Those of us who have been following international climate change negotiations for long enough know very well that forest conservation through avoided deforestation has always been coined as a necessary and central pillar of any serious attempt to mitigate climate change. This is because land-use change related emissions account for a significant share of the global greenhouse gases poured into the atmosphere every year but also because it is often (yet mistakenly) assumed that avoiding deforestation can be relatively inexpensive in comparison to other options.
Avoided deforestation was not included in the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) back in 2001 and the latter only included Afforestation and Reforestation (A/R) as eligible activities to earn carbon credits for Annex-I countries. The development of A/R activities has been undermined by very stringent procedures on the type of credits to be earned, which has in turn limited the participation of private actors in such type of projects. The reality is that currently there are only 28 projects of more than 3000 registered under the mechanism! However, a higher number of projects have been developed outside the CDM framework and have been selling offsets through voluntary carbon markets, which have in turn led to discrepancies around the actual contribution of these projects to climate change mitigation and local development. Are voluntary carbon-offset plantations really working? Who are they benefiting most? These are just some of the questions that have been posed and analysed thoroughly by several organisations and scholars…
Since 2005, however, there has been a renewed interests in forestry under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Copenhagen Accord in 2009 endorsed the idea that developing countries should develop strategies to Reducing Emissions from Deforestation, Forest Degradation and the enhancement and sustainable management of forest stocks, the so-called REDD+, with the objectives to earn future revenues from developed countries willing to support such activities. Over the last four years, the World Bank and the Norwegian Development Agency, among others, have poured considerable amounts of money to help countries designing such strategies and with the hope that such strategies will effectively translate in emission reductions from land-use change and forest management practices.
Heike Schroeder and myself have put together a compendium of articles where we review the current status of REDD+ negotiations at international level and we also sketch governance and implementation challenges. It is not clear to us (yet) where REDD+ is heading. In many ways, its development resonates with what has happened to forestry mitigation in developing countries before: the World Bank creates a supporting funding programme; some NGOs claim the initiative is great and rush to re-label their own conservation projects so as to gain access to carbon finance; other organisations say REDD+ is just a new form of CO2lonialism; consultants help governments and international organisations to define methodologies for country emissions baselines, etc. However, REDD+ is somewhat different than existing project-based CDM and voluntary carbon-offset initiatives because it puts developing country governments, rather than private actors, at the centre of the scheme: goverments become responsible to define which land-use change related processes should be tackled, if and how land-use related actors should be compensated or rewarded for avoided deforestation and sustainable forest management, etc. They also decide how their strategies will link in with the now called conservation REDD+ projects, existing A/R initiatives and how carbon offsets across scales should be accounted to avoid double counting. Of course, this may have advantages (e.g. controlling for carbon leakage at a national scale) but also disadvantages.
For example, I’m not sure if developing country governments can be truly committed to stop deforestation because this can be a politically contested project and we all know that the environment is not on the top of the political agenda. Recently, while the Brazilian Environment Ministry was claiming that deforestation in the Amazon was being reduced, the country’s congress passed the reform of the Legal Forest Code in order to allow for further deforestation in this region. Brazil’s rural oligarchy –and the international appetite for meat and soy- is more powerful than the country’s environmentalists, of which some have been recently. I’m also not sure if international negotiators on climate change will be able to strike an agreement on how REDD+ emission reductions in developing countries should actually be financed. In this sense, discussions for or against the market look like those that existed in the early 2000s about including A/R related emission reductions in the then foreseeable European Emissions Trading Scheme. If we have learned anything so far is that without a proper linkage to carbon markets and without securing the interest of private funding, the amount of resources channeled to forestry activities are likely to be limited. This of course may not be necessarily a bad thing because an excessive interest of private actors in hypothetical REDD+ (future) credits will no doubt increase the chances of land grabbing on behalf of host country governments and other private actors.
Overall, then, let’s be cautious about REDD+: it may become a space for hope for conservationists but, if massively funded, it may also become a space for ‘land grabs’. It may also become a space for delusion with no considerable funding attached to it or with very few countries benefiting from it at the implementation stage. Furthermore, there is the additional risk of channeling REDD+ funds to government officers and consultants and less so to those who, for example, confront deforestation or manage forests sustainably.
For more information, check out the various related articles uploaded in the “Publicacions” blog page