in Brazil, USA

Copenhagen is coming

Copenhagen is comingIn the lead up to Copenhagen, letters, articles and reports about REDD are coming out thick and fast. Before looking at them, here’s some bad news. In 2005, a drought meant that in that year the Amazon rainforest did not sequester its usual 2 billion metric tons of CO2.

It also released 3 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere from dying trees. The total 5 billion additional tons of CO2 is greater than the combined emissions of Europe and Japan. This year there is another drought in the Amazon. The photograph above was taken last weekend by Paulo Whitaker. It shows a fisherman paddling through dead fish that died because of lower water levels on the on the Manaquiri River, a tributary of the Amazon River.

Had the carbon stored in the Amazon been traded, the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere would have been doubled – that released from the trees plus the emissions resulting from the sale of carbon credits from the hoped for avoided deforestation.

On that note, here’s a selection of some of the letters, articles and reports released just before Copenhagen:

  • Last week, the Society for Conservation Biology wrote to Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Prime Minister of Denmark, about the dangers of runaway climate change for forests. In the letter, after describing what happened to the Amazon in 2005, Luigi Boitani, the President of the Society for Conservation Biology points out that “The sequestration rates of other tropical rainforests from Malaysia to Costa Rica are also declining in the face of increasing ambient heat.” The Society has also produced “Eleven Conservation Principles For Decision-makers“, the third of which notes that “forests will not be able to steadily offset increases in greenhouse gases”.
  • A new paper by Alain Karsenty of CIRAD titled “What the (carbon) market cannot do…” argues for a longer-term structural approach to ‘avoiding deforestation’, focusing on governance, rather than relying on markets with all the difficult (and perhaps irresolvable) problems involved with counting carbon, setting baselines and estimating future deforestation.
  • The Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD) has produced a Briefing Paper on the state of play of the REDD-Plus negotiations as we go into Copenhagen. For acronym junkies this is a special treat, but it’s also very useful for anyone trying to wrap their heads around what’s going to happen in Copenhagen. The briefing is also available in Spanish and French.
  • The Ecosystems Alliance has written to the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Yvo de Boer, asking that the UNFCCC process remains accessible to NGO observers: “We are therefore writing to respectfully request that during the up-coming meetings at COP15, including those of each of the AWG-KP, AWG-LCA, SBSTA and SBI, the reliance on closed sessions is strictly limited, and that any informal groups and sub-groups are kept open to observers.”
  • Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation has published a new book by Tamra Gilbertson and Oscar Reyes of CarbonTradeWatch: “Carbon Trading – How it Works and Why It Fails“. REDD, Gilbertson and Reyes conclude, “has more to do with avoided responsibility than ‘avoided deforestation’.” Here’s what Naomi Klein has to say about the book: “Anyone who still thinks that creating a carbon casino can solve our climate crisis owes it to themselves to read this book. The most convincing and concise challenge to the green profiteers yet.”
  • Another Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation publication, titled “Contours of Climate Justice“, includes a chapter on REDD by Simone Lovera of the Global Forest Coalition. “The problem with REDD,” Lovera writes, “is that there are simply too many ‘ifs’ to be true.”

 

Leave a Reply

  1. Thanks for this comprehensive compilation. As forester I can just say… here we see the overestimation and the limits of global forest ecosystems to sequester CO2 … As they actually should do as mentioned in our reports and mechanisms, developed without sufficient knowledge of the earth systemic functions.

    Christoph

  2. Chris, thanks for all the articles here which I read imediately you post them. We have our differences on FSC but I share your views and concerns about REDD paid for by carbon offsetting completely.

    I hope the folks that will eventually make the decisions are listening.

    Scott

  3. Linking the “Right” to Offset Emissions to the Obligation to Reduce Emissions

    The world clearly needs a way to offset all this planned offsetting.

    Carbon offsetting is, by definition, the failure to adequately reduce emissions. Yet, perversely, the act of offsetting emissions directly undermines investment in the rapid transition to clean renewable energy and energy efficiency required to reduce emissions in polluting countries. The more money invested in offsetting, the less is invested in reduction.

    As such, carbon offsetting is clearly not a long term solution to the climate change challenge.

    For example, Australia’s proposal that it can offset the country’s entire excess emissions against reductions achieved through carbon trade and offsets purchased from overseas – necessarily places the country in no obligation whatsoever to reduce its overall emissions. Yet everyone knows it is absolutely imperative that polluting countries such as Australia actively reduce emissions.

    A way to “offset” this contradiction is to directly link – dollar for dollar, or ton for ton – the right to offset emissions to the obligation to reduce them.

