of offsetting projects under the Clean Development Mechanism. Perhaps this explains the – for an independent evaluation – inappropriately judgmental portrayal of criticism of the market-based approach to REDD (“hypercritical NGOs”, “ideological” rejection of REDD) in some places.

Given this background, the implicit statements of the DEval synthesis study are nevertheless clear in the overall view, even if the study largely limited itself to an assessment of measures intended to prepare countries for results-based REDD payments: The REDD experiment has failed, at least in terms of its original objective of stopping the destruction of tropical forests. What do the ministries that jointly commented on the study say? “BMZ, BMU and BMEL regard the study as confirmation that REDD+ is an instrument that should continue to be used for the forest, biodiversity and climate agendas.”

Guest contribution by Jutta Kill