    Under such a “law” countries would only be allowed to offset excess emissions abroad in direct relation to their obligation to invest in further reductions at home. The basic rule would be – you can only offset to the value or volume of what you have reduced.

    E.g. If company A in developed country A needed to offset its excess emissions, it could only do so in direct financial relation to its investment in emissions reductions in its own business. If Company A is a coal-fired power station that fails to meet its emissions target and is obliged to offset all excess emissions against reductions elsewhere to meet it, it would not be able to do so. However, it would be able to purchase offsets equal to its own reductions.

    The result would be an ever decreasing gap between the current reticence of developed economies to meet binding and strong reductions targets without offsetting, and the corresponding need to offset.

    Under such a model, with each offset, the need for future offsets is equivalently reduced. The more you offset, the less you need to in the future, because you have also had to invest in measures that will reduce emissions.

    Under such a “law” each country would perhaps have to declare the levels of offsets its overall industry has purchased from abroad, and report on how its combined investments in reductions are equivalent or higher. If offsets outnumbered domestic reduction, the difference could not be included in the national accounting for the country.

  4. Thanks for this informative article. To me, argument over ‘cabon trading’ is like the story of two captain quarelling and the ship was capsizing.
    People who think that tropical rainforests is not sequestering CO2, do they not know cutting them down will deteriorate the situation? Why the people living around the forests would save the forests when they dont have food in their bowl?
    Can carbon trading not be an incentive to the poor of the poorest section of the people to conserve forests?

  5. Heres the thing. I detect a sort of resentment for carbon offsets generally here, so. I will just posit that money itself is not in itself bad. If a REDD carbon offset system changes the value of a tropical moist forest from $15 hectare to $15,000 if proved conserved, how is that not a good reliable way for the most amount of benefit to be spread around. All REDD methodologies under consideration take indigenous and local peoples rights and benefits as first order values. I ask everyone out there to please study the subject in depth before rejecting it out of hand. Its not perfect, but it is better than relying on government fiat, ngo’s and philanthropy to conserve that which I am convinced, is our last best chance at mitigating climate change, and whilst we’re at it…preserve beauty, biodiversity and… trees.

  6. @ric – I’ll take it one sentence at a time:

    I detect a sort of resentment for carbon offsets generally here, so.

    Not true. There is straightforward opposition to carbon offsets here, for the simple reason that offsets do not reduce emissions. That’s if they work properly. If they fail, they guarantee an increase in emissions. The last time you commented on REDD-Monitor, I asked you to read George Monbiot’s article on offsets “Pulling Yourself Off the Ground By Your Whiskers”. In the article he gives “the simple mathematical reason why large scale carbon offsets can’t work”. Please read the article.

    In terms of forest offsets, it’s even worse. Allowing emissions from fossil fuels to continue more or less guarantees the sort of apocalyptic die-back of the Amazon that started to happen in 2005.

    I will just posit that money itself is not in itself bad.

    Agreed. But this has nothing to do with offsets, climate change or the price of fish (oh wait, perhaps it does).

    If a REDD carbon offset system changes the value of a tropical moist forest from $15 hectare to $15,000 if proved conserved, how is that not a good reliable way for the most amount of benefit to be spread around.

    Your numbers, I assume, are plucked from the air, so the “if” becomes a very big “if”. Increasing the value of forests by 1,000 times is likely to trigger a land grab bigger than any we’ve ever seen before. I can’t see any way that this is likely to spread around “the most amount of benefit”. Please take a look at this recent report from Survival International: “The most inconvenient truth of all”.

    All REDD methodologies under consideration take indigenous and local peoples rights and benefits as first order values.

    Could you please point out where, in the current UN negotiating text on REDD, there is any evidence that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will be incorporated?

    I ask everyone out there to please study the subject in depth before rejecting it out of hand.

    See my previous response.

    Its not perfect, but it is better than relying on government fiat, ngo’s and philanthropy to conserve that which I am convinced, is our last best chance at mitigating climate change, and whilst we’re at it…preserve beauty, biodiversity and… trees.

    No, it’s not perfect. In fact, trading forest carbon is likely to result in the forests that you claim to be interested in saving going up in smoke.

  7. Apparently not everyone agrees that the Amazon released CO2 as a result of the drought in 2005. A report in Science in 2007 suggests that the Amazon “greened up” during the dry season – because there is less cloud cover and therefore more sunshine:

    nasa_amazon

    There’s more background to this in “Amazon Greener in Dry Season than Wet”, on NASA’s Earth Observatory from 2006.

    I’ve asked the Society for Conservation Biology and Oliver Phillips (author of the paper “Drought Sensitivity of the Amazon Rainforest”) for their comments on this research.